The new McCord Creek Bridge captures the spirit of the old highway.
Where motorists in Model T Fords once crept around curves high above the Columbia River on old U.S. Highway 30, bicyclists and hikers can now enjoy an unbroken 34-mile stretch of the scenic route from its start in Troutdale, Ore., all the way to Cascade Locks. This has been made possible by a new 1.6-mile trail connection that has been squeezed in between I-205 and the steep sides of the Columbia Gorge. It begins after the waterfall section of the old highway, where the old road merged into the freeway.
Befitting its importance, it is an unusually wide 12 feet. After a quarter mile it moves away from the noisy freeway and onto the McCord Creek pedestrian bridge, designed to reflect the craftsmanship and artistry of the old highway. It returns to the freeway for a short distance before diving into the woods for a welcome break from the traffic noise and features some fine viewpoints of Beacon Rock and the Washington side shoreline.
Finally, the trail drops down and under the Moffett Creek Bridge that is part of I-205. Here it connects with 6.5 miles of state trail around Bonneville Dam and Eagle Creek fish hatchery. While the new stretch is pretty flat, the last leg is quite hilly, the surface bumpy and there is a long flight of stairs to walk, so I rode this on touring tires and was glad I did.
At Cascade Locks, you can explore the locks and imagine how they functioned before the Bonneville Dam was built back in 1938, or cross the Bridge of the Gods (toll $.50) to explore the Washington side of the Gorge.
The Historic Columbia River Highway was completed in 1922 and was once Oregon’s primary road through the Columbia River Gorge. Connecting Portland to Hood River and beyond, and passing stunning waterfalls while offering amazing views of the Gorge from up high, the construction of Interstate 84 destroyed many sections that were cut into the side of the cliffs.
Multnomah County hired Samuel C. Lancaster, an experienced engineer and landscape architect, to design the Historic Columbia River Highway. Lancaster was noted for laying out Seattle’s Lake Washington Boulevard in the early 1900s as a component of the city’s Olmsted-designed park system. His skill can still be seen at the eastern end of the highway.
In the 1980s, new interest in the old scenic highway resurfaced. An ambitious restoration began with the removal of rock from the Mosier Twin Tunnels and of the roadbed for 6.5 miles. In 2002, the state trail was designated a National Recreation Trail. What’s even better from a cycling point of view is that the old highway is still completely intact from The Dalles to Mosier, including the switchbacks to Rowena Crest. For about 17 miles it shows all the design features that made this project so exceptional: grades no steeper than five percent, reinforced concrete bridges combined with masonry guard rails and more.