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Waterfront Renaissance Trail Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

On the beach, Wintler Community Park (bobcat)
Korean War mural, Veterans Memorial (bobcat)
The George Vancouver Monument on Columbia Way (bobcat)
I-5 Bridge from the Waterfront Renaissance Trail (bobcat)
Along Columbia Way, Waterfront Renaissance Trail (bobcat)
Ilchee statue, Waterfront Renaissance Trail (bobcat)
Wetlands, Waterfront Renaissance Trail (bobcat)
The Grant Street Pier on the Vancouver Waterfront (bobcat)
Slocum House, Esther Short Park, Vancouver (bobcat)
The route along the Waterfront Renaissance Trail in Vancouver (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Esther Short Park TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Wintler Park Trailhead
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 10.8 miles round-trip
  • High point: 75 feet
  • Elevation gain: 50 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Year round
  • Family Friendly: Yes (Pick a segment to do)
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes


Hike Description

In the 1990s, the City of Vancouver began a 20-year transformation of its industrial waterfront to allow for more public spaces on or looking over the Columbia River. Thus, the Renaissance Trail was created: The route runs from Esther Short Park to Wintler Community Park, recently taking in the new section at the Grant Street Pier. In parts, there is a 14-foot-wide pedestrian/bicycle path; at other times, you will be using sidewalks, including a 1.2 mile segment behind a large business park. While the sounds of modern life are never far away – boats on the river, traffic on Columbia Way, diesel trains on the BNSF railroad, planes taking off from PDX – you’ll also get views of snow-capped Cascade peaks and observe waterfowl on the river. Interpretive signs tell of Native and European history in the area, and you’ll walk under rustling cottonwoods and past a wetland to a public beach. You can also begin the walk on the waterfront itself at the Grant Street Trailhead.

While at 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”. Moving to the southeast corner of the four-block park, you’ll 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.

From the bell tower, cross 6th Street, and walk west for a block. Find the walkway behind the Hilton Hotel and Convention Center, and follow it down to Phil Arnold Way and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Plaza. Below the BNSF railroad embankment, walk left along the lengthy Remembrance Wall, which displays numerous panels that commemorate the country’s foreign wars. Reach Columbia Street, and go right under the railroad. Soon you’ll pass the entrance to the Red Lion Inn and come to the Captain George Vancouver Monument with its stylized “Boat of Discovery.” From here, pass under the Interstate 5 Bridge, a steel through-truss structure whose northbound span was completed in 1917; the southbound span, built to replicate the its older sister, was dedicated in 1958. There’s a viewing platform at Joe’s Crab Shack although the section on pilings is in disrepair and closed off. 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 Amos and Esther Short’s land claim here and legend tells that Lewis and Clark tied up their canoe to the tree. Across Columbia Way, you can make a short detour under the railroad to Old Apple Tree Park, which protects an gnarly apple planted in 1826 on Fort Vancouver land. A path continues from here over the Vancouver Land Bridge to Fort Vancouver.

Return across Columbia Way and pick up the public pathway on the east side of Who-Song and Larry’s. Interpretive signs tell of the history of the Columbia River and European settlement, and you’ll get views across to Oregon’s Hayden and Tomahawk Islands. A concrete pathway leads right down to a cottonwood-shaded beach. From this point, the Waterfront Renaissance Trail runs right along Columbia Way for about half a mile, with occasional breaks in the line of cottonwoods affording glimpses of the river. You might observe small planes taking off from and landing at Pearson Airpark, hidden behind the railway embankment.

At a riverfront condo complex, bear right and continue walking above a riprap-stabilized bank sprouting willows and a few invasive false indigo bushes. Pass above little Surprise Beach and reach the Princess Ilchee statue. Ilchee was the daughter of Chinook Chief Concomly, who had assisted Lewis and Clark and also the early settlement of Astoria. She married the chief factor at Astoria, Duncan McDougall, and then, after McDougall left for another trading post, Chief Kiesno (Casino), who later became the most powerful Chinook chief on the river. Also in this vicinity, Lewis and Clark made camp at a place they called “Jolie Prairie.” From this spot, they could see Mount Jefferson, which is the only Cascade peak they named. The riverfront path continues below a McMenamin’s and reaches the Wendy Rose statue at the James and Joyce Harder Memorial Plaza. The stainless steel statue commemorates the women who worked at the nearby Kaiser Shipyards in World War II. From this point, it’s a short distance to a dead end on the trail below a set of luxury condos. This last section is a haven for resting Canada geese, who liberally employ the trail as a toilet, so watch your step!

Return along the trail past Wendy Rose and head inland when you get to the McMenamin’s. Follow the sidewalk along Columbia Shores Way until you get to Columbia Way, where you go right on the sidewalk to begin a 1.2 mile stretch past the industrial Columbia Business Park (Keeping straight at this intersection will take you on the outer loop option of the Vancouver Discovery Loop Hike. The section past the business park is relatively quiet on weekends as you pass under a long row of red and sugar maples. Cross Maritime, Kaiser, Victory, and Assembly Avenues, but do not enter the business park itself, which is private property. Across Columbia Way, diesel engines will be hauling their long trains of freight cars on the BNSF railroad. After Columbia Way bears right around a curve, you’ll cross Marine Park Way at the entrance obelisk to Marine Park and follow the path around to the park restrooms at the Marine Park Trailhead. Near the restrooms is a kiosk with information about Lewis and Clark’s Voyage of Discovery.

From here, you can visit the Kaiser Viewing Tower, a half-mile detour, by following Marine Park Way around past a gate and Ryan Point Cove, where the Vancouver Fire Department’s marine team keeps its rescue boats. Pass a picnic area and reach the boat launch area ($5 parking fee) at the Henry J. Kaiser Shipyard Memorial. You can read the interpretive signs at the small kiosk: after Pearl Harbor, what is now the Columbia Business Park was one of seven west coast shipyards that were mobilized to speedily construct vessels for the war effort. Workers from around the country flocked here for the $10 an hour wages. After beginning with freighters (“Liberty Ships”), the yard soon began producing Casablanca-class aircraft carriers and other combat vessels. You can climb the Kaiser Viewing Tower to get wide-ranging views up and down the river, from the I-205 Bridge to the east to Tomahawk and Hayden Islands to the west. On a good day, Mount Hood stands out on the eastern horizon and Mount Jefferson is visible to the south. Directly west of the tower, you’ll see a row of launch bays dating to World War II. There’s also a beach area below the tower.

Return to Marine Park and continue walking east past the restrooms, picnic tables, and a play area. A tall forest of cottonwoods and a wetland separate you from the river. Soon enter the grounds of the City of Vancouver’s Water Resources Education Center, where you’ll pass a few interpretive signs. At a viewing plaza, get views over a natural wetland, one of the few remaining on this stretch of the Columbia. Near here is a staff gauge that records the levels of the 1894, 1948, and 1996 floods. Continue on the trail, and cross a footbridge over a creek in a thicket of red osier dogwood.

Reach a screen of cedars at the Tidewater Cove Condominiums and head out towards the river. A gravel path leads down to a beach that fronts the wetland area. The Renaissance Trail continues with plantings of wild rose, snowberry, and willow on its river side and a vast bed of cotoneaster on the condo side. Pass the Tidewater Cove Marina and take the little walkway out along the breakwater to a compass rose at the end.

The trail proceeds below some luxury condos and arrives at Wintler Community Park, where you’ll find restrooms (closed in winter), parking, and some picnic tables. The park is named after two brothers, John J. and Michael Wintler, who claimed property near here in the 1860s. Follow the path as it curves down to a public beach, where you can sit on a driftwood log under rustling cottonwoods and watch the planes taking off at Portland International Airport across the river. To the east, Mount Hood rears behind the I-205 Bridge; across the river in Oregon, you can see the silhouettes of Rocky Butte and other Boring volcanoes that define the east Portland skyline. On a clear day, Mount Jefferson might be visible between the airport control tower and Rocky Butte. Looking west, one can make out the low forested ridge of the Tualatin Hills. Walk the beach and then back up to the trail to return the way you came.

On the return, once past the Interstate Bridge, walk behind the Red Lion Inn to the amphitheater at Vancouver Landing. Keep heading downriver along a new trail. There is still much construction going on in this recently rehabilitated area, but an interpretive sign explains that this is where the Standifer Shipyard constructed six wooden cargo vessels during World War I. There's a green lawn to your right backed by construction of a new hotel and a condo building. Reach the Headwater Wall, which displays an interesting water feature and educates about the Columbia River watershed. Take some steps up to 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; behind them is a large parking area. Farther on, there's another interpretive 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.

You can walk back along the Waterfront Renaissance Trail or Waterfront Way to Esther Street. Follow Esther north to pass under the Burlington Northern railroad and reach Esther Short Park. In the southwest corner of the park stands 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: Vancouver never made it up the Columbia River, but he did send one of his officers, Lieutenant William Broughton, as far as the Columbia Gorge.


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Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Walk There! 50 Treks In and Around Portland and Vancouver edited by Laura O. Foster (partial)

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