Scenic byway zigzags toward Mount Hood
There's a "new" motoring adventure for visitors to Oregon. It is the Mount Hood Scenic Byway — a 105-mile-long route from Troutdale...
Special to The Seattle Times
Northwest travel guides
TROUTDALE, Ore. — There's a "new" motoring adventure for visitors to Oregon.
It is the Mount Hood Scenic Byway — a 105-mile-long route from Troutdale, just east of Portland, past Mount Hood to the Columbia River Gorge and the orchards of the Hood River Valley.
The byway's network of highways and country roads has been in place for years, although now it's being pieced together — officially — as a collection of scenic and historic treasures.
The Oregon Transportation Commission designated the route recently as a state scenic byway. The announcement climaxed a 10-year effort by 16 communities along the route, chambers of commerce, officials of the million-acre Mount Hood National Forest and others.
It's a zigzag route that soon will be identified by roadside theme signs being designed by the state of Oregon. The state also will add detailed driving directions to its web sites. Meanwhile, travelers can find helpful information by visiting www.mthoodterritory.com.
The routeFrom downtown Troutdale (pop. 14,000), the byway meanders through the Wood Village and Gresham areas to Sandy, a rural community founded by Oregon Trail pioneers. One of the best viewpoints for sightseeers is the Jonsrud Overlook in Sandy, with the forested valley of the Sandy River in the foreground and Mount Hood in the distance.
Mount Hood Regional Visitor Information Center: 888-622-4822 or www.mthoodterritory.com
West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce: 503-669-7473 or www.westcolumbiagorgechamber.com
Hood River County Chamber of Commerce: 800-366-3530 or www.hoodriver.org
After Sandy, the byway follows U.S. Highway 26 through the tiny communities Brightwood, Wemme, Zigzag and Rhododendron to Government Camp on the flanks of Mount Hood. Highway 26 is a primary route from Portland to Mount Hood's winter-sports areas.
From Government Camp (elevation 4,000 feet), visitors can opt to take a six-mile side trip up to historic Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, then return to Highway 26. Travelers also are encouraged to pause in Government Camp to tour the new Mount Hood Cultural Center and Museum alongside Highway 26.
Continuing eastward on Highway 26, the byway merges into State Route 35 leading into the Hood River Valley. Distance to Hood River from the junction of Highways 26 and 35 is about 44 miles.
The Mount Hood Scenic Byway ends, officially, in the eastern outskirts of Hood River (population 5,811). But the drive can become a loop trip by returning to the Portland area on the Interstate 84 freeway or by way of the cliff-hanging Historic Columbia River Highway above I-84. Both highways parallel the Columbia River. Portland is about 60 miles west of Hood River.
The byway is billed as an all-year motoring route, offering hiking trails, mountain biking, sport fishing, skiing and snowboarding, windsurfing, kite boarding and other recreational opportunities.
"Bylaws" about bywaysA state does not just announce a scenic byway.
First, outstanding features that qualify a route as "remarkable" must be identified. In this case, key features of the new byway include 11,237-foot Mount Hood, segments of the historic Oregon Trail, areas traversed by the Lewis and Clark expedition, homelands of Native Americans and pastoral areas with farms, ranches and vineyards.
Then a management plan must be developed with community involvement. The plan includes provisions for permanent protection of the proposed byway.
Designation in place, participants in the byway program now are hoping to win recognition of the route as a national scenic byway.
Oregon's management plan accents historical elements of the byway — especially the Barlow Road section of the old Oregon Trail. Much of the route, including U.S. Highway 26, covers the Barlow Road.
Beginning in 1841 and continuing for years after, thousands of emigrants traveled the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail from Missouri to the "promised land" of the Pacific Northwest in covered wagons.
The pioneers were nearing their main destination, Oregon's fertile Willamette Valley, when they were stalled by perilous rapids of the Columbia River near what now is The Dalles, Oregon. Some risked everything by floating the rapids. Sam Barlow had a better idea.
Barlow mapped an overland route, across the lower reaches of Mount Hood, and in 1846 opened it as a toll road — $5 per wagon.
There was a steep chute called Laurel Hill, where the settlers had to lower their wagons and livestock on ropes. The Laurel Hill site now is at the end of a short walking trail between miles 50 and 51 on Highway 26.
Later, the Barlow Road fell into disuse. Along came Henry Wemme, an early-day Portland merchant. Wemme (pronounced WEE-mee), so the story goes, foresaw the scenic possibilities of the Mount Hood area and bought the Barlow Road for about $6,000.
A few years later, weary of maintaining the road, he offered it to the state of Oregon. State officials declined. But Wemme finally had his way. He willed the road to the state, and now much of it is busy Highway 26.
Stanton H. Patty is the retired assistant travel editor of The Seattle Times.