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In Oregon, there once was a lovely, wild stretch of the river complete with rapids and waterfalls, then Lake Celilo was formed when The Dalles Dam was completed in 1957. As the water filled the basin, the waterfalls and rapids disappeared within its inky depths. Today, Lake Celilo is a 24-mile-long serene reservoir that’s enjoyed by sailors, fishermen, and kayakers. The lake is prized for its stellar views. Downriver, Mount Hood looms large, and Lake Celilo is bordered on both sides by low hills and bluffs blanketed by wild grasses.
The closest large town near Lake Celilo is Hood River, OR, which has a number of retail shops, including a Walmart store, and a hospital. Hood River is just over 30 miles west. It’s also the site of the closest bridge that crosses into Washington state. The Dalles also has a variety of boutique shops and restaurants. Located about 10 miles west of Lake Celilo, it’s a shorter drive. Start planning the perfect RV camping vacation and search for an RV in Wasco County, OR.
On both the north and south sides of the lake, enormous taupe-brown bluffs rise, cradling the lake. Some sections of the cliffs have been shaped into vague column shapes by the constant wind buffering at them. Along the banks, clusters of cottonwood and willows crowd the shores, competing with shrubs for water. Rolling hills high above, however, are devoid of trees, instead covered by wild grasses and other native high-desert plants. In spring, these hills transform from tawny gold to vivid green. This transformation is short-lived, though. As soon as the snowmelt and spring rains pass, they quickly dry up and return to their dormant state while waiting for the next opportune rainfall.
In contrast with the bare hills and bluffs, Lake Celilo teems with life. Thanks to fish ladders constructed at the dams downriver, several migratory fish eventually make their way into the lake. Anglers can expect to catch chinook, coho, sockeye, and pink salmon. Lamprey, steelhead, trout, and shad are also common. Seven boat ramps are available for the public to use to launch their boats. In addition to fishing, windsurfing, waterskiing, and boating are fun pastimes enjoyed by many.
Both Lower Deschutes Wildlife Area and Deschutes River State Recreation Area offer several miles of hiking trails that meander into canyons, past waterfalls, and through open high-desert plains. The parks are excellent for wildlife observation. In addition to gold eagles, which regularly nest in this region, other photogenic animals like bighorn sheep, mule deer, and coyotes roam these parks. Big game and chukar hunting are popular during specific seasons, too.
Interstate 84 highway follows the contours of the Columbia River and the connecting lakes. As a result, campgrounds right on the banks of the water are uncommon, and therefore RV camping at Lake Celilo isn’t feasible. There are a handful of options in the area. Deschutes River State Recreation Area, minutes away from Lake Celilo, has four campgrounds. One is open year-round, but restrooms and showers are closed in winter. Most RV sites are primitive, but a few have electric hookups.
Alternatively, you could RV camp at Memaloose State Park. The campground is on a high bluff and has a commanding view of Columbia River. However, guests should be aware that there is no direct access to the river itself from the campground. People must use a public road, which is somewhat circuitous to use. On the upside, in addition to a fantastic view, all RV sites have full hookups, restrooms, and showers are close to most sites.
Many quaint, small towns contour the banks of the Columbia River, connected by I-84. Traveling from town to town to explore boutique shops, quaint cafes, and pubs is a simple affair in a motorhome rental. Two of the closest curiosities are in Marysville, WA. Mirroring the world-famous Stonehenge in England, the Washington Stonehenge is a full-scale replica that is intended to honor WWII veterans. The Museum of Art, also in the same town, has an eclectic collection of art that includes several pieces of Rodin’s works, the stunning Théâtre de la Mode display, a gallery of chess sets, and more.
Downriver in The Dalles are a handful of museums, including the unusual National Neon Sign Museum. As the name suggests, there are over 20,000 square feet of colorful neon signs that date back to the late 1800s.
Nearly every American remembers from their elementary school stories about pioneers struggling through hardship to travel to Oregon. One of the many Columbia River crossings occurred in this area, and there are a couple of markers to commemorate their triumph. One is located near Biggs Junction, and the other, near Fairbanks, OR.
At the end of a long day of boating and exploring, kick up your heels outside an RV rental and watch stars appear in the night sky as you find your bliss on the placid Lake Celilo.