You can explore Bonneville Dam via its two primary visitor centers—one is on Bradford Island in Oregon, and the other is on the Washington state side of the Columbia River. There's also a third seasonal center situated right at the navigation lock. Both of the main visitor centers feature educational displays about the dam and the region, and the Bradford Island Visitor Center has underwater windows through which you can see the dam's fish ladder.
Things to know before you go
Bonneville Dam is a must-visit for anyone interested in engineering or fisheries.
Admission and parking are free.
Bonneville Dam is stroller- and wheelchair-accessible.
How to get there
Bonneville Dam is located right off of I-84, a 45-minute drive from Portland. Some Columbia Gorge tours and Gorge/Mount Hood combo tours from Portland stop at the dam, either for a quick photo of the fish ladders or for a break long enough to check out the Bradford Island Visitor Center.
When to get there
Both of the main visitor centers are open daily, except on Thanksgiving and during the holiday period from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day. The Bradford Island Visitor Center is a popular field trip destination and can get busy on weekdays during the school year, as well as on weekends during the summer. Come first thing in the morning or in the late afternoon to avoid the rush.
The fish counters of Bonneville Dam
Bonneville Dam takes an old-school approach to tracking fish, by employing professional fish counters to track how many fish go by. Counting takes place for 800 minutes per day and the day’s final count is used to calculate estimates of how many fish in total pass through the ladders. Counters also take individual counts of specific species, including lamprey, chinook, and steelhead. This method has been used since the dam opened back in 1938.
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