What Is the Columbia River Gorge?

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  • Written By: Emily Espinoza
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2019
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The Columbia River Gorge is a canyon created by the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is a unique geological feature as well as an important historical site. It is considered a National Scenic Area and contains features such as waterfalls and dams. In 2011, the area is popular as a recreational site with many businesses catering to tourists.

The gorge stretches from the Sandy River to the Deschutes River and covers approximately 80 miles (130 km). Running along the border between Oregon and Washington state, it is 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) deep. Archaeological excavation has found evidence of human inhabitants living and fishing in the gorge as long ago as 10,000 years. It has since been important as a transportation route through the area and was first used in this way by American Indians. It then became a significant part of the historic expedition of Lewis and Clark and, more recently, became integral in the routes of the Union Pacific Railroad and the BNSF Railway.

The United States Forest Service maintains and protects the Columbia River Gorge as a National Scenic Area. It contains over 90 waterfalls, many of which are viewable from the historic Columbia River Highway. These waterfalls are tourist attractions, some of them being visited by millions of people each year. The gorge is also home to several dams, including The Dalles Dam and Bonneville Dam, which are important assets to the entire region.


The Columbia River Gorge is also a popular area for recreational activities. Many businesses in the area serve tourists and encourage visitors to make it a vacation spot. Activities available in the Columbia River Gorge itself include fishing, whitewater rafting, and kitesailing. Around the gorge wineries, museums, and interpretive centers are open to visitors.

Many parks in and around the Columbia River Gorge provide opportunities for camping and hiking. For those who prefer to experience the gorge in a more luxurious setting, spas in the area cater to visitors of the gorge. The gorge is culturally significant to the people of the region, and many art galleries display the work of local artists. Many of these artists create their works using some of the natural resources available in and around the gorge to capture some of its spirit.


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