9 Best Things to Do in Vancouver, Washington

Fort Vancouver in Washington

davelogan / Getty Images

Located on the northern side of the Columbia River, Vancouver, Washington, was the original location of the city of Vancouver, now situated in British Columbia, Canada. Settled in 1824 as a fur trading post, Fort Vancouver was jointly occupied by both the United States and Great Britain. When the Oregon Territory was placed solely under U.S. control in 1846, American military facilities were soon established.

Today, 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, offering striking 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.

01 of 09

Chill Out in Esther Short Park

Esther Short Park in Vancouver, Washington

Doug Kerr / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

605 Esther St, Vancouver, WA 98660-3021, USA
Phone +1 360-487-8311

Small but mighty at just five-acres, Esther Short Park is a great spot to spread out and relax in the heart of downtown Vancouver, Washington—it also happens to be the oldest public square in the state, established in 1853. Don't miss the Glockenspiel diorama, which chimes daily at 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and reveals a story about the local Indigenous Chinook people. The 69-foot-tall Salmon Run Bell Tower is also quite impressive, housing the Glockenspiel along with 25 cast bronze bells and four tower clocks, each measuring six feet tall.

Otherwise, stop by this prolific public green space for an event—many are held here throughout the year—go for a stroll, check out the scenic gazebo, or simply enjoy a relaxing picnic on a sunny day.

02 of 09

Visit the Vancouver Farmers Market

Vancouver Farmers Market

Vancouver Farmers Market

605 Esther St, Vancouver, WA 98660, USA
Phone +1 360-737-8298

There are several Farmers Markets to visit during your next trip to Vancouver, Washington — the Downtown Market, held Saturdays and Sundays near Esther Short Park from late March to late October; the East Vancouver Market, held Thursdays on the eastern side of town from mid-June to late-August; and the Fall Market, which takes place near Esther Short Park on Saturdays from early November to mid-December.

Whenever you go, you'll find heaps of locally grown produce, fruits, freshly baked bread, cheeses, meats, and other picnic-making materials, as well as vendors selling freshly roasted coffee, flowers, handmade jewelry, works by local artists, and a host of other handcrafted items to help you remember your trip by.

03 of 09

Learn About the Past at a Historic Fort

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

TripSavvy / Angela M. Brown

612 E Reserve St, Vancouver, WA 98661, USA
Phone +1 360-816-6230

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.

04 of 09

Discover Flight at the Pearson Air Museum

Pearson Air Museum
National Park Service
1115 E 5th St, Vancouver, WA 98661, USA
Phone +1 360-816-6232

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 free to visit, open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09

Walk Across the Vancouver Land Bridge

Vancouver Land Bridge

TripSavvy / Angela M. Brown

WA-14, Vancouver, WA 98661, USA

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 hikers and cyclists 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.

06 of 09

Wander Down Recreation Trails

Columbia River, Vancouver

 nwbob / Getty Images

1617 N Devine Rd, Vancouver, WA 98661-6555, USA
Phone +1 360-487-8311

Hikers and cyclists 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, the nature trails in this area are definitely worth a look—they're open year-round from sunrise to sunset, though park ranger stations, facilities, and other attractions may be closed when you pass them.

The Burnt Bridge Creek Trail runs for eight miles through the heart of the city from Vancouver Lake to Meadowbrook Marsh Park, while the Discovery Historic Loop Trail is a four-mile trail that crosses paths with a number of Vancouver's best sights and attractions. Nearby, Columbia River Renaissance Trail 404 runs parallel to the Columbia River just east of Interstate 5, while the Salmon Creek Trail runs from Salmon Creek Park past wetlands and waterfowl habitats.

07 of 09

Learn About Conservation

Water Resources Education Center

Water Resources Education Center

4600 SE Columbia Way, Vancouver, WA 98661-5581, USA
Phone +1 360-487-7111

The Water Resources Education Center offers a variety of interesting experiences that will appeal to all ages. Backyard nature enthusiasts will enjoy visiting its beautiful and informative demonstration garden, while little kids can play and learn at Puddles Place, an interactive nature-themed space. Everyone is bound find something interesting among the Center's exhibits, art gallery, and adjacent wetlands preserve.

It's located along the Columbia River Renaissance Trail, so you can also combine your visit to the center with a riverfront walk. The Education Center is typically open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday throughout the year, although special events and holidays often see the attraction closed to the general public.

08 of 09

Unlock Local History at the Clark County Historical Museum

Clark County Historical Museum

Clark County Historical Museum

1511 Main St, Vancouver, WA 98660-2945, USA
Phone +1 360-993-5679

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 Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. but also hosts special First Friday 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.

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09 of 09

Attend Special Events and Festivals

Fort Vancouver

 Tim Bewer / Getty Images

612 E Reserve St, Vancouver, WA 98661, USA
Phone +1 360-816-6230

A number of fun special events attract visitors to Vancouver throughout the year, including the Vancouver 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.

The biggest fireworks show of the season returns to the area with Independence Day at Fort Vancouver, a Fourth of July celebration like no other, featuring live music and picnicking on the lawn at the Pearson Airfield.

Each August, the Clark County Fair, a tradition in Vancouver since 1868, takes place at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds north of Vancouver. The Vancouver Wine & Jazz Festival, which also happens in August, is located in Esther Short Park, and features tasting events, food samples, concerts, and special exhibitors for three days of wine and jazz music.

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9 Best Things to Do in Vancouver, Washington