The Columbia River rises in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada, flowing northwest and then south into the U.S. state of Washington, then west to form most of the border between Washington and the state of Oregon, before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. The river is 1,243 miles (2,000 km) long, and its largest tributary is the Snake River. Its drainage basin is roughly the size of France, extending into 7 U.S. states and a Canadian province.
The Columbia and its tributaries have been central to the region's culture and economy for thousands of years, used for transportation since ancient times. The fourth-largest river in the U.S., it has the greatest flow of any North American river draining into the Pacific. The river's heavy flow and its steep gradient give it great potential for the generation of electricity. Arguably the most important river network of the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia and Snake rivers are navigable for 465 miles from the Pacific Ocean at Astoria, Oregon through Washington to the Idaho border.
These are the grand waterways of the West, roamed by fur traders, and crossed by courageous settlers as they made their way along the Oregon Trail. Follow the journey of the 1800s explorers Lewis and Clark and see some beautifully rugged scenery and dramatic waterfalls dropping into the Columbia River Gorge. Visit historic forts where blue-coated U.S. Cavalry strived to protect the new frontier, explore Hells Canyon - the deepest gorge in North America, and navigate the locks and dams that have conquered this mighty river.