Are you ready for a waterfall adventure? Most folks aren’t aware that Willamette Falls offers more than just stopping at one of the two viewpoints along Interstate 205 or Highway 99E. It’s a natural resource with a long history that continues to this day on the Willamette River.
In recent years, the Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation’s director, Sandy Carter, has worked hard to not only keep a museum of the history of the falls and the locks open but also to improve signage for viewpoints so that tourists may learn more about the 42-foot-tall horseshoe-shaped basalt waterfall.
The museum, which is situated along the nation’s oldest continuously working multi-lift lock and canal system, tells the story of not only the construction that surrounds today’s falls but also how native Americans utilized them as fishing grounds.
You may also get a special treat of seeing boats pass through the locks and watch how the locks operate if you visit the museum, which is about a quarter-mile walk from the West Linn Police Department parking lot. Because the museum is located in the old lockmaster’s office, you have an excellent viewpoint from which to view vessels passing through the lock system. It’s well worth the wait.
There is so much lore surrounding the locks themselves that you could spend an afternoon reading about how they were built, utilized in their heyday, and what their fate is presently. If industry and the history of the locks around the falls aren’t your thing, a trip on the Belle of the Falls is in order.
The small sternwheeler will take you to the base of the falls and allow you to feel the spray hit your face during the summer months on weekends. The one-hour tour will bring you to the bottom of the waterfalls. There are a variety of pricing options for families, from $38 for a family pass to $7 for people aged three to 12. Except in the cases of larger groups, reservations are not available on 49-passenger voyages.
A basalt shelf in the river bottom formed a horseshoe-shaped block waterfall known as the Willamette Falls. The 42-foot-high and 1,500-foot-wide waterfalls occur 26 river miles upstream from the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. It’s the United States’ 18th largest by volume, with around 600,000 cubic feet per second (15 m3/s). Around the falls are old locks that are part of Portland’s oldest continuously running multi-lift lock and canal system in operation in North America.
If you want to learn more about the falls and the locks’ role in the area’s history, don’t just stop at two viewpoints along Route 30. While the viewpoints are beautiful, they aren’t detailed enough about this natural wonder. If you must go to the museum near the Willamette Falls Locks, don’t be afraid to ask for directions. Because the museum is located along a busy road, be prepared to walk there. The trek is roughly a quarter of a mile long, so dress appropriately.
All you’ll need is your camera and a little interest for this nature tour. Binoculars will also assist you in viewing some of the characteristics of the rocks and animals around the waterfalls. There are no entrance fees, so all you have to do is bring your camera and curiosity. The binoculars can help you see aspects of the falls and area that may otherwise go unnoticed.
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