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Discover the gorge by bike

A few disclosures: I don’t own a Sprinter van, I don’t know how many teeth are on the chainring on my mountain bike, and I don’t have a King of the Mountains on Strava other than the one from my driveway in Northeast Portland.

But I’ve been a bike commuter for a long time and have done my fair share of biking in the Columbia River Gorge, often returning to the same old spots like a Wind River salmon. I ride road bikes and mountain bikes, and like everyone else these days, I covet a few gravel bikes.

To develop these suggestions, I looked at my Strava and spoke to some top sources. This isn’t a “best of” list, because like “best pizza” and “best burger” lists, bike paths are a matter of taste. These are some great choices for a day in the Gorge. There are many, many more.

Post Canyon (spring, summer, fall)

Imagine the Disneyland of mountain biking. That’s Post Canyon, a network of trails carved into the Hood River County Tree Farm, west of Hood River. There are rides for kids and big, sketchy roller coasters. Like ski slopes, the trails are rated by difficulty.

Post Canyon has always been great, but now it’s even better. They’ve added ramps and jumps, and slick signage. Family Man, the perfect place to learn to mountain bike or teach your kids, has been spruced up with jumps, ramps, and small berms.

Side A in Post Canyon. (Anthony Effinger)

There are also new expert trails. A-Side opened this year. It winds through the woods on a white-knuckle slope. It’s hand-mown (not machinery, like most trails) by the Hood River Area Trail Stewards, or HRATS, the volunteer group that works with Hood River County to build many of the trails. My mountain biking doyen, Ben Fischler, calls it “feral,” and he’s right. The ground is soft and loamy, and trees and brush brush your handlebars.

“There are a lot of very active 30- to 60-year-olds here who don’t want to be in the air,” says HRATS President Tim Mixon. “But they want an expert trail. That’s A-Side.”

The big crowd pleaser is Grand Prix, a high speed race track through the trees with big turns and optional jumps. If you like going fast and landing sideways on the ground in twisty turns, you’ll love it.

Perhaps the best way to experience Post Canyon is to take a lesson with Bekah Rottenberg at Brave efforts (bravendeavors.com). One of her day courses gave my wife, who is normally scared of a narrow path, new skills and more self-confidence.

Rottenberg teaches all levels and coaches racers. On certain Friday nights she takes small groups to learn a particular course. She is doing Grand Prix on July 26th and I plan to be there because I need berm work.

The Syncline (autumn, winter, spring)

The Syncline is the alter ego of Post Canyon. It is located on the Washington side of the river, east of Bingen. When Post Canyon is too wet to ride (most of the winter), the Syncline is bathed in low winter light. Post Canyon is forested with Douglas firs. The Syncline is savanna, with patches of oak. Post Canyon is built-up. The Syncline is wild.

The syncline (Anthony Effinger)

The Syncline is a syncline: a fold of rock layers that have been pressed together. The western edge is called Coyote Wall, a steep basalt cliff that slopes down toward the Columbia. Rides usually begin on Old Ranch Road, a not-so-terrible climb. The higher you go, the more spectacular the views up and down the Columbia River.

Find your way to Atwood Road with this indispensable app Trail forks (trailforks.com) and ride over the top of Coyote Wall to Crybaby and then Little Moab, a rocky, black-rated descent that comes almost to the edge of the cliff. For something a little less hair-raising, try Little Maui, which winds through wildflower fields and waterfalls in the spring and feels like Scotland. Further east is Catherine Creek, another Edenic ride through oak forests and tall grass.

Mosier Twin Tunnels Bike Path

We did this hike with our son and daughter when he was 6 and she was 4. Veronica only wore footed pajamas back then, even for biking. That turned out to be a bad choice and I had to drag her up the hills with a cargo strap that tied our bikes together. Still, this trail is a fun outing with kids.

Like many trails in the Gorge, this 9-mile loop is part of the Old Columbia River Highway. Cars are thankfully banned here, and the old tunnels are fun. Start at the Mark O. Hatfield West Trailhead (stateparks.oregon.gov) east of Hood River (parking, restrooms) and head east. You will gain 300 feet in elevation. Turn around east of Mosier, return along the same trail, continue to pFriem Family Brouwers (pfriembeer.com) in Hood River, drink beer and reward your kids with fries and root beer so they learn to enjoy riding bikes.

Oldman Pass

This route is not to be ridden in pajamas with a footbed. And you don’t want to drag kids along. Decide how much you want to suffer before choosing your starting point. I prefer to start at the Karson National fish farm (fws.gov/fishfarm/carson) 17 miles north of Carson, Washington.

Head north and stay right at the fork to stay on Wind River Road. The first 6 miles are pretty quiet. It’s uphill and the road is a little rough, but your heart won’t jump out of your chest. The real climb begins at Paradise Creek Campground. From there, it’s pretty much straight up. The air cools, the trees gather more moss, the turns get tighter, and the gradient reaches Italian Alpine grades. The entire ride is only 11 miles, but it will feel longer because you gain 2,100 feet of elevation, most of it in the second half.

After catching your breath at Oldman Pass Sno-Park (toilets, flat spot to lie down and contemplate your choices), continue on the other side and after 2 miles turn left onto Cully Creek Road. Descend another 2 miles and you’ll reach McClellan Viewpoint, where Mount St. Helens feels close enough to touch on a clear day.

Head back the same way, stopping at the top of Oldman Pass to put on some windproof clothing, because you’re about to fly down the other side. The only thing holding you back, speed-wise, is your sense of self-preservation and campers. Strava tells me I regularly hit 50mph here. Traffic is light, even in the middle of summer, so you can really let loose.

Larch Mountain

If you climb closer to home, Larch Mountain gives you quads of steel. Again, your starting point determines how much uphill suffering you get. For a longer ride, start in downtown Troutdale (nice main street, food, ice cream, iron sculptures) and head south along the Sandy River on the Old Columbia River Highway (they allow cars there, for goodness sake).

Cycling – Oregon Summer – Bridge of the Gods (Anthony Effinger)

Climb 6 miles to Corbett, then another 1.6 miles to the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint (a very respectable place to start). From here, the traffic thins out and you begin climbing through Douglas fir forests. Sit tight, because you’ve got 14 miles of climbing ahead of you, and it gets steeper as you near the top.

The reward after a short hike to the lookout is a spectacular view of Wy’East (a much better name than Mount Hood and one that truly captures its grandeur).

The other reward is a 21-mile descent to the Sugarpine Drive-In, where you can order a grilled cheese waffle and the largest soft-serve sundae with chocolate brownie bites, hazelnut cubes and—go for it—gummy bears for biking your ass off.


This story is part of Oregon Summer Magazine, Willamette Week’s annual guide to the summer months, this year focusing on the Columbia River. It’s free and available everywhere in Portland beginning Monday, July 1, 2024. Find a copy at one of the locations listed on this map before they all get caught! Read more in Oregon Summer magazine online here.