You can’t do any real hiking without a car, right? Wrong. There are literally days worth of hikes a person without a car can do in the Columbia River Gorge. Here are a few I have come up with on the Oregon side.
Hiking in the Gorge without a car means simply being patient, flexible on timing, and getting to know the schedules and logistics of public bus systems — specifically the Columbia Gorge Express on the Oregon side.
Here, I am just going to hit the basics, making suggestions for Gorge hikes you can do without a car. For details, I will refer you to the Field Guide at OregonHikers.org, which is operated by volunteers with Trailkeepers of Oregon. At times those hike descriptions might have slightly different starting points than the one you’re using, so get a good map and learn to use it.
Full disclosure: While I have done all of these hikes, I have not done them car-free. I’m just pointing you to the schedules and hike descriptions and letting you work it out. If you have feedback or a question, please leave a comment.
You can also read about many of these hikes in my book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland.
(And yes, that’s an affiliate link, meaning if you use that to buy a book or anything else, you basically buy me a shot of espresso. Thanks!)
Car-Free Hikes From Multnomah Falls
You take the Columbia Gorge Express, which during Covid requires you to book a seat in advance. Pick it up at TriMet’s Gateway Transit Center (here’s their Trip Planner), and in half an hour you’re at Multnomah Falls. From there, you can:
Car-Free Hikes From Cascade Locks
The Columbia Gorge Express doesn’t just go to Multnomah Falls; the next stop 15 minutes later is in downtown Cascade Locks, from where it’s a 0.3-mile walk to either of the following trailheads.
- From the Historic Highway Trailhead, hike the restored, paved and carless Historic Columbia River Highway for 2.4 miles over to the Eagle Creek Trailhead, from which you can hike many terrific options, including several along beautiful Eagle Creek itself.
- Do a little loop around the west side of Cascade Locks.
- From the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead, hike on the Pacific Crest Trail to Dry Creek Falls, and a little farther to the Herman Creek Pinnacles and another waterfall. or to Mexico.
- Go beyond that a couple miles to the entire system around the Herman Creek Trailhead. This one probably only makes sense if you intend to spend a night over there, either at the trailhead campground or in the backcountry.
- Connect all the above in an epic backpacking loop: up Eagle Creek to Wahtum Lake, maybe then on to Mount Hood and back on the Mount Hood Express Bus, or back down Herman Creek or the PCT to Cascade Locks.
From Cascade Locks, you can also walk across the Bridge of the Gods and find the PCT at the Ice House Lake Trailhead. From here, you can follow this “Fort Rains” hike along the PCT and then continue another mile or so to Gilette Lake. Our put in another 7 miles one-way to Table Mountain. Or about 500 more to Canada!
Car-Free Hiking in Hood River
In the town of Hood River, there are two named hikes — although the whole place is nice for walking around, eating and drinking. And the newly developed riverfront is fun with restaurants, a brewery, and a lot of windsurfers.
The main hike in town is the Historic Columbia River Highway to Mosier, a roughly five-mile stretch that goes through the Mosier Twin Tunnels. It starts at the Mark Hatfield West Trailhead (Google Maps), which is about a two-mile walk from the Gorge Express bus’s second stop in town. So you might want to grab an Uber (which is in Hood River) or search online for a local taxi service, of which there are a few.
If you’re gonna Uber or taxi it up, then you could take one seven miles from the Hood River stop to the Coyote Wall hike, or a little more to the numerous options at Catherine Creek. Both of those are on the Washington side of the Gorge.
The other hike in Hood River is the Indian Creek Trail, which you can pick up at the Hazel Avenue Trailhead, more in town than the Hatfield Trailhead and just under a mile walk from the second bus stop in town.
From Hood River to Mount Hood Without a Car
If you’re into snowshoeing and/or snow skiing, there is even a bus from Hood River to Mount Hood in the winter. From December through March, the Gorge to Mountain Express, which takes off from one of the Gorge Express stops in Hood River, goes to Teacup Lake (for cross-country skiing) and Mount Hood Meadows, where there’s also a snowshoe area.
While this doesn’t run in the summer, it does open up a chance for snowy fun.
Car-Free Hikes From The Dalles
Yes, there are even hiking trails in The Dalles! The Gorge Express makes its last stop in town, and the trailhead for the 3.5-mile Chenowith Tableland Loop Hike is less than a mile from the stop.
The Dalles Riverfront Hike starts at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, about two miles from the bus stop, so you’d probably want to take an Uber or taxi there. It’s a cool museum, as well.
Read about more great hikes near Portland. Connect with Paul: