"Wayside Stop with Huge Totem Poles" Kalama by glabah

Kalama Travel Guide: 9 reviews and 33 photos

At one time, Kalama was a fairly important place for the railroad between Portland and Seattle. Until the very early 1900s, there was no direct railroad line from Seattle to Portland. Instead, the railroad on the west side of the Columbia River was used to a point across the river from Kalama, and the trains were brought across the river by "car ferry" (a ferry for moving railroad cars - not autos) to Kalama. This was as far south as the main line railraod came on the Washington Side of the River.

In 1904, the railroad bridge over the Columbia River in Portland was completed, and construction and improvements of the current main line completed soon afterward. Kalama became a simple dot on the mainline railroad with most trains passing through.

In the 1950s the current Interstate 5 was constructed, and an unfortunate amount of Kalama was sacrificed in the construction of the highway. Some historic and attractive structures remain in the town, but none of this is apparent from Interstate 5 as it demolished half of downtown. The remaining part of town has the rear of its buildings facing the freeway, giving most people a negative impression of the place.

Today, the Port of Kalama is an important port for grain and wood products. However, the vast majority of people simply pass through it on their way between Portland and Seattle - as they have since the ferry connection here ended around 1904.

By far the most known feature of the city of Kalama these days are the huge Kalama Totem Poles, the tallest of which is 140 feet (43 meters) in height - made out of a single piece of wood. These were carved by a local artist that was well known for efforts to preserve Native American art forms. As well as being visible for quite a distance from Interstate 5, and a monument to Native artists whom we will never know the name of, these also serve as a memorial to a certain local citizen that was well liked in her community.

There are several beaches along the Columbia River at Kalama, and one long segment of beach is accessible through Louis Rasmussen Day Use Park, which also has a playground, picnic facilities, and other features that people coming through on Interstate 5 may find useful.

Kalama also has a Columbia River marina, and running south from the Marina to an undeveloped park that sits hidden within the industrial Port of Kalama lands is the Kalama Riverfront Trail, which also helps with the beach access.

  • Last visit to Kalama: Nov 2009
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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