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  • Radford Bean

Exploring the Riverfront Trail in The Dalles

Updated: May 22

May 13, 2023—I arose early today to get a start on the day’s activities before the weather turns hotter later in the day. I never really thought of The Dalles as an interesting place to visit other than a wonderful place to shoot photos of trains running alongside the Columbia River, which I did a few times while shooting photos for railroad publications. However, owning a bike and getting tired of riding the same routes repeatedly where I live, I was looking for other areas to explore. I don’t remember how I came to discover the Riverfront Trail, but I decided to check it out while out in the Columbia River Gorge riding sections of the Old Columbia River Highway Trail.

I wanted to get an early start because I planned to stop at Rowena Crest before riding so I could get shots of the wildflowers growing there. I had never been to Rowena Crest before. Some of my cycling friends have ridden the road up to the Crest. But after driving that route, I have to say that my friends were either very brave or nuts. There is no shoulder alongside the road as it snakes its way up the side of the bluff. Blind corners also make it hard to see riders. Still, there are many cyclists who make that ride. I wasn’t one of them, satisfied to safely make the trip inside my pickup truck.

After snapping my pictures of Northwest balsamroot and common broadleaf lupine, I headed the short distance to The Dalles to begin my ride. I should have listened to a rider I met on the Twin Tunnels ride yesterday who told me to park at the Discovery Center. I had planned to park at Riverfront Park and first ride the section of trail that heads toward The Dalles Dam. Google Earth showed there to be a trail out in that direction. What Google Earth didn’t show is that the park was closed and so was that section of the trail, so I had to turn around and head back west to take the Discovery Center exit. I was on a tight time schedule because I needed to be back at Viento State Park by noon to break camp and be out of the campground by 1 p.m. Having to make this detour cost me precious minutes.

I arrived at the Discovery Center, quickly unloaded my bike and gear, and set out on the ride. The first part of the trail was very nice. Much of the trail winds around rocky outcropping in open grassy areas, but there are patches of trees the trail runs through. The trail also goes under the Union Pacific Railroad tracks as it heads toward the bank of the Columbia River. Not far from the start of the trail, perhaps a little more than a mile, I came upon Google’s data center and its massive cooling towers. I imagine all those servers produce a considerable amount of heat that needs to be dissipated. There are two Google facilities next to one another but separated by a little narrow cove the bike trail winds around.

I found myself having to dodge goose droppings on part of the trail and one family coming from the opposite direction who apparently felt they needed the whole width of the trail to ride. They need a lesson in riding etiquette.

The scenic part of the trail ends just past Klindt’s Cove. From there on, I was on a widened sidewalk that served as the trail as it ran alongside Bargeway Road and West 1st Street through the industrial port area of The Dalles, past Fort Rock where the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped in late 1805, before reaching the Columbia River commercial dock and little park there. At that park, riders can choose to turn right and pass under the Interstate 84 overpass to head into downtown. There are some old buildings in The Dalles worth checking out.

The ride between the commercial dock and the Riverfront Marina runs alongside the freeway, so it’s noisy. But it’s a short stretch.

I stopped at the marina to get a drink and eat a snack before heading back in the same direction from which I had come. The temperature was already getting warm.

On the way back, I discovered that I had missed a section of the trail, which had resulted in me having to ride on a narrow section of the sidewalk in the industrial area earlier. On the way back, access to that section of the trail was more visible, allowing me to avoid making that same mistake again.

Shortly after passing under the railroad tracks again, I stopped at what I felt was a scenic spot on the trail to shoot some pictures of riders on the trail. There were a few cyclists besides me out riding, no doubt wanting to get a ride in before it got too hot.

Cyclists riding from the railroad overpass to the Discovery Center do so along what is a switchback. Having the trail designed like that helps to reduce the steepness of the ascent. However, I found the climb to be a slow slog. I couldn’t understand why my legs were finding it so difficult to make the climb. About 50 feet from the top, I simply had to stop riding and walk those last 50 feet. My legs were aching.

It wasn’t until a got back on my bike at the top of the hill to ride across the parking lot to my truck that I realized why I couldn’t make it the remainder of the way up the hill. As I started to ride across the parking lot, I found it difficult to pedal my bike and noticed the front wheel felt mushy. I looked down and discovered my bike’s front wheel was flat. No wonder I couldn’t finish that climb. I only wondered how long I had been riding on a flat tire. There wasn’t time to fix the flat, as I needed to hurry back to Viento to take down my tent and leave. Besides, I had to stop at REI anyway to pick up a spare chain I had ordered that came in. Since REI performs free flat repairs for members, I decided to let them fix the tire.

Thus ended my cycling trip in the Columbia River Gorge. It started out on a high note but sort of ended on a low note.

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