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Shuttle services on both sides of the river take folks to beautiful scenery, hiking along the Columbia River

COURTESY PHOTO  - Check out waterfalls in the gorge via shuttle service this summer. When you think of driving to the Columbia River Gorge during the summer months, one of your first thoughts might be the gridlock of cars at Multnomah Falls.

Traffic and congestion at popular spots like this have been a concern for years, not to mention its unintended environmental impacts on Oregon's natural beauty.

But did you know there are now several adventure-filled ways to explore the gorge without a car?

Here are four top ways to go car-free this season and see some of the most spectacular sights in Portland's backyard:

Portland to Multnomah Falls

The Columbia Gorge Express launched its pilot season last year, making 30,000 trips between Gateway Transit Center in Northeast Portland and Multnomah Falls. The shuttle bus runs Friday through Sunday between May and September and costs just $5 per person. It includes a free stop at Rooster Rock State Park, another epic landmark worth a visit.

The buses are wheelchair accessible and can hold up to three bikes, and are bigger than last season, to reduce wait times.

This season the service runs through Sept. 24. You can pay on site with cash or credit card, although it's preferable to buy tickets online (columbiagorgeexpress.com) to avoid delays.

If you have questions about the bus schedule, a staff person is stationed at Rooster Rock State Park and Multnomah Falls, or you can track your bus in real time online.

Next year the shuttle could expand to daily service with more stops along the gorge.

For more: readysetgorge.com

Vancouver to Washington

side of the gorge

If you want to venture beyond Multnomah Falls and Rooster Rock, you might try the West End Transit Bus, which takes you to nine trailheads and towns along the historic Columbia River Highway, which marked its centennial this year.

Just $4 for an all-day pass (kids under 12 are free), you can catch the C-TRAN bus at one of the stops in Vancouver, Washington, Camas or Washougal and head eastward to Skamania, Beacon Rock, the Pacific Crest Trailhead, Dog Mountain and other spots, hopping on and off as many times as you like before your return. The bus is bike-friendly and dog-friendly (on leash), and runs through Sept. 3.

For a schedule and map: skamaniacounty.org.

Portland to Hood River

and The Dalles

If you don't mind traveling on a Tuesday or Thursday, you can go to Hood River or The Dalles by Columbia Area Transit bus for $8 each way. The most convenient part is that there are four pickup/dropoff locations in Portland: the Portland Art Museum, Oregon Health & Science University, Clackamas Town Center and Gateway Transit Center. There's plenty to do in Hood River and The Dalles — everything from biking and hiking to tasting beer, cider and wine. Hood River also is a mecca for water sports, or just chilling at the lovely beach and playground at Hood River Waterfront Park. The Dalles downtown has seen a lot of development lately, with new restaurants and shops lining its main streets.

For more: community.gorge.net.

Ride the gorge by bike

It's one of Oregon's little-known secrets: There are several accessible, stunningly gorgeous trails to ride by bike along the gorge — whether you're a casual rider, a hardcore commuter or a family looking for weekend fun. To avoid crowds, start out east in The Dalles and bike to Hood River along the 4-mile car-free stretch that passes through the Mosier Twin Tunnels, soaking up the epic landscape all around. Between Hood River and Cascade Locks, hop on the new car-free portion of trail between Viento State Park and the Starvation Creek Trailhead. And closer to home, ride between Cascade Locks and Troutdale, where you'll cruise past waterfalls, Crown Point Vista House and the Bridge of the Gods.

For detailed maps and trail info: rideoregonride.com.

@jenmomanderson

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