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Featured National Recreation Trails

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Every kind of trail activity is represented in the listing of designated NRTs. Besides hiking and bicycling, the system includes water trails, motorized routes, snow tracks, greenways, and equestrian paths. The NRT program showcases the diversity of trails across America, from our cities and suburbs to the deserts, waterways, and high mountains.

 

Columbia River Highway: historic road to trail

 

Map of north Oregon

By Linea Gagliano and Robert Hadlow Travel Oregon/Oregon Tourism Commission

Photos courtesy of ODOT Photo and Video Services

Over 60 of the original 73 scenic miles of the Historic Columbia River Highway between Troutdale and The Dalles are available for cycling and hiking.

 

photo of historic narrow highway bridge

Photo of the original highway from its early decades

At its dedication on June 7, 1916, the Columbia River Highway was touted by the Illustrated London News as the “King of Roads.” As America’s first scenic highway, it is one of the most significant historic roads in the nation. Many praised the highway at its completion for its wonderful bridges— each an architectural gem— its magnificent waterfalls, and its stunning views of the Columbia River Gorge.

This narrow two-lane road connected travelers with resplendent overlooks offering views of the Columbia River Gorge and the impressive waterfalls that dot its landscape, including Multnomah Falls (one of the most visited natural sites in Oregon). It also connected the smaller communities of Cascade Locks, Hood River, Mosier, and The Dalles with Portland, the regional center of commerce.

The increasing popularity of the automobile and freight trucks in the 1920s pushed this scenic road to its limits. The Oregon State Highway Department began planning for a new water-level route along the Columbia River, the location of today’s Interstate 84.

Construction began at the end of World War II and by 1953 a new two-lane route was open as far east as The Dalles. The second two lanes were completed by 1970. The state highway department preserved two long segments of the historic highway, from the Sandy River to Ainsworth in the west and from Mosier to The Dalles in the east.

photo of paved trail through forest

West of Cascade Locks on the Historic Columbia River Highway
State Trail

 

But the department abandoned much of the roadway in between, and filled in Mitchell Point Tunnel and the Mosier Twin Tunnels. The abandoned segments began to be overtaken by weeds, moss, and crumbling walls.

Following federal designation of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, the Oregon state legislature in 1987 identified a strong desire to bring the highway back to its original, if a bit changed, splendor.

The Oregon Department of Transportation began working with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the Oregon State Preservation Office, and Travel Oregon to restore and reconnect the abandoned sections of road into a multiuse trail. The goal of the long-term project is to enable bikers and hikers to experience the old highway’s dramatic vistas and its restored historic bridges, tunnels, guardrails, and beautifully arched rock masonry walls.

photo of concrete trail bridge

Moffett Creek Bridge along the Trail

 

Since then, 63 of the original 73 miles have been opened to travel by bicycle and foot, as well as motor vehicle, restoring the beauty of the “King of Roads.” Ten miles of the abandoned road still await reconnection as a trail. The Historic Columbia River Highway Advisory Committee and the Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway have joined together to advocate for the completion of the trail.

An effort is currently underway to fund five of the remaining miles of trail. The Western Federal Lands Highway Division of the Federal Highway Administration is leading the charge and developing the engineering for this section of trail, with construction to start later in 2015.

A completed trail will give Oregonians and visitors from around the world access to even more state parks, hidden waterfalls, and spectacular views of the Columbia River. Pedestrians and bicyclists will soon be able to travel the entire Columbia River Gorge between Troutdale (16 miles east of Portland) and The Dalles (84 miles east of Portland).

Once completed, the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail will become a global pedestrian and cycling destination, helping local communities tap into the economic impact that visitors and Oregonians will bring. Communities like Mosier, which were bustling when the highway opened 100 years ago, “went to sleep” after the new freeway bypassed their downtowns in the 1950s.

When the rubble was removed from the Mosier Twin Tunnels and the Hood River-to-Mosier segment of the state trail opened, people rediscovered Mosier. Several new businesses have opened in this once forgotten, small community. The completion of the trail will continue to contribute to a more viable atmosphere for small communities to thrive and sustain along the route once again.

photo of bicyclists

The paved trail sections enable alkl-weather access for bicyclists

 

 

The project has been a conversation starter for many Oregon community leaders, as well. They now see themselves as part of something larger. Similarly, they’ve come to recognize that if one town gets a new asset that draws visitors, it benefits all of the communities, creating a greater sense of shared community.

What’s more, beautiful stretches of the historic highway are owned by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, making them public property. Once the trail is complete it will enable Oregonians and visitors to experience areas that only a handful of agency officials have seen since the 1950s.

The Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail gives today’s hikers and bicyclists an opportunity to experience the Columbia River Gorge much like their predecessors did along the highway a century ago, with the wind blowing in their hair and the wonderful scent of wildflowers in the air.

 

For more information:

For more on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, visit www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/HCRH/pages/trail.aspx

 

trail noteWe frequently add NRT information, photos and maps to these pages. Send suggestions and information requests to American Trails. Research additional NRTs in the NRT database. Trail managers can update online trail information in the NRT database. You may also e-mail information on minor changes or to update Featured NRT pages.

 

 

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The on-line database has details on the currently designated National Recreation Trails. The NRT Program online is hosted by American Trails: www.AmericanTrails.org

 

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