The Columbia River and Pacific Northwest are known for incredible maritime stories. And Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia, dates from the winter of 1805 to 1806 when Lewis and Clark camped at Fort Clatsop. What better place for a world-class museum than this historic land of trapping, exploration, and trading?
The Columbia River Maritime Museum has long been known nationally for the quality and variety of its displays. In fact, it is ranked among the top ten Maritime Museums in the entire United States. But a recent $6 million renovation has expanded and improved the facility’s seven different galleries into an experience worth an entire day of hands-on learning.
Situated right on the river reflected in its name, the museum includes models, nautical instruments, boats, naval photographs, marine engines and naval weapons among its halls of displays and exhibits. Visitors are welcome aboard the last seagoing lighthouse on the West Coast, the 128-foot Columbia, which is moored outside the museum. This ship, a National Historic Landmark, once guided ships to safe harbor at the turbulent mouth of the Columbia River.
Here are maritime stories for the ages, from the days of dugout canoes to the bridge of a World War II warship. Life on this point of land has never been easy. Some of the most fascinating exhibits are about the Bar and River Pilots that lived their lives, and sometimes died, working in the turbulent winds and waves that Pacific storms often bring to the region.
Crossing the Bar: Perilous Passage features the dangerous place where the Columbia and the Pacific meet. The Northwest is used to severe weather, but nothing can compare to this perilous place where waves often exceed 40 feet during winter storms. The exhibit includes never before seen videos of rough water passages during fierce winter storms and an interactive shipwreck map that shows vessels lost over the past 200 years.
Other interactive exhibits include a Coast Guard rescue scene, the chance to take command in a tugboat wheelhouse, and fisherman and cannery stories. The Columbia River Maritime Museum also houses one of the best research libraries on the maritime history of the North Coast and the lower Columbia River.
In addition to the seven galleries, there is a movie theater and lecture hall. Be sure to stop by the Museum Store for unique items like models, clothing, jewelry, books and posters.