Historic Columbia River Highway Trail
The five-mile-long Historic Columbia River Highway Trail, a segment of the Historic Columbia River Highway, is worth a visit. It provides a great walking and biking experience (car traffic is verboten) with the spectacular engineering feat of the reopened Mosier Twin Tunnels in the middle. Carved out of solid basalt and adorned with artful masonry work, the highway has become famous for the tunnels. They are about a mile from the trail’s east end and 600 feet above the river.
To start on the east end, take Exit 69 off I-84, turn right off the ramp, then take the first left on Rock Creek Road. Go under the railroad and continue for less than 1 mile. The parking area is on your left; the highway segment begins across the road.
This segment of the old road was closed in 1953, after years of serious rockfall problems at the tunnel’s west portal and the construction of the river-grade highway. The State of Oregon has constructed a special rockfall shelter to protect recreationists from the hazard. The trail also features restored original stone masonry work in several places besides the tunnels.
The trailhead parking areas on either end are both called the Mark O. Hatfield Trailhead, east and west versions. This reflects the instrumental role the influential former senator had in securing federal funding to make this dream a reality.
Access the west-side parking area from downtown Hood River by going to the junction of State Street and Route 35, then head up the hill on Old Columbia River Drive. This road is actually the Historic Columbia River Highway, officially numbered as U.S. 30. The west-side parking area has a small visitors center with restrooms.
Going west to east allows a hiker, in a mere five miles, to witness a rapid climate and vegetation transition rarely encountered in such a short distance. Starting on the Hood River side, the highway winds its way through lush towering Douglas fir groves. By the time you reach the east side of the tunnels by Mosier, you’re in a dry oak savanna-grassland ecosystem.
About halfway down the trail, a short interpretive loop trail has been developed, rewarding hikers with stunning views of this varied and beautiful piece of the Gorge. Also, amateurs of geology will marvel at the dramatic precipice located across the river in Washington, visible from the east end. Locally called “Coyote Wall,” it’s technically part of a big syncline-anticline system in the area.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel