Cruising the Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge

Located in the United States Pacific Northwest, the Columbia River is the largest river in this region; fourth largest, by volume, in the United States. We enjoyed a two-hour cruise on this historic waterway last month.


This is the vessel we were on.

Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler


About an hour’s drive east of Portland, between the border of Oregon and Washington, the Columbia River Gorge is a unique 100-mile section of the river.

Columbia River Gorge, Bridge of the Gods in center

More info:

Columbia River – Wikipedia

Columbia River Gorge – Wikipedia


The river is very wide, and the water is both roiling and sparkling.


We didn’t see many pleasure-craft boats here, no doubt because of the fierce winds; but every day we saw windsurfers and hydrofoil surfers. It’s known as the Windsurfing Capital of the World.

Wind surfers, Columbia River Gorge


Hydrofoil Surfer, Columbia River Gorge

Atmospheric pressure conditions within the Cascade Mountains create a wind-tunnel effect in the Gorge, regularly producing 35-mile-per-hour (56 km/h) winds.


The Columbia River has been a crucial corridor in North America for centuries, providing westward passage that avoids perilous mountain treks.


It is 1,243 miles (2,000 km) long, starting in the Canadian Rockies. It cuts west through the Cascade Mountain Range, empties into the Pacific Ocean.

Map of Columbia River

Map of Columbia River. Courtesy Google.


In 1803, President Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the western territory of the country. Also known as the Discovery Corps, they travelled the Columbia River to the coast, and again on their return trip.


Oregon Historical Society Essay on the Lewis and Clark Expedition


In the 1800s this Gorge section of the Columbia River was raging. It was rocky and turbulent, with precipitous drops.


Lewis and Clark, in their dugout canoes, journeyed through the treacherous Gorge. They recorded the Gorge as a “…great number of both large and small rocks, water passing with great velocity forming and boiling in a horrible manner, with a fall of about 20 feetโ€ (October 30- November 1, 1805).


The rapids then were ferocious, later estimated to be Class V–violent, risky, and dangerous.


It was so dangerous that the resident Native Americans never took boats through this section. In fact, they came by the hundreds to watch the crazy explorers navigating their canoes through here.


In some places of the Gorge, the Corps would portage around the rapids; i.e. transport their vessels and gear over land.


Fast-forward over a century; locks and dams were built in this section. Today the Bonneville Dam has tamed the waters, and uses the river’s energy for hydroelectric purposes.


Bonneville Dam and Beacon Rock, Columbia River


Roads and railroad tracks have been built on both sides of the river, still utilizing the river’s path for passage to the coast.

Freight train bisecting through center of photo, beside the Columbia River


And tourists like us ride on a triple-decker 119-foot paddle wheeler, a replica riverboat built in the 1980s. The Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler is propelled by two internal diesel engines; and has a single paddle wheel on the stern (rear), and a large, flat bottom.

Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler paddle


We watched an osprey on its nest.


Lewis and Clark spotted California Condors here.

Osprey with nest on the Columbia River


Native Americans have fishing nets and platforms along the water’s edge. They catch salmon and other fish here, like their ancestors did centuries ago.

Fishing Platform, Columbia River


This small island is where the Lewis and Clark Discovery Corps camped.

Lewis and Clark Island


Thanks for joining me on the Columbia River Gorge, yesterday and today. A wild and wonderful place.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander except aerial photo, below.

Corps-engineers-archives bonneville dam looking east.jpg

Columbia River Gorge aerial at Bonneville Dam. Courtesy Wikipedia, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


63 thoughts on “Cruising the Columbia River Gorge

  1. There is some serious talk these days of breaching those dams and locks to restore the salmon runs. (Extinction is looming for some species.) Hydro power isn’t as needed as it once was. It’s been an interesting topic here, and I can kind of see both sides of it.

    • I agree, Timothy, it is amazing what hardships the early explorers endured, and their spirit of adventure and tenacity is inspiring. Really glad you enjoyed the Columbia River here today, and appreciate your comment.

  2. Great post of an exciting location! We love it when we find ourselves along the route the Lewis and Clark expedition took, being excited to imagine traveling life for that group of hardy explorers, and your post transported back again!
    The Columbia River Gorge is a spectacular sight, and whenever weโ€™ve traveled through it has been high summer and hot, dry and windy – conditions not always associated with the PNW. How great you got to take a river boat ride on the mighty Columbia!
    Thanks, Jet, and have a wonderful weekend!

    • I was absolutely transfixed being on the Lewis & Clark route, pc, more than I had expected. Athena read their journals while we adventured here, and shared them with me, and everyday we were in their world. I love the Gorge. We went on two great hikes while there, will share them too. Thanks so much for your animated comment, it is easy to see how much you like it there, too. I hope you and Mrs. PC have a fun weekend.

    • It was great fun being on the Sternwheeler, Eddie. It was super windy on the top deck, but even as it emptied and other passengers went down below, we stayed up on that top deck for the entire ride. Really fun. Thanks for riding with us, my friend — always a joy to “see” you.

  3. Thank you for sharing this enjoyable cruise experience with us, Jet. Beautiful scenery there.
    That is a long river. Appreciate these links of the Columbia River. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the cruise along the Columbia, Amy. It was fun to dig through the information, supply the links, and tell about this magnificent waterway. Thanks very much.

    • This boat ride made me giddy, too, Teagan. And we hadn’t even planned on doing it, but I’m glad we did, and really glad you were cruising along down the Columbia with us. Thank you so much.

    • My pleasure to share this mighty river with you, Wilma. I’ve read they have these same kinds of replica riverboots on the Mississippi. I hope your weekend is wonderful. Thank you!

  4. That’s a trip that’s been on our “hope we have time” list. The Native Americans were too smart to do a lot of things – like spend the winters in the plains or camp during late summer on the slopes of Mt. Shasta. They migrated when the weather got dangerous instead of trying to ride it out.

    • I always think of you, Walt, when I’m on a river. I know you would like this one, because from all I have seen of your posts, you like every river. Many thanks for our visit today.

  5. There is nothing quite like getting out on the water to explore a location. Being able to do it in a historic sternwheeler makes it especially fun. I can almost feel the wind looking at the windsurfers and hydrofoil surfer. Good for them but not for most others who want to play on the water. Thanks for taking us on the tour. Interesting to learn about the rapids once present and how ‘progress’ has changed the flow of the river. Best wishes to you and Athena. We hope all is well in your world.

  6. I’ve never been there but I read about the winds. You have provided me with great illustrations and descriptions that are quite interesting. Thank you, my friend. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Not too many birds there, HJ, due to the wind and the late season. Osprey and other birds migrate out of the area in fall. But terrific hiking, views, waterfalls, mountains, and of course the beautiful Columbia River. Happy to share it with you, my friend. Thanks for your visit.

  7. The Columbia is so impressive even having been tamed by the dams. Wouldn’t it be lovely to see it set free once again. I didn’t know they had a riverboat on it. How could I have missed that? It sounds and looks like such great fun. You two are SO very adventuresome, staying out there for the whole trip… all the more fun having the deck to yourselves. Thanks for taking us along! It’s always such a great pleasure.

    • I find the Columbia so very compelling, and I agree, Gunta, impressive even with the dam. I can imagine without the dam it would teeming with wildlife; it’s actually difficult for me to imagine it, as I am not very familiar with this river, not being an Oregon resident. Yes, we love our adventures and I’m glad to share this one with you. Thanks for your wonderful comment.

  8. Now I have seen the pictures and have more information it is definitely a place I would love to visit. I did enjoy the story about the Native Americans coming to watch the crazy explorers. That is very funny:)

    What an amazing country the US is. It wasn’t until I moved there in 1966 that I really understood space and the vastness of it all. Those early settlers and explorers were extraordinary people.

    Enjoy your day…I will be thinking about you. Janet

    • So very wonderful to “see” you here today, Janet, thanks for the visit. I’m glad I could provide you photos and descriptions of this glorious part of the U.S. And yes, the vastness of this country, and the stories of the early settlers are inspiring and fascinating. Athena read the Lewis and Clark journals when we were there, and another interesting part of the Native Americans watching the explorers navigate the Gorge, was that they were quite sure L&C and their crews would perish in those dangerous waters, so as opportunists, they stood by in case the Americans didn’t make it, to scoop up any salvageable gear. Fortunately, only one person on the whole expedition died, and that was from a disease. My warmest thanks, and lots of big wishes for you to have a terrific week.

  9. We’ve often wondered about doing the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler but have never gotten around to it. Good to see you’ve done it and had fun – maybe that’ll give us more inspiration. The gorge is an impressive place however you see it.

    • Yes, I agree, Dave, the gorge is impressive however you see it. I’m glad you have had the pleasure of being there. The Sternwheeler was really fun, and easy too. Thank you for your visit.

    • Oh, yes, Bill, it truly is a grand place in the world. I thought of you when we were there. I’m sure the wind was tricky for bicycling, but glad you still found it beautiful. Thanks so very much.

  10. It looks as if you had your own enjoyable expedition through the Gorge! Thank you for sharing. That Oregon Encyclopedia is AWESOME! Thanks for including the link.

  11. What a fun way to see the River gorge. Beautiful photo tour, thank you for sharing.

    I cannot imagine the force of the undammed river. Wow! I was aware of the high winds (and that even driving the gorge can be tricky when they are really blowing), but I had no idea the Columbia River was so wild! We just drove a small length of the gorge last year because of forest fires in the area, but itโ€™s still on my wish list.

    • I’m happy you enjoyed cruising here down the Columbia on the Sternwheeler, Marsi. It sure is a wild river, and how wonderful that you’ve seen it. Thanks for your visits today.

  12. I grew up in Oregon. I’ll never get over the thrill of coming through the Columbia river gorge when we come home from Utah to visit family and friends. Sounds like a fun cruise.

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