Long before settlers arrived in The Dalles, Lewis and Clark's expedition stopped here. The site of their camp is called Rock Fort, and it is one of their only documented campsites. The historic site is on First Street west of downtown, near the Port of The Dalles' industrial area northeast of Webber and Second streets.
Some of The Dalles's most important historic buildings can be seen at the Fort Dalles Museum and Anderson Homestead, 500 W. 15th St. (tel. 541/296-4547; www.historicthedalles.org/fort_dalles/home.htm), at the corner of Garrison Street. Established in 1850, Fort Dalles was the only military post between Fort Laramie and Fort Vancouver. By 1867 the fort had become unnecessary, and after several buildings were destroyed in a fire, it was abandoned. Today several of the original buildings, including a Carpenter-Gothic officers' home, are still standing. Though small, this is the oldest history museum in Oregon. Memorial Day through Labor Day, the museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm; call for hours in other months. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $1 for children 7 to 17.
Not far from the Fort Dalles Museum, at Sorosis Park, you get a good view of The Dalles, the Columbia River, and Mount Adams. To reach this park, drive 1 block west from the museum and turn left on Trevitt Street, which becomes Scenic Drive. Continue on this latter street to the park.
Within a decade of the establishment of Fort Dalles, this community became the county seat of what was the largest county ever created in the United States. Wasco County covered 130,000 square miles between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Range. The old Wasco County Courthouse, 420 W. Second Pl. (tel. 541/296-4798; www.wascochs.org/wcch.htm), a two-story wooden structure built in 1859, has been preserved, and the inside looks much as it did when it was a functioning courthouse. It's open June through August, Wednesday through Saturday from 11am to 3pm. Admission is free.
The Dalles's other historic landmark is a much more impressive structure. Old St. Peter's Landmark church (tel. 541/296-5686; www.oldstpeterslandmark.org), at the corner of West Third and Lincoln streets, is no longer an active church, but its 176-foot-tall steeple is a local landmark. The church was built in the Gothic Revival style in 1897, and a 6-foot-tall rooster symbolizing The Dalles tops its spire. The church is open Tuesday through Friday from 11am to 3pm and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 3pm.
If you're interested in learning more about the history and the historic buildings of The Dalles, pick up a copy of the historic walking tours brochure at the chamber of commerce. As you explore The Dalles, also keep an eye out for the city's many historical murals.
At the east end of town rises The Dalles Lock and Dam (tel. 541/296-9778; www.nwp.usace.army.mil/op/d/thedalles.asp), which provides both irrigation water and electricity. The dam, which was completed in 1957, stretches for 1 1/2 miles from the Oregon shore to the Washington shore. One of the main reasons this dam was built was to flood the rapids that made this section of the Columbia River impossible to navigate. Among the numerous rapids flooded by the dam were Celilo Falls, which for thousands of years was the most important salmon-fishing area in the Northwest. Every year, thousands of Native Americans would gather here to catch and smoke salmon, putting the dried fish away for the coming winter. The traditional method of catching the salmon was to use a spear or a net on the end of a long pole. Men would build precarious wooden platforms out over the river and catch the salmon as they tried to leap up the falls. You can still see traditional Native American fishing platforms near the Shilo Inn here in The Dalles. The dam's visitor center, open May through September daily 9am to 5pm, has displays on both the history of the river and the construction of the dam. To reach the visitor center, take exit 87 off I-84 and turn right on Bret Clodfelter Way.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.