Cascade Locks, Oregon

The next step of our pacific northwest adventure led us to the heart of the Columbia River Gorge,  Cascade Locks, OR.  When we arrived EARLY at our hotel, the Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn, our room was not yet ready. The nice people at the front desk allowed us to change out of our clothes still wet from our hike through Oneonta Gorge.

Welcome to Cascade Locks, OR

Best Western in Cascade Locks, OR

View of Columbia River from our hotel window

View of Best Western from across Columbia River

The beautiful town of Cascade Locks sits on the edge of the Columbia River surrounded by the evergreen dotted mountains of the Columbia River Gorge.  After refreshments at Thunder Island Brewing we set off to explore the remnants of the locks at Marine Park.

Relaxing view from the garden at Thunder Island Brewing Co.

You can be a PCT angel and buy a pint for the thru hikers
One of several bronze statues at Marine Park.  This one is of Lewis & Clark's guide, Sacagawea, and a newfoundland dog named Seaman.

SIDE NOTE:  Our visit to Cascade Locks was twofold:  1.  we wanted to investigate the town's rich history, and 2. because TK is totally obsessed with the book, Wild, written by Cheryl Strayed (see below). 

What is left of the locks

More remnants of the locks

The locktender homes are now museums

One of three locktender homes

Prepare to get your history on...

First, you must understand that this small settlement, that grew up on the banks of the Columbia river, helped early travelers portage around the rapids, first by foot, then by mule-drawn rail cars, steam engines, and finally riverboats.

Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery portaged around the rapids of the Cascades in 1805. They wrote in their journal, “this great chute of falls is about 1/2 a 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” (October 30- November 1, 1805).

1908 Photograph, before Bonneville Dam was built, showing steam engine going through locks

Forty years later pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail’s water route were forced to make the same portage around the dangerous rapids. Travelers heading west had to make a crucial decision just upstream of these rapids at The Dalles, OR.  They had to choose whether they would risk life and limb on Mt. Hood’s steep Barlow Road, and overland toll route, or build a raft and float down the Columbia River, risking their life free of charge.

The little Oregon Pony, the first steam engine west of the Mississippi River, carried passengers and freight past the rapids in 1864. Today, the engine can be viewed in Marine Park.

In 1896, the navigational canal and locks at the site of the rapids were completed, and modern-day Cascade Locks was born.

The locks around 1913

The locks allowed safer navigation of the river, and riverboat whistles echoed in the Gorge each day as the boats made their runs from Portland and The Dalles. Passengers still disembarked at Cascade Locks for portage around the rapids until 1938, when Bonneville Dam succeeded in completely taming the rapids.

Columbia River after Bonneville Dam was built

Now, prepare to get your hike on...

Like we mentioned above, Cascade Locks was the town in which Cheryl Strayed ended her solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.  She hiked from Mount Hood down into the Columbia River Gorge and into Cascade Locks, stopping at the East Wind Drive-In for an ice cream cone and then crossing Bridge of the Gods before ending her hike and moving to Portland.  This trip would not have been complete without TK retracing Cheryl's steps through Cascade Locks!  So....we started at the East Wind Drive-In for a delicious twist cone.  We sat on a few rocks next to the drive-in enjoying our ice cream and watching the other ice cream eating zombies devour their cones.

Line forms for a twisty cone at the East Wind Drive-in

Next, we checked in to the hotel and prepared our day packs for a hike up the PCT. We found the spot where the PCT starts at Toll House Park and hiked it to the PCT Winter Trailhead.  The forest was dense and dark beyond the trail and the perfect environment for a sasquatch to hide.  Unfortunately the only sasquatch we saw was across the Bridge of the Gods and in the middle of Skamania County, Washington.  Oops, we said too much!  Let's save this story for another blog post.

TK at PCT Trail marker under Highway 84

Hiking the PCT

Hiking the PCT

Bridge of the Gods trailhead marker

Crossing Bridge of the Gods, Washington on the other side

After crossing over Bridge of the Gods and back we drove to Bonneville Damn.  It was closed for the night so we walked along the paths of the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Everything is beautiful in Oregon - even the fish hatcheries! Beyond the outdoor sturgeon pond there is a small white building that you can walk into. This is the Sturgeon Viewing Center, which was built in 1998.  Herman the Sturgeon is located in the Sturgeon Viewing Center and is approximately 10’ long, 425 pounds and over 60 years old.

Lavender beds at Bonneville Fish Hatchery

Roses at Bonneville Fish Hatchery

Yum...make mine almondine!

Herman the Sturgeon

Tired and hungry we made our way back to Cascade Locks where we enjoyed a pizza (a mainstay in Oregon) and a microbrew at Cascade Locks Ale House.  After feeding our face we called it a night and headed back to the hotel for some rest and relaxation.  The next morning we said goodbye to Cascade Locks but not without stopping for a delicious breakfast, courtesy of the Best Western, at the Char Burger

When we returned home we stumbled upon this short video about Cascade Locks from Grant's Getaways of Travel Oregon.  Check it out!


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