Columbia River

The Columbia River, the mightiest river in the Pacific Northwest, begins in British Columbia. It flows from the Canadian Rockies south into Washington State. It then makes a turn to the west and flows along the border with Oregon. In total, the river twists, turns, and flows more than 1,200 miles from Columbia Lake to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, there are numerous places to experience the river—both on the shore and on the water. Whether you're on land, a kayak, luxury catamaran, or a flight-seeing excursion, you'll have the chance to experience the mighty river's rugged beauty.

Columbia River Cruises

Columbia River Cruises
Columbia River Cruises  Image: Earl Klosterman Wooster (flickr)

Lewis and Clark explored the Columbia River in dugout canoes. Two hundred years after their epic expedition, people are still exploring the river by boat. Some tour companies offer vacations rivaling European-style river cruises, many beginning in Portland. After boarding the comfortable vessels, passengers enjoy a multi-day excursion, visiting many of the highlights along the way. In Astoria, you can visit one of the oldest cities along the Oregon Coast, along with Fort Clatsop, a replica of the Lewis and Clark's headquarters. As the river cruises progress, the boats travel down the river in the shadow of the biggest peaks of the Cascades—Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Hood. River cruises also bring passengers to the Columbia River Gorge where must-sees include the Bonneville Dam Visitors Center and the Columbia River Gorge Interpretive Center.

When the American Queen Steamboat Company is not cruising the Mississippi River, it heads west to the Columbia and Snake rivers. The tour company's elegant paddleboat looks much like the great steamships of the Mark Twain era, but it's complete with the modern comforts. When passengers aren't relaxing at the spa or enjoying a gourmet dinner, they can sit back and enjoy the scenery. Much of the land is an unspoiled as it was when Lewis and Clark explored the frontier. More than a dozen departures between April and November head west from Clarkston, Washington, to Portland. Departures also travel the reverse route, starting in Portland. From both departure points, the riverboat, called the American Empress travels to the highlights of the Columbia River and its tributary, the Snake River.

Columbia River Map

Columbia River Map
Columbia River Map

If you're taking a river cruise, the cruise director and captain take care of directions. But when you're exploring on your own, it's helpful to have a good Columbia River map to take along with you. Because the area is so visitor-friendly, there are many places to stop and pick up maps, including visitors centers, local tourism bureaus, and museums. Of course, the friendly locals can also help you find your way in the scenic Columbia River region and explain the highlights on the map. 

Columbia River Salmon

Columbia River Salmon
Columbia River Salmon

While many people know and love the Columbia River for its rugged natural beauty, anglers know the river as one of the best places anywhere to catch salmon. No other place has such a diversity of salmon species—as fresh as they come. Steelhead are plentiful as are coho and chinook Columbia River salmon. Local guides can take you to see the best places along the river where the salmon are biting, and they can provide as much gear as you need, everything from the fishing poles to the fishing boats.

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