When the sun is shining and temperatures rise, it’s an ideal time for families to be out and about exploring free things to do in Clark County. You can encounter wildlife, fish for free, go wading in a river, dance to live music, and much more. Check out our list that highlights several fun and free things to do in Vancouver, Camas, and throughout Clark County.

Vancouver Washington Murals
The colorful murals throughout downtown Vancouver are fun to find. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

#1 – Discover the Murals

Vancouver’s murals are colorful, sometimes hard to spot, and often have a tale to tell. There’s a concentration of murals (and even storm drain art) to find in downtown Vancouver. Make a list of the murals and let your kids mark them off as you find them and add new ones that you encounter.

#2 – See Nature Art and Turtles

The trails are short and winding at the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge just east of Washougal. The refuge is open to the public daily during daylight hours and makes for a close-by escape to a quiet, natural habitat. Kids will have fun looking for turtles and water birds, and checking out the nature art along the way.

#3 – Picnic by the Freighters

Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park charges $2 per car for admission but you can walk or bike in for free. The main attraction is the huge freighters usually anchored in the Columbia River very close to the beach.  Kids will enjoy seeing them up close. There are covered picnic facilities, a small beach and grassy areas.

#4 – Listen to the Salmon Clock’s Story

In Esther Short Park’s Propstra Square stands the 69-foot tall Salmon Run Bell Tower with bronze salmon swimming upstream on its sides. But what many don’t realize is that a Glockenspiel-type diorama emerges from the tower to depict a 6-minute story of the local Chinook Indians and their relationship with the salmon.

#5 – Find Wildlife Along the Salmon Creek Trail

Bring your binoculars and take a walk along an urban greenway. The path runs along Salmon Creek between Lake River in Felida and Salmon Creek Regional Park/Klineline Pond in Hazel Dell. In the bottomlands, wetlands, and forested hillsides along the creek you may spot a variety of birds and ducks, deer, coyotes, rabbits, opossums, raccoons, and beavers.

#6 – Jog the Lacamas Lake Trail

The Lacamas Heritage Trail, located in Camas, parallels Lacamas Creek and the western shore of Lacamas Lake. On a warm day jog in the shade under a canopy of old growth forest and mid-way on the trail, you can spot the historic Leadbetter House across the lake.

Ridgefield Lake National Wildlife Refuge
With binoculars, you can spy birds hiding in the grasses at the nature preserves and along trails in Clark County. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

#7 – Go Birding in Ridgefield

See nesting eagles, deer, turtles, herons, kingfishers and more as you take a drive, stop, and get out to look for the inhabitants of the Ridgefield Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The charge is $3.00 per car but there are pass options available to waive the entrance fee.

#8 – Dance to the Music in the Park

At Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver, the Six to Sunset series gives kids a chance to run in the grass and dance to the beat of the music. Concerts take weekly mid-summer, check the website for details Also, look for free public concerts on selected dates at noon and for the Columbia Tech Center’s Sunday Sounds Concert Series.

#9 – Talk to the Farmers

There’s asparagus from Yakima and jams from Hood River. At the Vancouver Farmer’s Market you can meet the people who bring the produce to market and make the specialty products you can buy. They all offer tastes and love questions from kids. Try some hummus, some home-made salsa with chips and, if you are lucky, a cookie or two.

#10 – Fish for Free

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife offers a Free Fishing Weekend June 8-9, 2019. There’s no need for fishing licenses but you may “get hooked” and want to invest in one. A Discover Pass won’t be required on WDFW or Washington State Park lands on that weekend, but is required on Department of Natural Resources Lands.

Cottonwood Beach canoe
Children pretend to be paddling out onto the Columbia River in the replica canoes at Cottonwood Beach. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

#11 – Get in a Canoe at Cottonwood Beach

Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery traveled along the Columbia River on their way to and from the Pacific Ocean. Interpretive signs and reconstruction of Native structures they may have encountered dot the beaches where they are known to have camped. At Cottonwood Beach, just off the Dike Trail in Washougal, you can find canoe replicas (perfect for kids to climb in) from the times that Chinookan people fished there and the Corps of Discovery camped in that exact spot.

#12 – Watch Planes Take Off and Land

No need to go over to Portland to see some exciting air traffic at PDX. You can access a great view from Tidewater Cove along Vancouver’s Waterfront Renaissance Trail. Walk past the marina out onto the point and choose a riverside bench. You’ll see the huge jets taking off and landing at the airport across the river. Add in a few sailboats and you’ll also have some great photo ops.

#13 – Bike the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail

Ideal for biking, walking and exploring nature, Vancouver’s eight-mile Burnt Bridge Creek Trail begins (or ends) at Stewart’s Glen in Fruit Valley and crosses over I-5 to Leverich Park and Arnold Park. It extends all the way to NE 90th Avenue and Burton Road. The wide paved trail follows the Burnt Bridge Creek, named for a small bridge built over the creek in 1889.

#14 – Walk Across the I-5 Bridge

The iconic Interstate Bridge between Vancouver and Portland is over 100 years old. You can take the pedestrian walkway out on the bridge, see the drawbridge mechanisms up close and, if you are lucky, watch a huge barge pass under the bridge.

Esther Short Park Fountain
Children love wading in the fountain at Esther Short Park on hot days. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

#15 – Splash Around in a Fountain

In downtown Vancouver’s Esther Short Park there is a water feature that turns into a splash park when the temperatures climb. As the water cascades over basalt columns and rocks, it mimics a real creek. Children of all ages like to stick their feet in, leap from rock to rock, and cool off.

#16 – Go Wading at Moulton Falls

While you can hike along the Lewis River and see the waterfalls, many enjoy having a picnic at the base of the arch bridge overlooking the river. You can sit on the rocks, wade in the water and, if you are a decent swimmer, take a dip in the 12-foot deep water. Shady Moulton Falls Regional Park in Yacolt is ideal for those hot days.

#17 – Take the Pendleton Factory Tour

The Pendleton Woolen Mill in Washougal offers bargain shopping and free 45-minute tours Monday through Friday at 9:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 1:30 p.m. You can see the wool being cleaned and dyed and the iconic fabric being woven on huge looms. You don’t have to have a reservation but the tours are kept small on purpose and are best for older children. Call 360-835-1118 to reserve a space and to check the schedule (the mill is closed for vacations two weeks in August).

#18 – Create Recycled Art

It’s colorful, creative and sometimes wacky! The Recycled Arts Festival, held in June in Esther Short Park, is one of the major festivals featuring art made from things like toasters, barn wood, old bottles, and discarded silverware. There’s a kids area where little artists can get creative with discarded items and families will like the fun entertainment wandering through the festival grounds.

Camas Farmers Market Child
Mary Nelson, the author’s granddaughter, talks to the bakers at the Camas Farmer’s Market. Photo credit: Elizabeth R Rose

#19 – Go Tasting at the Camas Farmers Market

Downtown Camas is the setting for the Camas Farmer’s Market. On Wednesday afternoons June through early October, the tree-shaded downtown area is enhanced by a market of hot food vendors, farmers, and specialty food purveyors. Taste cookies, berries, and nuts as you check out the offerings. The small Camas market is very family-friendly and often has healthy living and gardening information, kids’ activities, and live local music.

#20 – See a Sturgeon at the Water Resources Center

Kids will get involved in learning about our river, water resources, and the fish and animals that call the water home. There’s a huge sturgeon swimming in the aquarium, environmental artwork, outdoor natural gardens, and wetlands. Hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday and 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday. Watch the Water Resources Center website for special events and holiday hours.


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