After my two initial experiences with Pedal Bike Tours, I wanted to experience more of the many choices that they offer. I knew from the great tours I went on back in June, that signing up for a couple more at the end of the summer would be a great way to round out my introduction to life in Portland, Oregon.
One of the aspects I loved about going on these tours as a newbie in the city was how knowledgable the guides were, spouting Portland history here and there and making me feel like I actually know a little something about the city in which I currently reside.
My first two tours included the Historic Downtown and Wine Country, which you can check out here. These last two tours may have been my favorite of the bunch, seeing waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge and tasting the food carts around Portland.
Here’s a write-up of the two new tours I went on, and a summary at the end to give you an idea of which ones you should tackle depending on what you’re wanting to see around Portland. Similar to the first two I went on in June, I did one outside the city center and one within it.
Columbia River Gorge
Going against TLC’s recommendation of “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls“, we did exactly that for our all day tour in the stunning Columbia River Gorge. We must have seen about 6 different waterfalls, I couldn’t believe that there was so much beauty just a 45 minute drive outside of Portland.
The Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway is 75 miles long (we didn’t ride the whole thing!), and was built as the premier highway in the area in 1915. There are still architectural gems and old stone bridges left over from the early 20th century, it was as if we had stepped back into history as soon as we made our way onto the highway.
The Historic Columbia River Highway was engineered by Samuel C. Lancaster with the purpose of not disrupting the natural beauty of the place. It was truly an engineering feat for its time, with roads that are put on edges of cliffs, where no roads should seemingly go. It was the first scenic highway in America, a testament to the ingenuity of the project at the time.
Besides the magnificent waterfalls, the Columbia River Gorge is teeming with life with its abundance of wildlife and 150 rare plant species in its midst. Of course, the hidden waterfalls for hikers are just an added and much appreciated bonus.
We started our journey with an incredible lookout from the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Overlook at Chanticleer Point, a view that inspired the building of the highway in the first place. From there, we went on to the newly opened Vista House at Crown Point, a memorial to the many Oregon Pioneers from the past.
Our breaks from there included shorts hikes to get to different waterfalls along the highway. From Latourell, Shepperd’s Dell, Bridal Veil, and Wahkeena we cycled on through the wet foliage and interspersing rays of light.
One of our last stops was at the most famous waterfall in the area: Multnomah Falls.
Multnomah Falls is famous for a variety of reasons. It was a scenic area that was mentioned by the beloved Lewis & Clark on their expedition to the West, and it’s also the 4th highest waterfall in the nation at 620 feet. If you see the Falls in person, or even in a picture, the elegant beauty takes your breath away.
This was by far the most touristy place of the day because of how many people want to see the Falls up close, but regardless, it’s worth a stop to experience for yourself.
We ended at Horsetail Falls after an exhausting 9 mile ride through the Gorge, to relax and watch the water beat down into the clear pool below.
The only thing I would recommend for this tour is making sure to eat before or bring a packed lunch with you. It’s a fairly long day and long drive to get out there and back, and although there was a chance to stop at a fresh fruit stand on the way, there aren’t any food breaks besides a snack at the end.
I would also say that this was the hardest tour in terms of the distance and the hills for biking, so make sure you’re prepared to use your stamina and that you’re comfortable on a bike.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the Food Carts Tour or how it would run. For the wine tour we had to buy our tasting samples separately, so I expected as much from the food carts. I was happily surprised at our first stop, when our guide, Evan, told us all to go find a seat and he would get us a few samples. Score, free food!
From the moment I tried those gourmet PB&J Sandwiches on Hawthorne, I knew this tour was going to be amazing.
If I’m being completely honest, I haven’t been as impressed with the food carts in Portland as I thought I would be with all of the hype surrounding them. That is, until I took this tour.
The food cart culture in downtown vs. across the river is SO much different as I learned through this Pedal Bike Tour. I had mainly been eating at food carts around downtown, which line the streets and are meant more for those business folk that come down on their lunch break to grab something to take back up and eat in their office.
The food carts in the Southeast; however, have a much more communal feel about them and actual picnic benches to eat at! These food carts are most often found in “pods”, an area that is siphoned off specifically for food cart customers and beer hall style communal eating.
The first stop we made was just after the Hawthorne Bridge, you’ll know it by the huge rubber ducky on top of the La Perriera Creperie food cart. According to Evan, this is the spot where the first food carts in Portland were established. The space was originally bought by a developer who was looking to buy up land for more Starbucks locations (because we totally need more in Portland), when the recession hit and it was no longer a viable option.
To still use the space, he contacted a few food vendors to open up stands in the spot for the lunch crowd until he figured out what he was doing with his development project. Well, the vendors didn’t think that a lunch menu-only option was a good idea. The vendors saw this as an opportunity to be the late night “drunchy” place when all of the bars closed down for the night.
The idea immediately took off, and the food cart culture was born with vendors popping up everywhere around the city. The city of Portland has been supportive of the food carts from the beginning, even offering a loan to help those vendors out who want to open a new cart.
I had been wondering what the history was behind all of the food carts in Portland, it seemed like such a random but cool aspect of the city.
At this first stop we tried homemade organic soda, spiced lamb, and the gourmet PB&Js. Yum. After taste testing some of the best food I’ve tried in Portland – I’m not even kidding – we headed off south to check out Evan’s old stomping grounds in the Clinton area.
On our way, we stopped in at a community rose garden in the uniquely planned Ladd’s Addition to stop and smell the colorful roses.
I had never explored the Clinton area before besides driving through it a couple of times on our way to Sellwood, and it’s an area that I really want to go back to now. We went to another pod that had an even greater variety than the first one. There was a beer garden and a mix of different cuisines in the span of about 8 – 10 food carts.
We tried the most elaborate tater tots I’ve ever tasted – another big thing in Portland – as well as traditional kimchi and squid balls, and a sickeningly sweet chocolate waffle sandwich. I did tell you these started out as drunk food specialty carts, right?
After the food cart pod in Clinton, we were off to our last stop of the day near Burnside. Before we arrived, we took a little detour through the green and expansive Laurelhurst Park. This was something I really enjoyed about the day, these little stops or detours between food trucks to get a local feel of the Southeast neighborhood.
For our last stop, we were so full from the day that we just finished off with a tasty pint to cheers another great day in the city. Surrounded by street art and a friendly group of new people, I was glad that this was the tour to end on for my summer Pedal Bike experience.
Tour #1: Historic Downtown. Guides – Sarah & Crystal.
Tour #2: Wine Country. Guide – Sarah.
Tour #3: Columbia River Gorge. Guide – Scotland.
Tour #4: Food Carts. Guide – Evan.
There are two additional tours offered by Pedal Bike that I didn’t go on : the Oregon Brewery Tour and the Oregon Coast Tour, both of which are worth checking out on your own. The only reason we didn’t do the brewery tour was because we had already been to all of the breweries on the list, and the Oregon Coast Tour was a tad out of our budget range.
One recommendation I would give if you have the extra time and money, try and do one tour in the city and one outside of it. The two types are very different styles of tours, but experienced together, they gives you a good overview of the area and the rich history of Portland.
The hardest tours for biking would have to be the Wine Country and Columbia River Gorge, if anything simply for the longer distances and the hills. With that said, I wasn’t in the best shape when I did both tours and I survived just fine.
If you only have time for one tour and you want a good overview of Portland, the Historic Downtown Tour is probably the one for you. If you’re short on time but you want a taste of the local culture, the Food Carts Tour was a phenomenal look at the popular Southeast way of life.
If you’re after jaw-dropping scenery and the quintessential Pacific Northwest experience, the Columbia River Gorge is the best choice for you.
If you’re more into rolling hills, classy vineyards, and wine culture, the Wine Country Tour is a great one to check out. If you’re wanting to dive into the craft beer culture that Portland is known for, I’ve heard great things about the Oregon Brewery Tour – and bonus, Pedal Bike Tours has their own tap so you get a free pint at the end of your ride!
Lastly, I just have to say something about the tour guides because they were all incredibly good at their jobs. They made each and every tour unique and special in their own way and with their own personality. Pedal Bike Tours are a laid back yet informative glimpse into the best highlights of the Portland area, and I’m grateful I was able to experience such a great tour group with my time here.
By all means, if you’re in Portland and you’re looking to do a tour, I would highly recommend stopping by Pedal Bike Tours and chatting with them about the experience you’re after. I went on 4 tours with them and I was not once disappointed with my day.
Pedal Bike Tours were nice enough to offer me a discount, but all opinions are always my own. If you want to read part I, you can find it here!
…And introducing my new Pedal Bike Tour Video from the Columbia River Gorge and the Food Carts culture in the Southeast.