Take a walk with your dog or picnic on the shore of the Columbia River with a view of wildlife and huge anchored ships. It’s not the usual park view. Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park is one of those Clark County Places that is worthwhile visiting and has some intriguing history.
And there is a Frenchman behind the name of this Columbia River bar. In 1915, the sign along a park trail reads, “Frenchman’s Bar was named after Paul Hauray, a Frenchman who bound out to engage in fur trading in Alaska. Fleeing intolerable conditions, Hauray jumped ship and made his way to Astoria to work in the salmon canneries. Wanting to increase his wealth above that of a low-paid cannery worker, he perused the shoreline of the Columbia River for an ideal fish netting location and in 1915 he purchased land five miles downstream from Fort Vancouver.”
Exploring Frenchman’s Bar
Frenchman’s Bar Park is only 4 miles from downtown Vancouver. You’ll drive across the railroad tracks, through the industrial area to River Road to find the entrance to the park. As you approach you may be surprised by the size of the ships you see anchored in the channel. That’s one of the draws of the park.
The Columbia River is narrow at Frenchman’s Bar. You can look over to the Oregon side of the river and see Sauvie Island, the largest island in the Columbia River, and Kelley Point at the mouth of the Willamette River. The bar, an area of built-up river sediment, extends several miles and is a good place for walking, fishing and birding.
I went to the park one Saturday morning, early in the year when the birds were still wintering in the lowlands. As I drove along the almost deserted River Road I had to stop and admire a huge flock of white Sandhill Cranes, known to gather in the area before the spring migration. On the other side of the road, the fields were covered with Canada Geese. As more people came to the area, the geese would take off noisily and fly in unison looking for another area to gather and forage. It’s an amazing sight because of the sheer numbers of birds.
There are interpretive signs along the trails that talk about the history of the park, the wildlife and the Native people who first lived and fished there.
Walking to Vancouver Lake
Vancouver Lake Park lies two miles east and is connected to Frenchman’s Bar by a 2.5-mile paved trail. The Frenchman’s Bar Trail is ideal for walking and biking. Dogs on leash are permitted.
Aside from enjoying the birds and wildlife, you’ll see from this flat trail, on clear days you’ll be treated to views of Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens.
What to Do and Not Do on the Beaches
While Frenchman’s Bar is known for its sandy beaches, it’s not exactly your traditional beach. Due to Columbia River currents and steep drop-offs, getting very far out in the water is not recommended. While you’ll see small watercraft going up and down the river, they are not permitted to land at Frenchman’s Bar.
You can try your hand at fishing from the beach at Frenchman’s Bar. With a license and patience, you may end up with fish in your freezer. A good time to fish is during the fall Chinook salmon season.
Frenchman’s Bar Park Facilities
Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park has two large picnic shelters that can be reserved. There are nice restrooms, playground equipment and eight sand volleyball courts (The nets are typically up between May 15 and Sept. 15). In addition, expansive lawns and the beach invite picnicking.
At Vancouver Lake Park, there are wooded trails, more picnic tables and a safer place for swimming (no lifeguards), windsurfing, kayaking and canoeing.
Dogs are permitted on trails year-round but they are not permitted on the beach or surrounding grassy area of Vancouver Lake Regional Park between April 1 and Oct. 31.
When You Go to Frenchman’s Bar Park
Clark County charges parking fees year-round at Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park. Daily parking fees are $2 for motorcycles and $3 for cars. There is no charge if you want to walk or bike in. In the busy season, the fee booths are staffed. If there is no one at the booth you use the self-pay stations (cash only). Annual parking passes cost $30. On summer weekends, the parking lots can fill quickly.
Address: 9612 NW Lower River Rd, Vancouver
Directions: From Fourth Plain Blvd. drive west 1.5 miles, then merge right to stay on Fourth Plain. Continue 3 miles to the main park entrance.