Portland Bridges from the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler

Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler

Riding up river on a sternwheel paddle boat is as cool as it sounds. So is getting a full view of Portland and its bridges. One of the Willamette River winter boat cruises for nearly 40 years has been aboard the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler.

Boats were once the only way to cross the Willamette, so a little maritime nostalgia of riverboat atmosphere was my way of exploring history. Bridges crossing the river were instrumental in city growth, and their 100 year range of construction dates makes them symbolic markers of Portland transportation and architectural history.

At Caruthers Landing, tourists enter the replica sternwheeler from a gangway and ascend an interior flight of stairs with brass railings to the upper deck. Every seat is a good view. Inside the upper and lower dining areas, the upward swoop to the bow and stern are very noticeable.

Stairwell in the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler

Queen of Seattle Sternwheeler docked on the Willamette River

Paddle boats were designed to be flatter bottomed boats for success in shallow waters. For boats of the past, the consequence was a hull that needed to be supported by “hog chains,” adjustable chains stretched over the top of the boat from bow to stern, that prevented the hull from “hogging,” or sagging, when it was carrying significant weight. However, the posts on this sternwheeler are just replicas.

The Columbia Gorge sternwheeler was built in Hood River, Oregon in 1983 to be the likeness of paddlewheel boats once common on the Columbia and Willamette rivers. Passengers wandering in and out to the upper deck get a narrated history lesson from the captain about this river’s past.

Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler paddle

Portland Bridges

Getting a view of the underbellies of Portland bridges was a new kind of adventure. I expected to absorb the paddle wheel experience, and I did. I did not expect to see nearly every Portland bridge from the underside, but I did.

Cruising southbound, we headed up the Willamette River passing under the Ross Island Bridge and under the Sellwood Bridge seeing them in all their unobstructed grandure. We turned northward, backtracking to pass under Tilikum Crossing and the Marquam Bridge. Our captain called ahead before we passed under the Hawthorne Bridge, and the oldest vertical lift still in operation in America opened just for us.

Hawthorn Bridge opening

Ross Island Bridge

Cars zoomed overhead, crossing the gap in the lift sections as we passed under the Morrison Bridge. The Morrison Bridge is the third by that name, and the first of the three, built in 1887, was the first across the Willamette. It was replaced in 1905, and the 1958 replacement is what stands today. While old, the Morrison is not the oldest bridge in Portland. That distinction goes to the Burlington Northern rail bridge, which you have been on if you have arrived via Amtrak from the north.

Sellwood Bridge

After passing under the Burnside Bridge, the cruise turned around in front of the Steel Bridge, revealing a view of the Broadway and Fremont Bridges in the distance.

First and Last

Willamette River Cruises

The Columbia Gorge sternwheeler inaugural Willamette River cruise was Sunday, October 16, 1983 for the Great Art Float, and her last on the Willamette looks like it will be December 21, 2022. In need of costly engine work, she will return to Cascade Locks, her future unknown at this time.

Burnside Bridge

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