Heading east from Portland you can catch the old Columbia River highway, the first scenic highway built in the US, that along the Columbia River Gorge. This is a stunning area, a gaping gorge shaped by basalt flows and massive floods, with the higest concentration of waterfals in the country. Plus it has wonderful bike route. The old highway was finished in 1920 and later abandoned when a larger highway was built further down the gorge to handle the high traffic. But the old highway is being restored for tourists and some sections are biking/hiking only. We stopped at the Bonneville fish hatchery, which you can visit for free, and saw 6ft sturgeon in their ponds. The sturgeon are an ancient-looking fish that hasn’t changed much over time and remind me of a shark.
We also tried to visit the Bonneville lock and dam, but cyclists and pedestrians are only allowed on the first island to see the locks, you need to be in a vehicle to cross the next bridge to the damn. By coincidence a barge was coming through just as we arrived and we watched the locks in action. Two large barges came through side by side, with only a couple feet of clearance on either side of the channel wall, and millions of gallons of water drained in 20 minutes! But this also made us reflect on what it means to tame the rivers this way, many creatures that depend on the river are affected, for exapmle, the sturgeon populations upstream of the damn are doing much worse than those below the damn.
In, terms of camping along the way the X campground has hiker/biker sites, but there are also lots of trails for backpacking into the Mount Hood National Forest. We hiked in along Eagle Creek, one of the most popular trails for a good reason. You’re up along cliffs, with so many waterfalls they don’t all get named, and you can even pass through a tunnel behind one of the falls (aptly named Tunnel Falls). A bit of an adrenaline rush as you’re also along a cliff which is now slippery as it gets wet. Camping is allowed anywhere past 3.3 miles, where you cross the high bridge. You’ll know it when you see it.
We found the best spots with water access (you’ll want a dip in the cool creek) a mile or 2 further along. After 2 nights we hiked out and continued east. The biking trail has a small set of stairs, but very managable, and extends to Bridge of the Gods. The scenic bikeway is currently awaiting another section to be built (so bikes can eventually avoid 84 completely), if you want to continue east on the Oregon side.
We crossed at the Bridge of the Gods, its where the PCT hikers cross too, and has a 15 mph limit for cars so felt very safe. However, then you are on highway 14, which is akin to 101. Going very early in the morning helped to avoid the trucks.
There is also 2 miles of intermittent short tunnels, which have warning lights that bikers can activate to let cars know there is a bike inside. We did these at 6am and had no trouble. There are craft breweries and wineries throughout this area, well earned after a long days ride. There is also a bit of a reprieve from 14 along route 8. Some boulders have fallen into 8 at the beginning, but it clears up soon. This takes you up, with great views of the Columbia.
Our journey took us to Klickitat, so we took a turn up 142 and followed the swifly flowing Klickitat river, with views of Mount Hood. Rafters were floating down in the calmer parts and we took a dip to escape the heat. It gets quite hot. There is also a gravel trail but not worth it unless you have a serious mountain bike (really large gravel), we tried and turned around (fyi, cell service drops off as you head up).