Chasing Foliage Dreams at the 2023 Columbia Gorge Half Marathon

Oregon’s fall season never fails to impress, with its striking landscapes and changing colors. It’s a privilege to live in a place that boasts four distinct seasons. The cooler temperatures and the unmistakable scent of autumn create a unique atmosphere. Of course, in Oregon, rain is always a possibility, but when the weather clears up, the experiences are simply spectacular. That’s exactly what we enjoyed at the 2023 Columbia Gorge Marathon and Half last weekend.

I arrived at the Columbia Gorge a few days before the race, greeted by a near-perfect weekend. Friday afternoon welcomed us with clear skies and a pleasant 71°F. The next day, we explored the area under partly cloudy skies and 67°F. Then came race day, with an ideal, dry start temperature of 55°F. 55°! It really couldn’t have been much better.

The Race

But let’s shift away from weather talk (I’m not yet in my 80’s, after all) and focus on the event itself. It had been about six or seven years since my last Columbia Gorge Half Marathon, and my last official trail run here was back in March 2018, according to Strava. So, needless to say, it’s been a while. I was geared up and raring to go, especially after not participating in any races since March of this year.

The setup by Breakaway Promotions got me super pumped. There’s something about those big tents, bustling with volunteers, pre-race coffee, and post-race festivities that really gets the adrenaline flowing. I actually set off about an hour and 15 minutes ahead of the half marathon start time (so if you ran and saw me apparently setting a world record half pace, that’s the reason 🙂).

The Course:

The first mile led us from the riverfront event site under I-84 and through a corner of downtown—a leisurely start before hitting the most challenging part of the half marathon. Starting just past mile one, we tackled a series of steep switchbacks, thankfully early in the race and not at the end. While there were some gradual inclines along the course, this was the real test.

Around mile 2.5, half marathoners reached the Marc O. Hatfield trailhead, where marathoners were shuttled to start their journey. If you haven’t run on this paved trail before, or if it’s been a while, it’s an absolute must-do. It’s amazing year-round, but in the fall, with the leaves turning, it reaches a whole new level of awesome. I could try to describe the visuals and beauty, but I don’t think I could do it justice. I’ll just direct you to these series of pictures here to give you a taste of the stunning foliage.

The miles flew by in this race. Sometimes, in races, every mile feels like an eternity, but I was so absorbed in my surroundings that each mileage marker seemed to come up surprisingly quickly. I’d say that’s a good sign.

Beyond the natural beauty, there were also breathtaking viewpoints overlooking the Columbia River. It’s a stark reminder of how stunning our state really is. Just before the half marathon turnaround, we entered the famous Mosier Twin Tunnels—a delightful jaunt right through the Columbia Gorge hills. This added an extra layer of uniqueness to an already beautiful and enjoyable race.


In terms of race organization, I have no complaints. Aid stations were well-stocked with food and hydration, and the volunteers were friendly. The course didn’t require an excessive amount of signage since most of it was on a single paved path. The mile markers seemed accurate, and my Strava distance surprisingly matched the actual race distance within a tenth of a mile. That’s quite impressive, considering GPS devices don’t always cooperate in such settings.


Honestly, the 2023 Columbia Gorge Marathon and Half was extraordinary. While the weather may have played a slight part, I distinctly remember a previous race here being in the rain, and I wasn’t disappointed then. This race is a showcase of natural beauty and is rightfully hailed as one of the most scenic marathons in the country. It’s a race that should be on every Oregonian’s and out-of-towner’s bucket list, an experience to cherish at least once.


About Author

Matt Rasmussen lives in Keizer, Ore. with his wife and three daughters. He enjoys watching hockey, going to as many breweries (618) and wineries (152) as he can, and all things Canada (he was born there). Matt was raised as a baseball player and officially transitioned over to running in 2010.