Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Waterfalls, Columbia River Gorge, Washington/Oregon"
Includes ... Bridal Veil Falls ... Cape Horn ... Coopey Falls ... Crown Point ... Dog Creek Falls ... Horsetail Falls ... Lancaster Falls ... Latourell Falls ... Mist Falls ... Multnomah Falls ... "Shady Creek Falls" ... Shepperds Dell ... Starvation Creek Falls ... Wah Gwin Gwin Falls ... Wahkeena Falls ... Youngs Creek Falls ...
Image, 2005, Multnomah Falls in October, click to enlarge
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Autumn Colors, Multnomah Falls, Oregon. Image taken October 22, 2005.


Waterfalls of the Columbia Gorge ...
One might wonder "why are there more waterfalls on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge than on the Washington side?". According to Research Geologists Dr. Marvin Beeson and Dr. Terry Tolan:

"... The presence of prominent vertical cooling joints in most of the lava flows [Columbia River Basalts], combined with the weak interflow zones result in steep cliffs and abundant waterfalls. Observations of waterfalls occurring over Columbia River basalt flows have shown that falls often occur where flows are flat lying or dipping upstream. This condition allows blocks produced by vertical cooling joints to be stable until support is withdrawn by erosion of the weaker interflow material at the base of the flows. The rate of erosion of interflow material probably largely controls the rate of retreat of the falls. The amphitheater-shaped valley common to many of the falls within the gorge is due to freeze-thaw action of water from splash mist that penetrates the joints. Most waterfalls are limited to the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge because landslides modify the steepness on the Washington side. The entire region's bedrock material is tilted slightly southward. When it is water saturated, the upper basaltic layers on the north side of the river slide into the Gorge. Thus, waterfalls on the Washington side are fewer and smaller. ..." [Beeson and Tolan, 1987]

Lewis and Clark passed through the Columbia River Gorge in November, 1805, and again in April 1806.


October 29, 1805 ...
On October 29, 1805, Captain Clark writes about Wah Gwin Gwin Falls, at the upper (east) end of the Gorge.
"... a butifull cascade falling over a rock of about 100 feet ..." [Clark, October 29, 1805]

October 30, 1805 ...
On October 30, 1805, Captain Clark writes about four cascades on the Oregon side.

"... Saw 4 Cascades caused by Small Streams falling from the mountains on the Lard. Side,    a remarkable circumstance in this part of the river is, the Stumps of pine trees [Submerged Forest] are in maney places are at Some distance in the river, and gives every appearance of the rivers being damed up below from Some cause which I am not at this time acquainted with ..." [Clark, October 30, 1805]

The possiblities for those four falls are - upstream to downstream in a two-mile stretch - Starvation Creek and Falls, the seasonal Cabin Creek and Falls, Warren Creek and Falls, Wonder Creek and Lancaster Falls, Lindsey Creek and Falls, and Summit Creek and Falls.


November 2, 1805 ...

Lewis and Clark passed by Multnomah Falls area on November 2, 1805, and again on their return on April 9, 1806.

"... Saw a number of Spring runs flowing from the high clifts and Mountains. Some of which falls off about 100 feet perpinticular ..." [Ordway, November 2, 1805]

"... We passed a creek which lay on the So. side of the River, & a great number of springs & Spring runs flowing from the Clifts & mountains which lay high & fell from off these Clifts & Mountains upwards of 100 feet into the River.    The high Clifts & rocks lies on both sides of the River. ..." [Whitehouse, November 2, 1805]

"... on our way to this village we passed several beautifull cascades which fell from a great hight over the stupendious rocks which cloles the river on both sides nearly, except a small bottom on the South side in which our hunters were encamped. the most remarkable of these casscades falls about 300 feet perpendicularly over a solid rock into a narrow bottom of the river on the south side. it is a large creek, situated about 5 miles above our encampment of the last evening. several small streams fall from a much greater hight, and in their decent become a perfect mist which collecting on the rocks below again become visible and decend a second time in the same manner before they reach the base of the rocks. ..." [Lewis, April 9, 1806]

April 9, 1806 ...
On the return trip in 1806, Captain Lewis wrote about "several beautifull cascades" - quite possibly one being Multnomah Falls.

"... we passed several beautifull cascades which fell from a great hight over the stupendious rocks which cloles the river on both sides nearly ... the most remarkable of these casscades falls about 300 feet perpendicularly over a solid rock into a narrow bottom of the river on the south side. it is a large creek, situated about 5 miles above our encampment of the last evening. several small streams fall from a much greater hight, and in their decent become a perfect mist which collecting on the rocks below again become visible and decend a second time in the same manner before they reach the base of the rocks. ..." [Lewis, April 9, 1806]

Views of the Falls ... (alphabetical)

Image, 2009, Bridal Veil Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Bridal Veil Falls, Bridal Veil, Oregon. Image taken April 26, 2009.

Image, 2005, Cape Horn, Washington, click to enlarge
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Cape Horn, Washington. Cape Horn as seen from Bridal Veil Overlook, Oregon. Image taken December 10, 2005.

Image, 2013, Coopey Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Coopey Falls, Oregon, as seen from the Historic Columbia River Highway. Image taken March 3, 2013.

Image, 2005, Crown Point from Washington Highway 14, click to enlarge
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Early morning, Crown Point, Oregon. Note waterfall on the left. View from Washington State Highway 14. Image taken May 24, 2005.

Image, 2012, Dog Creek Falls, Washington, click to enlarge
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Dog Creek Falls, Washington. Image taken June 15, 2012.

Image, 2005, Horsetail Falls, click to enlarge
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Horsetail Falls, Oregon, along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Image taken March 6, 2005.

Image, 2012, Lancaster Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Lancaster Falls, Oregon. Lancaster Falls is 303 feet tall and located on Wonder Creek. Image taken June 15, 2012.

Image, 2004, Latourell Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Latourell Falls, Oregon. Latourell Falls plunges 249 feet. Image taken June 27, 2004.

Image, 2005, Mist Falls, Benson State Recreation Area, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Mist Falls, Oregon, from Benson State Recreation Area. Image taken November 19, 2005.

Imag5, 2004, Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge, click to enlarge
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Multnomah Falls, Oregon, Benson Bridge. Image taken March 6, 2005.

"... we passed several beautifull cascades which fell from a great hight over the stupendious rocks which cloles the river on both sides nearly ... the most remarkable of these casscades falls about 300 feet perpendicularly over a solid rock into a narrow bottom of the river on the south side. it is a large creek, situated about 5 miles above our encampment of the last evening. several small streams fall from a much greater hight, and in their decent become a perfect mist which collecting on the rocks below again become visible and decend a second time in the same manner before they reach the base of the rocks. ..." [Lewis, April 9, 1806]

Image, 2005, Multnomah Falls and Benson Bridge, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Icy Multnomah Falls and Benson Bridge, Oregon. Image taken December 10, 2005.

Image, 2006, Rock Creek Falls, click to enlarge
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Rock Creek Falls, Stevenson, Washington. Low flow. Image taken July 2, 2006.

Images, 2005, Shady Creek Falls west of Multnomah Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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"Shady Creek Falls", located west of Multnomah Falls, Oregon. View from Multnomah Falls parking lot. Image taken October 22, 2005.

Image, 2006, Columbia Gorge Hotel, Hood River, Oregon, as seen from Washington State, click to enlarge
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Columbia Gorge Hotel and Wah Gwin Gwin Falls, as seen from Washington State. View from near the Spring Creek Fish Hatchery, Washington. Image taken May 10, 2006.

"... a butifull cascade falling over a rock of about 100 feet ..." [Clark, October 29, 1805]

Image, 2006, Wah Gwin Gwin Falls, Columbia Gorge Hotel, Hood River, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Wah Gwin Gwin Falls, Columbia Gorge Hotel, Hood River, Oregon. Image taken May 10, 2006.

Image, 2005, Wahkeena Falls, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Wahkeena Falls, Oregon. Image taken March 6, 2005.

Image, 2004, Youngs Creek Falls, click to enlarge
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Youngs Creek Falls at Shepperds Dell, Oregon. Image taken October 11, 2004.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 29, 1805 ...
A cloudy morning wind from the West but not hard, we Set out at day light [from their camp on Rocky Island at Crates Point], and proceeded on about five miles Came too on the Stard. Side at a village of 7 houses built in the Same form and materials of those above, here we found the Chief we had Seen at the long narrows [The Dalles] ...     they are hospitable and good humered Speak the Same language of the inhabitants of the last village, we call this the friendly village [vicinity of Dougs Beach]. ...     after brackfast we proceeded on, the mountains are high on each Side [high basalt cliffs of the Rowena Gap], containing Scattering pine white oake & under groth, hill Sides Steep and rockey; at 4 miles lower we observed a Small river falling in with great rapidity on the Stard. Side [Klickitat River] below which is a village of 11 houses [today the town of Lyle is on the upstream side of the Klickitat], here we landed to Smoke a pipe with the nativs and examine the mouth of the river, which I found to be 60 yards wide rapid and deep, The inhabitants of the village are friendly and Chearfull; those people inform us also those at the last village that this little river is long and full of falls, no Salmon pass up it, it runs from N. N. E. that ten nations live on this river and its waters, on buries, and what game that Can kill with their Bow & arrows

we purchased 4 dogs and Set out- (this village is the of the Same nation of the one we last passed) and proceeded on The Countrey on each side begin to be thicker timbered with Pine and low white Oake; verry rockey and broken [passing Mayer State Park on the Oregon side]. passed three large rocks in The river the middle rock is large long and has Several Squar vaults on it. we call this rockey Island the Sepulchar [Memaloose Island] - The last river we passed we Shall Call the Cataract River [Klickitat River] from the number of falls which the Indians say is on it- passed 2 Lodges of Indians a Short distance below the Sepulchar Island [Memaloose Island] on the Stard. Side river wide, at 4 mile passed 2 houses on the Stard. Side, Six miles lower passed 4 houses above the mouth of a Small river 40 yards wide on the Lard. Side [Hood River] a thick timbered bottom above & back of those houses; those are the first houses which we have Seen on the South Side of the Columbia River, (and the axess to those dificuelt) for fear of the approach of their common enemies the Snake Indians, passed 14 houses on the Std. Side Scattered on the bank- from the mouth of this little river which we shall Call Labeasche River [Hood River], the falls mountain [Mount Hood] is South and the top is covered with Snow. one mile below pass the mouth of a large rapid Stream on the Stard. Side [White Salmon River], opposit to a large Sand bar [from Hood River], in this creek the Indians above take their fish, here we Saw Several canoes, which induced us to call this Canoe Creek [White Salmon River] it is 28 yards wide, about 4 miles lower and below the Sand bar is a butifull cascade falling over a rock of about 100 feet [Wah Gwin Gwin Falls, location of the Columbia Gorge Hotel],

[On the route map (Map#78, Moulton, Vol.1) a "C___ Spring" is shown on the north side of the river, today the location of Spring Creek and Spring Creek Fish Hatchery, with no mention of it in any text. On the south side, at the location of Wah Gwin Gwin Falls, only "Cascade" is labeled and "4 Houses of Indians".]

a Short distance lower passed 4 Indian houses on the Lard. Side in a timbered bottom, a fiew miles further we came too at 3 houses on Stard. Side, back of which is a pond [today the location of Drano Lake. The Little White Salmon River empties into Drano Lake.] in which I Saw Great numbers of Small Swan, Capt. Lewis and went into the houses of those people ...     Here the mountains are high on each Side, those to the Lard. Side has Some Snow on them at this time, more timber than above and of greater variety.






Clark, October 30, 1805 ...
A cool morning, a moderate rain all the last night, after eating a partial brackfast of venison we Set out [from their camp near Drano Lake and the Little White Salmon River]     passed Several places where the rocks projected into the river & have the appearance of haveing Seperated from the mountains and fallen promiscuisly into the river, Small nitches are formed in the banks below those projecting rocks which is comon in this part of the river, Saw 4 Cascades caused by Small Streams falling from the mountains on the Lard. Side,

[The possiblities in a two-mile area are - upstream to downstream - Starvation Creek and Falls, the seasonal Cabin Creek and Falls, Warren Creek and Falls, Wonder Creek and Lancaster Falls, Lindsey Creek and Falls, and Summit Creek and Falls.]

a remarkable circumstance in this part of the river is, the Stumps of pine trees [Submerged Forest]

[The Submerged Forest existed along the reach from above Dog Mountain/Viento Creek on the upstream edge and Wind Mountain/Shellrock Mountain on the downstream edge.]

are in maney places are at Some distance in the river, and gives every appearance of the rivers being damed up below from Some cause which I am not at this time acquainted with [Bonneville Landslide],     the Current of the river is also verry jentle not exceeding 1 mile pr. hour and about of a mile in width. Some rain, we landed above the mouth of a Small river on the Stard. Side [Wind River] and Dined ...   :  here the river widens to about one mile large Sand bar in the middle, a Great [rock] both in and out of the water, large <round> Stones, or rocks are also permiscuisly Scattered about in the river, ...     The bottoms above the mouth of this little river [Wind River] <which we Call> is rich covered with grass & firn & is about of a mile wide rich and rises gradually, below the river (which is 60 yards wide above its mouth) the Countery rises with Steep assent. we call this little river <fr Ash> New Timbered river from a Speces of Ash <that wood> which grows on its banks of a verry large and different from any we had before Seen, and a timber resembling the beech in bark <& groth> but different in its leaf which is Smaller and the tree smaller. passed maney large rocks in the river and a large creek on the Stard. Side in the mouth of which is an Island [Rock Creek near Stevenson, Washington], passed on the right of 3 Islands <on> near the Stard. Side, and landed on an Island close under the Stard. Side at the head of the great Shute [head of the Cascades Rapids], and a little below a village of 8 large houses on a Deep bend on the Stard. Side, and opposit 2 Small Islands imediately in the head of the Shute, which Islands are covered with Pine, maney large rocks also, in the head of the Shute. Ponds back of the houses, and Countrey low for a Short distance. The day proved Cloudy dark and disagreeable with Some rain all day which kept us wet. The Countary a high mountain on each Side thickly Covered with timber, Such as Spruc, Pine, Cedar, Oake Cotton &c. &c.     I took two men and walked down three miles to examine the Shute and river below proceeded along an old Indian path, passd. an old village at 1 mile ...     I found by examonation that we must make a portage of the greater perpotion of our Stores 2 miles, and the Canoes we Could haul over the rocks, I returned at Dark ...     a wet disagreeable evening, the only wood we could get to burn on this little Island on which we have encamped [near Ashes Lake, the island is now under the waters of the Bonneville Reservoir] is the newly discovered Ash, which makes a tolerable fire. we made fifteen miles to daye






Ordway, November 2, 1805 ...
a fair morning. we carried Some of our baggage past the last rapid about one mile further and took one canoe down at a time partly loaded. about 10 oClock A. M. we got all Safe below the last bad rapid we can git any account of from the natives. then loaded up the canoes. ...    about 12 we Set out passed a large Island mostly prarie [Hamilton Island] which our officers name Strabery Island. we halted a fiew minutes and killed Several geese. passd. Several old villages about or a little below the big Shoote on the Stard. Side. at the foot of Said Island [Hamilton Island] we passd. over a rapid which high waves in it the hills high on each Side but mostly covred with pine timber. proceeded on about 4 miles further the River got more Smooth the current gentle wide and Strait. passed the mo. of a creek on the Lard. side. Saw a number of Spring runs flowing from the high clifts and Mountains. Some of which falls off about 100 feet perpinticular [Multnomah Falls area] we came 21 miles this day & Camped [Rooster Rock] under a verry Shelving clift [Crown Point] on the Lard. Side



Whitehouse, November 2, 1805 ...
A Clear morning but cool. Our party were all engaged in carrying a part of our baggage &ca below these rapids, to a place below the last part of them. On our party returning; they carried the whole of our Canoes down the last Rapid one at a time. About 10 o'Clock A. M. we got them all safe below it. This Rapid is the last, that we have any account of, that lays on the Columbia river, from the Indians. We loaded our Canoes & about 12 o'Clock A. M. We proceeded on down the Columbia River, & passed over several small rapids which lay at the foot of an Island. We saw lying below the big Rapid this day, 2 old ancient looking Indian Villages, which were without any Inhabitants. ...     We saw large high Mountains which lay on both sides of the River, a small distance back from it.- We proceeded on about 4 Miles when the River that had been running rapid this day & rough, became quite smooth & gentle. The River at this place is wide & strait, & remained so during the whole of this day. We passed a creek which lay on the So. side of the River, & a great number of springs & Spring runs flowing from the Clifts & mountains which lay high & fell from off these Clifts & Mountains upwards of 100 feet into the River. The high Clifts & rocks lies on both sides of the River. ...    Towards evening the River got rather wide, & we could scarcely perceive any current running in the River. The Clifts and mountains continued back a small distance from the River all this day. We passed in the afternoon an Indian Village which lay on the South side of the River. We also passed some high towers of Rocks & Narrow bottoms of land which lay along the River on both sides of it. The Country this day is Timbered land, the growth Spruce, Pine & some Oaks; & the soil very poor. ...    We came 21 Miles this day, & encamped [Rooster Rock] under a shelving rock [Crown Point] lying on the South side of the River, Our course Continuing West.-





Lewis, April 9, 1806
This morning early we commenced the operation of reloading our canoes; at 7 A. M. we departed [from their camp at Shepperds Dell] and proceeded on to the Camp of Reubin and Joseph Fields [near Dodson, Oregon] they had not killed any game; we made no halt at this place but continued our rout to the Wah-clel-lah Village which is situated on the North side of the river [location of Skamania and Skamania Landing] about a mile below the beacon rock [Beacon Rock]; here we halted and took breakfast. ...     this village appears to be the winter station of the Wah-clel-lahs and Clahclellars, the greater part of the former have lately removed to the falls of the Multnomah, and the latter have established themselves a few miles above on the North side of the river opposite the lower point of brant island [Bradford Island], being the commencement of the rapids, here they also take their salmon; they are now in the act of removing, and not only take with them their furniture and effects but also the bark and most of the boards which formed their houses. 14 houses remain entire but are at this time but thinly inhabited, nine others appear to have been lately removed, and the traces of ten or twelve others of ancient date were to be seen in the rear of their present village. ...     on our way to this village we passed several beautifull cascades which fell from a great hight over the stupendious rocks which cloles the river on both sides nearly, except a small bottom on the South side in which our hunters were encamped. the most remarkable of these casscades falls about 300 feet perpendicularly over a solid rock into a narrow bottom of the river on the south side. it is a large creek, situated about 5 miles above our encampment of the last evening. several small streams fall from a much greater hight, and in their decent become a perfect mist which collecting on the rocks below again become visible and decend a second time in the same manner before they reach the base of the rocks. [Multnomah Falls area]     the hills have now become mountains high on each side are rocky steep and covered generally with fir and white cedar. ...     at 2 P. M. we renewed our voyage; passed under the beacon rock [Beacon Rock] on the north side, to the left of two small islands situated near the shore [Ives and Pierce Islands].     at four P.M. we arrived at the Clah-clel-lah village; here we found the natives busily engaged in erecting their new habitations, which appear to be reather of a temperary kind; it is most probable that they only reside here during the salmon season. we purchased two dogs of these people who like those of the village blow were but sulky and illy disposed; they are great rogues and we are obliged to keep them at a proper distance from our baggage. as we could not ascend the rapid [foot of the Cascade Rapids] by the North side of the river with our large canoes [Hamilton Island area], we passed to the oposite side and entered the narrow channel which seperates brant Island [Bradford Island] from the South shore; the evening being far spent and the wind high raining and very cold we thought best not to attempt the rapids [Cascade Rapids] this evening, we therefore sought a safe harbour in this narrow channel and encamped on the main shore [Tanner Creek, Oregon]. our small canoe with Drewyer and the two feildses was unable to pass the river with us in consequence of the waves they therefore toed her up along the N. side of the river and encamped [upstream end of Bonneville Dam, location of today's North Powerhouse] opposite the upper point of brant Island [Bradford Island]. after halting this evening I took a turn with my gun in order to kill a deer, but was unsuccessful. I saw much fresh sign. the fir has been lately injured by a fire near this place and many of them have discharged considerable quantities of rozin. we directed that Collins should hunt a few hours tomorrow morning and that Gibson and his crew should remain at his place untill we returned and employ themselves in collectng rozin which our canoes are now in want of.





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*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: Beeson, M.H., and Tolan, T.L., 1987, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon and Washington: IN: Hill, (ed.), 1987, Cordilleran Section of the Geological Society of America, Centennial Field Guide Volume 1; Northwest Waterfall Survey website, 2012, Bryan Swan, "waterfallsnorthwest.com";

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.
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