On a busy holiday weekend you'd think a riverside beach would be crowded with families. But not so at Cottonwood Beach on the Washington side of the Columbia River. With large grassy areas, a sandy beach and replica Chinookian canoes, this scenic area provides a pleasant riparian setting for visitors. Depending on the river level, there will be more, or less, beach to enjoy.
This is a Lewis and Clark site. On March 31, 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark established a camp at Cottonwood Beach while they secured provisions for the return trip through the Columbia River Gorge and points east. They remained at Cottonwood Beach for six days, which is the longest period of time the Corps of Discovery camped at any site in Clark County.
To mark the historical significance of this location, you'll see a longhouse structure at the entrance to the trail (up on the dike from the parking lot). Within the longhouse you'll find information on the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Native peoples that once lived there. This area is now called the Captain William Clark Park.
Bikers and walkers frequent the Columbia River Dike Trail which separates the parking area from the beach. The trail connects the park to downtown Washougal through a pedestrian tunnel as well as Steamboat Landing Park. The pedestrian tunnel will take you to the parking lot at the Pendleton Woolen Mills. If you walk east on the trail you'll reach the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The trail measures three miles.
On the holiday when we walked and waded at the beach, we heard other walkers talk about seeing eagles in the area. Fishermen spent the day at Steamboat Landing and children played in the replica canoes at Cottonwood Beach. It's not crowded in this area east of Vancouver, Washington. In fact, it would be an ideal place for bird watching.
Getting to Captain William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach
An easy place to park is at Steamboat Landing at the intersection of SR 14 and 15th Street. You can walk the dike to the park. Or drive farther east and park at the Cottonwood Beach parking lot
Camas and Washougal Visitors Information Trail and Parking Map
Photography copyright: Elizabeth R. Rose