Located on the north side of the Columbia River, Vancouver, Washington, is, in fact, the original Vancouver. Settled in 1824 as a fur trading post, Fort Vancouver was jointly occupied by both the US and Britain. When the Oregon Territory was placed solely under US control in 1846, American military facilities were soon established. Many of the city's best attractions focus on its rich history. Located just west of the Columbia River Gorge, Vancouver is surrounded by amazing scenery, with views of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens on clear days. A wealth of outdoor recreation opportunities can be found within the city as well as at nearby state parks and national forests. Vancouver's fascinating history and natural beauty combine to make it an interesting place to visit and explore.
Here are the top picks for fun things to see and do in and around Vancouver, Washington.
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The Fort Vancouver National Historic Site sprawls across over 190 acres, with two units, the largest being in Vancouver. If you're interested in the site's diverse history, which goes from Native American settlement to fur trading post to military facility, start your visit at the Vancouver National Historic Reserve Visitor's Center, where interpretive exhibits, a film, and expert staff will provide an overview of all you can see and learn. As you wander the complex you'll come across historic officer's homes and barracks building, war memorials, and park areas. The reconstructed fort, complete with bastion, Chief Factor's house, and blacksmith's shop, lies at the south side of the complex. The McLoughlin House unit of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is located across the river in Portland.
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Officially part of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, the Pearson Air Museum is housed in an historic hanger, built in 1918 for Army Spruce Production Division operation in support of World War I plane- and ship-building activity. Today the facility focuses on pre-World-War-II era aircraft. During your visit, you'll see historic airplanes and artifacts from Pearson's permanent collection as well as changing exhibits. Special events and flight demonstrations take place throughout the year.
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Built as part of Maya Lin's Confluence Project, the Vancouver Land Bridge commemorates Lewis and Clark's 1805 visit and much more. The extensively-landscaped pedestrian bridge crosses over State Highway 14, allowing walkers and biker to move between the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site and the Columbia River. The plantings along the bridge feature such native species as blue camas and vine maples. Interpretive stations provide information about the Chinook people, Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery, local history, and more.
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Walkers and bikers will enjoy the plethora of trail systems found throughout Vancouver. Many run along the Columbia River. Here is a sample:
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- Discovery Historic Loop Trail - follow this four-mile trail and you'll cross paths with a number of Vancouver's best sights and attractions
- Burnt Bridge Creek Trail - runs for 8 miles through the heart of the city, from Vancouver Lake through to Meadowbrook Marsh Park
- Columbia River Renaissance Trail - this trail parallels the Columbia River just east of I-5
- Salmon Creek Trail - runs from Salmon Creek Park past wetlands and waterfowl habitat
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The Water Resources Education Center offers a variety of interesting experiences that will appeal to all ages. Backyard nature enthusiasts will enjoy visiting their beautiful and informative demonstration garden. Little kids can play and learn in Puddles Place, an interactive nature-themed space. Everyone will find something interesting among the Center's exhibits, art gallery, and adjacent wetlands preserve. The Water Resources Education Center is located along the Columbia River Renaissance Trail. Combine a visit to the center with a riverfront walk - both are free.
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Historic Esther Short Park has had its ups and downs over the years; recent renovations have transformed it into a lively and popular community hub. Park facilities include a bandstand/pavilion, a charming gazebo, a rose garden, a playground, and a water play area, among green lawns and paved walking paths. The park's most unique feature is it's Salmon Run Bell Tower. Every other hour during the afternoon and evening, the 69-foot tower reveals a diorama sharing a traditional Chinook story along with bells and glockenspiel. The Vancouver Farmer's Market, held on Saturdays and Sundays spring through fall, takes place along Esther Short Street, which borders the park. During the summer, the park offers free concerts and movies.
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Local history is the focus at the Clark County Historical Museum, located in the old Vancouver Public Library building. Museum exhibits change regularly and cover everything from artistic traditions, to transportation and mapping, to popular culture.
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A number of fun special events attract visitors to Vancouver throughout the year, including:
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- Discovery Walk Festival (April)
- Independence Day at Fort Vancouver (July)
- Clark County Fair (August)
- Vancouver Wine & Jazz Festival (August)
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These interesting attractions are located within a short drive from Vancouver.
- Pendleton Woolen Mills - weekday woolen mill tours are available from the Mill Store in Washougal
- Cedar Creek Grist Mill - a working, water-powered grist mill in a charming and scenic location
- Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge - the varied ecosystems of this preserve provide wonderful bird and wildlife watching opportunities
- Cathapolte Plankhouse - this full-scale Chinook plankhouse hosts programs and workshops throughout the year and serves as an interpretive center for the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge