Put your boat into the Columbia River between Bonneville Dam and The Dalles lock and Dam and enjoy a water vacation that can range from isolated, rugged and primitive to crowded, rollicking and colorful.
The recreation opportunities on the Columbia River are exquisite, varied and exciting. The short stretch between Bonneville Dam and The Dalles Dam offers such a variety it would be hard to sample all of the experiences in one vacation. A great way to explore the Columbia River and its matchless gorge is from your boat. You take your time meandering up the river taking in the ambiance, playing on the water, fishing or dreaming as you enjoy views that can not be seen from the highway. There are twelve public boat launch ramps between Bonneville Dam and The Dalles.
From the Washington side of the river take state highway 14 to access boat launching ramps. From the Oregon side take the Interstate 84 freeway.
Six Launch Sites from Hamilton Island to Hood River:
1. Hamilton Island, Wa
2. Port of Cascade Locks, Or
3. Stevenson Boat Ramp, Wa
4. Wind River, Wa
5. Drano Lake, Wa
6. Hood River Marina, Or
Recreation along the Columbia is one of those experiences that cannot be approximated in any other place. The variety of scenery, wildlife and recreational opportunities is only part of the ambiance. The river can be glass smooth and in a very short time it can change to six foot swells with whitecaps as the powerful flow of the water meets strong winds produced by weather systems off the Pacific Coast. The water conditions depend on the wind speed and the direction the channel lies at any given point.
From Bonneville Dam moving upstream will take you through what is basically a long, easy flowing lake. The river varies in width and depth. Around the mouth of the Wind River which flows in from the Washington side the river is better than a mile wide. The summer winds are westerly and usually quite strong. These strong, constant winds push upstream against the westward flow of the Columbia which creates perfect wind surfing conditions. The swells can be from two feet up to four feet on a good summer day and the river can be crowded with recreational activity. Kite boarding, wind surfing and water skiing turn the river bright with color and activity at Hood River.
The twenty eight mile stretch between Bonneville Dam and Hood River is a good place to fish for sturgeon and at the mouth of each tributary there is good salmon and steelhead fishing in season.
If you want to put your boat into the Columbia River in this area a good place to do it is the park at Cascade Locks. The Cascade Locks Marine Park is where the locks that took boats around the falls that were there before the dam was built were located. Boaters need to be cautious due to the congestion of river users in the area. The bottom of the river can be very rough and rocky and can be very shallow along the banks. When you are moving up or down stream it is to your advantage to stay to the channel side of the navigational buoys in order to avoid problems. When approaching the shore move very slowly and watch out for those rocks. Shad fishing during the spring run is hot at this spot and fishermen line the concrete wall along the old locks for their chance every spring. Besides the boat launch at Cascade Locks there is a picnic shelter in the park and showers at the visitor’s center.
In this stretch of river you can find a boat launch ramp, gasoline, diesel, tackle, groceries and ice at Stevenson Washington, about statute mile 151. At the boat launch ramp in Stevenson you can also find a nice grassy picnic area or if you want to take your groceries with you upriver there are coves and islands where you can stop for lunch. Be careful of the submerged rocks when approaching either the islands or the shore. Other boat launch ramps are at Hamilton Island, Wind River, and Drano Lake Washington and the Hood River Marina, Oregon.
The River is the main artery from the rich grain growing, orchard and ranching areas of the Inland Empire to the ports of Portland and Vancouver. The middle Columbia is generally thought of as the stretch of river from the Bonneville Dam to just above Richland Washington. The middle part of the river has four hydroelectric dams that provide nearly half the electric power used in the Pacific Northwest. The dams also back water up into lakes that help irrigate around three million acres of food producing land each year. Upwards of a million people and many species of wildlife live along the river and many thousands of people visit each year to hunt, hike, fish, camp and boat. The wildlife watchers, bird watchers, windsurfers, photographers and motorists share space with picnickers, bicyclists, and plant lovers.
From Hood River to the Dalles is another twenty seven miles offering more parks, picnic areas and boat launching ramps. At mile 173 is an island that is officially known as Eighteenmile Island but is known locally as “Chicken Charlie Island”. This is a private island so do not go ashore here. Upstream from the island is Koberg Beach State Wayside where you can go ashore in a small boat but there is a wide mudflat and you must watch the depth carefully to stay out of it. The stretch between Hood River and The Dalles is a bit calmer for windsurfers and most of the windsurfing is done between Rowena on the Oregon side and a place known as Doug’s Beach on the Washington side.
Six launch sites between Hood River and the Dalles Dam:
1. Bingen Marina, Wa
2. Rowland Lake, Wa
3. Mayer State Park, Or
4. Lyle Ramp, Wa
5. Dallesport, Wa
6. Port of The Dalles, Or
This area is rich in History and it is worth a vacationer’s time to visit area museums and wander through down town The Dalles looking at murals and the historical buildings. The Dalles is easy walking distance from the Marina which is just below The Dalles lock and Dam.
For detailed information on boating in Oregon stop at a visitors center and get the Oregon Boating Facilities Guide. A companion guide also available at visitor centers is Boating Guide to the Middle Columbia River which covers the area from Bonneville Dam to Richland, Washington.