This is my favorite ride to recommend to bicyclists who wish to become more serious about their training and have become bored with the standard Portland routes. Working towards your first Reach the Beach? Do this ride. Want to be in shape for the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway? Do this ride. I have considered moving to Mosier solely so this route can be right out my front door.
Besides a really fantastic workout with 4600' of elevation gain in 40 miles, you also get an opening and ending section that is completely car free, sweeping vistas of the Columbia River Gorge, a downhill section of switchbacks that have been described as "comically extreme", one climb that when the wind blows can humble even the most energetic climber, and a long descent that forces a grin onto your face.
Just as an aside. If the wind is really blowing in Hood River or the temperature crawls above 90 Fahrenheit, you may want to choose a different bike ride. The climb up Seven Mile Hill is open and rather exposed to both the sun and wind, and in those conditions it morphs from a challenging climb into sheer misery.
GUIDEBOOKS & MAPS
- 75 Classic Rides Oregon by Jim Moore
- Route on CalTopo.com
- Hood River to the Dalles on Jay's Essential Bike Rides
Year round! With caveats: the top of Seven Mile Hill is around 1800' and while it will occasionally get snow in winter, it rarely persists on the road for long. What is more important is that you check the weather beforehand and have warm clothing in winter and plenty of water in summer. Be careful of black ice on chilly winter days as the trees and hills prevent parts of the pavement from receiving sun.
At the corner of Highway 35 and Highway 30 in Hood River (map) there is a paved parking area, where you can park your car. If this parking lot is full, head east a hundred meters on Old Columbia River Drive (up the hill), and you will see a second dirt parking area that is less used. Park here and prepare to ride.
From the parking area, you head up Old Columbia River Drive and in just over a mile, you reach the Mark O. Hatfield West Visitor Center, which has a bathroom and water fountain. At the visitor center there is a gate and the road turns into the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail (bike map), which is completely car free. Enjoy this section for approximately 5 miles until it ends at Rock Creek Rd. just west of the town of Mosier.
You take a left on Rock Creed Rd. and follow it into the town of Mosier, where you join the Historic Columbia Highway (Highway 30) headed East. Mosier is a fantastic little town with a couple small restaurants/pubs/cafes, a handy market for picking up extra snacks or water, and a little pullover spot with a port-o-potty and picnic tables. On weekend days when the Columbia River Highway State Trail is likely to be crowded, I will often skip the beginning of this ride and simply start in Mosier. There is a rocky parking area down near the railroad tracks that is a quick walk to the market and has partial shade for your car (map).
From Mosier, you are taking the Historic Columbia Highway/Highway 30 east all the way to The Dalles. This section is about 15 miles in length and has a nice balance of climbs, bluffs, and views. After 6.5 miles (and a short but decent climb out of a gorge) you will reach Rowena Crest Viewpoint. Roll in there and take in the view. Look over the edge and you will see the next section—if you are like me, your mouth will form a huge grin in anticipation.
The Rowena Loops. In 2.25 miles you lose over 550 feet of elevation via a series of tight loops with a straight road finish. In winter and spring, it can be gravelly and rocks will fall on the first section from the rocky cliffs, so keep your focus on the road. It will go by too quickly, so I have found myself turning around and doing a second lap if the road conditions are good.
From the bottom of the Rowena Loops, you have 6 more miles into the Dalles. You do not go into the Dalles proper, instead you take a right onto Chenowith Loop Road, which is the first serious road you see and also has a bike lane. This road is only 0.6 miles long and when you hit 10th Street you take another right.
You follow 10th Street another 0.65 miles until you take a right on Seven Mile Hill Rd. After the relative ease of the Historic Columbia Highway, you now have a bit of climbing to do. I usually take a break at the beginning of Seven Mile Hill Rd to water and fuel up for the climb.
What comes next is a 4.5 mile climb with nearly 1500 feet of elevation gain. No, it is not the hardest climb you will ever do. However, you have gone 22 miles to get here and more than half of the climb is 7%+ grade. It gets your heart pumping.
At the top, sip a bit of water, admire the view, and prepare for the descent. It's going to rock.
You descend 7 miles to Mosier, ignoring all side roads and just continuing on until you cross a bridge and cruise into the town itself. This descent flies past homes and orchards with two wide open areas exposing views of the Gorge and Mt. Adams. It is not all descent, as there are a few flattish areas and one tiny climb, but this is the reward for your effort.
Take a right when you see the Post Office (Main St.) and you are right smack in the middle of Mosier. If ambitious, you might do another lap to the Dalles or perhaps just do the Rowena Loops again. Once in Mosier, you return the way you came in and head back to Hood River via the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. Fin.
ABOUT THE NAME
I call this route The Back 40 as it is right around 40 miles in length, heads into the backroads of the Columbia Gorge, and cruises near a bunch of farms and ranches. Also, it is a bit of a mouthful to give the entire route description as a name.
Recently I have come up with the idea of doing what I call a Hike & Bike in the Columbia Gorge. First, you choose a hike you want to do, such as Dog Mountain or Mt. Defiance. Next, you choose a bike ride to do, such as The Back Forty or Lost Lake. Finally, you go do both in the same day! At the end of this challenging day, you are rewarded with dinner in Hood River. Exhausting but one hell of a day.