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4. Columbia River, Columbia River Gorge in Northern Oregon

Fall colors among the trees alongside the Columbia River.
Such beauty, especially in the fall, along the Columbia River. And closeby Portland. Photo by Kitera Dent on Unsplash

Scoured out by a flood of epic proportions, the Columbia River Gorge has a magnificence and grandeur rarely matched in the states, let alone the world. Paddling below its towering layers of basalt and paleo soils on either bank makes you feel infinitely small in the best possible way. There are innumerable put-ins and take-outs along the river, while the same is true for campsites at state parks, scenic viewing stops and other historic and interpretive points of interest. 

Early explorers

Pre-Lewis and Clark, the reputation of Columbia River preceded it—select settlers in explorative circles on the east coast heard whispers of a massive water thoroughfare known as the River Oregon. When explorers like Peter Skene Ogden and David Douglas experienced the river, their records noted a cosmopolitan causeway with trading posts consisting of elaborate native commerce piggybacked by trappers. Innumerable languages were spoken and goods of all kinds proffered. 

When I am kayaking in the gorge, I like to think about early peoples navigating the same waters by canoe, not for overblown romantic purposes but for business endeavors on behalf of their communities and families. Commuting back and forth as business professionals in their own right. 

From my father to me to you 

My favorite route to kayak was shown to me by my father—and that was shown to him by a long lost high school sweetheart (although he would never admit that). The put-in is at Rowena Ferry Road which terminates north on a peninsula jutting out into the Columbia River towards the Klickitat River on the opposite side of the gorge in Washington. 

The crossing can take between 20 and 30 minutes in favorable conditions. Once on the other side, the mouth of the Klickitat River can shift and change between visits. Sometimes much sediment is built up and one might need to walk their kayak. When my father and I made the trip we found many birds and many blackberries.

Remember, you have to get back too

On the paddle back, white caps on the river had kicked up and the waters were far more rough than at the onset. It took us more like an hour to get back. During the return ferry my father was a bit ghost-faced and was white knuckling the paddle for fear of a capsize. Keep this in mind and be sure you are confident in your ability to traverse rough waters. 

Despite the possibility of choppy and difficult conditions, I like this kayaking trip because I am most certain many before me had to venture across the Columbia in similar and worst circumstances. Imagining what those folks went through makes me appreciate modern gear, radar and instantaneous moment-to-moment weather reports.

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