5 Great Columbia River Getaway Destinations

Crescent Bar View

Crescent Bar Golf and Condos

The Columbia River flows out of Canada, south through Washington, and then forms the border between Washington and Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, it passes by some incredible areas like Lake Roosevelt, the Grand Coulee Dam, Central Washington’s Columbia Basin, the Hanford Reach, the confluence with the Snake River, the beautiful Columbia River Gorge where the river cuts through the Cascade Mountains, and finally where it widens at its mouth. The Columbia River is a great attraction itself, as well as an accent for any place located along it.

When you visit one of the many attractions or destinations along the river though, you need to find a great place to spend the night. With that in mind, here are five great Columbia River getaway destinations.

Kettle Falls, Washington

Kettle Falls sits south of the border with British Columbia, and once was an important salmon fishing site for local Native American tribes. The waterfalls that the community is named after were flooded by the rising water behind Grand Coulee Dam, but it is still an interesting small destination to get away to. The scenery that surrounds it is gorgeous and if you can get out on the water there, your trip is sure to be a success. The China Bend Winery is a great stop in the area. Other attractions and places to visit or stay at in the area around Kettle Falls includes the Old Kettle Falls Recreation Site, the Gifford Inchelium ferry crossing, Quillisascut Farm, and Northern Ales.

Crescent Bar, Washington

Crescent Bar is a small resort community on the Columbia River, located southeast of Wenatchee. Just upriver is Rock Island Dam, the first hydroelectric dam built on the American stretch of the Columbia River. Downriver from Crescent Bar is Wanapum Dam. This means that water recreation is one of the big draws there as the river is wider and deeper and allows for plenty of room. Crescent Bar is home to two golf courses, rental condos, restaurants, beach areas, boat launches, watercraft rentals, camping options, and more. Crescent Bar is also conveniently located near the famous Gorge Amphitheater where world class music acts can be seen all summer long.

Hood River, Oregon

Hood River sits in the Cascade Mountains, right on the Columbia River in the extremely gorgeous Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Hood River has been famous for years as a great place to either watch windsurfers, or to get out on the water yourself. If you’re a fan of large dams, this is a great getaway because either on your way there or back, depending on your direction of travel, you’ll be able to see McNary Dam, John Day Dam, The Dalles Dam, and Bonneville Dam. Most of these have great visitors centers, picnic areas, and scenic overlooks. The most popular attraction for those visiting Hood River usually ends up being the Columbia River Gorge itself. It simply is one of the most beautiful spots in the Pacific Northwest. Other things to see when visiting there include Horsetail Falls, the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum, Marchesi Vineyards, Double Mountain Ranch, Gorge White House, Naked Winery, Smiley’s Red Barn, Mount Hood Railroad, and more.

Kelso – Longview, Washington

The neighboring communities of Kelso and Longview are located on the northern shore of the Columbia River, just west of Portland and Vancouver. This area has long ties to the lumber industry and also offers several side trips that make for great drives. It’s also close enough to use as a headquarters if you’re visiting Portland too. Some of the top attractions there are the Cowlitz County Historical Museum, Lake Sacajawea Park, the Rutherglen Mansion, and Willow Grove Park. A great way to enjoy the area is to book passage on any of the many river tours available there or back in Portland that will allow you to explore this part of the Columbia River. Another great attraction to check out there is the Ape Cave Lava Tubes. Here, you and your family, can venture underground and explore the longest continuous lava tube in the continental United States.

Astoria, Oregon

Astoria is a very welcoming community on the south shore of the Columbia River, located just before it empties into the Pacific Ocean. Astoria also sits on the south end of one of the best attractions in the area, the Astoria-Megler Bridge. This amazing bridge is just over four miles in length and makes for a great drive because you can look out one window and see upriver, the water of the Columbia River coming your way, and then look the other direction to see it leaving out into the ocean. Many visitors to Astoria end up driving back across the bridge to experience it all over again. Astoria also offers a nice selection of restaurants, bars, and pubs too. Other attractions to see in and around Astoria include Fort Stevens State Park, the Columbia River Maritime Museum, Fort Clatsop National Memorial, the Astoria Oregon Riverwalk, Flavel House Museum, Shallon Winery, the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks, Bumble Bee Cannery Museum, and the Oregon Film Museum. A must visit attraction there is the Astoria Column which allows you to climb the stairs to the top for the best view of the community and the surrounding scenery. If you’re traveling with children, you’ll also not want to miss out on a ride on the Astoria Riverfront Trolley.

Five Fun Facts About McNary Dam On The Columbia River

McNary-Dam

McNary-Dam

McNary Dam sits on the mighty Columbia River and is nearest to the communities of Umatilla and Hermiston in Oregon and Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland in Washington. There’s a lot of water recreation done in the area and one of the main reasons much of it is even possible is thanks to the water backed up behind McNary Dam.

Here is a look at five fun facts about McNary Dam:

McNary Dam – 7 Years In The Making

Work began on McNary Dam in 1947 and it would open in 1954.

McNary Dam – What’s In A Name?

The original name of McNary Dam was going to be Umatilla Dam.

McNary Dam – 22 and 14

McNary Dam has 14 power producing turbine generators inside it and 22 spillway gates across the top of it.

McNary Dam – What Two Counties?

The two counties McNary Dam touches as it stretches across the Columbia River are Benton County in Washington and Umatilla County in Oregon.

McNary Dam – A Long Way Down

McNary Dam sits 292 miles upstream from the mouth of the Columbia River where it flows into the ocean.

The Dalles Dam

At the cross roads of Highway 197 and Interstate 84 is the Dalles Dam, just east of the beginning of the Columbia River Gorge that divides Washington and Oregon.

The Dalles Dam

The Columbia River being harnessed for hydroelectric power has been of great benefit to the Pacific Northwest. It has also come with some losses of scenic and cultural sites as well. When the Dalles Dam was completed, it backed up water and submerged Celilo Falls, an incredible series of waterfalls that was not only scenic but also culturally important to the natives who lived in the area.

The Dalles Dam is an engineering marvel too and viewing it from either side of the Columbia River can be very interesting. The Dalles Dam Visitor Center sits on the Oregon side of the structure and treats you to the history of the area, the concepts and accomplishments of hydroelectricity, and the details of the building and running of the dam itself. If you check the schedule, you can even time your visit so that you can take a guided tour of the dam’s fish passage facilities and power generation area. I took this tour of the dam and it is really an eye opener. I was raised taking day trips to the various dams in the region and thought I knew a lot about them. I picked up more than a few details I’d never known before.

You can also make use of the picnic facilities at the dam while you are there. A quick stop at the Dalles Dam can really add to the fun you have on a road trip along the border of Washington and Oregon.

Check out The Dalles Dam visitor center on your next trip through the area.

5 Fun Facts: Washington – Grand Coulee Dam

I’m a fan of dams. I have been since I was a kid. I remember Mom taking us for day trips, as she called them, to large and small dams throughout the state of Washington. Most of these were dams on the Columbia River of course, but we’d also go see minor ones too. The king of all of these dams though was always Grand Coulee Dam. There is so much to enjoy there but it all starts with just staring at this huge, man made, awe inspiring structure that has harnessed the mighty Columbia River. Was that corny? Oh, well… here are five fun facts about this very cool place to visit.

1. Grand Coulee Dam measures in at 550 feet high from base to top. The original plan was for a low dam to be built that would be just over half that high at 290 feet tall. At that height, it would’ve produced electricity but would not have contributed to the irrigation system that the surrounding area relies on.

2. Due to the rising water behind Grand Coulee Dam, known now as Lake Roosevelt or Franklin Delano Roosevelt Lake, more than 3,000 people had to be relocated, many of them Native Americans.

3. The reservoir behind Grand Coulee was officially recognized as full on June 1, 1942 when the first water flowed over the dam’s spillway.

4. The Columbia River Treaty is a treaty between the United States and Canada that allows for water storage where backed up water of the Columbia River behind Grand Coulee Dam extends north of the Canadian’s border.

5. 1952 saw the United States Post Office issue a commemorative Grand Coulee Dam stamp with a face value of three cents.

Oregon’s Astoria-Megler Bridge

Astoria-Megler Bridge

If you’re like me, one of the hits of going on a road trip is driving across, or seeing, interesting bridges.

I’ve always thought bridges were cool for a couple of reasons. First, I like the idea of the people who built these bridges making a manmade object that spans across a river or chasm. This is sometimes a pretty impressive feat of engineering. Second, I like the feeling of driving across the bridge, high above what lies below, knowing that if the bridge were not there, my travels would be a lot different. Third, I appreciate many bridges for their architecural values. I like the lines of some bridges, the way the incorporate interesting angle, and the way they vanish to a horizon point off in the distance. Bridges, to me, are one of the best subjects for taking pictures while out enjoying a road trip.

One of the coolest bridges we get to drive across here in the Pacific Northwest is the Astoria-Megler Bridge that connects Oregon to Washington at the mouth of the Columbia River. The city of Astoria sits at the south end of the bridge and is a great host to your Northern Oregon Coast activities. The trip across the bridge though is the highlight for me.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge is about 28 feet wide and runs for a distance of 4.1 miles. At its highest point, it is 196 miles above the water of the Columbia River. Much of the bridge though rides much lower and provides a very nice view of either state, depending on your direction of travel, and of course of the river and the ocean it is meeting as well.

I’ll be honest here, I cannot remember the last time I came to the Astoria-Megler Bridge and drove across it one time. I usually drive across it once, turn and retreat back to where I came from, driving across it a second time in the process, and then drive across it a third time as I go on my way. This is especially true if I’m spending the night in Astoria.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge was completed in 1966 and all these years later it is still a very special treat for anyone road tripping in the Northwest.

Rocky Reach Dam Near Wenatchee

Rocky Reach Dam

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When you think about it, the construction of a dam across a major river is pretty amazing. To stop the flow of water, or at least alter it significantly, so large crews can build a concrete structure on dry riverbed is something incredibly impressive. As roadtrippers, we pass by dams all the time. Some of them are small and some quite large. If you’re driving along the Columbia River, you are guaranteed to see one.

Just north of Wenatchee and spanning the Columbia River is Rocky Reach Dam. Construction began on this dam in 1956 and all these years later it stands as one of the more important pieces of the hydroelectric production grid in Eastern Washington. Rocky Reach Dam has 11 turbines and sits 473 river miles above where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. When built, it was a very important project for the region. It still is too.

You can access Rocky Reach Dam on the west side of the river from Highway 97A. There are climbing toys for kids as well as a picnic area and large playground available for anyone just after driving through the main gate. The visitor center is where all the really good stuff is and that is further north.

Once inside the visitor center you will see an information booth, a seating area, and a snack bar. Take the stairs down a level and you will find yourself able to view some exhibits as well as enter a small theater where some documentaries are usually playing detailing the construction of the dam, as well as how it works. When you go down one more flight of stairs (there is also an elevator), you will come to the fish viewing windows and during high volume times of the year this can be a fun place for kids and adults alike.

Rocky Reach Dam is also home to the Museum of the Columbia. Walk out onto the dam itself and gain entrance to this fascinating series of exhibits that detail the early days of the river and the inhabitants that lived along it. There are also some very cool displays of equipment used during the time of the dam’s construction. Continue on past the museum and come to a viewing window overlooking the generators that produce the electricity. At the end of that hallway is the large viewing window that gives you a close up look at the spillways. If you’re lucky, they’ll be open and white water will be raging through it on its way downstream.

RRdamMuseum

I love stopping at dams and seeing the history on display as well as marveling at these manmade contraptions that briefly harnessed mother nature and got it working for them. Rocky Reach Dam is a great place to visit on your way north or south through the North Central Washington region.

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