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Vancouver Lake-Frenchmans Bar Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Anchored freighter, Frenchmans Bar Park (bobcat)
Tables under the oaks, Vancouver Lake (bobcat)
Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), North Trail, Vancouver Lake (bobcat)
Oaks, North Trail, Vancouver Lake (bobcat)
Catalpa flowering, Frenchman's Bar Trail, Vancouver Lake (bobcat)
Trails at and between Vancouver Lake and Frenchmans Bar (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Vancouver Lake TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Frenchmans Bar Trailhead
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 10.5 miles
  • High point: 25 feet
  • Elevation gain: 10 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes


Hike Description

Two favorite summer playgrounds near Vancouver, Vancouver Lake and Frenchmans Bar Park, are connected by an eight-foot wide bike path that leads through farm fields and under rustling cottonwoods. A recent addition to the walking options here has been the North Trail at Vancouver Lake, which extends over a mile to a crossing of Buckmire Slough. The round-trip version of this excursion is perhaps best done by bicycle, but you could also do parts of the hike, e.g. just the Vancouver Lake portion or Blurock Landing Trailhead to Frenchmans Bar (No parking fees at the Blurock Landing Trailhead). Otherwise, note that are different parking fees at each park: the Discover Pass is required to park at Frenchmans Bar, while the lake has a $3 fee. Also, no dogs are allowed at Vancouver Lake Park from April through October to cut down on water contamination.

From the parking area at Vancouver Lake, walk north on a raised paved trail under a leafy arbor, passing a small plaza area with a view of the lake. To the left are a covered picnic area, restrooms, and a playground. The path turns into a gravel track and passes a secluded picnic area under tall, spreading oaks. Soon, you enter a riparian corridor of oak, ash, willow, and cottonwood. Where the road bends left, continue straight on the 1.2 mile Vancouver Lake North Trail, completed in 2016 by the Washington Trails Association. This gravel path snakes through a dense undergrowth of jewelweed, snowberry, and trailing blackberry under a leafy canopy, an excellent venue for observing spring and fall songbirds. You’ll eventually come to a T-junction. Going right takes you to the willow and dogwood-lined shore of the lake, but the stagnant mire is hardly appealing. Heading left from the junction directs you out to a wide footbridge over Buckmire Slough and the Reiger Highway. Across the way are the fields of the Shillapoo Wildlife Area.

Return the way you came, and visit the artificial sand beach at the park’s main lawn area. From here, you should be able to see Mount Hood, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Adams on a clear day. The shallow four-square-mile lake was once a seasonally-flooded plain which is now a permanent expanse of water because of a system of dikes and control gates. In summer, the lake often experiences blooms of cyanobacteria as the water stagnates, but mitigating efforts have been able to control this problem to a certain extent. The paved trail that connects to Frenchmans Bar Park leads south out of the park to cross Reiger Highway near the rowing club facilities.

Pass under a tall cottonwood, and then cross Lower River Road to walk along a paved path atop a dike. Plantings of catalpa and various oaks offer some shade. Down to your left is a slough, and you can see farm buildings, including a huge barn, across the way. When you arrive at the Blurock Landing Trailhead, you’ll see an interpretive sign about the Willamette River and Lewis and Clark, who called it the Multnomah River. There’s a path down to the sandy beach, from which you can see the cottonwoods of Kelley Point Park, the industrial area behind it, the mouth of the Willamette, and Sauvie Island across the water. Look east and south for glimpses of the Cascades volcanoes: even Mount Rainier and Mount Jefferson are sometimes visible. Continuing on the bike path, you’ll notice that most of the property between here and Vancouver Lake is part of the Columbia Land Trust’s Cranes’ Landing Conservation Area. Looking back, Mount Saint Helens is clearly visible. After you’ve passed the pastures, the path makes a left into Frenchman’s Bar Park. Swallows often pack the phone lines here in late summer.

The Frenchmans Bar Trailhead is at the top of a dike which offers a view to beach volleyball courts and, sometimes, anchored freighters. There are restrooms and green lawns with picnic tables. You can also see Mount Hood across the pastures to the left. Sea lions may be coursing the river during salmon or smelt runs, and ospreys are also common here. The path continues south to a circle of information signs about birds, the natives and explorers in the area, and the origin of the Frenchman’s Bar name (Paul Haury, a French-Canadian fur trader, deserted his company and ended up here, buying land at Hewlett Point in 1915). The paved trail goes down to just above the beach, and you walk along the strand from here past fishermen trying their luck. Head back to the north end of the park past No Swimming signs. The path drops down to the left past a playground and then you can take a gravel loop through grass and cottonwoods up to a dike and back past to the entrance path. User trails extend north to Caterpillar Island at low water.


Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • $3 parking fee at Vancouver Lake during the summer
  • Discover Pass required to park at Frenchmans Bar
  • No dogs in Vancouver Lake Park area (lawns, beach) April through October; dogs permitted on the North Trail
  • Dogs on leash at Frenchmans Bar
  • Restrooms, picnic tables, playgrounds
  • Vancouver Lake open 7:00 a.m. to dusk

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Wild in the City: Exploring the Intertwine edited by Michael C. Houck & M.J. Cody
  • Take a Walk: Portland by Brian Barker
  • Washington Hiking by Scott Leonard

More Links


Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

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