As the weather warms up, opportunities for outdoor fun abound. If you’re looking to get away from the Seattle area for a few days without boarding a plane, hop in the car and explore Vancouver, Washington, just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Seattle. The area is home to plenty of natural beauty, including the Columbia River Gorge, Mount St. Helens and Moulton Falls, and many outdoor local gems. The one thing they all have in common is this: breathtaking views appear at every turn, and the size of the area allows for plenty of breathing room. Here are some of the best spots for hiking, biking, kayaking, and simply enjoying a picnic or a picture-perfect sunset view.

Coyote Wall, Columbia River Gorge

Hiking

Erica Lindemann, communications manager at Visit Vancouver USA, says Vancouver is an excellent home base if you’re looking for hikes around the Columbia River Gorge. A lot of people end up going to the Oregon side of the gorge, so staying on the Washington side is one way to keep up your social distance.

Cape Horn is an eight-mile loop that overlooks the Columbia River. Along the way you’ll be treated to incredible views and two cascading waterfalls. For avid hikers, it’s worth the hour drive to Dog Mountain, a seven-mile climb that rewards you with a view reminiscent of “The Sound of Music.” (Be prepared with a permit on weekends during peak wildflower season.)

If you’re more of a hiking novice, head to Whipple Creek Regional Park, a fairly easy four-mile hike that includes a loop where you can see the stone wall ruins of a 100-year-old splash dam and mill.

Whipple Creek Regional Park

Lindemann says two hikes that are often overlooked are Hamilton Mountain, a seven-mile loop that features a waterfall, and Coyote Wall, which is also a seven-mile loop where you can mountain bike as well as hike.

If you’re near Mount St. Helens, Lindemann recommends Hummocks Trail — it’s an easy, family-friendly hike that offers one of the best views of the volcano. Right across the street from the trailhead is Coldwater Lake, a perfect picnic spot.

Emily Reed, network director of the Columbia River Gorge Tourism Alliance, also recommends Weldon Wagon Trail, which is a 5.4 mile hike. Fun fact: Sleds were once used along the trail to ferry apples down into town. There’s also Klickitat Trail or the Balfour-Klickitat Trailhead, both of which are favorites among locals for spotting all types of birds — especially bald eagles and hawks. Finally, Lyle Cherry Orchard Hike is a five-mile hike of moderate difficulty. The trail crosses remnants of Convict Road, which was built by Sam Hill as one of his experimental roads that eventually inspired the modern highway.

Kayaking and water activities

If you’re looking for a place to kayak, head to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Kayak rentals are available on-site and you can paddle along waterways where you’ll see birds and other flora and fauna.

Once it’s warm enough to paddleboard, head to Lacamas Lake where you can rent paddle boards and swim in Camas, just east of Vancouver.
Vancouver Lake is also a great spot for water activities ranging from rowing to relaxing on a floatie. Lindemann notes that it’s her personal favorite picnic spot. You can settle down in the green grass or on the sandy beach, or set yourself up at one of the picnic tables with takeout from a downtown restaurant just five miles away.

Scenic spots and sunset views

It’s no secret that the Pacific Northwest has some of the best sunsets you’ll ever see. One great spot to soak up that evening show is Wintler Community Park, located on the east side of Vancouver’s waterfront, which Lindemann describes as one of the city’s hidden gems.

Vancouver Waterfront Park, a recent development, is the new hot spot. If you don’t mind sharing, the sunset view from the 90-foot Grant Street Pier jutting over the river is a tough one to beat. An added bonus: Outstanding restaurants and renowned wine-tasting rooms with river views. Just a short drive north, ilani Casino Resort in Ridgefield is also a great spot to watch the sunset, with plenty of patio spaces from which to enjoy the sun’s daily dip.

Visit Vancouver USA is the official destination marketing organization for Vancouver, WA and greater Clark County. Learn more and start planning your trip at visitvancouverusa.com