Yachting the Columbia River is like taking a sail back in time. The Gorge’s unique history and primeval beauty provides a sailing experience like no other. Lewis and Clark explored this twisting boundary between Oregon and Washington for the last 450 miles of their journey to the Pacific. Beginning near the Bonneville Dam you can retrace their infamous journey. But, did someone say wine? Yes, indeed. A cruise down the river wouldn’t be complete without culinary and wine adventures.
Sailing starts here after the last ice melt and continues to be wonderful all summer with temperatures ranging from the mid-80s during the day to a pleasant 70 degrees at night. Autumn sailing will find you admiring the change of colors along the river banks.
Hayden and Sauvie Island
Enjoy a sail out of the heart of Portland and her houseboat dotted waterfront into the relatively calmer freshwaters of Hayden Island a popular hotspot for yachting with no less than eleven marinas. While Sauvie Island’s stretches of sand beaches transport you a world away from all things urban. Great destinations for the whole family include enjoying the nature preserve in the western part of Hayden Island and exploring its 1400 floating homes. After spending the day lounging in the sun on Sauvie, enjoy a visit to Sauvie Farms where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables and provision for your voyage too. Don’t forget to stock up on some local wine from the legendary Willamette Valley at local grocery stores.
Multnomah Falls and Bonneville Dam
You will enjoy jaw-dropping vistas all along your journey on the Columbia and none more dramatic than the epic falls that line her shores. The queen of the falls, Multnomah Falls, will enchant with a 611-foot cascade of water. A stay at the lodge here might be a fun way to break up the journey. After admiring the beauty of nature you will have a chance to admire the mastery of it and the beauty of engineering when sailing through Bonneville Lock, one of eight locks that you can transit on the river. When you want some fun shore leave, enjoy scaling 800-foot Beacon Rock.
We then passed into the Cascade Locks, the heart of the Columbia River. Now a sailor’s paradise with unmatched consistent wind conditions, Lewis and Clark had to portage around impassable rapids that once ran here in 1805. They claimed “this great chute of falls is about a half mile with the water of this great river compressed within the space of 150 paces…great number of both large and small rocks, water passing with great velocity forming & boiling in a horrible manner, with a fall of about 20 feet.” Pioneers were faced with the decision to scale Mt. Hood rather than take their chances with the rapids. It’s hard not to feel a part of history during this part of the sail.
Especially when there’s talk of a Bridge of the Gods. History says that between 1100 and 1250 AD a landslide created the first Bridge of the Gods between the lava cliffs of Table Mountain, the north side of the Columbia Gorge. Sailing under the man-made structure of the same name, a steel truss cantilever bridge that spans the Columbia River between the Cascade Locks is one of our most memorable parts of the voyage.
The Dalles and John Day
After the thrill of the Cascade Locks, we passed through the locks at The Dalles and John Day dams. The spectacular greenery during the sail a dramatic counter-point to the man-made wonders we encountered. We enjoyed our stop in The Dalles, a postcard perfect riverfront town with a small-town atmosphere and enjoyed a visit to the dam and fisheries. We also got our adventure on by trekking many waterfalls between Crown Point and the Dalles.
At 113 feet, the John Day Lock has the distinction of being the largest single-lift lock in the world. After transiting, we landed in desert country. Only a few hundred feet above sea level, many orchards and vineyards dot the countryside here due to intricate irrigation systems. A wonderful experience for the whole family includes visiting the John Day Fossil Beds where the world of dinosaurs came to life in exciting ways right before our eyes. The fossils and evidence of the creatures that once roamed here rival the awesome natural beauty to be found on the Columbia.