One sure way to beat the Central Oregon weather blahs and the typical bland high-desert spring landscape is to head to the Columbia River Gorge where spring, although over a month late this year, is arriving. And with its arrival comes brilliant, almost iridescent green foliage, wildflowers and waterfalls crashing with runoff.
A recent ride and hike four-day trip revealed the Gorge at its best. The Oregon side of the Gorge is densely forested and verdant, in contrast to the Washington side, which is browner, sparsely timbered with wild oaks yet spotted with wildflowers and greenery in the gullies cut by small streams and springs.
Nowhere is the Washington side displayed better than at Coyote Wall and the Syncline Trail near Bingen. Here, the hills are alive with wildflowers.
Mountain biking the Syncline is interesting. Like just about every mountain bike ride in The Gorge, you’re riding either uphill or downhill. In our case, we rode well over an hour climbing more than 1,000 feet on the seemingly endless switchback trail to Catherine Creek.
From there we doubled back taking a side trail down what’s known as “Little Maui”. This trail parallels a mountain stream that slices through between two ridges and tumbles over dozens of waterfalls. And all this with spectacular views out over The Gorge toward Hood River and environs on the Columbia River’s southern banks.
A steady diet of riding the Syncline and Little Maui (it’s rock strewn and dicey in parts) would make some give up mountain biking for life. But making the ride once a year works when spring is in the air.
For day two, we hiked Eagle Creek close by the Bonneville Dam. This is an extraordinary hike following the crystalline waters of the creek up to the Lower and Upper Punchbowl falls and beyond to Tunnel Falls which are some of the most spectacular in Oregon save for the ones encountered the following day.
The next day, we hiked from Multnomah Falls heading east on Trail 400 past Ponytail Falls (with a possible side trip to Triple Falls) ending at Horsetail Falls on the historic Columbia River highway. Walking under Ponytail Falls alone makes the hike worthwhile. Being engulfed in green leaves and moss and with the waters rushing over falls and through small gorges make this an annual must hike.
The next day was given over to a casual road ride from Hood River to Mosier through the Mosier Tunnel lunch at the Ten Speed Coffee House and return. The route is 90 percent car-free, the views breathtaking and the grub good at the turnaround.
Speaking of grub, next time in Hood River try the Hood River Taqueria in the heights area. It’s a true locals place and well worth finding. Over on the Washington side, Everybody’s Brewing pub in White Salmon has a great deck, food and brew.