Sites to Visit Along the Beautiful Columbia River

Touring the state of Oregon is always a scenic adventure. One of the best scenic drives  you can take in Oregon is the road following the Columbia River Gorge. Beautiful water falls, fun hiking trails, unique inns and a tour of a dam are just a few of the stops along the Columbia Gorge scenic highway you may want to add to your Oregon vacation planner.

bonneville dam fish ladder
Fish Ladder at Bonneville Dam

Bonneville Dam

One of the great family trip stops along the Columbia River is the Bonneville Dam, located about forty miles east of Portland Oregon.

The visitor exhibits at the Bonneville Dam explain how the dam operates and produces hydro-electric power. Another significant exhibit demonstrates is how the fish of the Columbia River navigate themselves upstream past the dam to spawn. This is really a fascinating story and the way it’s presented at the Bonneville Dam visitor center is both educational and entertaining.

You can view for yourself through a glass window the fish climbing the dams fish ladder.  The journey upriver to spawn is essential for specie survival. Bonneville Dam fish exhibits are amazing. It’s educational to see the work done at the dam project to accommodate the various species of fish. The Visitors Center contains two levels that you’re able to view the fish ladder.

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Bonneville Dam, Columbia River

On the lower level you can view through a glass wall the fish actually making their journey upriver. Just outside the Visitor Center on the upper level you can view the “fish ladder” which allows the fish to essentially climb the river and go up and past the dam. This also allows for a Bonneville Dam fish count. A fish ladder is a series of pools arranged in ascending steps at the side of a stream, enabling migrating fish to swim upstream around a dam or any other obstruction. It’s really a fascinating thing to see and ensures that the Columbia River fish ecological balance is retained. Adjacent to the dam is the Bonneville Fish Hatchery.

 Wahkeena Falls

The Columbia Scenic Highway will also lead you to a waterfall. The 242 foot high Wahkeena Falls is one of the most visited sites along the route. Before 1915 and the construction of the Columbia Highway, the falls were named Gordon Falls.

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Wahkeena Falls along the Columbia River Scenic Highway

Wahkeena Falls is located about one-half mile west of Multnomah Falls, another very popular stop along the Columbia River. The base of the falls lie about 100 feet above the highway. The falls crash step by step down a narrow crack between basalt rock outcroppings. Many refer to this type of waterfall as a “tiered falls“.

The site also let’s you hike a short trail from the parking area across a rock bridge to get a terrific view. The falls can also be viewed from the highway. The translation of Wahkeena in the Yakama Indian language means “most beautiful“. For those wanting to continuing climbing up the trail about a mile past Wahkeena Falls, you’ll also come across two other falls. These are Necktie Falls and Fairy Falls. The trail to the falls begins at the commemorative monument at the parking area.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

A Visit to Historic Portland Oregon

The Dalles Oregon

Horsetail Falls

Horsetail Falls is a spectacular site that drops 175 feet down a mossy rock wall. Horsetail Falls along the scenic Columbia Gorge is the closest falls to the Columbia River Highway. The falls originate from the Horsetail Creek. The falls received it’s name due to the fact that the water that goes over the rounded rock face resemble a horses tail. The falls has an elevation above the highway of about fifty feet.

horsetail falls ioregon
Horsetail Falls

Horsetail Falls is located two and one-half miles east of Multnomah Falls. You also want to add a stop at Ainsworth State Park which is near both Horsetail Falls and the Cascade Locks. Ainsworth State Park is one mile east of Horsetail Falls. The park is named in honor of Captain J.C. Ainsworth, a pioneer Columbia River steamboat captain and one of the founders of the famous Oregon Steam Navigation Company. The Oregon Steam Navigation Company was founded in 1860 and eventually controlled steamboat operations over most of the vessels on both the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

highway 30 tunnel oregon
Old Highway 30 tunnel

The Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge, with walls spanning 80 miles and rising 4,000 feet, is lined with stunning black basalt walls awash in waterfalls, wildflowers, and lush deciduous forests. The route will take travelers along the same path of Lewis and Clark.

Old U.S. Highway 30

Where motorists on old U.S. Highway 30 once crept around curves high along the cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge, hikers, bicyclists and users of other muscle-driven forms of transportation leisurely enjoy the view from the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. The trail, three disconnected paved ribbons along abandoned stretches of the historic highway, give you more than 12 miles of sightseeing thrills.



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Columbia River Waterfalls









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Vista House along the Columbia River








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View of the Columbia River Gorge from Vista House









(Article and photos copyright 2014 Trips Into History)