Friday, March 25, 2016

A Stop Along the Way: Lewis and Clark State Park

This is an unassuming little park just off of I-84 east of Portland. It's a quick restroom stop on Exit 18, with room for the kids to run around a little and easy access to get right back on the freeway. But wait!

Did you bring the family dog? This park has a leash-free area. Are you a whitewater kayaker? This is the perfect take-out, with free parking and easy landing areas along the Sandy River. Interested in geology? Broughton's Bluff, a wall of basalt that marks the western end of the Columbia River Gorge, rises at the edge of the lawn. Fishermen ply the banks of the Sandy and run driftboats in the spring, angling for hatchery chinook and steelhead. Level pathways wind through the lower part of the park, with markers for common western Oregon native plants. Rock climbers already know about the popular basalt cliffs here; climbs are rated from 5.4 to 5.13.

We come for the hiking trail. The trailhead begins clearly enough where the flat lawn gives way to sloping forest. Come in early spring and build your muscles and stamina for summer hikes in the Cascades; the climb begins immediately and never really stops. Watch for wildflowers alongside the trail, which gradually becomes more challenging. You quickly understand that you are climbing along the edge of Broughton's Bluff; sometimes you will hike on pieces of the bluff, scrambling over huge chunks of basalt that have tumbled onto the path. The cliffsides are dotted with anchors left by climbers. It is difficult to say just how long this trail is; it is as long as you want it to be, as it gets thinner, rougher, and harder to follow as you go along. A scramble trail leads the adventurous to the top of the bluff, which offers a glimpse of the Sandy River Delta, a beautiful area which will doubtless be the subject of a future post. While this hike doesn't end at the usual Gorge waterfall, it is a fun, challenging spring warmup just minutes out of Portland, but without the Gorge crowds.

"Lewis and Clark" is not just a historic-sounding name; the expedition camped here in 1805. They named this waterway the Quicksand River due to the sandy delta where it meets the Columbia, and the name shortened to just "Sandy" over time.

The river begins high on Mt. Hood and races toward the Columbia. Paddlers love the 38-mile Sandy River Water Trail, which features runs from class I to class V. The run from Dabney State Park is a popular class 1+ that is even run on float tubes in the summertime. The easiest run is from Lewis and Clark out to the delta where it meets the Columbia. Be aware that early spring brings high water flows; respect the river and don't overestimate your skill level.

This park offers easy access to the Sandy, with free boat launching and parking as well as paths beside the river. In the summertime the park and riverside can be quite a zoo as people flock from the metro area to cool off in the icy water. During the spring, though, it's much less popular, plus the nettles and poison oak so common in western Oregon haven't had a chance to grow tall yet. On your next trip out I-84, take a break beside the Sandy River, just like Lewis and Clark did.

Yes, this is the trail
Climbing ropes on Broughton's Bluff

Near the top of the bluff
Sandy River Delta


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