"Twin Tunnels" Hood River Things to Do Tip by glabah
Hood River Things to Do: 16 reviews and 32 photos
The Columbia Gorge Highway was built as both a transportation but also as a recreational road - in 1913 the whole interstate highway system was still many years in the future. Supposedly the cheif engineer on the project said he designed it not to "mar what God had put there."
As part of this project, quite a number of special scenic tunnels were blasted out of the rock cliffs.
One of the tunnels had special archways in the side so that people could get a great view out fo the side of the tunnel as they drove through it. Various other tunnels were specially built.
The last of those tunnels in existence is the "twin tunnels" near Hood River. They suffered a similar fate as their cousin tunnels elsewhere on the road: when interstate 84 was finished, the tunnel was filled with rock to keep people from going inside. Thankfully, it wasn't blasted out of existence like some of the others were.
In the 1980s there was an effort started to try to create a trail through the Gorge using the abandoned segments of the old Columbia Gorge highway. These tunnels would be part of this plan.
It wasn't until fairly deep in the 1990s that some actual progress was made in this proposal, and progress was quite slow.
Today, there is now a Mark O Hatfield Trail between Hood River and Mosier that uses the old highway, and as much as possible restores the highway to the way it once looked in the 1910s and 1920s. The road is mostly closed to vehicles (there are occasional exceptions for special historic auto groups but those are only during very special occasions).
The tunnels are located at approximately milepost 72 on the trail, or about 5 miles from the parking area.
The tunnels have been modified somewhat from their original form. They were widened for trucks and other larger vehicles in the years after the highway was built and before the Interstate was built. The process of filling the tunnel with rock, then removing it decades later caused some stability problems here and there on the slope, and so today a huge structure exists to protect those on the trail below from any rocks that may fall from the cliff above the road.
Also, the tunnels are no longer really "twins", as the rock face was blown up on the west tunnel as part of the 1960s demolition effort, and the two tunnels connected by the protective structure. However, what is here today is as best as possible a restoration of what was left here and still restorable.
It is still possible to view the Columbia Gorge out the windows that were built into the side of the tunnel. However, the original spectacular walkway that once graced the side of the cliff outside the tunnels is mostly gone. There are a few places where the ornate wall that was once at the edge of the walkway can still be seen, and parts of an old staircase that was part of the walkway is still there as well, though you can only see those remnants of this once great structure at a distance from the end of one of the tunnels.
Thanks to the windows in the side of the tunnel that were so thoughtfully provided by the designers almost 100 years ago, it is possible to get through the tunnel without a flashlight. However, you will want to bring a flashlight anyway, as there are a few locations were people have carved their names in the wall of the tunnel. Many of these names are modern vandalism, but there are a few historic ones, such as the "Snowbound Nov 19 to 27, 1921" message seen in photo 5. Such messages, while I suppose strictly speaking vandalism, are today more of a part of the historic highway's long and storied history.
Also, such messages show how much more difficult travel by road was in the 1910s and 1920s than it was today: bring your food and water with you, and hope that some day you will eventually make it through the rough roads and bad weather conditions.
To get to the tunnels from Hood River, go east on the main two lane road through town. This starts off as State Street, and at a 4-way stop on the east side of Hood River (the river itself - just after the bridge) the road changes name to Old Columbia River Drive. After it weaves up the side of the hill (take a look at Google Maps of that thing!) it becomes somewhat straight and heads east. The road eventualy comes to an end at the trailhead for the Mark O Hatfield Trail or Historic Columbia Gorge Highway Trail, depending on what sign you are reading. You will then to either walk or bike from this point east to the tunnels. If you are only interested in seeing the tunnels and not the Columbia Gorge scenery, then it should be noted that the Twin Tunnels are much closer to the Mosier end of the trail, and you may want to walk or bike in from that end.
The web site below is the state web site for the state park in which the tunnels sit. It is called "Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail" and is part of the Oregon State Parks system. It is a pay to enter park, and there is a fee pay station at the entrance to the park.
This is located within a parking fee area state park, so you will have to visit the self-service fee machine as described in my Oregon State Parks tip to pay for your visit, unless you have an Oregon State Parks annual pass.
Directions: from Hood River, go east on the main two lane road through town. The road eventualy comes to an end at the trailhead for the Mark O Hatfield Trail. You will then to either walk or bike from this point east to the tunnels. More instructions above.
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