Fishing boat Cascade Locks

Stories of Indigenous foods, culture, and history run deep through the Columbia River Gorge

Indigenous foods, culture, and history intertwine throughout the Columbia River Gorge. When you visit the Gorge today, the stories of Native Americans who’ve lived here for time immemorial spring forth and run deep and powerfully—just like the salmon and steelhead who’ve migrated through the Columbia River for thousands of years. Collectively, salmon, huckleberries, and camas roots are among some of the “first foods” of Oregon in Indigenous communities, because they’ve provided nourishment since before contact with Europeans. The Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge region is one of Oregon’s premier locations for all three of these “first foods,” so we’ve created a guide for how you can explore, learn their importance, and experience them for yourselves.

The salmon and the tribes are indelibly linked, and their history spans the entire length of the Columbia River Basin including Troutdale, to Cascade Locks, and out to the site of the former Celilo Falls, past The Dalles. The Cascade Mountains extend 700 miles north-to-south, but the Gorge is the only passage through the range that drops to sea level. As such, it’s the ideal passage route for steelhead and salmon whose life cycle depends on migrating from upriver spawning grounds, to the ocean, and back again. The fish are a vital underpinning to multiple tribes’ heritage, diets, religions, and culture.

Brigham Fish Market

Meet Kim and Terrie Brigham, who run the Brigham Fish Market in Cascade Locks.

One such tribe is the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Kim and Terrie Brigham, from Cascade Locks, who are members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and their ancestors have been fishing on the shores of the Columbia River for time immemorial, hauling up fresh-caught steelhead and Sockeye salmon each season. The Brigham Fish Market in Cascade Locks, run by the Brigham Sisters, features fresh caught salmon and sturgeon straight from the Columbia River, varieties of smoked salmon, fish n’ chips, salmon chowder, and more. The Brigham Fish Market isn’t the only place to buy native caught fish in Oregon. Go to the Buy Oregon Seafood website for a map of all the fish stands along the Columbia River. Make sure to check out the Hear in the Gorge podcast as well, to learn all about the sisters’ experiences as fisherwomen, and the broader context of Native American experiences as it connects to fishing along the Columbia River. It’s the perfect addition to your roadtrip through the Columbia River Gorge. 

The area surrounding Mt. Hood has some of the best huckleberries in Oregon, although locals will be hard-pressed to share their secrets on finding the best spots to pick them. You’ll have to hunt them out on your own (there’s some excellent spots closer Mt. Hood above 3,000 feet elevation), but the outings will never disappoint when it comes to scenery. Government Camp’s Huckleberry Inn lives up to its name; it has a delightful selection of huckleberry pie, huckleberry shakes, and huckleberry pancakes. Hood River’s Apple Valley Country Store is also a go-to for all things huckleberry—choose from products that feature huckleberries in syrups, habanero pepper jellies, jams, pie fillings, and fresh-baked pies.

In the spring, camas root flowers blossom in meadows throughout the Gorge. The roots have been a key source of nutrients for Indigenous people, but were also eaten by the Corps of Discovery during the Lewis and Clark Expedition on their journey through the Pacific Northwest. According to tribal tradition, the root bulbs are dug up and then gathered in pits, where they are gradually roasted until they’re edible, revealing a sweet pumpkin-like flavor profile. The Umatilla Tribe hosts an annual festival each spring celebrating the camas root called Root Feast, although it had to postpone the event in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To learn more about camas roots and many other kinds of wild plants in the Gorge, head to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum in The Dalles. 

The Brigham Fish Market in Cascade Locks, run by the Brigham Sisters, features fresh caught salmon and sturgeon straight from the Columbia River