The Klickitat River, located in south-central Washington, flows generally south from its origin on Mt. Adams in the high country of the Yakama Indian Reservation to its confluence with the Columbia River in the Columbia River Gorge. The designated segment is the lowermost 10.8 miles of the river. At the upper end of this segment, the river flows through a broad canyon. As it drops toward the Columbia at a steady gradient of 26 feet per mile, the canyon tightens, and small rapids spike the channel. At about river mile 2.5, the Klickitat drops into a tight, rock-walled gorge. The water cascades and crashes through the rocky channel where the tribes and bands of the Yakama Nation have used dip-net fishing continuously for generations to catch salmon and steelhead. Of the mid-Columbia tributaries, the Klickitat is one of their favored fishing sites, due to both the number of fish and the narrow canyon with its high water volume.
The lower Klickitat offers a variety of recreation opportunities, including boating, fishing, hiking, camping, and sightseeing. Boat fishing is popular when the salmon and steelhead are running. There is an undeveloped boat put-in/take-out on in Klickitat County Park just below the Pitt Bridge and river access at several places along Highway 142, including a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fee camp site Turkey Hole. The take-out is before the fish screw trap at about river mile 5, just above the Klickitat Gorge. The fishway and research facility at the top of Lyle Falls requires boaters to take out at this point. The first drop, Lyle Falls, is Class 5+ and, combined with the narrow canyon beyond, is deadly to almost all who miss the takeout. The falls also mark the beginning of the tribal in-lieu fishing sites, and no boating is allowed through this area.
The Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railroad built a railway linking Lyle and Goldendale in 1903. This branch line was abandoned in 1992 and is now the Klickitat Rails-to-Trail. The trail parallels the river’s east bank from the Columbia River to Fisher Hill Bridge, where it crosses to the west bank and continues to the town of Pitt. It crosses Highway 142 and continues along the west bank leaving the wild and scenic river portion traversing many more miles upriver.
November 17, 1986. From the confluence with Wheeler Creek, near the town of Pitt, to the confluence with the Columbia River.
The dip-net fishery of the Klickitat Gorge is regionally and quite possibly nationally significant. Native Americans have utilized dip-nets as a principal means of catching salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin since before recorded history. The method was particularly well suited to areas with falls and rapids where fish struggling to climb upriver would be forced to follow a defined route and expose themselves to the waiting fisherman. This fishing method was used historically at numerous falls along the Columbia and principal tributaries.
Only on the Deschutes, at Sherar’s Falls, and on the Klickitat, at the gorge near the river’s mouth, has the traditional dip-net system of fishing continued in a manner similar to that before the coming of the dams. The readily viewable fishing platforms scattered along the gorge section are each registered with a family or group by a tribal administrative office; in some instances, these claims go back generations.
The Klickitat River supports the most significant anadromous fishery on the Washington side of the Columbia in the stretch from the Bonneville Dam to the Snake River. The Klickitat was judged to be the second most important anadromous fish habitat of all rivers in both Washington and Oregon draining to this reach of the Columbia. Features which distinguish the anadromous fishery on the Klickitat include the presence of a traditional Native American dip-net fishery, the quality of the river’s habitat, the number of anadromous species present, the number and size of runs, and recreational as well as historical significance.
Klickitat spring chinook salmon play a critical role in meeting the subsistence fishing needs of the Yakama Nation and fulfilling the treaty share of tributary harvest for the entire Columbia Basin. The significance of the fishery is borne out by large tribal catches and sustained sport catches in recent years. The river provides one of the few opportunities for spring chinook harvest in the area because basin stocks are generally at low levels.
The section from the head of the gorge upstream to Pitt was also rated as outstanding for resident fish. Many of the same characteristics providing anadromous fish habitat also support abundant, good-sized rainbow trout and whitefish.
The lower Klickitat River Gorge is only a mile long and only 20 to 40 feet deep but narrows to less than eight feet at one location. No other river in the region discharges this amount of water through such a narrow gorge, making it a regionally significant resource. In addition, the lower Klickitat Gorge is easily viewed from many locations and has been utilized extensively as a native subsistence fishing site for generations.
The Klickitat River is the second longest free-flowing river in the state of Washington. The majority of rivers of this size in the Northwest have at least one dam along their course. At 96 miles long, the Klickitat is second only to the John Day River as the longest free-flowing river in the Lower Columbia River subregion.
The Klickitat’s free-flowing character provides scientific, educational, recreational, and fish and wildlife benefits. Rivers whose flow is not impounded at any point provide opportunities to observe the natural cycle of flood and scouring along with unaltered streamside vegetation. Such free-flowing waterways offer opportunities to study and compare riverine and riparian ecosystems.
The two soda springs that flow into the river add to hydrologic value. Carbon dioxide charged springs are very rare in Washington State, occurring only in a few locations. The first, referred to as the “Soda Springs” is located on the Klickitat River near river mile 24.5, several miles above the mouth of the Little Klickitat River. The dissolved solids content of these springs are much higher than any others found in the Columbia Plateau. The second spring is the Klickitat Mineral Springs and historic commercial icehouse on the river near Wahkiacus.