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Vancouver Discovery Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View of Fort Vancouver from the Land Bridge (bobcat)
The Grant Street Pier on the Vancouver Waterfront (bobcat)
The old apple tree, Vancouver (bobcat)
The heritage garden at Fort Vancouver (bobcat)
A classic car parked on Officers Row (bobcat)
The second Hidden House, Vancouver (bobcat)
Part of the Railroad Mural, Vancouver (bobcat)
The route of the Discovery Loop (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Grant Street TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Officers Row
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 4.9 miles
  • High point: 110 feet
  • Elevation gain: 130 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Year round
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes


Hike Description

For a major exposure to the Pacific Northwest's history of Anglo-American settlement, there is no comparable walk in the area than this loop. The excursion begins at the very new Grant Street Pier but includes a visit to two monuments celebrating Captain George Vancouver's voyage of discovery (although Vancouver himself never reached this far up the Columbia), the reconstructed fortifications of the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Vancouver, the historic Army houses along Evergreen Boulevard's Officers Row, and finally stops at various late 19th century buildings in downtown Vancouver. Although the loop is only four miles long, give yourself plenty of time to explore, imbibe and digest - perhaps taking advantage of some local eateries along the way.

From the parking area, walk out to the waterfront and enjoy the Grant Street Pier, a suspended walkway over the water which evokes the rigging of the sailing ships that once came down the river. The most notable of these was the Columbia Rediviva, a vessel under the command of Captain Robert Gray, who in 1792 sailed 13 miles up the great river to which he gave his ship's name, the first documented entry of the Columbia by a Western ship. A couple of stylish new restaurants look out on the pier. Farther west, there's aninterpretive sign explaining the siting of mills along the river, and then a small play area with a sand "beach" leaping with salmon. Reach another viewing platform, and get views back to the Interstate Bridge, across to Hayden island in Oregon, and downstream to the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge 9.6. A screen of cottonwoods partially conceals the Lafarge Corporation's cement plant. Walk back on the Waterfront Trail, and step down from the Grant Street Pier to the Headwater Wall, which displays an interesting water feature and educates about the Columbia River watershed. Continue below a green lawn backed by construction of a new hotel and a condo building. An interpretive sign explains the spot where the Standifer Shipyard constructed six wooden cargo vessels during World War I. Pass a dock and riverside amphitheater, and then walk around the back of the Red Lion Hotel. Walk through the hotel's parking area, reach Columbia Way, and then head toward the river.

The first thing you see is the Boat of Discovery, looking somewhat like a Japanese torii gate, but a stylized skeleton of a long boat in red mounted on pillars. The monument commemorates the arrival in 1792 of two separate expeditions to the Pacific Northwest, those of Captain George Vancouver and Captain Robert Gray. Vancouver, a British naval officer, stayed at the mouth of the Columbia in October, 1792 and sent Lieutenant William Broughton downriver to explore inland in long boats (on this expedition, Broughton went as far as the mouth of the Sandy River, about 100 miles upstream, and sighted and named Mount Hood). Vancouver had, in fact, passed the mouth of the Columbia River sailing north, but in the Strait of Juan de Fuca encountered American Captain Robert Gray and his ship Columbia Rediviva. Gray reported his explorations at the mouth of the Columbia and the difficulty at crossing the bar, but these led to Gray's return in May, 1792. Gray did not venture far upstream, but it was enough for him to name this huge river after his ship. It was only later in the same year that Broughton's party effected a more thorough exploration.

Pass under the I-5 bridge and keep to the path along the river next to Columbia Way. An interpretive sign on Columbia Way tells about the Witness Tree, a cottonwood that stood here until 1911: the tree was the original corner of American settlers Amos and Esther Short’s 1845 land claim here and legend tells that Lewis and Clark tied up their canoe to the tree. Cross the road and head toward Old Apple Tree Park. Walk through a tunnel under the railroad lines and keep straight to admire the historic apple tree behind its guardian fence. This tree was planted in 1826, when the Hudson's Bay Company was still operating out of Fort Vancouver. Go right from the park to begin your trip up and over the Vancouver Land Bridge, completed by renowned architect Maya Lin in 2008 as part of the Confluence Project in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. As you hike over the bridge, which crosses State Route 14, you can read various panels and interpretive displays that illustrate the human natural history of the area. The plants here are all Northwest natives, and include Nootka rose, choke cherry, and Oregon grape.

Descending from the Land Bridge, you are now on the grounds of Fort Vancouver, a national historic site. First, take a left and inspect some reconstructions of settlement homes. Then continue north and then east past the heritage garden. There were about 1,400 acres of farmland and gardens in the area in the days of the Hudson's Bay Company. A path right leads to a replica of the fort itself, where you need to pay a small fee at an entrance kiosk. Signs along the path tell about the village of workers, many of whom were ‘Kanakas’ (Hawaiians). There’s also a sign about the many nationalities who worked for the Company: Hawaiians, French-Canadians, Metis, Indians, Scots, English, Orkney Islanders. The interior of the palisade here is an interesting visit, with a reconstructed blacksmith shop, bakery, fur warehouse, and kitchen among other buildings, and well worth the price of admission. On summer weekends, there are often historical reenactments and volunteers dressed in period costumes. Pearson Field Airport occupies the wide, green expanse south of the fort.

As a diversion here after visiting the fort, take the path that leads east from the fort entrance and walk to the Pearson Air Museum, which has free entry and is now run by the National Park Service. Outside the museum, there's a 1975 monument in Russian and English to the three Soviet airmen, including pilot Valery Chkalov, who flew over the North Pole in 1937 in an ANT-25. The headquarters of Pearson Field is here, with a sign commemorating the 321st Observation Squadron, 1923 - 1941, which mainly dealt with forest fires. The museum formerly displayed numerous privately-owned antique aircraft, but these were removed in 2013 following the termination of the museum trust's agreement with the National Park Service. Displays now focus on the history of aviation in the area.

From the fort, head north across 5th Street and up the park road which rises across a vast green lawn studded with oaks, fruit trees and conifers. The Vancouver Barracks, 1849, is to your left. At the Fort Vancouver Visitor Center, there’s a monument to the three Japanese fishermen who were the survivors of a cargo boat that set sail for Edo (Tokyo) in 1832, drifted across the Pacific, and were found by a coastal tribe. The free Visitor Center displays historical exhibits, including a valuable ceramics collection. Then, walk east along the parking area to a ship’s anchor of unknown provenance, probably 180 years old or so, that was dredged out of the Columbia. There are views across the river to Portland's Alameda Ridge, the tops of the downtown skyscrapers, and the Tualatin Hills.

Keep up the hill to Officers Row and begin to walk west along Evergreen Boulevard. There are many small plaques next to the sidewalk which tell the history of this U.S. Army barracks. The houses at the east end are all townhouses. Pass the Marshall House of 1886, which has tours and exhibits. There’s a replica of the old bandstand across Evergreen and the enlisted men's barracks below it. The parade ground is west of the bandstand. Pass the Grant House, finished in 1850, which now houses a restaurant. Come to a roundabout and keep walking straight along Evergreen. Pass the General O.O. Howard House on your left and continue across the freeway overpass.

Now begin a somewhat convoluted but historic passage through downtown Vancouver. See the Academy buildings (1871) on your right. This venerable structure was in turn a convent, hospital, orphanage and school. Make a left on C Street, walk for half a block, and then go right into the Sculpture Garden, a display of modern art, on Broadway. Continue walking another block to Main Street and then turn right heading up several blocks to 13th Street to find the Hidden House, 1885, first owned a man named Hidden who owned the local brickyard: the house is now a Greek restaurant! Turn left on 13th and proceed to the end of the block, where there’s another of Hidden's houses, and then turn south (left) on Washington Street. St. James’ Church is on your right: this edition of the church was built in 1884. Walk for one block and turn right on 12th Street. Then, walk four blocks west on 12th to the modern courthouse, passing the old post office and some other older buildings. After this, turn left for two blocks to 11th Street and make another left. Head east until you hit Esther Street and make a right here.

This takes you down to the indoor farmer’s market and then past Esther Short Park. Take a few minutes to stroll around under the tall cedars and giant sequoias. This is the oldest public space in the Pacific Northwest, donated out of her land claim in 1855 by Esther Short, the wife of early American pioneer Amos Short, who was drowned when his ship went down at the Columbia Bar. The Shorts had endured constant conflict with the British authorities at Fort Vancouver, who tried to evict them multiple times in order to dilute American claims to the area. Looking around, you’ll see a statue on 8th Street, completed in 1928, which honors a “pioneer mother”. Walk to the southeast corner of the four-block park, and come to Propstra Square, financed by Burgerville founder George Propstra and dedicated in 2001. Here, you can admire the Salmon Run Bell Tower with its glockenspiel and a columnar basalt water feature. Then go west to the southwest corner of the park, where you'll see the Slocum House (c. 1860s), moved here in 1966 from across the street and the last example of the ornate Victorian-style type of dwelling that used to grace what was once a residential area. The Slocum House is now an art gallery and headquarters for the Vancouver Farmers Market. Across Esther Street is a statue of Captain George Vancouver, the English naval officer whose 1791-95 expedition was charged with charting the Pacific Northwest coast.

Walk down Esther Street towards the river. At the railroad embankment, there’s a stretch of murals commemorating America's foreign wars and a small monument at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Plaza. Pass under the Burlington Northern railroad bridge, and keep straight to Columbia Way. Make a right to return to your car at the Grant Street Trailhead.


Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Fort Vancouver: $5.00 admission (under 15 free) to the fort itself
  • Pearson Air Museum: free
  • Park areas closed 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.
  • Dogs on leash

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Peaceful Places: Portland by Paul Gerald

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