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La Center Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

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The seasonal lake at La Center Bottoms (bobcat)
Carved eagle, Sternwheeler Park, La Center (bobcat)
Waterfowl in the La Center Bottoms (Steve Hart)
Douglas-firs on the Brezee Creek Trail, La Center (bobcat)
Trails in La Center in red; road sections in yellow (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: MapBuilder Topo


Hike Description

The East Fork of the Lewis River flows past the town of La Center in wide looping fashion. In the late 19th century, La Center was a sternwheeler port connected to the Columbia River and had several mills. In the 1930s, however, the river lowlands were diked to create cropland, destroying the seasonal wetland that had once flooded the wide expanse below the town. In 1993, a portion of this land was purchased for the public, and a trail was built on top of the old levee. In a new 2015 project, the dike was breached in three additional places, and the winter water has returned via more channels, enhancing habitat for waterfowl and stabilizing the levee. Bring binoculars to look for Canada and cackling geese, swans, pintails, buffleheads, mallards, and ring-necked ducks as well as herons and egrets. You can extend the hike by heading up the Brezee Creek Trail, and then by taking La Center's Heritage Trail past a stormwater mitigation wetland before returning to the Sternwheeler Park Trailhead via Aspen Avenue.

If you're just interested hiking the levee in the La Center Bottomlands, that is about two miles round-trip. However, even though they are now bridged, the breaches in the dike can be flooded at high water in the winter and spring, which will cut short your excursion.

Head down into Sternwheeler Park, and make a left to traverse past statues of frogs and a mushroom. Past the restrooms, go right at an interpretive sign on the history of sternwheelers, steamboats, and mills in the area. In the 19th century, shallow-draughted boats were the main means of transportation in the region, taking out lumber and agricultural products and bringing in the necessities. High wooden flumes carried logs across gullies to the landings on the river. After perusing the sign, descend past a wood-carved logger and eagle and then a salmon "tree" at an amphitheater. Walk below a gazebo under a canopy of stately oaks, and reach a paved trail. Here, go left at a wetland information sign, and head into a reed canarygrass wetland dominated by ash trees. Cross Brezee Creek on a wide footbridge to arrive a junction with a graveled track.

Go right here, and pause at the first bird viewing blind. This blind overlooks open water that's filled with birds during the winter. Look for Canada geese here, many varieties of ducks, egrets and herons, and tundra swans. The path continues across a second metal bridge, this one spanning a gap where the old dike failed many years ago. Plantings of incense cedar, wild rose, and hawthorn line the trail. Look for beaver-gnawed alders along the route. The level path comes to a second blind, and then continues to a second low spot in the dike. Notice the tree pilings that have recently been placed along the channel as perches and potential nesting spots for birds. Mouse netting protects new plantings that might take over from the invasive and ubiquitous reed canarygrass. The gravel portion of the trail ends, but hikers can continue beyond this footbridge on a grassy tread if the water levels are not too high. From here, the trail is quite a bit more secluded and flows near the river's edge. A short spur leads to a shaded summer swimming hole on the East Fork. Teasel and alder now line the trail as you cross another low footbridge. One last footbridge is near the end of the trail. Signs and fences here clearly mark the beginning of private property. An alder/cottonwood swale offers refuge to small birds in the spring and fall. Return the way you came to the T-junction just past the first bird viewing blind..

Keep straight here, and head up the hill. There are views to the waterfowl dotting the large shallow lake in the wetlands. An unofficial trail leads off to the right on an ivy-tangled slope. The main track leads up to the La Center Elementary and Middle Schools. Keep right, and follow the fence line around to the school; then make a left to head down to 4th Street. Go left on 4th, crossing Brezee Creek, and use the crosswalk to reach Stonecrest Drive. The Brezee Creek Trail begins at the junction of 4th and Stonecrest. Andrew Brezee was one of La Center's first settlers; by the 1880s, he owned all the land east of Pacific Highway and south of 10th Street down to the East Fork. The trail undulates along above Brezee Creek under a canopy of alders and maples. Invasive ivy, blackberry, and clematis proliferate here as well. Split-rail fencing is strategically placed, and there are a number of benches. Pass a picnic table, and drop to a grove of Douglas-fir. Then rise in three tight switchbacks to a paved trail that leads between backyard fences to 14th Circle.

Walk out 14th to reach the East Heritage Loop. Go right here for about 100 yards, cross the street, and find the beginning of the Heritage Trail. This paved path leads into La Center Heritage Park along an alder/cattail wetland created to soak up stormwater runoff. To your right are back yards. A split-rail fence keeps humans and dogs from sullying the wetlands. Use binoculars to scope for flitting sparrows, wrens, vireos, etc.; any time of year, you might hear the tinkling call of red-winged blackbirds. Close to 18th Street, you'll reach a junction. Go left, and cross a dam and footbridge over the creek. Keep straight past a covered picnic table and play area in Southview Heights Park. When you reach the Heritage Loop, make a right, and walk out two blocks to Aspen Avenue. Go left, and walk down the slope, getting wider views of farmland, new developments, and the valley of the East Fork. It's half a mile to 4th Street and the Sternwheeler Park Trailhead.


Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Trails open dawn to dusk
  • Dogs permitted but must be on leash

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • Take a Walk: Portland by Brian Barker
  • Wild in the City: Exploring the Intertwine edited by Michael C. Houck and M.J. Cody

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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