Several destinations immerse visitors in nature – some are more urban and suburban, while others are in forested or protected areas – yet don’t require a long car trip to access.
Here are some of our recommendations:
Salmon Creek Greenway and Trail
This trail, essentially bookended by Salmon Creek Regional Park and Klineline Pond on the east, and NW 36th Avenue on the west, accommodates walkers, bicyclists, runners and horseback riders.
Located near the communities of Hazel Dell and Felida, north of Vancouver, the trail meanders alongside the creek for which it’s named, offering natural views and the chance to birdwatch and catch sight of beavers, rabbits and other wildlife.
The roughly three-mile path is mostly paved and flat, but also includes an unpaved side trail and a short, steep stretch to 36th Avenue. Benches along the trail, as well as grassy areas and shelters with tables at the park and pond, offer a respite and places to enjoy a picnic. Bring a camera and, from a nearby bridge along 36th, visitors can snap photos of the creek and Mount Hood in the distance.
The nonprofit Washington Trails Association, noting the trail’s combination of wetlands, wildlife, habitat restoration and easy access, calls it a “perfect, quick” getaway.
Moulton Falls and Lucia Falls regional parks
Located south of Yacolt in north Clark County, these parks are ideal outings for families. After just a short time trekking the trails here, hikers are treated to scenic waterfalls and footbridges. The paths are wide and flat in some places and narrow in others. Picnic tables are available. The forested setting along the Lewis River’s east fork belies the fact that it’s a relatively short drive from Vancouver.
Consider a stroll through the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, north of Vancouver, or Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, nestled along the Columbia River east of Camas and Washougal. The latter refuge, which spans a little more than 1,000 acres, features in excess of 200 of the 300 bird species seen in Clark County, according to a refuge brochure.
Great blue herons, osprey and red-tailed hawks are among the common birds that can be found at the Steigerwald Lake refuge in the spring and summer. The refuge features a 2.75-acre wildlife art trail, with viewpoints, and manmade and “natural” art.
Located near the Columbia River, west of Interstate-5, the Ridgefield refuge was established in 1965 to provide a winter habitat for dusky Canada geese. The 5,300-acre refuge features a combination of marshes, grasslands, woodlands and riparian corridors. Great blue herons, red-tailed hawks, sparrows and many other birds can be seen.
But preservation efforts don’t stop there. Chinook culture and history are presented via the Cathlapotle Plankhouse. Built in 2005, the plankhouse is open on the weekends in the spring and summer. The refuge offers visitors the chance to experience what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describes as the “most intact archaeological site on the lower Columbia River.”
The Waterfront Renaissance Trail along the Columbia River
Nature, views, history, today’s river commerce and opportunities to recharge at waterfront eateries all converge on this path/trail, which meanders along the Columbia River and connects downtown Vancouver with Wintler Community Park to the west, a 12.5-acre park with beach access and picnic areas. Used by everyone from walkers and joggers to bicyclists, the trail features, among other things, signs interpreting some of the area’s history as well as access to a tower commemorating the World War II-era Kaiser shipyards in Vancouver.
Trail users can stop in at any one of a handful of restaurants along the route, taking in views of boats cruising the Columbia, the occasional tugboat pushing a barge and Mount Hood in the distance.
The waterfront trail connects to the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site and Officers Row via the Vancouver Land Bridge. The Fort Vancouver National Trust, the nonprofit that spearheads preservation of and education about the fort, notes that the land bridge “symbolizes ties forged between local Native American people and Lewis and Clark.”
A 3,800-foot paved path begins near the fort, spans state Route 14, runs through Old Apple Tree Park and then connects to the Waterfront Renaissance Trail.
Washington State University — Vancouver
Trails around this branch campus, located in the Salmon Creek area, feature terrain that ranges from flat and easy, to steep and challenging. Visitors are treated to a mix of meadows, forest areas and mountain views. An added bonus is the architecture of the campus buildings. Hours when classes are not in session tend naturally to render the campus less populated and more peaceful — summer weekends a case in point.