The Columbia River defines most of the border between Washington and Oregon. Interstate 84, which runs along the Oregon side of the Columbia from Hermiston to Portland, is the corridor's major highway. State Highway 14 follows the Columbia on the Washington side to Vancouver. West of Portland, US Highway 30 roughly follows the Columbia in Oregon, while Interstate 5 and State Highway 14 are the major roads on the Washington side of the river.
What Lewis & Clark Experienced
Mt. Hood came into view shortly after the Lewis and Clark party began traveling on the Columbia River, confirming that they would soon be back in charted territory and eventually reach the Pacific Ocean. As they proceeded west, the arid landscape transformed into a moist environment filled with huge ancient trees, mosses, ferns, and waterfalls. They encountered Indian villages all along the river. Lewis and Clark reached Grays Bay, a wide point in the Columbia River estuary, on November 7, 1805.
The Corps' return journey up the Columbia commenced on March 23, 1806, and took most of April. Along the way, they were occasionally plagued by overenthusiastic Native interest, including some theft.
Since Lewis & Clark
At the time of Lewis and Clark's journey, long lengths of the Lower Columbia River were filled with falls and rapids. Over the years, the river has been tamed by locks and damming; it is now wide and navigable from the coast to the Tri-cities. The Columbia River Gorge, that section of the river that cuts through the Cascade Mountains, is designated a National Scenic Area, with large sections of the shoreline set aside as state and local parks. The area is a mecca for outdoor recreation of all kinds, from windsurfing on the river to hiking and mountain biking among the riverside hills and waterfalls. The Historic Columbia River Highway (US Highway 30 between Troutdale and Bonneville State Park) was the first American highway developed specifically for scenic touring. State Highway 14, which runs along the Washington side of the river, has been designated the Columbia Gorge Scenic Byway.
What You Can See & Do
In addition to the major Lewis and Clark sites and attractions below, you'll also find numerous Lewis and Clark roadside historical markers on both sides of the river. All of these attractions are located on the Washington side of the river, unless noted.
Sacajawea State Park & Interpretive Center (Pasco)
Sacajawea State Park is located at the northwest section of the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers, where the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped on October 16 and 17, 1805. The park's Sacajawea Interpretive Center offers exhibits that focus on the woman's historic story, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the Native American culture and history of the region. Interpretive displays can be found throughout this Sacajawea State Park, which is a popular camping, boating, and day-use destination.
Sacagawea Heritage Trail (Tri-cities)
This 22-mile educational and recreational trail runs along both sides of the Columbia River between Pasco and Richland. The Sacagawea Heritage Trail is available to walkers and bikers. Interpretive markers and installations can be found along the trail.
Lewis & Clark Interpretive Overlook (Richland)
This interpretive site, located in Richland's Columbia Park West, provides interpretive information as well as a fine view of the Columbia River and Bateman Island.
Columbia River Exhibition of History, Science, and Technology (Richland)
CREHST is a museum and science center dedicated to the Columbia Basin region. Located in Richland, this museum addresses the compelling and colorful history of the area, both human and natural. The museum's permanent exhibits include Lewis & Clark: Scientists in Buckskin, as well as geology, Native American history, nuclear science, hydropower, and Columbia River fish.
Wallula Wayside (Wallula)
Located along US Highway 12 where the Walla Walla River empties into the Columbia, this roadside interpretive display tells the story of Lewis and Clark's passage, first on October 18, 1805, and again when they camped nearby on April 27 and 28, 1806. The site allows you to enjoy a fabulous view of Wallula Gap.
Hat Rock State Park (East of Umatilla, Oregon)
Just south of the Tri-Cities area is Hat Rock State Park, on the Oregon side of the river. Among the first distinctive Columbia River landmarks noted by Lewis and Clark, Hat Rock is one of the few that has not been flooded as a result of damming. Interpretive signs mark historic points in the park, which offers day-use facilities and water recreation.
Maryhill Museum of Art (Goldendale)
The Maryhill Museum, located in Goldendale, Washington, sits on over 6,000 acres of land. The Corps of Discovery crossed this land on April 22, 1806, on their return journey. Interpretive panels placed on the Lewis and Clark Overlook, a scenic bluff, share their story. Regional artifacts like those noted in Lewis and Clark's journals can be seen in Maryhill's "Native People of North America" gallery.
Maryhill State Park (Goldendale)
Just downhill from the Maryhill Museum of Art, this river-side park offers camping, boating, fishing, and picnicking. If you want to put your canoe in the Columbia River for a simulated Lewis and Clark experience, this is one good place to do it.
Columbia Hills State Park (west of Wishram)
This state park includes nearby Horsethief Lake. The Corps of Discovery camped in this area, which was the site of a well-established Indian village, on October 22, 23, and 24, 1806, while portaging their gear around Celilo Falls and The Dalles. Clark referred to this series of falls as the "Great Falls of the Columbia" in his journal. These falls were a traditional center of fishing and trade for centuries. Construction of The Dalles Dam in 1952 raised the water level above the falls and village. When you visit Columbia Hills State Park, you'll find interpretive signs along with the opportunity for camping, rock climbing, and other outdoor recreation.
Columbia Gorge Discovery Center (The Dalles, Oregon)
Located in The Dalles, the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center is the official interpretive center for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Geology and other natural history is featured, as is the history of early white explorers and settlers in the region. Visitors can experience a re-creation of a Lewis and Clark campsite at the Center's Living History Park.
Bonneville Lock and Dam Visitor Center (North Bonneville, WA or Cascade Locks, Oregon)
This visitor center is located on Bradford Island, where the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped on April 9, 1806. Now a part of Oregon, the island can be accessed from either side of the river. During your visit to the Bonneville Lock and Dam Visitor Center, you'll find displays that cover Lewis and Clark's local activity. Other visitor center attractions include history and wildlife exhibits, a theater, and underwater fish viewing. Outside you can enjoy hiking trails, the fish ladder, and fabulous Columbia River views.
Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center (Stevenson)
The museum's first-floor gallery features a series of reproduced settings, providing a historical tour of the region. Lewis and Clark's influence on the region is presented in the context of a trading post. Other exhibits include a native pit house, sternwheeler and river transportation, and a slide show that explains the geologic creation of the gorge.
Beacon Rock State Park (Skamania)
Lewis and Clark reached Beacon Rock on October 31, 1805, giving the recognizable landmark its name. It was here that they first observed tidal forces on the Columbia River, promising that the Pacific Ocean was near. The rock was privately owned until 1935 when it was turned over to the Washington State Parks Department. The park now offers camping, boating, trails for hiking and mountain biking, and rock climbing.
Government Island State Recreation Area (Near Portland, Oregon)
Lewis, Clark, and the Corps of Discovery camped on this Columbia River island on November 3, 1805. Today, the island is part of the Oregon State Park system. Accessible only by boat, Government Island offers hiking, fishing, and camping.