Columbia Hills Historical State Park, located just east of The Dalles, Oregon, is comprised of 3,338 acres on the north side of the Columbia River. The park includes day use facilities (35 uncovered picnic tables, restrooms, gazebo and potable water), a boat ramp, and campground at Horsethief Lake (motorized boats are permited with 5 m.p.h. limit). The park also provides boat ramp access onto the Columbia River
Columbia Hills Historical State Park is a major destination for hiking and rock climbing around Horsethief Butte, and the hiking trails on Dalles Mountain Ranch are known for the purple lupine and bright yellow balsamroot that are most abundant in mid-April.
Just 49 miles to the east along the Columbia River at a site near Roosevelt, Washington, culturally valuable petroglyphs were salvaged in 1959 before the John Day Dam flooding. This collection is now on display along the Temani Pesh-wa Interpretive Trail, located near the park's boat ramp. From April through October, guided tours can be reserved for 10 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Call 509.439.9032 for reservations. Tour sizes are limited to 25 people.
Located just 6 miles upstream, the submerged Celilo Falls is well-known as the longest continuously inhabited location in North America. Human habitation at this spot is estimated to have endured for roughly 15,000 years. This stretch of the mighty Columbia River and its cascades drew natives from around the region to fish the massive spring run of Chinook salmon, where endless bounties of fish could be harvested.
Its here at Columbia Hills Historical State Park that the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped at Nix lui dix, a Wishram village on the river's northern bank, in 1805. On October 24, 1805, William Clark wrote of the site:
...landed at a village of 20 houses on the Stard Side in a Deep bason where the river apprd. to be blocked up with emence rocks... The nativs of this village reived me verry kindly, one of whome envited me into his house, which I found to be large and comodious... the first wooden houses in which indians have lived Since we left those in the vicinity of the Illinois.
I Saw Several large Scaffols on which the Indians dry fish; as this is out of Season poles on which they dry those fish are tied up verry Securely in large bundles and put upon the scaffolds, I counted 107 Stacks of dried pounded fish in different places on those rocks which must have contaned 10,000 w. [pounds] of neet fish.
And Meriwether Lewis notes:
there was great joy with the natives last night in consequence of the arrival of the salmon; one of those fish was caught; this was the harbinger of good news to them. they informed us that these fish would arrive in great quantities in the course of about 5 days. this fish was dressed and being divided into small pieces was given to each child in the village.
The construction of The Dalles Dam in 1957 transformed the area and submerged Celilo Falls, which was the sixth-largest waterfall in the world by volume. The damming of the Columbia River and the construction of the Burlington Northern railroad track also created Horsethief Lake, the central point of the park, which reportedly was given its name by U.S. Army Corps of Engineer workers who thought the basalt rock outcroppings reminded them of native "horsethief" hideouts popularized by western movies of the time.
Up until 2003 the park was known as Horsethief Lake State Park, but the name was changed to Columbia Hills State Park with the addition of Dalles Mountain Ranch. The name was changed again in 2013 to Columbia Hills Historical State Park as it was also designated a national historic site in an acknowledgement of the area's deeply sensitive and important significance.