Clark County is endowed with an abundance of scenic trails, but relatively few of them offer the accessibility and ease of the Washougal River Greenway Trail, an out-and-back trail that crosses the beautiful Washougal River and cuts through surrounding wetlands. It’s a mostly flat, well-trafficked trail that is paved in many parts and, depending on which route you take, gives you an easy two- to three-mile walk. This is a wonderful hike with kids because there’s so much to look at and no steep climbs or narrow parts that might be difficult for little toddler legs. Bikes and strollers will do just fine on this trail and leashed dogs are also welcome (as long as you remember your, ahem, baggies).
The Washougal River Greenway Trail isn’t located in Washougal; it’s actually on the eastern edge of Camas. The trail is accessible from several places: the southeastern trailhead is located near a residential area at the intersection of SE Yale St. and NE 2nd Ave. The northwestern end of the trail is located in Baz Riverfront Park off 3rd Loop, just behind Smitty’s Family Dining. There’s also another entrance—along with a boat launch—off 3rd Ave., where Riverside Bowling was formerly located; you’ll see the old sign at the parking lot entrance.
Something to See in Every Season
The trail entrance at Yale and 2nd offers ample parking in a gravel lot and is a good place to start. This part of the trail begins by winding gently through a field of waving grasses, thick with daisies, dandelions and purple clover in the spring and summer. The trail passes several ponds where you might see ducks, herons, hawks, and even the occasional cormorant or eagle, not to mention a variety of smaller woodland birds, butterflies, huge dragonflies, and electric blue damselflies. You might spot a few turtles and you’ll hear frogs a-plenty in springtime. The ponds are the water-filled remnants of two pits where gravel was mined from river-rock. During the late summer, the water in these ponds gets rather low and all kinds of animals and insects can be seen in and around the mudflats. If you look closely, you can sometimes see deer tracks or raccoon paw-prints in the soft mud.
As the trail curves north and passes between the ponds, you’ll begin to see glimpses of the Washougal River through the trees. Cottonwoods line the riverbanks and shed their snowy seeds in June. In the summer months, a strong breeze reveals the leaves’ silvery undersides like flashing sequins on a green dress. In October and November, these leaves turn a golden yellow, joining with the reddish hues of native ash and willow to make a vivid contrast against the green river water.
The highlight of the trail is the steel-and-wood pedestrian bridge, which allows hikers to cross the Washougal River in style and offers unobstructed views up and down the river. On a clear day, hikers can see the pointy peak of Mount Hood to the east; to the west, the tallest smokestacks of the Camas Paper Mill are visible over the trees. When the river is low, you can sometimes see rocks on the river bottom and the occasional trout or salmon.
After you cross the bridge, you’ll come to a long, raised walkway through marshy lowlands covered in reed canarygrass, an invasive species which is nevertheless beautiful when it reaches its full height of three to six feet, sporting seeds in purple florets from May to mid-June. Canarygrass grows so densely that it chokes out other species and is mostly inhospitable to wildlife, but you might see a blue heron searching for frogs or snakes among the leafy stems.
Check Before You Go
The trail is open year round, but when the Washougal River is at or above flood stage, the trail becomes submerged. Check the status before you go by calling Camas Parks and Recreation at 1-360-834-5307. (If you happen to go during a time when the trail is blocked, you could continue your journey eastward through Washougal to the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which offers miles of flat trails through an area rich in migratory birds and wetland creatures.)
From Hwy. 14, take the Union St./Frontage Rd. exit, go around the traffic circle and under the highway, then turn right on SE 8th Ave., which turns into C St. as you travel east. Continue east through a second roundabout, after which you’ll see, on your left, signs for Columbia Credit Union and Starbucks. Turn left on 3rd St. and head north; 3rd St. will soon become NE Whitney St. Turn left onto NE 2nd Ave. and continue to the end of the road, where it intersects with Yale St. Look for the Washougal River Greenway Trail sign marking the trailhead.