The Mighty Columbia River

The Columbia River (known as Wimahl or Big River to the Chinook-speaking natives who live on its lowermost reaches) is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. It is named after the Columbia Rediviva, the first ship from the western world known to have traveled up the river. It stretches from British Columbia through Washington state, forming much of the border between Washington and Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. The river is 1,243 miles long, and its drainage basin is 258,000 square miles. Source: Wikipedia

The mighty Columbia originates in two lakes that lie between the Continental Divide and Selkirk mountain ranges in British Columbia. The river takes a convoluted path as it flows north for 200 or more miles, then it turns south and runs across the US/Canada border. Within the United States, the river courses southwest and skirts across one of the Columbia Plateau’s massive lava flows where it turns to the southeast and cuts a dramatic gorge in the earth’s layers to its junction with the westward flowing Snake River. After its confluence with the Snake, the Columbia runs virtually due west all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Columbia River Gorge near George, Washington

Columbia River Gorge near George, Washington

The Columbia has ten major tributaries: the Kootenay, Okanagan, Wenatchee, Spokane, Yakima, Snake, Deschutes, Willamette, Cowlitz, and Lewis rivers. The most important tributary, the Snake, flows for over 1,100 miles across a semi-arid plain and runs through the deepest gorge in North America, Hell’s Canyon — 7,900 feet deep. The Deschutes and Willamette rivers drain south of the Columbia, while the Yakima, Lewis, and Cowlitz rivers drain to the north.

One dramatically scenic portion of the Columbia cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range and creates the 80 mile long, 4,000 foot deep Columbia River Gorge. Prior to massive dam building during the 20th century, the river plunged over basalt cliffs and rapids in the Gorge. Today, the engineered Columbia provides a nearly sea-level pathway through the Cascades to eastern regions of Oregon and Washington. The reach of Pacific Ocean tides extends to the western end of the Gorge, a little more than 100 miles from the ocean. This lower river section is almost flat, falling less than six inches per mile. This area also includes Sauvie Island—one of the largest river islands in North America. The Columbia then empties into the Pacific Ocean just west of Astoria, Oregon over the Columbia Bar, a shifting sandbar that makes the river’s mouth one of the most infamous and hazardous stretches of water to navigate in the world.

Columbia River, Cascade Mountains, Oregon, (1876) by Vincent Colyer (oil on canvas). Beacon Rock is visible on the left.

Columbia River, Cascade Mountains, Oregon, (1876) by Vincent Colyer (oil on canvas). Beacon Rock is visible on the left.

In addition to ever changing landscapes and beautiful scenery, the Columbia River offers visitors numerous other activities. World class fishing, skiing, boating, and a myriad of other recreational activities take place on the river or its banks. A trip centered on the Columbia River will be remembered for a lifetime! One of the best ways to explore is by actually cruising on the Columbia itself. TMI Tours offers several exciting and luxurious Columbia River cruise packages. We encourage you to read about them and contact us to book your personalized getaway on the Columbia River.