Located just a car or train ride away from Seattle, Vancouver, Washington is the perfect base camp for a summer getaway. The charming city on the Columbia River offers plenty of its own attractions, and it’s also located near other desirable destinations including Mount St. Helens and the Columbia River Gorge. Visitors can explore Vancouver’s beautiful outdoor trails and then head to bucket list spots for the ultimate adventure. There is an abundance of breathtaking views with breathing room.
Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens looms just a 90-minute drive from Vancouver. At the end of State Highway 504 is the Johnston Ridge Observatory where visitors can speak with park rangers and learn all about the 1980 eruption. This is also an excellent viewing area as it’s located close to the north side of the volcano.
“Coldwater Peak accessed from the Johnston Ridge Observatory is one of my all-time favorite hikes,” says Craig Romano, award-winning author of outdoor guidebooks including “Urban Trails: Vancouver, WA.” “The view is absolutely jaw-dropping,” he adds. “You look over St. Helens Lake to Spirt Lake, the Pumice Plain and right into the crater of Mount St Helens. The hike also involves going through a natural arch.”
With over 200 miles of trails, Mount St. Helens has hikes for every skill level. Summertime visitors experience the bonus beauty of wildflower blooms spreading across the landscape. Those looking for some extra adventure should consider Ape Cave, the one underground hike at Mount St. Helens. (Be sure to reserve a ticket per vehicle for the day you’d like to hike.)
Columbia River Gorge
Just over a half an hour from downtown Vancouver, pass through Washougal and enter the Columbia River Gorge. Hikes of all skill levels crisscross the region, with the reward of picture-perfect Pacific Northwest views. Looking for a thrill? Find an expert and try rock climbing at Beacon Rock or discover hidden waterfalls—two popular activities in the Gorge.
“My favorite Columbia River Gorge hikes are at Columbia Hills State Park,” Romano says. “Views are sprawling and include five volcanoes — Hood, Jefferson, Rainier, Adams and St. Helens — and the flowers are prolific.”
There are also three sky bridges where visitors can walk among moss-covered fir trees. And, of course, take advantage of the river itself by kite boarding, windsurfing and paddle boarding. On the drive back to Vancouver, stay on the Washington side of the gorge and stop to take in a stunning view at the Cape Horn Lookout.
Vancouver is currently redeveloping the waterfront along the Columbia River, which Romano describes as one of the most exciting things happening in the city right now. Romano recommends walking over the Vancouver Land Bridge, which connects Fort Vancouver National Historic Site to the waterfront. “The waterfront is one of the better urban trails. It’s great for walks,” says Romano. “You can stop to get a bite to eat or coffee along the way.”
Romano also recommends the Salmon Creek Greenway Trail, a 3.5 mile paved path along the creek where visitors will be treated to a gorgeous view of Mount Hood.
A trail connecting Frenchman’s Bar and Vancouver Lake is located at the foot of the Columbia River. “It’s a wonderful wildlife area,” says Romano. This trail is excellent for birding all year round and on clear days, Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Hood are all visible.
Romano notes that this trail is especially good for walks with children and is accessible for both strollers and wheelchairs.
Located 15 miles outside Vancouver is Ridgefield, home to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge which offers beautiful hiking trails in its oak forest.
Cyclists should head to Burnt Bridge Creek Trail and Salmon Creek to take advantage of the bike trails. After working up a sweat hiking or biking, cool off by taking a swim at Klineline Pond or Battleground Lake State Park.
Eating and drinking
Vancouver is home to a number of wineries, breweries and restaurants. Be sure to visit the tasting rooms on the waterfront (six and counting within a few blocks!), then head to beloved local spots like Niche Wine Bar, Burnt Bridge Cellars (don’t miss happy hour, every Wednesday and Thursday from 2 – 6 p.m.), and Cellar 55.
Check out what’s on tap at Barlows Brewery, Ghost Runners Brewery, Ben’s Bottle Shop, and Final Draft Taphouse—just to name a few of the 50 breweries and tap rooms in Clark County.
Standout restaurants in the area are PNW Best Fish Co., which offers fresh seafood, and La Bottega, which specializes in Italian and Northwest American fare. Looking to eat healthy? Jacob Christensen, who recently moved from Vancouver to Seattle, says look no further than Mighty Bowl. “I’ve never eaten healthy food that tastes so good,” says Christensen of the local staple, which has a food truck in addition to its main restaurant in downtown Vancouver.
Another longtime favorite is Carol’s Corner Cafe, which Christensen describes as “classic diner food” that comes in huge portions. Be sure to check out their cinnamon rolls, which are the same size as the large plate they’re served on.
Kenji’s Ramen and Grill was another one of Christensen’s favorite restaurants back in his days as a local. In addition to amazing ramen, poke bowls are also on the menu.
Side trip to Camas
Camas, just a 20-minute drive from Vancouver, is well worth a side trip. Carrie Schulstad, executive director of the Downtown Camas Association, describes the historic mill town as “straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.”
With boutique shopping, a strong foodie scene, robust art galleries and a historic hotel, Camas has plenty to offer, including a hidden bronze bird tour.
“We’ve got bronze sculptures all throughout downtown,” says Schulstad. “So if you want to come and do the hidden bronze bird tour, we have a hidden bronze bird on every block.” There are also murals all throughout town painted by local artists, and a mural tour for art lovers.
Also of note, the Camas antique mall, which Schulstad says regularly attracts visitors from as far as Seattle and Salem, Oregon. “It’s a curated mall with over 60 vendors,” she says.
After a day of antiquing, shopping, hunting bronze birds, or adventuring at Mount St. Helens or the Columbia Gorge, head back to Vancouver to recharge before returning home. That little extra breathing room can make all the difference.
Visit Vancouver USA is the official destination marketing organization for Vancouver, WA and greater Clark County. Learn more and start planning your trip at www.visitvancouverusa.com