The Columbia River Gorge

The basics about this complex, wondrous place

The Columbia River Gorge
Columbia River view at sunset, looking east from Crown Point on Oregon side of river. (photographer: Greg Lief)

The Columbia River Gorge is a spectacular river canyon, 85 miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep, extending roughly from the confluence of the Columbia and Deschutes rivers and westward to the eastern edge of the Portland metropolitan area. The Columbia River divides Oregon and Washington and is the only sea-level route through the Cascade Mountains.

The Gorge took its present-day form at the end of the last Ice Age, when the massive Missoula Floods cut the canyon’s steep walls and turned river tributaries into many dozens of waterfalls.

Human History in the Columbia Gorge

As a natural travel corridor, the Gorge has been inhabited by humans for well over 10,000 years. Native Americans traded and fished at Celilo Falls. Lewis and Clark traveled through and wrote extensively about the Gorge during their expedition. Later, Oregon Trail pioneers arrived and formed communities, the largest of which today are the towns of The Dalles and Hood River, Oregon, and White Salmon, Washington.

Special Qualities of the Columbia Gorge

Beyond the stunning scenery of the glittering Columbia River framed by the Gorge’s iconic, steep canyon walls, the Gorge has numerous amazing natural and cultural features:
 
  • A diverse collection of ecosystems and micro-habitats, including temperate rainforests in the western Gorge transitioning to dry grasslands in the eastern Gorge
  • A world-renowned variety of over 800 species of plants, including 15 species of wildflowers that exist nowhere else in the world
  • The highest concentration of waterfalls in North America (at least 77 that are named)
  • Approximately 44 species of fish, including several types of salmon
  • More than 200 species of birds, including bald eagles
  • Two federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers: the Lower White Salmon and the Lower Klickitat

The Gorge's Growing Worldwide Reputation

In 2009, National Geographic Traveler magazine rated the Columbia Gorge the world's sixth-best sustainable tourism destination, noting not only its natural beauty and many recreation options, but also how it has weathered the pressures of development, mass tourism, and other threats.

The Columbia River Gorge is a special, inspiring place. On behalf of our members, we work to protect all of the Gorge’s unique, fragile resources.