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The Historic Columbia River Highway--Western Section

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Updated September 10, 2016

The Historic Columbia River Highway runs through one of the USA’s premier travel destinations, the remarkable Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Located about 40 miles east of Portland, Oregon, this National Scenic Byway astounds visitors from around the world with 70 miles of jaw-dropping vistas and stunning geologic wonders. 

Along the byway history comes to life. 

Tread where Lewis and Clark once explored. 

Journey the Oregon Trail blazed by courageous pioneers. 

Discover the tales of notable settlers. 

Make a road trip here every season to experience the different faces of the Columbia River Gorge.  Find migratory birds and wildflowers in spring; hike to magnificent heights along the Pacific Crest Trail in summer; photograph incredible colors in autumn, and view the crystalline beauty of frozen waterfalls in winter.

About National Scenic Byways

As part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, the National Scenic Byways program was established in 1992 to preserve special roadways with historical, scenic, archeological, natural, cultural and recreational significance.  These roadways are national treasures, and have great stories reflecting the heart and spirit of America.  

History of the Historic Columbia River Highway

The first road in America to be awarded the rare distinction as a National Historic Landmark was the Historic Columbia River Highway.  Designed in 1913, it was considered one of the modern age’s greatest engineering achievements.  

Prior to the road’s construction, travelers rafted the dangerous Columbia River or traversed the equally perilous Barlow Road over treacherous Mount Hood in the Cascade Mountain Range. 

The Columbia River Series

The Historic Columbia River Highway--Western Section (Part 1)

The Columbia River Gorge--Historic Columbia River Highway, Eastern Section (Part 2)

A railroad constructed in the 1880’s along the banks of the mighty Columbia River, improved access to the Pacific Northwest.  

By the early 1900’s a serious need for a transportation route to support cars and trucks was acknowledged by local and federal governments.  

Construction of the highway commenced in 1913, the last pavement laid in 1922. 

In the early 1930’s it became apparent a new, straighter highway was needed. Construction of this new highway, completed in 1954, destroyed much of the original road and evolved into the current freeway known as Interstate 84. 

Today, after decades of collective effort, over 75% of this extraordinary historic byway has been restored and re-opened to the public.

the journey begins here . . . live the adventure!

Map Your Road Trip

Use the map below to locate the destination of your choice.  Click on the blue pins to get more information.

How to Get There

This road trip adventure begins in Troutdale, Oregon USA, “The Gateway to the Columbia River Gorge”. 

From Interstate 84, take Exit 18; follow the signs to the Historic Columbia River Highway.

The byway wends along basalt bluffs to dizzying heights with marvelous viewpoints, and through a moss-hung emerald forest, passing myriads of sparkling waterfalls and intriguing points of interest.

Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint

The most popular point of interest on this historic route is Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint at Chanticleer Point because of its breathtaking and photogenic views of the majestic Columbia River Gorge.

Originally privately owned, The Chanticleer Inn, built in 1912, once perched upon this point and served the needs of early train travelers.  After the Inn burned to the ground, the viewpoint was purchased by the Portland Women’s Forum, its current namesake.

This dedicated group of women, formed in 1946, donated the Chanticleer site to the State of Oregon Parks and Recreation.  

To this day, the Portland Women's Forum continues to support the preservation and well-being of the Columbia River Gorge for public enjoyment.

The point overlooks Rooster Rock State park below and offers views of stunning scenery and vast distances on clear days.

See Vista House, an observatory/rest-stop gracing Crown Point promontory; it was built in 1916 to inspire travelers. 

Guy W. Talbot State Park

"Guy Webster Talbot and his family used this property as a summer estate until 1929 when they donated it to the state. Today, it's a beautiful picnic park. A modern picnic shelter is available for rent (and is reservable).While the park is terrific for a group or family picnic, the park is often uncrowded even on the best days because of its seclusion. A gently sloping grassy hill dotted with Port Orford cedars, Douglas firs, alders and maples invites Frisbee tossing and quiet relaxation . . . 

 . . . A trail underneath the Historic Columbia River Highway bridge leads directly to Latourell Falls (250' tall), only a few minutes away by foot."

Latourell Falls

Continue on the Latourelle Falls Trail to Upper Latourelle Falls. 

Enjoy the rarely gazed upon scenery of the remote George W. Joseph State Natural Area, accessed only by this trail.

Shepperd’s Dell State Natural Area

The drive to Sheppard’s Dell State Natural Area is almost magical . . . around easy-going bends high above the Columbia River and over one of the grandest historic bridges in the Gorge.  

Cross the canyon into a special wonderland. 

I found these colorful mushrooms thriving in a shady spot next to the path. 

Tiny wildflowers hid in the shadows.  Someday, when I figure out what these flowers are, I will return here and identify them for you.

As a memorial to his wife, George Sheppard gave this land to the City of Portland in 1915 for visitors to enjoy.

Shepperd's Dell Falls

A short, easy trail to Shepperd's Dell Falls winds along a cliff above Youngs Creek and through a lush forest.  

Along the way, stop and look back over your shoulder at the phenomenal bridge and the steep canyon.

The falls cascades in two tiers; the upper is 42 feet high and the lower is about 50 feet high.

Enjoy the roaring waters and the refreshing spray.

Bridal Veil Falls State Scenic Viewpoint

From the whimsy of the Dell to a natural botanical garden and cliff side trail, the adventure never ends along the Historic Columbia River Highway.

There’s nothing more wonderful than experiencing the bounteous blooms of springtime on a perfect day . . . for me, a Mother’s Day road trip.

The softness of Thimbleberries . . . 

. . . picot laced white Solomon Seal . . .

. . . the heavenly scent of Briar Roses . . . 

 . . . I felt like I was given the best bouquet ever!

Enchanted, I rounded the bend at the “charming cove” and continued my trek down the steep cliff face toward Bridal Veil Falls.

“Mom!  Watch out!”

Alarmed, I froze.

With beauty comes thorns, and I’m not talking about the bramble rose kind.

My son pointed out Poison Oak alongside the trail.

Poison Oak was everywhere and I’d just stepped in it!

I’d never seen Poison Oak before.  I snapped a photograph so I would never forget what it looks like, and am sharing it with you.

My caution to all who hike this trail is to wear thick socks, sturdy shoes, long pants and long-sleeved shirts.  The trail is moderately difficult due to the steep cliff and unsure footing at times, not to mention a plant like this.  

Don’t touch it with your bare skin!  

Volatile oils from the leaves cause a painful blistering and an unbearably itchy rash that spreads easily and is difficult to cure.

My son is so allergic he’s developed an uncanny sixth sense about Poison Oak.

I saw him shudder as I carefully scooted past.  

As we closed in on the falls, seeps moistened the cliff face, and delicate Maidenhair Ferns fluttered in the cool breeze.

Rounding another bend in the trail, I was awestruck by Bridal Veil Creek tripping out of an exquisite gorge.

We stopped to drink in the marvelous view of Bridal Veil Creek from the bridge.

Almost there!

We first gazed upon Bridal Veil Falls with excitement, and then with a multitude of emotions.

Imagine . . .

. . . a cool breeze misted with rainbow spray from foamy waters plunging over a precipitous lip to a roiling cauldron boiling over, sheeting stone with sheer silver, before pooling in a crystalline froth . . .  and rushing away.

Wahkeena Falls

In Yakima Indian language, “Wahkeena” means, “most beautiful, and this waterfall is!  

A wayside with picnic tables welcomes visitors at Wahkeena Falls.  Wahkeena Trail #420 leads to a foot bridge crossing near the falls,  and to Fairy Falls beyond.

Multnomah Falls

“Spectacular” best describes world famous Multnomah Falls, the second tallest year-around waterfall in the USA and the most visited vacation destination in Oregon.

That’s me, Cat McMahon, showing off the earliest editions of my first two books at Multnomah Falls.

Hike the first leg of the Multnomah Falls Trail to Benson Bridge for a close up view of the falls.

Then, trek to the top for a bird’s eye view; it’s a bit of a climb, but one you don’t want to miss.

A balcony hangs over the precipice where Multnomah Creek gushes over, diving over 600 feet before rushing its way to the Columbia River far below.

Fed by underground springs originating at Larch Mountain, Multnomah Falls dazzles visitors any season of the year.

Ripe, juicy Salmonberries are among my favorite snacks provided by nature.

No visit is complete without a treat or a meal at the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge.  Serving visitors since its completion in 1925, the rustic stone architecture has become an iconic symbol of the Columbia River Gorge.  While there, pick up a memento of your visit at the gift shop.

Many areas of this natural wonder are disabled accessible.

Oneonta Gorge

The wayside at Oneonta Gorge is a gateway to another world. 

And it’s no wonder!

Have you seen the extraordinary photos of Oneonta Gorge circulating around the world online and on popular social media platforms?

No trail from the wayside leads to the almost impossible-to-reach gorge that only the most intrepid dare pursue.

So, how does one reach this paradise?

By wading Oneonta Creek upstream, traversing a very dangerous and unstable log jam that has claimed the life of one high adventure seeker to date, and plunging into chest deep, icy water.

Those who conquer the treacherous obstacles are rewarded by the sight of Lower Oneonta Falls.

To see more waterfalls along Oneonta Creek, retrace your route westward to Oneonta Creek Trailhead #424.  The trail eventually rises to the creek above Lower Oneonta Falls.  Hike further for view of Middle Oneonta Falls, Oneonta Falls and Triple Falls . . . all of them very lovely.

Still the views at the wayside of Oneonta Creek and the portal to the gorge are splendid.

While at the wayside, take time to stroll on the old Historic Columbia River Highway, which used to pass through the cliff via a tunnel, recently restored for visitors to enjoy on foot.

I enjoyed the bright wildflowers on the east side of the tunnel.

Horsetail Falls 

The last point of interest on the western section of the Historic Columbia River Highway, is the aptly named, Horsetail Falls.

The waterfall can be seen from the highway.  Get a close up view by stopping at the pleasant wayside.

Horsetail Falls Trail #438 leads to Upper Horsetail Falls, also known as Ponytail Falls, part of a trail system interconnected throughout the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

The Historic Columbia River Highway, Western Section is a glorious expanse of marvels and magnificence . . . 

Accessible Adventures on the Historic Columbia River Highway

 . . . our adventure continues in the Columbia River Series Part 2, The Columbia River Gorge--Historic Columbia River Highway, Eastern Section.


Angel's Rest Trail #415

"Angel's Rest is an exposed bluff on the Western end of the Columbia River Gorge. This summit is characterized by a long, rocky spine surrounded on three sides by cliffs, boasting a striking 270 degree view! While you can't see any of the Cascade volcanoes from the top, you do get great vantages of Beacon Rock, Silver Star Mountain and many other landmarks.

The real draw, however, is the perspective of the river below - like you're on a balcony over a great auditorium. Its near-2000 foot prominence, and its proximity to the Columbia River give you the false sensation that you could dive from the summit to the water below!"


Bridal Veil Lodge Bed and Breakfast

“In the year 1927, a weary traveler along the Columbia River Highway could shut down his sputtering engine at the Bridal Veil Lodge and Auto Camp. Fifty cents would get a good hot meal of roast pork, mashed potatoes, and vegetables fresh out of the garden. For another buck-fifty, you could pull the Ford around back and pitch a tent, or tuck in your family in one of the snug cabins or rooms in the lodge.”

Today guests enjoy the rich history of the lovingly restored log lodge and surrounding area.


Ainsworth State Park

"Nestled in the awe-inspiring Columbia River Gorge, Ainsworth is equal parts waterfall wonderland, hiker's playground and camper's delight.Situated at the eastern end of Historic Highway 30, from Ainsworth to Crown Point to the west, you'll find the world's greatest concentration of high waterfalls (like Multnomah Falls).

By leaving the park on Nesmith Point trail, you'll end up with a splendid view of St. Peter's Dome, a majestic basalt monolith rising 2,000 feet above the mighty Columbia River. Hiking is definitely something you'll want to do while camping at Ainsworth State Park."

Benson State Recreation Area

As a girl my favorite park was Benson State Park; that’s what it was called back then.  At least once a year, on hot, sunny Sundays, we’d pack up a picnic and our swim suits, and make the long journey to this beautiful place. 

I loved it so much I introduced my fiancée to it.  Some years later, our children cut their teeth on it as we carried on the family tradition.

Today, Benson Park is still one of the best family points of interest in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

Lewis and Clark State Park

"Located at the western gateway of the Columbia River Gorge, Lewis & Clark State Park appropriately honors its legendary namesakes who camped and explored here in November, 1805. The park is situated near the mouth of the Sandy River where it spills into the mighty Columbia River and at one of the entrances to the Historic Columbia River Highway. A flat, grassy, tree-dotted park invites blankets and sun-lovers to come spend a leisurely day.

One of the most popular swimming spots on the Sandy River is adjacent to the park, as well as a public boat launch. A trail climbs the cliffs to Broughton's Bluff, which serves as a geologic boundary between the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range and the neighboring Willamette Valley to the west."

More Oregon Road Trips You Might Enjoy . . . 

An Off Road Trip Secret--Olallie Scenic Area, Oregon USA

Clackamas River Recreation Area

Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway--A Wild West Gold Rush!

Exploring Like Christopher Columbus

Molalla River Corridor & Table Rock Wilderness

Oregon Central Coast

Oregon City--Pioneering the Past

The Columbia River Gorge--Historic Columbia River Highway, Eastern Section

The Historic Columbia River Highway--Historic Columbia River Highway, Western Section

The Snake River Oregon--Road Tripping Up-streme!

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