"Transportation Capitol of the Dry Columbia Gorge" The Dalles by glabah

The Dalles Travel Guide: 16 reviews and 48 photos

The Dalles is perhaps one of the longest continuously inhabited places in North America. At this location, the Columbia River was forced into a narrow, winding channel and then dropped over Celilo Falls. Both of these features made this part of the river a vitally important fishing ground for possibly as far back as 5,000 years ago. Carvings on the cliffs around the region are thought to be very ancient.

When The Dalles Dam was constructed in the 1950s the water backed up behind the dam, covering the falls and the narrows. Also covered were the several thousand years of local tribal rock art, historic settlements, a dozen or so modern communities, and many scenic features.

In modern history, The Dalles started as a community based on transportation. It was here that a railroad was constructed in the 1850s to transport goods around Celilo Falls and the narrows. This portage railroad was no longer needed when parts of these obstructions were blasted out of the way, but the community remained. With the arrival of the transcontinental railroad line through the Columbia River gorge, the community became an important location for local farmers and ranchers to connect to the outside world. A branch line railroad was constructed up the hill behind the city to Dufur and eventually Friend, creating a local lumber industry even though the area immediately around The Dalles is void of trees.

Eventually, a railroad tie plant was constructed in The Dalles for creating this vital piece of transportation material. Nearby Shaniko became one of the busiest wool centers in the world for a time, and it was served by a branch line located on the railroad main line not too far from the Dalles.

When The Dalles Dam was finished, electricity became cheap and a large aluminum plant flourished in the community for many years, with the final auction of surplus equipment occurring in late 2011.

Today, The Dalles is an interesting contrast. In many ways, the older structures and commercial environment of downtown The Dalles is very similar to the laid back and forgotten atmosphere of Hood River in the early to mid 1980s. There is still a strong commercial environment here, supported by commerce that connects the surrounding countryside to the rest of the world, but it lacks the stylish new yuppie feel found in today's Hood River.

This may rapidly change, as the cheap electricity from The Dalles Dam and the vacant space created by the collapse of the aluminum smelter created an opening for Google to put one of its vast new data centers. However, as of today, The Dalles still has a very much "old Columbia Gorge Town" feel to it, which has vanished in a number of other communities that have gone upsace with the wealth brought in by tourists and new businesses.

The community is located on the east end of the Columbia River Gorge, and somewhat outside the National Scenic Area designation. The 15 miles or so between Hood River and The Dalles is a spectacular study in ecological transition, as the forests surrounding Hood River rapidly get replaced with the dry grasslands surrounding The Dalles. Unfortunately, this also means that most of the land surrounding The Dalles is privately owned, so that few recreational opportunities exist in the community compared with Hood River or other locations further west. The two primary tourist draws are The Dalles Dam tour (which has been going on for many decades now) and the Columbia Gorge Museum.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Small Community with Small Town atmosphere.
  • Cons:Fewer recreational opportunities and only a few tourist attractions. Few public transit connections to the outside world. Community sprawls along Interstate 84 so not as easily explored as most small towns.
  • Intro Updated Apr 15, 2014
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