Jim O’Horo Columbia Gorge Explorer
The 2023 Jim O’Horo Columbia Gorge Explorer was a blast! Click here to read all about it!
Registration for the 2024 Columbia Gorge Explorer will open in January 2024. Check back on this page for more details.
Please contact Christi Horton with questions: [email protected]
PLEASE NOTE: Only members of the Portland Bicycling Club or the Vancouver Bicycling Club will be covered for accident insurance by their respective clubs’ insurance policies (this insurance is supplemental to your primary policy and is solely intended to provide partial assistance with co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses). If you register for this ride and you are NOT a member of one of these two clubs, you will be fully responsible for your own accident/medical insurance. You are welcome to join either club prior to the ride to enjoy this benefit (join VBC here, or PBC here).
This four-day scenic touring classic starts in Vancouver and takes two days to ride east along the Columbia River, crosses the Columbia at Biggs Junction, and takes two more days to return to Vancouver along the Oregon side. For many years, Jim O’Horo, a member of both the Vancouver Bicycle Club and the Portland Bicycling Club, and an activist in the cycling community (think Alice B. Toeclips award), organized and led this ride. Jim passed away in 2014, and the ride was renamed in his honor.
This is a moderately paced, 4-day, self-supported (i.e., loaded) bike camping tour of the spectacular Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, covering 51-65 miles per day, through breathtaking but sometimes challenging terrain. The 2023 tour leaves Vancouver, WA on Friday May 26, traveling east in Washington, descending past the Stonehenge WWI Memorial, crossing the Columbia River at Hwy 97, and returning to Vancouver on Monday, May 29 by riding west in Oregon. The tour allows plenty of time for sightseeing at the many cultural, historical, and scenic points of interest. We will take side roads where possible in order to avoid congestion. Parts of Washington Highway 14 are busy and narrow, but unavoidable.
We have reserved camping spaces for 50 riders. Registration will remain open until we reach that number or until May 15, whichever comes first. Online registration will be open until then, and mail-in registrations MUST be RECEIVED before registration closes, so that we have the opportunity to cancel any unneeded campsites.
Maps and cue sheets will be emailed to participants as in previous years, but we will have downloadable maps and cue sheets for your GPS or smart phones. Links for the downloads will be provided to registered riders.
If you want to try bicycle camping, here’s an inexpensive opportunity to experience some of the best scenery in North America. This tour has run for more than 20 years to rave reviews. Although this is a good match for both first-time and experienced “tourers,” riders need to be physically prepared for the daily mileage and sustained hill climbing (mileages shown below are close, but individual bike computers may vary slightly). Side trips and shortcuts may also affect the total mileage.
Day 1. (51 miles) Vancouver to Home Valley Park. Starting at Larson’s Bakery, we’ll head out via local roads through Camas and Washougal, along forested Washougal River Road, drop down to Hwy 14, then pass Beacon Rock, Columbia River Gorge Interpretive Center, Bonneville Dam, and the town of Stevenson, taking in the views of scenic Gorge peaks before camping at a small county park just past the turnoff to Carson. Supplies and restaurants are available in Stevenson. Ride Leaders will be available at 7:00 a.m. for check-in. All riders should leave the start by 8:00 a.m.
Check out some 2019 videos of the ride: Day 1 of 4 Columbia River Gorge Explorer
Day 2. (62 miles) Home Valley to Deschutes River State Park.
Continue past stunning cliffs and peaks, through a series of tunnels and passing Catherine Creek scenic area, the small towns of Bingen and Lyle, and the pictographs at Horsethief Lake State Park. Then climb through open hills with expansive Gorge views to Maryhill Winery and Maryhill Museum of Art (extensive collection of Rodin sculptures) before a breathtaking descent (9.8%, according to RwGPS) past Stonehenge and crossing the Columbia into Oregon and heading to our campsite on the Deschutes River. Some food (mostly fast food) is available in Biggs.
2019 day 2 video: Day 2 of 4 Columbia River Gorge Explorer
Day 3. (49-52 miles) Deschutes State Park to Viento State Park. Warm up with a short ride to The Dalles for a hearty breakfast. Most riders traditionally eat at Cousins Restaurant. Then we’ll continue on the Historic Columbia River Highway for the steady climb to the Rowena Crest viewpoint, continuing on a car-free multi-use path through the spectacular Mosier tunnels, then via Hood River to our forested campsite. Supplies, restaurants, and bike shops are available in Hood River. For hardy souls with low gears and tough tires, there is also an alternate route on a backroad with a big hill and gravel.
2019 day three video: Day 3 of 4 Columbia River Gorge Explorer
Day 4. (58 miles) Back to Vancouver, mostly along the Historic Columbia River Highway including recently added car-free paved trail sections, through Cascade Locks, past seven waterfalls including Multnomah Falls, with a climb to yet another spectacular viewpoint at Crown Point before descending to ride along the Columbia and back to our starting point. The link-up in the bike path between Viento State Park and Cascade Locks is now complete, so if you don’t mind another 600′ climb, no more riding on the Interstate!
2019 day four video: Day 4 of 4 Columbia River Gorge Explorer
Things to Know
This tour was designed so that first-time bicycle campers can try loaded touring at minimal expense. Participants pay $25 with registration that covers the cost of our reserved group campsites on all three nights.
NO SAG is provided for this tour. The tour is self-supported. You must be able to ride the indicated distances with your gear and be able to do basic repairs yourself including fixing a flat and replacing a dropped chain. A few basic tools should be part of your gear. You need your own emergency contact and backup plan in case of severe mechanical failure or injury. Make sure you and your bike are in proper condition for the ride. Not to worry, however, if you are not an ace bike mechanic. There will be quite a few riders who are, and they can at least jury rig something to get you to the next bike shop. In fact, this is a terrific opportunity to learn from more experienced touring cyclists, including some who have ridden cross country. Riders may choose to find a partner or two to share gear and lighten each other’s load.
Yes, there are sustained hills, but no long grade exceeds 7%, and at the expense of missing some of the scenery, three of these can be bypassed. The route has been designed to take advantage of quiet roads and multi-use paths at every opportunity, but there are still stretches where it is necessary to ride on the shoulder of a busy highway or freeway.
Although designed for camping, the route includes enough motels and B&Bs to provide other lodging options in the case of severe weather or just plain personal preference. If you will not be camping, please inform the ride leaders in advance. Even if you do not camp with the group, the $25 registration fee is still required.
Each day provides multiple opportunities to stop at cafes, restaurants, and grocery stores (although there are no restaurants at the campsites); some riders choose to carry most of their food, while others prefer to minimize their load and eat out as much as possible or buy food at stores near the campgrounds.
Starting in the spring, registered riders will receive emails containing suggested gear lists and other information such as cue sheets and a detailed itinerary. There’s so much to see and do on this route you can’t possibly do it all, so we’ll supply a laundry list of possibilities including many historic sites, side trips to parks, hot springs, and several museums.
The ride leaves Friday, May 26, 2023, between 7:00 am and 8:00 am, in small group staggered starts, from Larson’s Bakery, 13411 SE Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver, Washington. Riders must sign in at the start. If you can’t make the early start (or just don’t feel like getting out of bed so early), the start will be open until 8:00 a.m. Just be prepared to encounter heavier traffic on Washougal River Road and parts of Highway.
Registration for the 2024 Columbia Gorge Explorer will open in January 2024.
For additional information or questions, email the ride leaders, Christi Horton and Dave McQuery of the Portland Bicycling Club, or Kyly McMurray of the Vancouver Bicycle Club.