At 1,200 miles in length and spanning several states, the Columbia River is the fourth largest river in America. It packs so much power that its dams produce half of all the electricity in the Pacific Northwest.

With all that water comes a fair amount of wildlife – hundreds of species, actually.

When you cruise the river, you’ll have the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful wildlife in the United States. We wanted to give you a run through, so you can know what to look for and how to spot it.

North American River Otter

North American River Otter

River otters love Oregon. They used to be so popular in the Willamette River that they’d be seen in areas not far from downtown Portland. Then the fur trade happened, pollution increased and the river otters’ population unfortunately took a hit.

That said, they can still be spotted quite regularly in the Columbia River, and efforts are being made to clean the rivers and restore their numbers.

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

If you’re here around the fall or late summer, you might be able to see the rams in a butting contest: that’s how they compete to win the affection of the ewes, and it’s a fascinating thing to witness.

One of the more popular spots to see Bighorn Sheep is around Philippi Canyon area, just west of the Dalles, OR. They like steep, remote terrains, so mountain slopes are a great place to spot them.

Salmon, Steelhead and Sturgeons

Largest sturgeon ever caught

We’ll be honest – most river fish, at least by sight, are not the most exciting animals. But due to their role in the region’s development–salmon especially–they need to be mentioned: they have been one of the primary food sources for inhabitants dating back hundreds of years, and they’re one of the most iconic animals of the Pacific Northwest.

A favorite cruise stop is at Bonneville Dam, where a below-water viewing window reveals groups of salmon swimming through the dam’s fish ladders. At Bonneville’s Interpretive Center, you’re able to see sturgeons, some of which are over 1,000 lbs and can live to be over 100 years old!

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

In 1986, then-Portland mayor Bud Clark declared the Great Blue Heron to be the official bird of the city. To this day, you can still hear the swishing of its giant wings both in the city and beyond.

They’re fairly common in the Columbia River and, at three feet tall, are almost impossible to miss. Young blue herons can be quite rambunctious – when the adult brings food back, they tussle with each other to get as much food as possible. This can be quite entertaining if you’re lucky enough to see!

Gray Wolves

Gray wolves were exterminated from Oregon at one point, as they were endangering the livestock population. They were reintroduced in 1995 and, while their numbers have increased, they have not been as much of a problem as they were originally.

They’re quite beautiful to spot, commonly near Mt. St. Helens on the northern side of the Columbia River Gorge. You won’t hear them howling at a full moon, but you can hear their calls around dusk, which is quite magical.

Experience the wildlife yourself!

It’s one thing to read about them, it’s another to see these creatures in their natural habitats. Passengers on our Columbia River cruise rarely come away without beautiful pictures and stories of seeing much of the wildlife that the Pacific Northwest is known for.

Ready to explore? Contact USA River Cruises for available Columbia River cruises!