U.S. 30: The River’s Road

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The Megler Bridge outside of Astoria. / Photo by Peter Murphy

A gallery of images from along Highway 30 is included at the bottom of this article.

The beauty of Highway 30, west of Portland, is concealed within its industrial origin at the foot of the Fremont Bridge in Northwest Portland. On the highway’s southern shoulder, Forest Park carries travelers away from the metro area along the path first blazed by Lewis and Clark during their journey of the Corps of Discovery.

Highway 30 follows the trail taken by the early explorers, as close as automobile travel allows. Outbound from Portland, the communities of Scappoose, St. Helens, Columbia City, Rainier, Clatskanie and finally Astoria—or Fort George as it was once known—await. This stretch of the highway is actually the terminus of a coast-to-coast ribbon of road that begins in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and was completed about the time that automobiles came fully equipped with doors, windows and hard tops.

Just beyond the St. John’s Bridge, at about milepost 7, the Portland neighborhood of Linnton greets travelers. Winner of the 2005 Spirit of Portland award, this community takes great pride in its mix of professionals, working class folks and artists who maintain its quirky flair. For many, Linnton is just another wayside on the highway to the northern Oregon Coast, for others it’s home sweet home.

At milepost 10, you encounter the bridge that carries travelers to Sauvie Island, where the Sauvie Island Wildlife Viewing Area, just off the highway, offers glimpses of eagles, cranes and other birds. It’s also a great dawn venue for watching the sun rise over Mt. Hood.

Soon enough, the town of Burlington falls into the rearview mirror, following Rocky Point as you enter Columbia County. From the highway, Mt. St. Helen’s beckons to the east. RV parks, golf courses and boat ramps pepper the pastoral landscape, where the river rules, and depending on the season, salmon fishing is good.

The four-lane highway yields to a more rural two-lane road at milepost 30. You might take a break here in Columbia City and sample some of the early history, including the Caples House Museum—the abode of the first doctor to serve Columbia County—complete with stunning views of the Columbia River and Mount St. Helens.

Mileposts and landmarks start passing in rapid fashion as you drive past the small town of Rainier, named after the mountain to the north, and its impressive Lewis and Clark Bridge that crosses the Columbia River into Washington. Rainier had Oregon’s only commercial nuclear power plant until it was decommissioned in 1993. Clatskanie, home to the late and great short story writer, Raymond Carver, passes at milepost 61. Literary buffs will want to get a photo at the Raymond Carver memorial at Nehalem and Lillich streets in Clatskanie’s Old Town.

Out past Rainier and Clatskanie, roll down your windows in the forested corridors and smell the alder trees, the berries and the river. Bradley State Park at milepost 76 and its Twilight Eagle Sanctuary, with 100 acres of old growth forest and tidal wetlands, are unexpectedly beautiful stops along the road. Lewis and Clark camped here in November 1805.

There are two John Day rivers in Oregon. You’ll cross the lesser-known John Day at about milepost 86. This John Day River is a diminutive brother of the much larger John Day in Central Oregon. The smaller waterway rises from the Coast Range and is home to a community of houseboats that line its banks.

Finally you’ll wind into Astoria at about milepost 96, really just a moderate drive from the Portland metropolitan area. Be sure to carve out time to visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum on the shore of its namesake river. There you’ll learn the history of how men fought to make a living from the waterway and the challenges they faced. You’ll also learn about the stout sailors of the U.S. Coast Guard, who stood watch to protect those who ventured down to the sea.

Astoria’s legacy includes fur trading, fishing, canning, Finns and more. The oldest American settlement west of the Rockies, it was named for John Jacob Astor, who founded the American Fur Company there in 1811. It became Fort George in 1813, served as the capital of the Oregon Territory and reverted to Astoria years later. Today, its docks welcome hikers and bikers along the wooden planks that used to carry heavy loads of fish and other cargo. Downtown is fast becoming a mecca for coffee shops, art galleries and restaurants.

You can still get a sense of the marine life, though, as huge steel ships loaded with commerce to and from the East are met by Columbia River Bar Pilots. These sailors are master ship-handlers who guide the cargo-laden behemoths across the treacherous Columbia River bar at the confluence of the river and the Pacific Ocean.

Just uphill from the Maritime Museum is the Bowpicker Fish & Chips restaurant. For twelve years, Linda and Ron Ford have been serving albacore tuna from a land-locked gillnet boat. The line of diners-to-be and its reputation stretch into the distance. “If you want authentic fish and chips,” says one customer, Lora Thomas, “you’ve got to come here.”

For indoor grub and local craft beers, consider Ft. George Brewery and Public House, where its brews “bring people together in aromatic headiness and lupulin ecstasy.” Lupulin refers to the hops in the beer. Nevermind the flowery prose, Ft. George beer is good and strong, and made from the finest local ingredients. Its line of canned brews are unusual for a craft brewery. Ft. George’s Brian Bovenizer describes it as an homage to Astoria’s canning legacy.

Atop Coxcomb Hill in Astoria is an obelisk and a visual history of the town. The obelisk is modeled after Trajan’s Column in Rome and features twelve depictions on its exterior, including scenes from Capt. Robert Gray, and Lewis and Clark. Should you study the lore inscribed into the face, you’ll divine the culture and history of the Northwest, Oregon and Astoria, where today the old and the new come together.

Road Trip

Things to do in Astoria:

Columbia Maritime Musuem: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Flavel House Museum: daily 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Astoria Riverfront Trolley: noon to 7 p.m.

Lewis and Clark National and State Historic Parks: open all year

2 Comments

  • sarah, i have loved so many of your posts, but this one is my very favorite. brkaahtteing. really. i am so impressed, and also left with a feeling of peace and hope. the grasses are AMAZING. i want these in frames. and the boy running through them like scenes from a movie. lovely.

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