Every time I venture into the Oregon outdoors, I need only to tilt back my head and admire the mountain-filled horizon to remember why the ancients believed gods lived in high places. And I get that same vibe when I head into the Columbia River Gorge and lose myself in the foggy hills.
There’s one hike in particular that I enjoy hitting when I want a simple stroll through the area: The Mosier Twin Tunnels trail. The trail is part of the Historic Columbia River Highway, a roadway built in the 1920’s that caused travelers no end of trouble due to rockslides. When the water-level roadways used by Columbia Gorge travelers today opened, the old road was abandoned. In 2000 it was reopened as a hiking and biking trail. There are multiple ways of starting and stopping along the full length of the highway, but I’d recommend the Mosier Twin Tunnels section as a great place to sample the path.
To hike this section, start at the Mark O. Hatfield East Trailhead, which leads up the shoulder of Rock Creek Road. About 0.2 miles in you’ll pass through a gate and connect with the old highway. The path is shaded by pines trees and Douglas fir, and bordered by the rocky hillside. You’ll pass a small waterfall, fields spotted with rocks,and a picnic table. Look soon after for the edge of the Columbia Gorge as the trail turns west.
The path leads out to stone guardrails and great views of Eighteen Mile Island and the gray waters of the Columbia River. Keep walking another half mile and you’ll encounter a new lookout built to overlook the river and Gorge. In April and May you’ll find the grassy section by this vista delightfully abundant in wildflowers, especially arrowleaf balsamroot and Columbia Gorge lupine.
Just beyond the lookout is the east tunnel. Inside the tunnel you’ll find carved messages and the names of people from a hunting party that was snowbound here in the early 1920s. You can also wander to the side passages that lead to windows known as adits.
As you exit the tunnel you enter the covered Twin Tunnels Catchment Structure (built to protect folks from rockfalls). If your feet still want to keep walking after this point, the trail continues another 4 miles to the Mark O. Hatfield West Trailhead.
Directions to the Mark Hatfield O. Hatfield East Trailhead: From I-84 take Exit #69 and follow the Historic Columbia River Highway. You come to a bridge, and follow the road in a left-turn loop underneath it. Follow Rock Creek Road to a trailhead parking lot about 1 mile down.
There is a $5 parking fee at the lot. Be sure to look out for poison oak and snakes on the trail, as both have been found on this route in the past.
(Note that you can also start this hike from the western trailhead.)