Motorcycle Touring: Columbia River Gorge, Washington - Oregon

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Going South

Just GORGEous

Just four-plus hours south of Seattle lies a wonderland of great roads, beautiful scenery and some of the best stopping points in the state - The Columbia River Gorge.

above: The author prepares to be sacrificed at at the Stonehenge/Veterans War Memorial on the Columbia River Gorge. Photo by Gracie X 

Since the creation of dams and numerous roads in this area, the Columbia River Gorge has become a playground for all sorts of recreational activity. Climbers ascend Mt. Hood, wind surfers sail along the river and tourists hit the many view points. But for motorcyclists, there's even more to look forward to: some of Washington's best roads.

Begin with the trip south from Puget Sound. Sure, you could high-tail it taking I-5 south, but then you'd miss out on some serious fun. As an alternate, take 167 south to 410 east, exiting at Sumner and take a series of roads from Orting through Electron, Eatonville and Elbe to Morton. Bill Nolan lays out more detail in his article, Cascade Foothills Bypass .

From Morton, head 15 miles east on SR12 to Randall. This is where the term TPH comes into play – Trailers Per Hour. Luckily, this lasts only about 20 minutes. By the way – have you ever thought of taking a nice long ride before Memorial Day or just after Labor Day? The TPH factor is almost non-existent during the month of May and the later weeks of September.

Now ride south around the east side of Mt. St. Helens heading toward Cougar. This is an awesome stretch of road, traveled by few and loaded with magnificent views of Mt. St. Helens. You can also sidetrack to Windy Ridge from here. It's a stunning ride into the 1980 blast zone that continues to be all too visible today.

Some of the best roads don't have numbers, but using a map, navigate your way to Wind River Road, a small road in Carson, a town on the south side of the state just off SR 14.  As one rider put it, "This road has some of the best laid out S-curves in the state."  Couldn't have said it better – but I'll try: Whoever laid this out must have been a motorcyclist.

Once you've reached your destination of The Gorge zone, kick up your heels for the evening at one of the many motels along the road or check into one of the swanky resorts scattered about.

godsbridge.jpg (136854 bytes)A three-day trip gives you time to explore both the Washington and Oregon sides of the gorge, where you'll find museums, wineries, viewpoints, geological wonders and more all along the area. A few of my favorites include the Maryhill Museum, the Stonehenge replica which stands as a tribute to fallen WW1 victims, encircling Mt. Hood or cruising SR 14 westward at sunrise or eastward at sunset. With the sun at your back, the flowers, ridges and water are illuminated as if in an MGM movie.

Be on the look out for rapid changes in the weather, particularly in the spring and fall months. Winds along the Gorge can whip up to 50mph in a heartbeat without a warning.

above: The Bridge of the Gods is a favorite crossing point into Oregon

Ready to head home?  Don't miss my favorite road leading away from the Gorge.  From Lyle, take 142 east from east SR14 and travel through 40-plus miles of fruit and wheat land to Goldendale. Stunning.  Many say it's one of the best roads in the state, but you'll just have to decide for yourself.

From Goldendale, go north on 97 and make your way through the mural town of Toppenish to Yakima. Sure, you could wiz on up to I-90 from here and be home in time for dinner, but where's your sense of adventure? For a scenic option take 12 west to 410 west and make your way over Chinook Pass (road closures due to snow are noted at the junction). While you're in this godforsaken land, take in a meal and some fuel at Whistlin' Jacks Lodge in Cliffdell. Your next gas option won't be until you hit Greenwater some 60 miles later. Follow 410 west until you reach your desired route homeward.

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Patrick Thomas/Fall 01

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