Home » 2013 Pacific Northwest

Columbia Hills State Park, WA

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - 8:30am by Lolo
243 miles and 5 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


Herman, the 70 Year Old SturgeonHerman, the 70 Year Old SturgeonWe woke up to our first rainy day of the trip. Not bad, considering we had been out on the west coast for over 5 weeks (counting this trip and last) and had not had one drop of rain the entire time.

Our plan for the day was to drive down to Portland and then east along the scenic Columbia River Gorge. It was a bit challenging at first to actually figure out our route, because both Washington and Oregon have competing Columbia River scenic drives. We decided to split the difference and do a little of both.

The Oregon scenic drive started in the town of Troutdale, about l6 miles east of Portland, right off I84. Before beginning the drive, we stopped in a Camping World so Herb could pick up some needed RV paraphernalia, and hopefully wait for the rain to stop. While Herb was shopping, I struck up a conversation with a store employee and told him that we were planning to drive the Historic Columbia River Highway in our motorhome. Luckily I did, because he told me that we would have to be crazy to do that road on a rainy day in a motorhome. Thank goodness for local knowledge, because there was nothing in the guide books that indicated that. Instead we would have to take I84 which parallels it instead. I was a bit disappointed that we would be on an interstate rather than a scenic drive, but the highway still traced the river and was scenic as well.

Rainy Day at the Fish HatcheryRainy Day at the Fish HatcheryOur first stop was the Bonneville Lock and Dam, the nation’s largest hydroelectric plant, where there was a visitor center with exhibits on the history of the dam. What I really wanted to see, however, was Herman the Sturgeon, a somewhat famous 70-year-old, 10-foot long, 450 pound sturgeon that lived in the nearby Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Herman did not disappoint—he was huge. Funny how everything is relative. On a rainy day like this, Herman was a highlight.

The Hatchery, however, was so much more than just Herman. It’s really about the salmon, 80,000 of which return here each late summer/early fall to spawn. Once they arrive, they are sorted before the spawning begins. The hatchery raises 8 million Fall Chinook, 1.2 million Coho, 200 thousand Summer Steelhead, and 60 thousand Winter Steelhead each year. Unfortunately, for the salmon that is, it is a one-way trip, as they die soon after spawning.

At this point, we crossed the Bridge of the Gods over to the Washington State side and continued our drive along Washington Route 14. The drive truly was beautiful, regardless of which side of the river you were on.

Columbia Hills State ParkColumbia Hills State ParkFortunately, the rain had stopped and the skies were starting to clear. The next planned stop along the drive was the Maryhill Museum of Art, but since it was already mid-afternoon, we decided to find a place to camp for the night so that we could visit the museum in the morning.

Once again, our handy new Moon West Coast RV Camping guide pointed us to Columbia Hills State Park, with a scenic rating of 10. It was a little confusing at first because the GPS showed it as Horsethief Lake State Park, its previous name. The campground was quite small, just 12 RV sites, and empty except for one camper van. Although it was very pretty, I am not sure I would have ranked it a 10—maybe more like an 8 or a 9. However, it was conveniently located, right off Route 14, and 13 miles west of the Maryhill Museum.


Lolo Observing Fish at Bonneville HatcheryLolo Observing Fish at Bonneville HatcheryColumbia Hills State Park is a 338-acre park with Horsethief Lake and 7,500 feet of Columbia River shoreline. The campground has eight sites with partial hookups, four sites with no hookups, and six primitive tent sites.

Columbia Hills State Park location map in "high definition"

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