Happy 100th Birthday to the Historic Columbia River Highway: A 2016 Road Trip & Centennial Celebration - Part 1

By: Guaranty RV
Posted On: May 19, 2016
RVers have mapped the highways and byways of America for well over a century, since the first time someone hitched a trailer to an automobile (1910, give or take a little) and said, “It’s time for a road trip!” Here at Guaranty RV, we’re proud to say that our home state of Oregon has been part of the RVing lifestyle from the very beginning. The perfect example of this is the Historic Columbia River Highway—called the “King of Roads"—which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. It was the first Scenic Highway built in our nation, and is still considered to be one of the most beautiful and historic highways ever built in the United States. It is now recognized as a National Historic Landmark. As 2016 marks the Centennial Celebration of the Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon is inviting visitors from around the world to the party.

The highway was officially dedicated on June 7, 1916, and quickly became a magnet for travelers from all over the nation. For more than 30 years, people came in droves to drive this stunning highway, to stop at sites along the way such as Multnomah Falls, and to get out and stretch their legs at Vista House (one of the most scenic points on the old route). Time marched on, however, and with the construction of I-84 in the 1950s, much of the old highway was left behind, destroyed or forgotten. It wasn’t until 1986, that Oregon passed the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act, which created an official scenic area that stretches 85 miles on both sides of the Columbia River, from Troutdale, Oregon and Washougal, Washington in the west to the Deschutes River on the eastern end. This reconnected the old highway and improved on the scenic nature of the route, adding hiking and bike trails and side routes that are perfect for vacation fun.

The Historic Columbia River Highway will officially be rededicated on June 7, 2016. All but five miles of the original 75-mile highway will be open to vehicles, pedestrians and/or bikes and the entire scenic area has been developed into a perfect RV vacation destination. Oregon and Washington both have activities and exhibits planned throughout 2016, the camping is wonderful and the scenery can’t be beat. So this is definitely the year to take a road trip up the Columbia!

In this two-part blog, we’re going to give you the information you need to plan a Centennial Celebration road trip. This week, we’re going to take a look at the route, and look at some of the best RV camping options. Next week we’ll lay out some must-see road trip stops.

The Route—How does 70 Miles Constitute a “Road Trip”?

You might be wondering how the Historic Columbia River Highway could ever be more than a day trip. It’s true that you could do this route in one day… if you didn’t take in all of the possible scenic hikes, amazing vistas, photo opportunities, great food options, perfect campgrounds, historical sites, etc. If you breeze over the surface, sure you can do it in a day. But if you take the time to explore the area, you could easily spend a week in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area and still not see everything.

And best of all, it’s within easy driving distance of Portland, so you also have the option of urban adventures if you so choose. You can also extend your drive by taking the
Mt. Hood Scenic Loop. And if you head east when you’re done, there is always Pendleton, Chief Joseph Country and the ghost towns of eastern Oregon to explore. But really, the Gorge has everything a happy RVer could want, so you might consider finding a couple of great campsites on the route to make a home base and take full advantage of the restful beauty of the area.

From the I-84 at Troutdale, exit 17 will take you through Corbett. Stop at the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint to get your first cliff-top view of the Columbia Gorge. From there, you have options on both sides of the river. Travel Oregon has handily mapped out the route for you on the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway (ie: the Oregon side of the Columbia), along with suggestions about places to stop. On the Washington side, there are handy guides for the local small towns and there are a number of viewpoints and small parks.

Depending on when you go, there will also be local centennial celebrations to take in, including summerfests, 4th of July festivals, dinner and lecture series, lantern slide shows, tours, dedications, art festivals and more. To catch the official rededication ceremonies, mark your calendar for June 7 and plan to be at Multnomah Falls and the Vista House at Crown Point. There will also be an official dedication at the Historic State Trail in September.

Great Places to Stay for RVers

You’ll find ideal campgrounds for RVers on the Historic Columbia River Highway—perfect spots to make your home base to explore the area, or a great place to spend a night before you move on to your next adventure.

Ainsworth State Park: Located on the eastern end of the historic highway, Ainsworth State Park is conveniently close to everything and is near Nesmith Point Trail which will lead you to a great view of St. Peter’s Dome, a 2,000 ft. tall basalt monolith that towers over the Columbia River. It has 40 full-hookup sites in a tree-filled setting, and provides flush toilets, showers, firewood, interpretive programs and universal access. One campsite is accessible to campers with disabilities.

Memaloose State Park: The Gorge area gets hot in the summer, but Memaloose State Park provides RVers with a tree-filled haven from the heat. It’s also a great place to lay out and see the stars, so budding astronomers take notice. It has 40 full-hookup sites, and provides flush toilets, showers and a dump station.

Bridge RV Park & Campground: This RV park is just across the Columbia River from Hood River, Oregon in White Salmon, Washington. Just an hour from Portland, this Good Sam park features paved roads and sites, including long pull-thru sites, 50/30/20 amp electric, water and sewer hookups, free cable TV and WiFi, clean restrooms that have showers, a 24-hour laundry room, LP gas and a 24-hour mini mart.

Next week we’re going to take note of some of the must-sees in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area during this Centennial year. If you’re passing through Lane County on your 2016 road trip, be sure to stop by our Guaranty Travel Center for anything you need, and give us a call if you need RV service or have questions.

be sure to check out part 2 of our blog

Photo: Sarah McDevitt