Rugged cliffs, gushing waterfalls, and a river powerful enough to carve a path through ancient lava beds — it’s no surprise that the Columbia River Gorge is Oregon’s most visited destination, a dynamic landscape that is always worth the trip. And, whether you drive, hike, or cycle the 75-mile-long route, you’ll find the best way to experience the Gorge is along the Historic Columbia River Scenic Highway.
The highway’s 100th anniversary was recently celebrated with events held at its two most prominent landmarks. I attended the ceremony to find out more about the history of the highway and the future of this beautiful stretch of road.
Opening Ceremony at Vista House
The day began at Vista House on the summit of Crown Point with a cavalcade of antique automobiles carrying drivers in period costume. The highway was built for people who love cars and this overlook is a perfect place to view nearly the entire panorama of the highway, in or out of your vehicle. Vista House, built in 1916 in typical Victorian style with soaring arches, stained glass windows and an intricate metal balustrade, is also worth a visit.
Ceremony at Multnomah Falls
During the second half of the celebration local entrepreneur and road advocate Samuel Hill (played by a living history actor) spoke about the vision he had for the Columbia River Scenic Highway over a hundred years ago. It was to be modeled after the scenic roads he’d visited in Switzerland and follow the same routes carved out by Oregon’s pioneers. A vision meant not only as a means of conveyance, but also as an avenue for visitors to take in the many amazing natural features of the Gorge, including the world-famous Multnomah Falls.
Other dignitaries were in attendance at the ceremony, including former governors Barbara Roberts and Ted Kulongoski, who provided their visions for the future of the highway and the development of the Columbia River Scenic Highway State Trail, with Gov. Kulongoski providing details on the current state of the Trail yet to be completed.
“The final five miles of the State Trail have the greatest obstacles and the greatest costs. But when they are done, people from all over the world will again come here, this time with their bikes to ride all 73 miles from Portland to The Dalles, without having to venture onto I-84, representing one of the most unique, long-term and attractive cycling experiences in the United States!”
–Ted Kulongoski, former Oregon Governor.
Three sections of the Historic Columbia River Scenic Highway State Trail are now open to cyclists, with only a 10-mile stretch yet to be developed before it is complete. When it is finished it is sure to be one of Oregon’s greatest treasures, carrying the vision of America’s first planned scenic highway into the 21st century.