Lewis and Clark, confronting the Columbia River on their Northwest journey, considered it an uncontrolled beast. In their journals, Clark described the narrows near The Dalles, Oregon as “agitated gut swelling, boiling & whorling in every direction.” But with the construction of federal and private dams, the river became an accessible and integral part of the Northwest way of life.

father, son fishing tripHydropower dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers provide a wealth of recreational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people each year. Northwest residents and visitors take extended vacations and day trips to the cities and towns along the rivers, where they fish, boat, surf and enjoy a diversity of pastimes made possible by the dams.

Prior to hydroelectric development, the Columbia and Snake rivers mostly consisted of small deep-water pools between powerful white-water rapids and massive waterfalls. The growing region’s need for a new source of reliable energy—hydropower—was the primary reason for developing the dams, as well as for flood control. But their installation also created a series of reservoirs that made the rivers more approachable for residents and tourists alike.

The Federal Water Projects Recreation Act of 1965 and the Flood Control Act of 1944 authorized recreational use and development at all of the federal dams. Federal and private dam owners on the Columbia and Snake rivers have developed more than 220 recreational areas, including boat launches, public docks, and facilities for picnicking and camping.


  • The world-class conditions in the Columbia River Gorge near Hood River attract wind surfers from across the globe, a development made possible by the creation of Bonneville Dam.
  • Lake Roosevelt, the reservoir created by Grand Coulee Dam, supports a thriving houseboat rental industry, in addition to fishing and water sport opportunities.
  • Columbia River Gorge cruises, from the mouth of the Columbia River to Lewiston, Idaho, are made possible by the dams and lock systems.

Rivers of Fun

  • Powerboating/sailboating
  • Waterskiing/wakeboarding
  • Sail/kite/paddle boarding
  • Windsurfing
  • Campgrounds/picnic areas
  • Boat ramps/public docks
  • Cruise ships


Resources for finding parks, campgrounds, boat ramps, and other recreational opportunities created by dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers:

Lower Columbia River Recreation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District
Mid-Columbia and Lower Snake Rivers Recreation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla District
Mid-Columbia River Recreation, Grant County PUD
Mid-Columbia River Recreation, Chelan County PUD
Mid/Upper Columbia River Recreation, Douglas County PUD
Upper Columbia Recreation, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Erin PlayswithcolorsRecreation