5. Early Routes‎ > ‎

052.010 River and Trails

The early land highways through the Columbia River Gorge were nothing more than rabbit trails, as well as the trails of squirrels, possums, deer and bear.  Animals, like water, seek the path of least resistance, but in the case of the animals, this does not necessarily mean the lowest elevation.


The Native Americans, many of whom were also seminomadic, followed these trails, leaving little more trace on the land than the animals beore them.  Time was usually not a determining factor in selecting routes of travel.  Instead, the travel itself was allowed to determine a framework for life.  Eventually,  the trails became wider and more established.  When the white men came, seeking furs, land or gold, they quite naturally followed these age old trails.

Peg Willis. Building the Columbia River Highway: They Said It Couldn't Be Done. Charleston: The History Press. 2014.  15 - 16

The Columbia River is a ribbon of life for native cultures that have called the Gorge home for over 10,000 years.  This river highway transported people by canoe and carved a pedestrian corridor through the mountains.  It provided a connection between coastal and plateau peoples.

The Chinookian-speaking people of this area and their up river neighbors who spoke Sahaptin occupied an ideal setting for extensive trade.  Summer gatherings drew traders from all over the Northwest.

The river's teeming fish and verdant shores were rich resources.  The native peoples knew the best sites to harvest and when each food would be at its peak of quality.  This was not haphazard, but required a year-long travel itinerary.  Social and spiritual events were closely linked with the sites of these food sources.  

Paddles and Paths Interpretive Sign, Bridal Veil State Scenic Viewpoint

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