The Gorge Has Teeth!
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is the most visited place in Oregon. It’s no wonder with so many things to do with easy access from Interstate-84 just minutes east of the Portland metro area. Hood River is known for its beer, wine, and fruit stands. Worldclass wind and kite surfers can be spotted on the river among the salmon and sturgeon fisherman.
Northwest Dirt Churners first must acknowledge and honor that the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is located within the ancestral territories of Indigenous peoples who have protected these lands and waters since time immemorial— including the Wasco, Warm Springs, Paiute, Cayuse,
Umatilla, Walla Walla, Kah-milt-pah, Klickitat, Klinquit, Kow-was-say-ee, Li-ay-was, Ochechotes, Palouse, Pisquose, Se-ap-cat, Shyiks, Skinpah, Wah-lal-la, Wenatshapam, Wishxam, Yakama, and Nimiipuu peoples.
We offer this land acknowledgment in gratitude for all those who have come before us and those cultivating respectful relationships today and into the future; in recognition of the historical and ongoing legacy of colonialism; and in commitment to work together toward a more just and equitable future in the protection of our shared connection to these lands and waters.
The construction of the Gorge began 40-60 million years ago when molten lava began to spill from the Earth’s core to form the Columbia Basin. Lava flows from volcanic eruptions painted the basin 10-15 million years ago. Cracks from the cooling process formed the columns and walls which exposed up to 5000′ of the Columbia Basin’s crust. During the Ice Age, roughly 2 million years ago, the weight of glaciers pushed down this crust to create the Cascade Mountain Range. The mountains could not block the flow, cutting the deep Columbia Gorge. The basin flooded around 1800 years ago when an ice dam broke at Lake Missoula in Western Montana. The Columbia River Gorge is the only passage of the Cascade Mountain Range near sea level, providing some of the most striking geological findings on our planet today.
Over 200 miles of maintained trails and more primitive routes pass its hundreds of waterfalls, mountain views, and river vistas among the various species of evergreens and conifers. In September 2017, a wildfire started by a teenager playing with fireworks burned over 50,000 acres along the Gorge. Trailkeepers of Oregon and other organizations have worked hard to restore the trails damaged in the fire. Check the Forest Service Eagle Creek Fire closure updates before heading to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
The trails in the Columbia River Gorge are a trail runner’s paradise. Most trails climb hundreds to thousands of feet from trails near the river. There are perfectly manicured trails and technical sections of rocks and basalt open year-round. Expect snow at the higher elevations until late May/early June.
It’s essential to arrive at the trailheads before 9 am as the popular parking spots fill up fast. A Northwest Forest Pass is required at most of the trailheads. Many trails extend for miles and can get faint or even hidden by the snow, so it’s essential to let someone know where you are and when you will be home as a safety precaution. It’s critical to be prepared for any situation, as several runners have been lost out in the Gorge and spent the night.
Columbia River Gorge Trail Runs
Chinidere Mountain has one of the best mountain views in the Gorge wilderness. The 22-mile loop using the PCT and Herman Creek Trail is a trail runners’ favorite.
The best waterfall trail in the Gorge is Eagle Creek. The popular trail is cut right into the basalt cliffs of the Eagle Creek Canyon. A popular loop is the 23-mile Eagle Creek and Tanner Butte Loop. Unfortunately, Tanner Butte is currently closed due to the Eagle Creek Fire.
Starting at the Multnomah Falls Lodge, the Larch Mountain Trail climbs along the Multnomah Creek to its 4600′ summit. Loop the trail with Oneonta or Franklin Ridge.
Angel’s Rest is a favorite day hike for the gorgeous views of the Gorge in a two-mile ascent. Continue to Devil’s Rest for a 10-mile lollipop route.
Are you looking for some vert? There’s no better trail than Mt. Defiance, which climbs almost 5000′ in five miles. Loop it with Starvation Ridge Trail for a 13-mile outing.
Columbia River Gorge Trail Races
The Gorge Waterfalls 100k/50k was an instant classic when Rainshadow Running started the race in 2011. Unfortunately, the race took a hiatus after the Eagle Creek fire and was brought back by Daybreak Racing and Freetrail in 2022.
The Post Canyon 50k and Half Marathon occur in the Post Canyon trail system in Hood River with breathtaking views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.
Columbia River Gorge Trail Running Groups
Coffee and Microbreweries
Ultramarathon runner Jax Mariash started Stoked Roasters in Hood River in 2014. A new ownership group kept her vibe as they proclaimed Stoked as the official coffee of the outdoors. The coffee shop located on the waterfront is a solid spot for coffee and breakfast treats.
The Thirsty Cafe in Cascade Locks is a great way to grab a quick espresso drink, smoothies, and pastries before a run.
Gorges Beer in Cascade Locks has three levels, including an outdoor roof patio, to enjoy craft beers and brewpub grub.
Also located in Cascade Locks is Thunder Island Brewery. Sip on their signature beers while gazing at the Bridge of the Gods and the Columbia River.
Ferment Brewing on Hood River’s waterfront has a second-level deck to enjoy beers, cocktails, and a burger.
Pfreim Family Brewing makes award-winning classic and signature brews to pair with its brats, burgers, and salads. Expect a long wait as Pfreim gets busy on weekends.
Downtown Hood River hosts Double Mountain Brewery, the best place around for pizza and microbrews.
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