Splendid Cycles Big Sale

Exploring Vancouver’s riverfront by bike

Posted by on November 20th, 2020 at 12:51 pm

I-5 bridge from Vancouver’s River Renaissance Trail.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

I’m not sure why I’ve been drawn across the Columbia River lately. Maybe it’s because even though it’s close to home, just being in a different state feels far away. I also haven’t been doing any of my usual long rides for a month or so due to an injury so I’m feeling a bit cooped-up in my neighborhood these days.

Last weekend I was looking for a route that would be exotic and new (to me), yet flat and easy. The Columbia riverfront in Vancouver fit the bill.

Map via RideWithGPS. Scroll down for full embed.

The section I explored was between the I-5 and I-205 bridges — not the shiny and new section west of I-5 (although that is really nice and I highly recommend checking it out). After I made my way across the river, I rolled down to Columbia Way and pulled into Waterfront Park. I’ve lived 3.5 miles from this park for 16 years and this was my first time inside of it. The first thing I noticed was the nice view of the I-5 bridge. Given all the debates we’ve had and stories I’ve written about it over the years, it was nice to get a new perspective on this massive green span.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a local history nerd and I read all those plaques and educational signs in public parks. Vancouver has a lot of them, so my pace along the nice path was slow and thoughtful as my mind wandered back to the disputes between British, Canadian, and American forces — all of whom fought over territory along this mighty river — and the native tribes that were hear before all of them.

I didn’t have to fight with anyone because it was a wet and dreary day. I had a wide paved path all to myself as I left the park and continued east along the river. I was pedaling on the Columbia River Renaissance Trail which goes for just over a mile before it (rather unceremoniously) ends. Between the I-5 bridge and the end of the path at an industrial site, there are lots of little beaches and river access points you could scramble down to. Toward the end there’s a bustling community of housing, shops, and restaurants. When we’re out of the Covid darkness, this would be the perfect place to grab a beer at McMenamin’s on the Columbia or cozy up with a pastry and warm cup of joe at Savona Coffee House.

To continue east I had to go through the business area and find Columbia Way. I jumped up onto a wide sidewalk (that reminded me of the industrial area on Lombard and Marine Drive) and passed through a huge industrial park for about a mile until I got to Marine Park. I meandered back toward the river and came upon a hidden gem: the Henry J. Kaiser Shipyard Memorial.

Kaiser Shipyard Memorial



Looking south at Portland from Marine Park boat launch.

Previously unknown to me, this spot was once home to a key part of the World War II shipbuilding effort. I read all about it on informational signs, then took a short walk up some stairs for a better view. I could still see the old slips where hardworking folks cranked out cargo ships for the war effort. It was fun to peer across the river to Portland and see the Marine Drive path I know so well. There’s also a boat launch and dock at Marine Park where you can roll out to into the river to get even closer to the old slips (and just marvel at the vastness of the mighty Columbia!). One quibble with this stop: there was no official bike parking anywhere. I carried mine with me up the stairs. Come on City of Vancouver!

Just east of (and still within) Marine Park I found some fun little trails in an estuary that led to some beautiful beach spots.

Path signage and map in Marine Park.


A little ways further and the path came to another dead-end after Wintler Park. The connection back to streets at this location was very disappointing. I had to walk up metal stairs and then scurry on a narrow path that came out at a locked residential gate on one side and railroad tracks on the other. I eventually found the way out — up a climb on SE Chelsea Avenue to SE Evergreen Highway.

Evergreen Highway isn’t nearly as low-stress as the riverfront path, but it has low traffic volumes and good sightlines and didn’t feel super scary. I rode for about 2.5 miles past gorgeous homes and mansions before coming to the I-205 viaduct. I had no idea how to connect to the fabled middle-of-the-freeway I-205 bike path and I found myself at a trailhead just under the viaduct.

A natural area! Under I-205? Who knew?!

Just for fun and without knowing where it would lead, I rode a nice bit of singletrack loop through a colorful forest and ended up back at the highway a few minutes later. Turns out this property is part of Columbia Springs, a 100-acre natural area and home tp a historic fish hatchery. Another place to bookmark and return to with my family.

From here I found my way onto the I-205 bike path and headed back south to Portland. That’s a story for another day (unless you followed BikePortland’s live Instagram stories last weekend).

Overall I was very excited to find all these new-to-me places. I think people of all ages and experience levels would find this to be fun day trip. Keep it in mind for working up a Thanksgiving appetite — or pedaling off calories afterward. If you’re not comfortable bicycling across the river (I don’t blame you), there’s lots of parking at the new riverfront development on the west side of the I-5 bridge. For newer riders and families, the parks and paths between Waterfront Park and Marine Park have ample places to pedal, stop, explore, and hang out. For more experienced riders, the loop from north Portland, across the river, along the river and back via the I-205 bike path and Marine Drive is a classic that should be on your list.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Pete
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Pete

We had just retired and moved to Vancouver in April. Because of Covid we have not had much opportunity to discover the city but we can certainly follow your advise and try this waterfront trail. Thanks for sharing your trip info.

Vince
Guest
Vince

Nice article, but one point about the shipyards. Main production was Victory and Liberty ships, the cargo ships that had more to do with winning WWII than any other type of ship. My father served on both types and survived hitting a mine. The same cannot be said of other sailors in the Merchant Marine, whose causality rate was among the highest of any US forces.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

My uncle was in the MM during WW2. My dad jumped out of airplanes.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

They also famously built escort carriers in Vancouver, small(ish) flat top aircraft carriers used to protect merchant convoys, especially on the Atlantic runs.

ChadwickF
Guest
ChadwickF

I expect one could also take C-Tran with a bike here as well, n’est-ce pas?

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

About 20 years ago I found a “British five pounder” cannon ball and the barrel of a Pennsylvania long rifle sticking out of the riverbank below old Ft. Vancouver. What else is still buried there?

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

Wow!

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Maybe your ball was used for gunnery practice? Capt George Vancouver, Royal Navy, sailed by in 1792, and named Mt Multnomah/Clackamas after his commissioning admiral, Samuel Hood. Later his ship surgeon, a guy named McLaughlin, operated the Ft Vancouver trading post for the Hudson Bay Company when he met Lewis & Clark (and their crew) in 1803, so the Vancouver settlement has been around longer than the Portland settlement, which was founded either in 1809, or 1836, or 1841, or 1851 – no one seems to really know when, it was so poorly documented – a bit like the city government today, isn’t it? Nor do we know why it was named Portland – taking the word of a couple of drunken homeless sea captains like Lovejoy and Ankeny that it was named after Portland Maine long after it was first called “Portland” seems a bit far-fetched – but it’s equally uncertain is if it was named after the same guy Portland Maine was, William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Portland, the prime minister who negotiated American independence in 1783, adopted on Oct 30th (our actual independence day) – or if it was just named for an obscure peninsula on the south coast of England, famous for its white sandstone (and a later cement that looks like that stone.) Keep in mind that up until 1846, Oregon was as much part of Britain as it was a part of the USA.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

According to the archaeologist at Ft. Vancouver, because it was found where the old wharves used to be it was probably accidentally dropped while loading/unloading a boat. It hadn’t been fired. Also, the gun barrel was loaded with ball and charge, ready to fire.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

And come to think about it, the Royal Navy didn’t typically use 5 lb balls, 3s and 6s were more common. The 5 lb was a more merchant size ball.

Matt
Guest
Matt

It looks so nice. almost too good to be true. No tents? No bike chops shops or trash piles?

Marc
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Marc

No can/bottle deposit up here in Van.

Pascual Perrin
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Pascual Perrin

Yeah and less garbage and litter on the trails than Portland! Doesn’t really help the recycling rates which was the original purpose. Time to get rid of the Oregon Bottle Bill.

Fred
Guest
Fred

I disagree. Many people (me included) pick up and recycle cans and bottles when we see them on the street and by the road. Go ride on Washington roads and you’ll see how much cleaner Oregon’s roads are – at least the ones around Portland.

There’s indeed lots of other garbage but that’s not the fault of the bottle bill.

Pascual Perrin
Guest
Pascual Perrin

Yeah, but unfortunately the bottle bill has become a funding mechanism for meth users to get cash to support their habit. This is enabling addictions which are harming many lives and also decreasing the livability of many neighborhoods. All the Portlanders that leave out returnables to be picked up on the street are doing more harm than good.
The only data I could find is that recycling rates are nearly equal in WA and OR which would show there is little utility in continuing with the OR bottle bill. Is there other data that shows that recycling rates are significantly higher in OR vs WA?

lunchrider
Guest
lunchrider

next time instead of having to go cross country when you hit the parking lot at Wintler Park take a left on Beach St and go up the hill to Riverside Dr take a right and proceed to State St or Chelsea which with a left will pop you up to Evergreen Highway

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

Yes, or take the paved path to the far east end of Wintler Park, then bear left on a dirt footpath with stairs up to Topper, cross the tracks and it becomes Chelsea street that goes up to Evergreen.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

Sorry, that’s the same route Jonathan took, but I’ve always enjoyed the low-key pedestrian feel to it, where he described it as disappointing.

matchupancakes
Subscriber
matchupancakes

Great article. I got stuck at the Kaiser Yards last year trying to navigate from I-205 to I-5 one evening and noticed the lack of bike parking as well. Wayfinding is needed on Evergreen Highway to the 205 Bike Path via Ellsworth Rd (and 23rd St).

If you’re looking for another east-west route next time take (from 205) Ellsworth to 10th to St Helens and continue onto McLoughlin (with the weird jog over Mill Plain to Brandt and back to McLoughlin). The intersection of McLoughlin and Andresen is comically oversized. When the Tower Mall gets rebuilt hopefully more bike infrastructure finds its way into central Vancouver soon.

Lenny Anderson
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Lenny Anderson

The other two Kaiser yards during WWII were on Swan Island and Terminal 4 in St Johns.
The huge “shed” where assembly began is still in use at Vigor Industrial’s shipyard on SI.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Wasn’t the South Waterfront area also used?

Chris
Guest
Chris

South Waterfront was a wrecking yard. Liberty Ships were scrapped there. That’s why the soil in that area was so contaminated.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I didn’t know that, but I do know there was also a pulping mill at the Riverplace marina. The ultimate industrial wasteland now the plaything for the rich.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

Interesting how the topic keeps coming back to homelessness and public safety. Frankly, it seems irresponsible not to focus on these issues at this point. Maybe BP should host a forum. I know I’d be interested in hearing a range of opinions and policy proposals on the topic. I’m surprised there’s not been more public discussion or debate on the topic. It feels like Portland is officially going hard “enabler, guilt-complex“, while I think in reality there’s a lot of disagreement bubbling over into anger.

dwk
Guest
dwk

They are trying to sweep Laurelhurst park and getting all kinds of blowback from do gooders who think our public parks are not really for the public anymore..
Also last night for about the 200 time, a group of vandals (they are NOT protestors), broke out windows spray painted storefronts in Hollywood.
Absolute crap that somehow is just tolerated in the city.
What has happened?

Kittens
Guest
Kittens

RE: Laurelhurst anti-sweepers, I appreciate their noble intent but how do they imagine this ending? Eventually the tax payers will just stop wanting to fund parks they can’t use or enjoy. Really frustrating to watch.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

The activists descended on the park, brought food and music and purported “solidarity”, blocked the roads, blocked neighbors in their driveways, it was a party. The city had been trying for weeks to persuade the campers to move to shelters, and several dozen campers had finally agreed to move to where there were places being held for them, transportation was scheduled to pick up them and their stuff. When the transportation arrived, most of those campers changed their mind and decided to stay at the park because of all the “support” they were getting. A week passed, it started raining, news of all the Covid cases spreading through the camp got out. The activists got bored or thought better of it, and went away. No more support. City began removing the camp. I don’t know if any campers lost their spots in the shelters because the activists convinced them to stay. I don’t know what they accomplished or were hoping to accomplish.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

There’s a common myth out here in NC among our not-particularly-enlightened youth, probably elsewhere too, that if you move to Portland, the living is easy, well-paying jobs are plentiful, and the cost of living is cheap. I kid you not.

Hotrodder
Guest
Hotrodder

This is a very interesting topic. Where’s this information coming from? A quick search of the internet would quickly dispel any notion of a low cost-of living anywhere near Portland (or Seattle or San Francisco…)

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I’m not sure. It seems to be word of mouth, that is, person to person, usually involving mild Oregon hemp, a (very) small bit of education, and that Portland is nationally famous for being super liberal, even before the recent protests. Ken Kesey’s writings help, of course. And a general distrust of the internet, authorities, and “the man”. Keep in mind that NC is as far from Oregon as you can get within the USA, so any myth gets more distorted than usual, terra incognita and all that.

Austin, Seattle, SF, DC, Miami, and NYC are all seen as expensive from here, as are local cities like Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta, etc. But for some reason Portland is seen as cheap, even though I know it is comparable to Charlotte or Denver. It’s all perception.

PdxPhoenix
Guest
PdxPhoenix

HA, if only any one of those were true…

Pascual Perrin
Guest
Pascual Perrin

Well, it’s a good place to be homeless. I’d head to Portland too. Lots of free handouts and zero personal responsibility required. Remember the new Portland motto:
“The city that enables!”

Joshua Allen Furtado
Guest
Joshua Allen Furtado

I live right off of 205 and Ellsworth and usually take the 205 bridge trail, then loop back via waterfront drive. I’ll have to check out some of your jaunts. It’s a good 19+ mile loop.

John Thoren
Guest
John Thoren

A lovely, inspirational article. Thank you!

Merlin
Guest
Merlin

I’d suggest trying this – one time. I rode the path not long ago and it was too bumpy for me. I kept a death grip on my bars and still had some close calls.
That said, Vancouver streets are much, much better than Portland’s streets.
That’s been my experience the last 6 years.

Bob
Guest
Bob

Roll the Columbia Loop, the best way is to go clockwise. Head over the I-5 bridge and go east through Vancouver, then back down to Portland over the I-205 bridge and hit the Marine Drive MUP heading west back to I-5. Clockwise direction means you don’t have to ride up I-205 with all the noise and traffic.