Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Cascade Rapids"
Includes ... Cascade Rapids ... Lower Falls of the Columbia ... "The Great Shoot or Rapid" ... Campsite of October 30-31, 1805 and April 12, 1806 ... Campsite of November 1, 1805 ... The Portage ... Cascades Massacre ... Campsite of April 10-11, 1806 ... The Forts of the Cascade Rapids ... Fort Gilliam ... Fort Cascades ... Fort Rains ... Fort Lugenbeel ...
Image, 2013, Cascade Locks, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Looking downsteam, Cascade Locks and Bridge of the Gods, Cascade Locks Marine Park, Cascade Locks, Oregon. View towards the location of the "Lower Falls of the Columbia". The Bridge of the Gods is in the background. Image taken February 15, 2013.

Cascade Rapids ...
The Cascade Rapids were also known as the "Lower Falls of the Columbia", and encompassed and area from Cascade Locks, Oregon down to Hamilton Island, Washington. Today this area also includes the Bonneville Dam, Bridge of the Gods, Bradford, Robins, and Cascade Islands, and the community of North Bonneville, Washington. On the Oregon side was Tanner Creek, Oregon, where Lewis and Clark camped on the night of April 9, 1806.

Bonneville Landslide ...
The Cascade Rapids were the result of the "Bonneville Landslide".

"Upper", "Lower", and "Middle" ...
The Cascade Rapids were four and one-half miles long, with early history dividing the reach into two sections, the "Upper Cascades" and the "Lower Cascades". Later years a "Middle Cascades" was included. The total fall of the Columbia River from the head of Upper Cascades to the bottom of Lower Cascades was 45 feet at high water and 36 feet at low water.

Lewis and Clark and the Cascade Rapids ...
Lewis and Clark had to portage around the Cascade Rapids in the fall of 1805 and then on their return in the spring of 1806. Their campsites were located at the upstream end of the Upper Cascades near today's Ashes Lake and another was located at the Middle Cascades near the location of today's Fort Rains.

Campsite of October 30-31, 1805 and April 12, 1806 ...
Lewis and Clark's campsite of October 30 and October 31, 1805, was on an island off the Washington side of the Columbia, near the location of today's Ashes Lake. They spent two nights at this spot as they portaged across the trecherous "Lower Falls of the Columbia". On their return, Lewis and Clark camped in the same location on April 12, 1806. This island is now under the waters of the Bonneville Reservoir, the waters behind the Bonneville Dam.

Image, 2004, Table Mountain from Bonneville Dam, North Bonneville, Washington click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Table Mountain and the Bonneville Landslide, Washington, as seen from Cascade Locks, Oregon. View towards the location of Lewis and Clark's campsites of October 30 and 31, 1805 and April 12, 1806, near Ashes Lake, Washington, at the upper end of the Bonneville Landslide. View from Thunder Island, Cascade Locks, Oregon. Image taken November 4, 2004.

Campsite of November 1, 1805 and April 10-11, 1806 ...
On their journey downstream, Lewis and Clark had just passed the "Upper Cascades" and their camp of November 1, 1806 is at the downstream end of their portage, in the vicinity of Fort Rains. The campsite of April 10-11, 1806 is unmarked on any of their maps. It too was located at the lower end of the portage around the "Lower Falls of the Columbia", close to the location of their camp of November 1, 1805.

Image, 2005, Fort Rains and the North Bank Railroad information signs, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Information signs for Fort Rains and the North Bank Railroad. Image taken February 26, 2005.

Cascade Rapids in 1858 ...
"About 30 miles further up the river we reach the foot of the Cascades, which are a series of rapids 4 miles long, where the river bursts through the eastern part of the Cascade range of mountains, whose basaltic walls rise precipitously over 3,000 feet on either side, presenting a magnificent sight. Below the rapids the current rushes by with great velocity and depth, but small steamboats ply regularly from Portland and Vancouver to the foot of the rapids; thence passengers are carried by stages to the head, where one or two fine steamboats convey them 50 miles to the Dalles. The Hudson Bay Company carried their large trading boats up the rapids by a system called cordelling. Steamboats have gone up one or two miles, and, in one instance, a brig, with every sail set and a moderate gale astern, was carried safely to the foot the railroad, which runs from the head to within a mile and a half of the lower end. At each extremity of the rapids are small military posts."

Source:    United States Senate Report "The Superintendent of the Coast Survey showing the Progress of the Survey during the Year 1858".

Early Maps ...

Cadastral Survey, 1860, Bradford's Island, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
1860 Cadastral Survey map detail (tax survey) for T2N R7E, showing "Bradford's Island". Original Cadastral Map courtesy U.S. Bureau of Land Management's General Land Office (GLO) Records Database, 2013.
Topo Map, 1911, Columbia River at Bonneville, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
1911 Topographic map detail, Columbia River at Bonneville, before construction of the Bonneville Dam. Original 1:125,000 "Mount Hood" Topographic Map courtesy University of Washington Libraries, 2010.

Cascade Rapids, etc.

  • "Upper Cascades" ...
  • "Middle Cascades" ...
  • "Lower Cascades" ...
  • Cascades Massacre of 1856 ...
  • Cascades Townsite ...
  • Forts of the Cascade Rapids ...
  • Great Flood of 1894 ...
  • The Portage and Cascade Locks ...

"Upper Cascades" ...
The "Upper Cascades" made a bend around a rocky point on the Oregon shore, then went into a 2,000-foot-long pitch in the river and a 21-foot drop. Lewis and Clark's map has the inscription:
"The Great Shoot or Rapid. 150 Yards wide and 400 Yards long crowded with Stones and Islands."

A portage of this "Great Shoot" was located on the Washington side of the Columbia and crossed today's Sheridan Point, beginning at Ashes Lake and ending at Fort Rains. The Bonneville Dam is approximately one mile further downstream. The "Upper Cascades" was the location of the 1848 supply depot known as Fort Gilliam, and the 1856 blockhouse Fort Lugenbeel.

Image, 2005, Columbia River looking downstream Bridge of the Gods, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Columbia River looking downstream from Bridge of the Gods, with the toe of the Bonneville Landslide visible on the right. Image taken May 13, 2005.

"Middle Cascades" ...

Image, 2005, Columbia River and Oregon as seen from the Fort Rains area, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Columbia River and Oregon, as seen from the Fort Rains and North Bank Railroad information signs Washington. Image taken February 26, 2005.

"Lower Cascades" ...
The "Lower Cascades" was a long three-and-a-half-mile pitch in the Columbia River through the area of today's Bonneville Dam. The lower end was in the vicinity of Hamilton Island on the Washington side across from Munra Point on the Oregon side. In his journal, Captain Clark referred to this area as "a Second Shute".

"... The Indians who arrived last evining took their Canoes on ther Sholders and Carried them below the Great Shute, we Set about takeing our Small Canoe and all the baggage by land 940 yards of bad Slippery and rockey way The Indians we discoverd took ther loading the whole length of the portage 2 1/2 miles, to avoid a Second Shute which appears verry bad to pass, and thro' which they passed with their empty canoes. ..." [Clark, November 1, 1805]

Image, 2004, Bradford Island, from Hamilton Island, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Bradford Island, downstream tip, as seen from Hamilton Island. Image taken August 1, 2004.

Cascades Massacre of 1856 ...

Cascades Townsite ...
Today's community of North Bonneville is located on the site of the former town of Cascades, also known as "Lower Cascades". The community of Lower Cascades was at one time the largest town in the Washington Territory. It was an important steamboat stop and the western terminus of the portage road. Slightly downstream was located the military defense post Fort Cascades, built in 1855 to guard the portage road around the Cascade Rapids. Lower Cascades was also at one time home of the Skamania County government. Both the town of Lower Cascades and the post Fort Cascades were destroyed during the Great Flood of 1894. They were never rebuilt.

The Forts of the Cascades Rapids ...
Throughout history four different forts or blockhouses existed along a rough stretch of the Columbia River Gorge between Hamilton Island and Cascade Locks. This area was known as the "Cascade Rapids". The first fort was Fort Gilliam, established in 1848 and located at the portage as a supply depot. Next came Fort Cascades, built in 1855 at the lower end of the rapids ("Lower Cascades"), and built to defend the portage. Fort Rains came next ("Middle Cascades") and was located at the lower end of the portage around the "Upper Cascades". The last fort built was Fort Lugenbeel, located at the upper end of "Upper Cascades". Today, Fort Rains and Fort Lugenbeel, and the earlier Fort Gilliam, exist only as archaeological sites on present U.S. Army Corp of Engineer land. The location of Fort Cascades can be seen at the Fort Cascades Historic Site, located on Hamilton Island.

Great Flood of 1894 ...
The "Great Flood of 1894" was the highest-recorded flood along the Columbia of all time. This flood destroyed the town of Cascades. Downstream, a gage at Vancouver, Washington, reached a record 36 feet, while Longview, Washington hit a record 24 feet (June 7, 1894). The force of the flood waters removed several feet of soil and exposed many boulders now visible in the area of Fort Cascades.

Image, 2014, Moss covered boulders, flood of 1894, Cascades Townsite, Hamilton Island, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Boulders on Hamilton Island uncovered during the flood of 1894. The "Great Flood of 1894" destroyed the town of Cascades and Fort Cascades. Image taken April 7, 2014.

The Portage and Cascade Locks ...
Until the Cascade Canal and Locks opened in 1896, folks traveling up and down the Columbia River had to portage around the Cascade Rapids.

In 1881 construction of a canal was begun to bypass the "Upper Cascades" and it was finished in 1896. This 3,000-foot-long canal, called the Cascade Locks, made the Columbia River passable to The Dalles, Oregon.

In 1937 the Cascade Rapids and the early canal and locks were flooded by backwater from Bonneville Dam.

[More Portage Roads]
[More Cascade Locks]

"The Golden Age of Postcards" ...

The early 1900s was the "Golden Age of Postcards", with the "Penny Postcard" being a popular way to send greetings to family and friends. The postcards now have become a image of history.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 30, 1805 ...

Clark, October 31, 1805 ...

Clark, November 1, 1805, first draft ...
Set all hands packing the loading over th portage which is below the Grand Shutes and is 940 yards of bad way over rocks & on Slipery hill Sides The Indians who came down in 2 Canoes last night packed their fish over a portage of 2 miles to avoid a 2d Shute. four of them took their canoes over the 1st portage and run the 2d Shute, Great numbers of Sea otters, they are So Cautious that I with deficuelty got a Shute at one to day, which I must have killed but Could not get him as he Sunk ...     We got all our Canoes and baggage below the Great Shute     3 of the canoes being Leakey from injures recved in hauling them over the rocks, obliged us to delay to have them repaired a bad rapid just below us ...    

Clark, November 1, 1805 ...

Clark, November 2, 1805 ...

Columbia River GorgeReturn to

*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources for the Cascade Rapids, Fort Cascades, Fort Rains, and Fort Lugenbeel:
  • Beckham, Dr., "This Place is Romantic and Wild", An Historic Overview of the Cascades Area, Fort Cascades, and the Cascades townsite, Washington Territory, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers broshure, uploaded on the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center website, June 2013, retrieved April 2014;
  • Center for Columbia River History website, 2004;
  • Corpus Christi Public Library website, 2004, "Mexican War";
  • Hay, K.G., 2004, The Lewis and Clark Columbia River Water Trail, Timber Press, Portland;
  • Historic Cascade Locks website, 2005;
  • Hitchman, R., 1985, Place Names of Washington, Washington State Historical Society;
  • NOAA Office of Coast Surveys website, 2005;
  • NOAA Weather website, 2004;
  • Skamania County Chamber of Commerce website, 2004;
  • University of Washington Photo Archives website, 2006;
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Broshure, 2004, "Fort Cascades Trail Guide, 1989 edition";
  • U.S. GenWeb Project website, 2005, "History of the Pacific Northwest
  • Oregon and Washington 1889";
  • U.S. National Park Service website, 2004, 2006, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site;
  • U.S. National Park Service website, 2004, John Day Fossil Beds;
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website, 2014;
  • Washington State Historical Society website, 2005, "Lasting Legacy";

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
April 2014