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  • Writer's pictureTheresa Brandt

Highlights of the Columbia & Snake Rivers

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

The American Empress docked in Richland, Washington.

Step back into a gilded age of American river travel, sailing on the largest overnight riverboat west of the Mississippi. While you won’t find glitzy casinos and two-story waterslides aboard a vessel like this, you will find classic elegance and modern luxury in spades. As you venture along two of America’s great western rivers - the Columbia and the Snake - you’ll feel history unfold around you, while the boat’s signature red paddlewheel churns on behind you.

Sail where Lewis and Clark first charted their way through tall timbers and rugged coastline, learning about rich First Nations history and tasting wine country’s bounty. Adventure is always around the bend.

Here are some of the places I visited on my recent voyage …

Climb to the top of the Astoria Column or stand at the base and take in the magnificent view.

Astoria, Oregon

History oozes from every pore of this oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. Climb to the top of the Astoria Column where you can gaze out over the Pacific Ocean. Photograph the port city’s picturesque Victorian-era homes, perched above the Columbia River. Learn about Clatsop Tribe heritage and local history from residents who are descendants of early Chinese settlers and played an integral role in Astoria’s canneries, railroads and jetties. Walk under the 4.1-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge, visit a nearby shipwreck and lounge with sea lions on the docks at 36th Street.

The Two Rivers Heritage Museum in Washougal is run exclusively by volunteers.

Camas/Washougal, Washington

“Gateway to the Gorge,” the Camas and Washougal communities on the banks of the Columbia River is your access to the largest national scenic area in the United States: the Columbia River Gorge. At up to 4,000 feet deep and stretching for more than 80 miles, the Gorge reaches into the Cascade Range and its three volcanoes. Take the chance to visit majestic Mt. Hood, the highest point in Oregon, and view Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens. In the western Gorge area, walk through misty old-growth forest, home to numerous waterfalls, while in the eastern Gorge, the landscape dries out and gives way to rocky bluffs and desert wildflowers.

Visiting the original Wasco County Courthouse and the ​Rock Fort Campsite where Lewis & Clark camped.

The Dalles, Oregon

Continuing in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, visit The Dalles, known as the end of the Oregon Trail. This jumping-off point for pioneers, gold miners and scallywags, The Dalles saw its share of adventurers who loaded up wagons, rafts and barges and navigated the Columbia to the mouth of the Willamette River, then on to Oregon City. At the remains of Fort Dalles, visit the former Surgeon’s Quarters, now the Fort Dalles Museum, where you’ll find an array of military artifacts and historic household goods. Drink wine in the countryside, pick heirloom apples and pears in the fall, fish for walleye and sturgeon and savor the magnificent Mt. Hood views.

Visit Multnomah Falls and also The Timberline Lodge at the base of Mt. Hood ​where the

exterior shots for the The Shining were filmed.

Stevenson, Washington

The quiet port of Stevenson is nestled between the Columbia River and the basalt cliffs of the Gorge. Home to Native American settlements for thousands of years, the area saw an influx of western-bound pioneers in 1843, who portaged around the Cascade Rapids en route to the Willamette Valley. It was the Stevenson family from Missouri who came in the 1800s who founded the namesake town, which today still celebrates the adventurer within us. Hike, soak in hot springs, bike, go fishing - then relax and sip local vintages at one of the many wineries. Watch kiteboards jump and twist on the waves of the river, browse art galleries and antiques shops and soak up local history at the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, with petroglyphs and artifacts that tell the tale of the Gorge.

Depending on if you’re headed eastbound or westbound, you'll embark/disembark from your Columbia and Snake river cruise at Vancouver, Washington, just north of Portland, Oregon, or Clarkston, Washington, south of Spokane. There are attractions and museums to enlighten you of the area’s Lewis and Clark history, an abundance of recreational activities, a burgeoning craft brew scene, excellent restaurants, quirky shops and more to keep you busy in this quintessential Pacific Northwest city.

Ready for a classic western US voyage? Reach out by booking a consultation through my Services page. I'd love to chat!


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