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On the Trail
Walk or bike through tunnels (with windows) built for the original Columbia River Highway, now part of a car-free section of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. Views on the trail, which runs 4.5 miles between Mosier and Hood River, are spectacular in any season. The route gains 430 feet in elevation when you start at the Mosier trailhead, and 300 feet when you start at the Hood River trailhead.
Permits & Pets
The trail is administered by Oregon State Parks. A State Parks pass is required to park at either trailhead. Dogs must be on leash.
- From the parking area, turn right onto Rock Creek Road. In 0.1 mile, turn left onto the trail. It passes through dramatic scablands before curving west to run parallel to and high above the Columbia.
- Look across the river to Coyote Wall, the huge cliff that is part of a long anticline diving toward the riverbed. Turn right off the trail to a stone overlook, with views of Eighteen Mile Island, the rare privately owned island in the Gorge. Just past the overlook is the east tunnel, about 1 mile from the trailhead.
- Inside the tunnel, side passages lead to windows that frame the fantastic views. The original observation gallery between the tunnels is now covered by a rock catchment structure, added in the 1990s restoration. West of the tunnels, a 700-foot structure catches rockfall; it was also added during the restoration.
- Beyond the tunnels, the trail continues west. Across the river are immense log piles at Bingen. On the Oregon shore, opposite the logs, is a rocky outcrop, Koberg Beach State Recreation Site, which used to have a dance hall.
- Continue to the Mark O. Hatfield West Trailhead. Its excellent interpretive center offers more detail on the Historic Highway, along with restrooms.
- Please always stay on the trail and clean your boots before and after you hike. Hikers and their dogs are common vectors for spreading invasive seeds.
When this section of the Columbia River Highway was built in 1921, road builders dynamited through solid basalt to create the tunnels, which run consecutively for 390 feet. In the 1930s, the tunnels were widened and their masonry portals lost, casualties of increasing vehicle size. By the 1940s, with ever-increasing vehicle size, traffic lights were installed to allow traffic to flow only in one direction at a time.
A new highway “water route,” as it was then called, was completed through this area in 1954. It is now I-84. The tunnels became obsolete and were filled with rock rubble. Over the decades, trees sprouted and grew on the roadbed. Old rights of way associated with the highway reverted to landowners.
In the 1980s, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act incorporated the development plan to restore the old highway as a hiking and biking route. In the section between Hood River and Mosier, The Trust for Public Land began purchasing segments of the highway from landowners. Three gravel pits were closed, with two being naturally restored and one serving as the future Hood River parking area.
The two tunnels required massive excavation and refurbishing. Federal and state funds were used to cover these costs, but in the final stages of construction, the state of Oregon was $500,000 shy of completing the project and the only remaining source of income they could find was an Oregon gas tax fund. Using these funds would have required the Oregon Department of Transportation to reopen that segment to automobiles, so Friends founder Nancy Russell, along with her husband, Bruce, made a $500,000 anonymous gift to ensure the highway would remain a road free of automobiles. The highway and tunnels reopened in 2000 as the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, open only to non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians.
Also to note is the glacial erratic rock resting near the Mark O. Hatfield East Trailhead. Most of the rock in the Gorge is made of basalt. However, there’s a unique rock made of granite that lies just east of the Mosier Twin Tunnels. The rock floated here encased in ice from Glacial Lake Missoula in Montana during one of the Ice Age Floods. Now it is left here high and dry as a reminder of how the Gorge was shaped by the floods between 13,000 and 15,000 years ago.
If you have the legs for it, stay on the old highway beyond the West Trailhead. The road is now shared with cars, and drops in a series of loops into Hood River. It’s a 2-mile ride or walk into downtown, with about 300 feet of elevation loss you’ll have to make up on the way back.
Fuel up downtown or on the waterfront at brewpubs, cafes, or ice cream shops. If the day is hot, head on down to the beach at the Hood River Event Site and watch the kiteboarders, swim a bit, or relax on the grass.
Back in Mosier, drive east on scenic roads to wineries on State Road and Highway 30. They’re open for tastings April through October weekends. In June and July, many cherry orchards on Highway 30, State Road, and Root Road are open for U-pick. Bring a cooler and fill it up.
Other Hikes at or Near This Trailhead
To start in Mosier: On I-84, take exit 69/Mosier and follow the exit road, the Historic Highway, as it curves toward the east; just as it straightens out, turn left onto Rock Creek Road. Pass under the freeway ramp and stay on Rock Creek Road 0.7 mile to a parking area on the left, the Mark O. Hatfield East Trailhead to the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.
To start in Hood River: On I-84, take exit 64/Highway 35/White Salmon. Turn right at the stop sign and make another right turn. Head uphill for 0.4 mile to a four-way intersection. Turn left here for the Historic Highway State Park. Wind up the hill for 1.2 miles and turn left into the parking area at Mark O. Hatfield West Trailhead (map).