Cascade Locks
The toll for a passenger car to cross the Bridge of the Gods is 50 cents, the same as when the span opened in 1926. The rare pedestrians who must brave the bridge's open steel grating in the traffic lanes are charged 25 cents. Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers are free.

This beaten-down pit stop on Interstate 84 has always had it rough. The unemployment rate is perennially stuck in the teens. About half of the businesses have closed in the last decade. More than 20 percent of the residents live below the poverty line. There was a glimmer of hope back around 2000 when the Warm Springs Indians floated a plan to put an off-reservation casino in town. It was vigorously opposed by environmentalists and competing gaming interests. Even with the complete support of the town, that plan went nowhere. The Eagle Creek fires of 2017 just made things worse for tourism. The civic marketing slogan should be: "Welcome to Our String of Bummers!"

Not to be totally negative, for there is a major PCT milestone to celebrate. Cascade Locks is the lowest point on the trail and the Bridge of the Gods is the crossing from Oregon to Washington. I recall my heart was pounding the whole way across. The bridge would bounce each time a truck rolled past me and I could see the Columbia River far below my feet through the steel grating. There is no pedestrian walkway.

On food, as far as I can see there are currently only three establishments worth noting. The old standby, Char Burger, has been re-christened Bridgeside (735 WaNaPa St., 541 374-8477). (What dolt would kill a name that's been an Oregon roadside legend for three generations?) The old steam-table cafeteria-style chow has been replaced by an unremarkable lineup of sandwiches, burgers and pizza. Yet there are a handful of hipped-up touches, such as "The PCT," a $12 veggie burger.

For PCT people the most important business is the Cascade Locks Ale House (500 WaNaPa St., 541-374-9310). History runs deep here. The operation was originally a boarding house for workers building the Bonneville Dam. In relatively recent incarnations, the restaurant side has been Suzie's Suds Locker, the Lakeside Inn, the Salmon Row Pub and the Pacific Crest Pub and Hostel, among others. Under the current regime, which took over in 2012, it still looks very much like the Salmon Row Pub I remember from 12 years ago.

They still sell the house-made "world famous" horseradish. There's an attractive lineup of "famous" pizza, sandwiches and burgers plus a good selection of regional microbrews on tap. Unfortunately if you want a Walking Man IPA now, you have to cross the state line. (Walking Man Brewing has opened their own brewpub in Stevenson, just on the other side of the river.) The Ale House will hold PCT resupplies. Although I'm not familiar with the new regime, this would still probably be my first stop in town. It sure would be nice if they could do something upstairs with a few beds for hikers. Over many decades there's been a lodging component here on and off. Time to get it back on. If there is a trail register in Cascade Locks currently, it's probably behind the bar at the Ale House.

Cascade Locks lacks a full supermarket. There is the Columbia Market (450 WaNaPa St.), a modest and expensive franchise mini-grocery where you could probably cobble together a resupply. Metro Portland is one hour west on Highway 84. I was unable to locate any transit option. Hood River, a Gorge tourism hub about six times the size of Cascade Locks, is 20 miles east.

In addition to the venerable Ale House and the semi-venerable Bridgeside, there's an upstart, founded in 2013: Thunder Island Brewing (515 Portage Rd., 971 231-4599). Although it's about 200 yards from the Ale House as the crow flies, unless you are reincarnated as a crow, it requires a long, roundabout walk.

The hotel situation is still dismal. There is the Best Western Columbia River Inn (735 WaNaPa St., 541 374-8777), which was hiker-friendly when I was through many years back. I don't know if the PCT discount is still in place but it can't hurt to ask. (Call the hotel directly, not the corporate reservation line.) There are also three cheap motels not worth mentioning.

While I do recall a couple of really good meals at the old Salmon Row Pub, the next time I come through Cascade Locks the plan is to pick up a resupply box and keep moving. I would no longer consider an overnight here, considering the proximity of Trout Lake, where the vibe is so much brighter.

Cascade Locks map

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