Columbia River Gorge
When we decided to take a road trip through the Pacific Northwest, I knew immediately that we would need to stop in the Columbia River Gorge. The hubs grew up not too far from here, and his mother grew up in Portland, so the Columbia River Gorge was a favorite place to visit for their family.
The hubs has extolled the virtues of the Columbia River Gorge far and wide, so we were excited to visit! This was the 6th stop along our Pacific Northwest road trip. You can read about the rest of our road trip at this link:
Bonneville Lock and Dam
The Bonneville Lock and Dam was one of our favorite stops in the Columbia River Gorge. We learned so much! Located about 40 miles east of Portland, Oregon, this massive hydroelectric dam spans the mighty Columbia River in several segments.
The Columbia River was a critical waterway to the early settlers of the region. The Cascade Locks and Canals, used before the Bonneville Lock and Dam was built, allowed ships to pass the Cascade Rapids several miles upstream of Bonneville. Built in 1896, they helped with flood control, provided hydroelectricity, and irrigation.
Completed in 1943, the dam’s construction (part of FDR’s ‘New Deal’) provided jobs to 3,000 workers during a tough economic time. The movie in the visitor’s center tells about the construction process and the history.
The dam is an impressive feat of engineering! The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates and maintains Bonneville Lock and Dam for hydropower production, fish and wildlife protection, recreation and navigation.
Admission is free, once you pass through security. If you visit in the summer, everything is open. You can visit the Navigation Lock and see boats pass through the locks, which is fascinating. The lock operator was friendly and talked my kiddos through the process as they watched him work.
Another interesting thing is to watch salmon climb fish ladders through underwater viewing windows in the visitor’s center basement. The underwater windows looking out onto the fish ladders are crowded with trout, salmon and lamprey, which are a type of fish, but they look like your worst nightmare. You can also walk outside and watch the trout and salmon jump from step to step from above the fish ladder.
I won’t be swimming in the Columbia River anytime soon, knowing it’s full of Lampreys! I honestly think I’d rather meet up with a shark than one of those things.
Here’s a photo of the fish ladder from the sidewalk outside the visitors center. We saw a few fish jump, but it would be much more full during spawning season.
The rangers told us that occasionally sea lions swim up the Columbia and get into the area near the ladders, where they take one bite of each salmon they catch, wasting the rest. How irritating, after all the work that goes into maintaining the salmon population.
Finally, you can learn about hydropower generation while taking a Powerhouse tour. Check out the massive turbines in the photo below. They are very impressive! You can watch the employees work, and there is a ranger present to answer all your questions.
The two Bonneville powerhouses generate over 5 billion kWh of electricity each year. The Bonneville Dam supplies nearly 500,000 homes in the area with electricity. We toured the Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell last year, and it was interesting to compare the two!
Just down the road from the Bonneville Dam, on the Columbia River, is another rare opportunity to get up close and personal with fish. The hatchery was built to improve the declining fish population in the Columbia River, but it also provides visitors the chance to learn more about fish.
During the spawning season, visitors can watch the salmon and learn from workers sorting eggs and caring for the young fish. In addition to salmon, the hatchery also grows Rainbow Trout. During the off season, the hatchery provides videos about the process.
Our favorite part of the fish hatchery was the sturgeon pond. Sturgeons supposedly date back to the Jurassic period, and they look like it! If you can imagine a fish looking prehistoric, it would probably be pretty close to a sturgeon.
One of the sturgeons at the hatchery is named Herman. He is an 80-year-old, 450 pound, 10-foot long fish! The sturgeon pond has underwater viewing windows for your sturgeon-viewing pleasure. You can really tell just how immense he is from the photos, so you’ll have to see him in person. 😉
Fish are great and all, but my favorite part of the hatchery was the landscaping! It’s really incredible!
Located between the Bonneville Dam and Portland is the mighty Multnomah Falls. According to a Native American legend, Multnomah Falls was created to win the heart of a young Indian princess who wanted a private place to bathe.
From the carpark off of I-84, walk through the tunnel, and you’ll emerge near the Multnomah Falls Lodge, with the falls just beyond. There is a pretty good view of the falls from the walkways around the lodge. But if you head up the paved trail straight ahead, you’ll get an even better view.
The trail leads up to Benson Bridge, which spans the falls at the first tier’s base. From the bridge you have a perfect view of both the upper and lower tiers of Multnomah Falls.
From there, you can usually continue your hike all the way to the top of the falls, by way of an unpaved path. However, it was blocked (due to a recent rockfall) by a gate when we were there.
Be sure to take a few minutes to visit the Multnomah Falls Lodge at the base of the falls. Full of rustic charm, it offers fine dining, an espresso cart, a baked goods cart, a gift shop and visitor information.
More fun in the Columbia River Gorge
There is so much more to see and do in the Columbia River Gorge! We only gave ourselves 1 day in the Gorge, but we wished we would have had time to take a few more hikes and try the following:
- Wind surf at Hood River
- Learn more about the history of the Gorge at the Columbia River Gorge Discovery Center
- Visit the Dalles Dam and play at Lake Celilo
- Visit a couple of Lewis and Clark sites
- Visit troutdale
- Stop at the Vista House at Crown Point
- Hike Mount Hood
- Drive the ‘Fruit Loop’ (a 35-mile scenic byway through orchards and vineyards) and buy some fresh fruit at a farmstand.
Thanks for tagging along as we visited the Columbia River Gorge! Join us as we explore some more of the Pacific Northwest, from San Francisco to Seattle.
>>>Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary<<<
I hope your trip to the Columbia River Gorge is spectacular! If you’ve visited before, I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.