Sandy River Delta Loop Hike
From Oregon Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: Sandy River Delta Trailhead
- End Point: Maya Lin Bird Blind
- Trail Log :
- Hike Type: Loop
- Distance: 4.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 40 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
- Seasons: Year round
- Family Friendly: Yes
- Backpackable: No
- Crowded: Yes
The Forest Service acquired these 1,400 acres of cottonwoods and diked and drained meadows in 1991. Before that, it had been part of a cattle ranch owned by Reynolds Aluminum. The dike that blocked the main channel of the Sandy was constructed in 1931 to improve fish passage – it was considered that waters at the confluence with the Columbia were too shallow at critical times. Thus, the area, for 60 years anyway, ceased to be a delta, and the Sandy ran a straighter course to the Columbia via the west channel, previously known as the Little Sandy. For 20 years thereafter, hikers, bikers, dogs owners, horse riders, and hunters could visit Sundial Island north of the east channel and walk the beach at the mouth of the Little Sandy. After the USFS acquisition, the delta became the western portal to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and cattle grazing was halted. A rampant, uncontained invasion of blackberry and reed canary grass resulted when the cows left, and efforts have been ongoing to restore a semblance of native habitat. In fact, for the most part, other than the native tree cover of cottonwood, ash, willow, and red osier dogwood, the ground forbs and shrubbery here are a dense display of exotic species.
To commence the hike, take the Boundary Trail through the old cattle corral. The trail veers left and joins an old vehicle road. At a four-way junction, go right on a wide pea gravel path. Hike between large clumps of Armenian blackberry and then reach a pole and rail fence that forms the boundary with the off-limits area, protected for wildlife habitat. Cross an open meadow using a wide dirt track and reach a junction.
Keep right here on what is now the Meadow Trail and swing left under the powerlines. Undulate a little as you dip into former delta channels and sloughs. The trail bends right and then, at a sign turns into an expanse of reed canary grass. At a junction, the Meadow Trail continues to the left and meaders through copses of cottonwoods (You have to take the Meadow Trail if water levels are very high), but if you want to reach the river, keep right. Pass through a cluster of tall mullein stalks and drop to the willow-cloaked shoreline (There are both Pacific willow and Columbia willow here). There are a couple of choices here: you can left along the marshy shore if water levels are low; if levels are higher you can take the user path that winds through the willow/red osier dogwood forest. If you take the shoreline, you’ll get views across a channel of the Columbia River to Gary Island and also across the river to Camas and Washougal. Eventually, you’ll have to come into the willow and make your way below the steep bank until you reach the easy ascent path to the Maya Lin Bird Blind.
Don’t ascend to the blind just yet as you can continue a short distance to the mouth of the East Channel, reopened after the 1931 Sandy River Delta Dam was removed in 2013. This channel, once the main channel in the delta, now flows freely. Hike up to the Maya Lin Bird Blind and admire its simplicity and harmony with the natural surroundings. It was constructed as part of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Confluence Project and inaugurated in August, 2008. The slats of black locust wood each carry the name of one of the 134 species of plants and animals that the two explorers recorded on their journey. From the bottom to the top, you can read the Lewis/Clark name for the species, modern common name, Linnaean name, and conservation status.
From the blind, take the ramp to Confluence Trail and pass the junction with the Meadow Trail. Keeping right, hike along the East Channel, passing through a cottonwood plantation. At a junction under the powerlines, take the Old Channel Trail to the right. The trail continues a hundred yards or so south of the channel, but you can take a wide track under the powerlines to visit the channel shore. Continue along the trail through thickets of teasel and spiraea shaded by black cottonwood and Oregon ash trees. Pass through an open expanse and then into rustling cottonwoods. A side trail leads right to the East Channel. Continue to the junction with 1000 Acre Road.
Here go right and, at the next junction, turn left for the Sandy River. The trail descends into extensive river bottomlands and joins the Sandy River Side Road coming from the south, and reaches the Sandy River East Bank. At very low water, you can walk south along the Sandy River shore towards the freeway bridge and find your way back to the trailhead. Another option is to pick up the maze of trails inland from here, where despite the No Camping signs, you’ll find plenty of transient camps among the thickets of blackberry, horsetail, and spiraea. You could conceivably get lost here, though, so perhaps the most sensible option is to return to 1000 Acre Road the way you came and turn south to reach the entrance gate.
- Maps: Hike Finder
- Sandy River Delta Map (USFS)
- Green Trails Maps: Columbia River Gorge – West #428S
- Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service: Columbia River Gorge
Fees, Regulations, etc.
- Dogs on leash in parking area and within 100 feet of the Confluence Trail
- Park closed:
- 8:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m. Oct. 1 – Nov. 2
- 6:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m. Nov. 3 – Mar. 8
- 8:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m. Mar. 9 – May 31
- 10:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m. Jun. 1 – Sep. 30
- Information kiosk, picnic tables, restrooms, off-leash area
- Search Trip Reports for Sandy River Delta Loop Hike
Related Discussions / Q&A
- Search Trail Q&A for Sandy River Delta Loop Hike
Guidebooks that cover this hike
- Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
- Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
- Columbia Gorge Hikes: 42 Scenic Hikes by Don & Roberta Lowe
- More Oregon Horse Trails and Horse Camps by Kim McCarrel
- Sandy River Delta Trail #4417 (USFS)
- “Volunteers Keep Sandy River Delta Recreation Area in good shape” (Oregon Live)
- Dam removal begins on Sandy River Delta (Portland Tribune)
- Sandy River Delta – 5.5 Miles (Hikelandia)
- Sandy River Delta – Columbia River Gorge (Every Trail) (old trail system shown)
- The Sandy River Delta (Friends of the Sandy River Delta)
- Sandy River Delta (The Intertwine)
- Sandy River Delta (Oregon Horse Trail Books)
- Sandy River Delta: Got Dog? (Portland Family Adventures)
- Sandy River Delta (Portland Pooch)
- Thousand Acres (Sandy River Delta) (Bring Fido)