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Gorge Towns to Trails Coming to Life

April 12, 2024
Hiking through Tom McCall Nature Preserve.

by Gorge Towns to Trails Project Manager Renée Tkach

As one of the three pillars of Share the Wonder, Gorge Towns to Trails is positioned to take a major step forward with the success of the campaign. Once completed, the 200-mile loop trail network will connect communities with recreation, promote alternative transportation options, and create a spectacular hiking experience for people from around the world. It will also help alleviate overcrowding at popular trails, ease traffic congestion on the Historic Columbia River Highway, and introduce people to spectacular but less visited areas of the Gorge in both Oregon and Washington. To date, 80% of the lands necessary to complete the loop are already secured and 45% of the trail miles are in place.

The time is now to take the next leap toward making our vision a reality.

A trail linking the Eastern Gorge towns of Mosier and The Dalles is one of the most critical gaps in the loop. Filling this gap with a connecting trail would mark a major milestone in this ambitious project.

Funding from Share the Wonder will support planning with the U.S. Forest Service on the Mosier-to-The Dalles trail, including identifying trail corridors and conducting land surveys to map geologic hazards, wetlands, and other natural infrastructure that will dictate trail routing.

The goal is not only a remarkable recreation opportunity but also economic and social benefits for the people and communities of the entire Gorge region. Continue reading to explore a timeline of Gorge Towns to Trails progress since 2011.

2011: Friends’ Launches Gorge Towns to Trails

Since its 2011 launch, support for Gorge Towns to Trails has grown and become intertwined with city, county, and regional planning efforts. It was recently named one of Oregon’s Signature Trails.

2013: Mosier Plateau Trail

Mosier Plateau Trail. Photo by Cate Hotchkiss.

In 2013, Friends’ land trust opened the Mosier Plateau Trail to the public. Mosier Plateau attracts visitors from all over the Columbia Gorge for its vibrant wildflower displays. The trailhead is located in the heart of the charming town of Mosier, Oregon. The trail passes through the historic town cemetery and near the Mosier Creek Falls swimming hole before continuing onto our 45-acre preserve.

2016: Gorge Tourism Studio: Priority Recreation Project

The 2016 Gorge Tourism Studio, hosted by Travel Oregon, brought sustainable tourism development to the forefront for Gorge communities. Numerous government agencies, businesses, and nonprofit organizations came together to create a vision for what the region should look like in 15 years. Gorge Towns to Trails was identified as a priority recreation project within the vision plan.

2016: Washougal Waterfront Trail

The Compass, part of the Washougal Waterfront Trail. Photo by Mitch Hammontree.

Formerly home to a lumber mill, the Washougal Waterfront Trail opened up a stretch of Columbia River shoreline formerly inaccessible to hikers. The Port of Camas-Washougal and the City of Washougal partnered with Friends to bring this trail to life and positioned it as the launching pad for Gorge Towns to Trails on the Washington side.

1980s-Present: Historic Columbia River Highway

Restoration of the Mosier Twin Tunnels was a significant milestone in the effort to rebuild the Historic Highway from Troutdale to The Dalles.

The restoration of the Historic Columbia River Highway began in the 1980s. When the Mitchell Point Tunnel opens later this year, nearly 20 of 22 miles of abandoned and destroyed sections will have been reconnected with two miles left for the final connection to Hood River. Gorge Towns to Trails and the Historic Highway State Trail projects are interconnected through the shared goal of providing access and recreation opportunities to connect the Gorge through a system of trails.

2020: Steigerwald Lake Restoration and Trail

Gibbons Creek Trail at Steigerwald. Photo by Debbie Asakawa.

In 2020, Friends transferred a 160-acre riverfront property called Steigerwald Shores to U.S. Fish and Wildlife. This property offers nearly a mile of riverfront, with dramatic views of Crown Point, Vista House, and the peak of Mt. Hood. Within the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the property gave U.S. Fish & Wildlife a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand the refuge and undertake the largest-ever habitat restoration project on the lower Columbia River. The project converted farmland back to wetland and reconnected over 900 acres of floodplain to the Columbia River. In addition to habitat restoration, the project relocated and expanded the existing trail and brought us one step closer to a Washougal-to-Stevenson Gorge Towns to Trails connection.

2020: Lyle Cherry Orchard Trail Expansions Completed

Two additional loops were added to Friends’ Lyle Cherry Orchard in 2020 and 2021. Photo by Cate Hotchkiss.

In 2020, the Washington Trails Association (WTA) completed construction of the Cherry Loop on the existing trail, creating an additional .8 miles of new trail and rerouting problematic sections. In 2021, WTA completed construction of the Lyle Loop, which added two more miles to the Lyle Cherry Orchard trail system.

2022: Signature Trail Designation

Through the 2022 Oregon Signature Trails Inventory process, Gorge Towns to Trails was identified as one of 15 trails with the existing infrastructure, support, and momentum to provide access to iconic landscapes and world-class trail experiences.

2023: Mosier to The Dalles Trail Conceptual Design

Friends and the U.S. Forest Service Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area have jointly announced an initiative to engage the community in the planning and development of a new link in Gorge Towns to Trails connecting Mosier to The Dalles, Oregon. Learn more at

2024: Mount Ulka Overlook & Trail

Pictured here, Mt. Ulka will connect the Discovery Center to The Dalles Riverfront Trail. Photo by Cate Hotchkiss.

A proposal to connect a trail from the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum and The Dalles Riverfront Trail to a Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust preserve on Seven Mile Hill is under consideration and in the design phase. With the assistance of Trailkeepers of Oregon, we have developed a viable six-mile roundtrip route exploring endless views of the Gorge, Mt. Hood, and The Dalles area.

To reach our $6.6 million goal for Share the Wonder, we’ll need the support of the entire Friends community. Our success requires action from each of us. By sharing the wonder with a gift today, you can help Friends make an even bigger impact on the lands, wildlife, plants, and communities of the Gorge.