Cruising the Pacific Northwest via the Columbia and Snake rivers
In June 2021, my family and I cruised the Columbia and Snake rivers between the Pacific Ocean boundary and Hells Canyon, ending up in the three corners of Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
We boarded the American Empress paddlewheeler in Vancouver, Washington, to start our journey. That night, we went downriver to Astoria, Oregon, where we spent the day on outings. My daughter Caroline and her uncle took a zip line tour while her aunt and I took a bus trip to see Fort Clatsop on the Oregon side of the Columbia River where the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent the winter in 1805. After leaving the fort, we headed across the river into Washington for a lookout view of Cape Disappointment, where the Columbia River reaches the Pacific. From the mountaintop lookout, we watched a bald eagle in a nearby tree.
That evening we departed Astoria and headed upriver for an all-day river cruise. During the day, we passed Portland and went up the Willamette River. After leaving the Willamette, we continued upriver to spend the night in Stevenson, Washington. Just before Stevenson, we went through a lock at Bonneville Dam, which raised our boat about 80 feet to enter the lake.
From Stevenson, we started a bus tour to Multnomah Falls, a 620-foot waterfall running down the rugged vertical mountainside on the Oregon side of the river. After walking up to the foot of the falls, we continued our tour on some rugged mountain terrain toward Timberline Lodge at a 6,000-foot elevation on Oregon’s Mount Hood. The lodge was built in the 1930s using various recycled materials such as linoleum sections cut up for chair seats and window coverings. It was also used for the exterior shots of The Overlook Hotel in the movie “The Shining.”
From Timberline Lodge, we went down a scenic mountain road back to the river and the Bonneville Dam. Some of the people on the bus elected to go see a fish ladder where salmon and steelhead go up and down stream. Caroline and I went into the powerplant room to view the turbine generators. While there, we saw various posters and warning signs about water safety and life jacket use. As we left the turbine room, we walked past the fish ladder and decided to do some exploring. In the process, we saw three or more fish using the ladder. One issue with the ladder is visiting sea lions who come upriver to the ladder and eat salmon going upstream.
The next day we stopped in The Dalles, Washington. In the morning we took a hop-on, hop-off tour into town and stopped at the National Neon Sign Museum, which details the history and development of neon advertising signs. After lunch we took a bus tour to Maryhill Museum of Art, which was on the hillside by the river and whose grounds are an official site on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. After the museum we stopped at a winery and sampled various local wines.
During the night we went on to Richland, Washington, and went through several locks to continue gaining elevation on the river. The Columbia and Snake rivers meet near Richland, where we had tied up the previous evening at Sacajawea Historical State Park, another colorful green park area with lots of trees and vegetation.
Richland is where the atom bomb was developed. We went to the REACH Museum to learn all about the atomic bomb efforts in Washington and the later cleanup efforts. Back in 2000 President Clinton established the 195,000-acre Hanford Reach National Monument, recognizing the historical, ecological, and scientific importance of the last free-flowing section of the mighty Columbia River. Today the REACH Museum stands as a gateway to the national monument and a unique gathering place that celebrates the stories of the Columbia River basin and its people. We learned about the history and culture of this river town through various exhibits, personal accounts and artifacts highlighting how the top-secret Manhattan Project transformed the mid-Columbia region during World War II.
That evening we left the Columbia River and headed upstream on the Snake River to Clarkston, Washington, our last stop on the cruise. We took a jet boat tour into Hells Canyon on the Snake River with about 40 miles of unique shallow water boating. The Snake River passes through extremely rugged hillsides between Idaho and Washington, with Clarkston and Lewiston, Idaho, acting as the start of the jet boat tour and the end of our trip.
The next day we headed to Spokane, Washington, for the trip back to California.