Updated March 22, 2019
It’s the circle of life. After one to seven years of living in the ocean, adult salmon head back upstream, toward the place of their birth, spawn and then die. Females lay thousands of eggs, males fertilize them and a new generation is born. These fish mature in freshwater, migrate to saltwater and the process plays out all over again.
Salmon start their journey up the Columbia River in September and October. Now is a great time to head to the Columbia River Gorge and go for a hike if you want to catch a glimpse of these beautiful, silvery swimmers.
The Eagle Creek Trail is a good place to spot salmon spawning in the fall. There is a half-mile stretch of shallow creek – right by the parking lot, before you even reach the trail head – where you can watch salmon swim and splash about. For a moderate hike afterward, head 1.5 miles up to Punchbowl Falls and then turn around, or hike up to High Bridge and back for a 6-mile round-trip trek. The salmon will still be there when you get back. Warning: While the hike is relatively easy, there are some really steep drop-offs along the trail.
The Klickitat River, on the Washington side of the gorge, is another prime area that is great for salmon viewing and for entertaining young kids. Hike about half a mile in from the parking lot off of Fisher Hill Road and you’ll find a large fish ladder beside an 8-foot waterfall. Local Native Americans use the ladder to catch salmon via dip nets during the week, but they take Sundays and Mondays off, so you’re more likely to see salmon jumping the falls on those days. Watch as some huge fish attempt to make it upstream, only to get whacked back down by the water time and time again.
Wahclella Falls is conveniently located off of the Bonneville Dam exit, where you can stop first to check out a series of fish ladders that help the salmon swim successfully back upstream. Next, be sure to visit the fish hatchery, which is just next door and houses several salmon-filled holding tanks. Then, on to the falls! The easy, one-mile trail follows lovely Tanner Creek, offers scenic views, cool bridges, and guides you right to Wahclella Falls.