You’ll undoubtedly experience many amazing stops as you travel along the Columbia River, but no trip is complete without traveling under or crossing over the majestic Bridge of the Gods. This modern cantilever steel truss span is 1,858 feet long, and rises 140 feet above the river, connecting the town of Cascade Locks, Oregon to Stevenson, Washington. The original Bridge of the Gods was completed in 1926 but has been remodeled and renovated several times since then, with repair and upkeep cost subsidized by collected tolls.
The Bridge of the Gods achieved early celebrity status in 1927 when Charles Lindbergh twice flew the Spirit of St. Louis underneath it. Much more recently, the Bridge of the Gods was featured in the movie Wild, as it is part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PTC), the overland hiking trail that begins in Mexico and ends in Canada. If you watched the movie Wild, based on the book of the same name by Sheryl Strayed, you may remember seeing Reece Witherspoon standing on the bridge near the end of her trek along the PCT.
As you approach the Bridge of the Gods, you’ll notice that the Columbia River becomes narrower, and that rocks and small islands are more numerous in the water. This is what remains of the very first Bridge of the Gods, from where the modern bridge gets its name. Geologists believe that roughly 1,000 years ago a massive landslide occurred on the north side of the river and completely blocked the flow of water and created a giant inland sea. Over time, the water broke through this natural dam and created the Cascade rapids.
Not only is evidence of the ancient Bridge of the Gods part of the geologic record, but it is also a prominent part of local Native American lore. Although the legend is a bit different amongst tribes, it generally explains that the peoples who lived along that river were unable to cross it without much hardship. The Great Spirit wanted to help his people, so he created the landslide bridge that became known as the Bridge of the Gods. The bridge was so important to the peoples of the river, that the Great Spirit assigned a wise and beautiful woman named Loo-Wit to guard and protect it.
Two powerful chiefs named Wy’ east and Klickitat, who were descended from the Great Spirit, fell in love with Loo-Wit. Wy’ east and Klickitat began to argue and fight over which one would win the chance to be with her, and the fighting grew so intense that the chiefs began to hurl fire and rocks at one another with such force that surrounding forests burned, villages were destroyed and the Bridge of the Gods was broken in the center.
The Great Spirit was furious with the fighting, and to punish the chiefs, he destroyed what remained of the bridge and turned Wy’ east, Klickitat and Loo-Wit into mountains in what we know today as the Cascade Mountain Range. Wy’ east became Mt. Hood, Klickitat was turned into Mt. Adams and Loo-Wit became Mt. St. Helens.