The weather was gorgeous but hot for our Memorial Day weekend bike trip to explore a new city – Vancouver, Washington.
It seemed odd we had never been to Vancouver given how many times we’ve been near it traveling to Portland. However, when I shared our plans with colleagues at work, it turned out many of them – who have lived in Washington much longer than us! – had never been to the city either. Most of them asked exactly what there was to do/why it was worthy of being a weekend destination.
I’ll admit, there weren’t gobs of things on our itinerary, somewhat due to COVID but also somewhat due to things being closed on the days of the week we were there. That said, we had a nice little list of just the right amount of activities to occupy our day and a half in town, and we really enjoyed the more relaxing pace of our visit.
If you’re looking for a weekend away or even a day-trip to Vancouver, Washington, here are a few activities we enjoyed to add to your list.
We purposefully arrived in the early afternoon on Saturday so we could spend time at Fort Vancouver, which was closed on Sunday. This national historic site has plenty of amenities and interests for those who want to simply drive through or stop in the visitor center, as well as guided and self-guided tours of the area inside the fort itself, which requires an admission fee (Note: If you have an America the Beautiful national park pass, your entry is free!).
Opened in 1825 by the Hudson Bay Company as a fur trading post, the fort was later occupied by the U.S. Army who turned it into a military post for maintaining local order. The army created a parade ground, barracks and more outside the main fort, all of which you can explore by foot.
Immediately outside the fort are the lovely remains of the once expansive garden that fed all of the individuals who lived and worked at the fort. From the garden, we had awesome views of Mt. Hood off in the distance.
I especially enjoyed the Chief Factor’s House (the one in white below) with its decorative canons out front, and the Indian Trade Shop and Fur Store where we were able to speak with some of the employees about the fur trade that took place and participate in a guessing game about what furs belonged to what animals.
The jail, carpenter shop, blacksmith shop, and bakehouse were closed but we were able to peek in the windows before heading back out to explore the surrounding grounds.
We walked part of the Discovery Historic Loop trail over to the East Barracks, crossed through to the parade grounds by the bandstand, and followed along Officer’s Row back to the visitor center where we were parked.
Some of the Officer’s Row houses were quite impressive, and I was interested to learn that some are rented out as townhouses! I can’t imagine renting and living in one of these old homes!
Next Time: While we were able to see multiple planes take off from Pearson Field – the oldest operating airfield in the United States – behind the fort, the on-site Pearson Air Museum was closed for renovations so we weren’t able to explore it this trip.
When we later explored the waterfront, we walked back to the fort via the Land Bridge and Old Apple Tree Park.
The Old Apple Tree was planted in 1826 and thought to be the oldest apple tree in the Northwest. It died in 2020 – we just missed it! – and its remains are not notable. I would not go out of your way to see it, but I would recommend going by it on your way to explore the Land Bridge.
The Land Bridge is an accessible half-mile trail that crosses over Highway 14 and offers panoramic views of Fort Vancouver, Pearson Field, and Mt Hood. Along the way are photos, renderings, and other informational plaques about the tribes indigenous to this area and their connection to it long before the Hudson Bay Company arrived.
Waterfront Park and Trail
It was a 30-minute walk from our AirBnB in the Hough/Carter Park neighborhoods down to the waterfront, which is still being developed. Waterfront Park is very nice – restaurants, wine tasting rooms, trails, and amenities along the Columbia River looking out on Hayden Island.
We were there mid-morning and it was already busy – by the middle of the afternoon, there were people everywhere. Plan ahead if there are some eateries you want to visit!
We decided to get our steps in so from the waterfront trail, we crossed the bridge and walked to Hayden Island, Oregon!
On the eastern side of the bridge, we enjoyed beautiful views of the water and mountain, and on our walk back on the western side of the bridge, we could see the developed waterfront area we had visited earlier.
There were a few boats out and about, and we had to step aside to let several bicyclers by on the bridge, but for the most part we had this part of our walk to ourselves.
Our Sunday morning walk from our AirBnB to the waterfront took us along main street, where we enjoyed a number of statues and murals amid all of the restaurants and shops, and over through Esther Short Park, which features gigantic trees, a pavilion, green space, and – during our visit – the Sunday Farmer’s Market!
The market was nice with lots of your typical produce, flower, and craft stands, but we did stop and buy a blackberry whiskey shortbread cookie from a woman who had a booth full of homemade cookies. We didn’t eat it until we arrived back home – it was more soft and flavorful than I expected and very yummy! Keep an eye out for Granny Fi’s Traditional Scottish Shortbread!
Next Time: The Clark County Historical Museum was not open during our visit but remains on my list for next time. In addition to featuring general local history, they have special exhibits on specific aspects of the area’s history, like local brewing and music. Plus the building itself is quite impressive to see!
It was a fun day and a half in Vancouver – we walked a LOT, took time to cross things off our list and stumble upon things we hadn’t anticipated, and really enjoyed finally experiencing this town on the Columbia River.