Located on the north side of the Columbia River, Vancouver, Washington, is the original location of the city of Vancouver, British Columbia. Settled in 1824 as a fur trading post, Fort Vancouver was jointly occupied by both the United States and Britain. When the Oregon Territory was placed solely under U.S. control in 1846, American military facilities were soon established.
Many of the city's best attractions focus on this rich heritage. 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.
The Fort Vancouver National Historic Site sprawls across over 190 acres within two units of property, the largest of which is 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 officers' homes and barracks buildings, 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.
Officially part of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, the Pearson Air Museum is housed in a historic hanger that was built in 1918 for the Army Spruce Production Division operation in support of World War I plane- and ship-building activities.
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, and the museum is open daily from Tuesday through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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. While you stop to smell the flowers, check out interpretive stations along the path, which provide information about the Chinook people, Lewis and Clark, and the Corps of Discovery as well as other local stories and traditions.
Wander Down Recreation Trails
Walkers and bikers will enjoy the plethora of trail systems found throughout Vancouver, many of which run along the Columbia River. Whether you're looking for a quiet stroll through the wilderness or you want to get some exercise in on your trip, these nature trails are the perfect destination in Vancouver, Washington:
- Burnt Bridge Creek Trail: Runs for 8 miles through the heart of the city, from Vancouver Lake through to Meadowbrook Marsh Park
- Discovery Historic Loop Trail: A four-mile trail that crosses paths with a number of Vancouver's best sights and attractions
- Columbia River Renaissance Trail 404: Parallels the Columbia River just east of Interstate 5
- Salmon Creek Trail: Runs from Salmon Creek Park past wetlands and waterfowl habitats
All nature trails are open year-round from sunrise to sunset, though park ranger stations, facilities, and other attractions may be closed when you pass them.
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 while 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 at 4600 Southeast Columbia Way along the Columbia River Renaissance Trail; you can also combine your visit to the center with a riverfront walk—both of which are free. The Education Center is typically open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year, although special events and holidays often see the attraction closed to the general public.
Historic Esther Short Park has had its ups and downs over the years, but renovations in 2016 have transformed it into a lively and popular community hub. Park facilities include a bandstand and 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 where 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—also takes place along Esther Short Street, which borders the park, and during the summer, the park offers free concerts and movies.
Local history is the focus of the Clark County Historical Museum, which is located in the old Vancouver Public Library building in downtown Vancouver, Washington. Museum exhibits change regularly and cover everything from artistic traditions and transportation to mapping and popular culture.
The Clark County Historical Museum is open Tuesdays throughout Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily but also hosts special First Thursdays and First Fridays events at the beginning of each month. Admission is required to enjoy the museum, but all proceeds go to continue supporting its day-to-day operations.
Attend Special Events and Festivals
A number of fun special events attract visitors to Vancouver throughout the year, including the Wine and Jazz Festival, Independence Day at Fort Vancouver, and the Clark County Fair. Depending on when you visit the city, you may be in for a special treat:
- Independence Day at Fort Vancouver (July): The biggest fireworks show of the season returns to Vancouver for a Fourth of July celebration like no other, featuring live music and picnicking on the lawn at the Pearson Airfield.
- Clark County Fair (August): This annual event has been a tradition in Vancouver since 1868 and takes place each year at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds north of Vancouver.
- Vancouver Wine & Jazz Festival (August): Located in Esther Short Park, the event features tasting events, food samples, concerts, and special exhibitors for three days of wine and jazz music.
Explore Fun Things to Do Near Vancouver
While the city of Vancouver has plenty to offer on its own, there are also other attractions nearby that may require a bit of driving to enjoy. From taking a tour of a woolen mill to attending a workshop at an authentic plank house, there are plenty of activities to discover near Vancouver in Washington and Oregon states:
- Pendleton Woolen Mills: Weekday woolen mill tours are available from the Mill Store in Washougal.
- Cedar Creek Grist Mill: This working, water-powered grist mill is 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 plank house hosts programs and workshops throughout the year and serves as an interpretive center for the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.