Bonneville Dam is one of the most fascinating sights when visiting the Columbia River Gorge.
To understand the awe of the Bonneville Dam we have to first know a little bit of history. While most natives to Oregon or Washington know that the dam was built in 1934, most don't know how this came about. The nation was in a depression, the economy and areas around the Columbia River Gorge were not developed and thought had been given to not only developing this area but also bringing jobs and business with it.
A new deal was presented to then sitting President Franklin Roosevelt and without too much opposition was signed and development proceeded. The proposal was for a ten dams to be built, one of which was the Bonneville Dam. By building these dams this would provide for easy river navigation, flood control, power generation and most importantly jobs.
It took almost three years to complete with the help from workers from all over the two states. These workers (over 3000) and many that were homeless and from soup lines, were so grateful to get paid .50c and hour for their labor. Their work time was not only focused on building the dam, but the railways and highways as well.
At 197 feet or 60 meters high this dam is one of the highest, and at 2,690 feet or 820 meters is one of the widest dams ever constructed. When the dam was originally constructed it did present problems that were unforeseen like, it flooded livable areas behind the dam as well as original migration lanes, making it very difficult for the migrating salmon because they encountered many obstacles such as the man made ladders they had to negotiate.
The other item of importance is the Bonneville Dam Locks, before the dam was built there was a smaller lock in the now flooded area of the dam that at one time was called Lake Bonneville, after the dam was constructed Lake Bonneville was flooded and the older lock was submerged. The new area that was formed is now called the Bonneville Reservoir. You can view the lock in operation on the Oregon side from 1 pm to 4 pm.
From the Oregon side of the dam you can visit the fish hatchery that has viewing windows and you can see the processes in how the fish pass through. You can also view salmon and giant sturgeon in the fish ponds. For security reasons you may have a problem crossing the dam, and all visitors will be required to show ID. There is no entry fee.
From Portland take I84 east to Exit 40. The dam is 40 miles from Portland.
The nearby town of Hood River has excellent restaurants and you can watch the windsurfers on the river (or take some lessons yourself.)
Be sure to see the historic Columbia River Highway and Multnomah Falls.