River Trails Section 8


Priest Rapids Dam to the Tri-Cities

(Section 8)



Length of this water section: 51 miles
Lake formed behind McNary Dam: Lake Wallula
Dams completed: Priest Rapids - 1961; McNary - 1954


Landscape: The Hanford Reach, the Columbia River’s last non-tidal, free-flowing stretch, makes up most of this section. The area is marked by vistas and tall bluffs, and is rich in archaeology, history, wildlife and plant life. The chalky cliffs at White Bluffs hold fossils thousands of years old. As you paddle, be on the lookout for deer, coyotes, pelicans, bald and golden eagles, and dozens of other waterfowl.

This vast country also is the site of the old Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which produced plutonium for atomic bombs back in the day. The nuclear site makes up the south and west shores, and the U.S Department of Energy still forbids the public from landing anywhere as it continues to clean up the landscape. Indeed, it is a federal crime to trespass there. Access also is prohibited on the shores of the Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuge on the northwest part of this river section. The only area where people can land - but not stay overnight - is the Wahluke Wildlife Area on the river’s east side.

Put in: Vernita Bridge
Take out: Ringold Fish Hatchery
Elevation drop: From 488 to 340 feet above sea level
Water character: Flat

Navigation tips: Because of the Hanford Reach and its storied past, this waterway is a favorite of paddlers - and for good reason. It also can prove one of the more dangerous - high winds, strong eddies and cross-currents being the main culprits. River flows, regulated by Priest Rapids Dam, also can change dramatically. Because it can take 16 hours or more, many paddlers divide this trip into two days, with take-outs at White Bluffs Boat Launch and Ringold Fish Hatchery. The Hanford Reach National Monument also has a no-camping policy so you’ll need to shuttle vehicles to the take-out spots. Islands are closed to the public above the normal high-water mark.

During the fall, when fall Chinook are running, the river attracts a fair amount of anglers in power boats.

Navigation links: Wind conditions - River flow

Paddler on-river facilities (north to south on river):

  • Vernita Bridge (Mile 43, south shore): Primitive boat launch
  • White Bluffs (Mile 25, east shore): Boat ramp, (Note: this launch site is closed from Nov. 1 through June 30 to protect waterfowl in the area.)
  • Parking Area 7 (Mile 15, east shore): Primitive boat launch
  • Ringold Fish Hatchery (Mile 7, east shore): Primitive boat launch
  • Leslie Groves Park (Mile 1, west shore): Boat dock, boat launch, toilet,
    Note: The Hanford Reach National Monument prohibits camping of any kind, so those paddling the entire stretch typically take out at White Bluffs, drive to the Tri-Cities to spend the night, and then drive back the next morning to White Bluffs to put in again.

Places to eat/drink: The Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Richland, Pasco) is it.

Other lodging: The Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Richland, Pasco), a metro area of about 150,000 people, has ample accommodations.

If you have a vehicle: The Columbia River Exhibition of History, Science & Technology in Richland makes for a fascinating visit. The center features exhibits, interactive displays and hands-on activities as it tells the story of the region from prehistoric time through the nuclear age. The facility also serves as an archival library.    For more: http://www.crehst.org.

Links of interest: Tri-Cities Visitors Bureau | Columbia River Exhibition of History, Science & Technology | Hanford Reach National Monument | Hanford | White Bluffs ghost town | Priest Rapids Dam | Center for Columbia River History

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