Editor’s note: Starting January 17, 2020, the Sandy River Delta will be an official U.S. Forest Service fee site, requiring visitors to purchase a $5 day use pass or an annual pass (Northwest Forest Pass or Federal Interagency Pass).
Anyone who visits the Sandy River Delta often feels a strong connection with the land. Located on the western end of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area near Troutdale, the Sandy River Delta includes 1,400 acres of Forest Service land, with trails through forests, meadows and wetlands bordered by the Columbia and Sandy rivers.
Puppy parents love it for its extensive off-leash dog areas. Nature wanderers find bliss on the easy-access trails. And there are equestrians, birders, anglers and cyclists who connect with the Sandy River Delta too. Here’s what you should know about this special place.
1. Off-leash dog areas are a main attraction.
With open fields, tree-lined trails and two refreshing rivers, Sandy River Delta is pretty much a pup’s paradise. Though not technically a dog park, the off-leash areas provide much of the freedom that Fido seeks.
One trail requires a leash, the Confluence Trail, as does the parking lot. Also the area beyond the fencing is off-limits to dogs because it protects a natural bird nesting habitat.
You might hear locals refer to the Sandy River Delta as “Thousand Acres,” however that’s not its official name — and not all 1,400 acres are open to dogs.
2. Equestrians love the flat, wide trails too.
With more than 7 miles of trails accessible to horses, the Sandy River Delta is an equestrian’s favorite as well. The trails here are open year-round, generally from dawn to dusk, and are particularly favorable in winter and spring when other recreation areas still have snow. The Mount Hood Chapter of Oregon Equestrian Trails is the local resource for horseback riding.
Because dogs here might be unfamiliar with horses, equestrians should be prepared to stop their horses and alert the dog owners to leash their pets. But that’s not always the case — every summer Friends of the Sandy River Delta hosts a “Puppies and Ponies” event in which dogs and horses are able to get better acquainted with one another.
3. The Confluence Trail has an impressive art installation.
At the end of the 1.2-mile Confluence Trail is the spectacular Bird Blind installation by artist Maya Lin. An ADA-compliant wooden walkway weaves through trees and gradually curves to the elliptical bird blind, which offers a serene place to observe birds and learn about local flora and fauna. The piece, part of the larger Confluence Project, is made of metal and sustainably harvested black locust wood as an effort to eradicate the invasive tree from native forests. Inscribed on each wooden slat is the name of a species recorded in Lewis and Clark’s journals. For more information, download the audio tour.
4. Birders can spot songbirds, bald eagles and more.
It may come as no surprise that this area is a big birding destination too. Hidden between trees and marshes are a spectacular array of songbirds like lazuli bunting and yellow-breasted chat who nest in late spring through summer. On the east side of the delta, the eastern king stake out breeding ground. During spring and winter migrations, bald eagles are easy to spot. The reclaimed wetlands are home to sora and virginia rail and cinnamon teal, among others. The river also attracts loons, grebes and ducks in winter. For more details, visit Oregon Birding Trails and grab your binoculars.
5. Beginner mountain bikers can practice their skills.
Mountain bikers are beginning to take notice of the Sandy River Delta, especially ones honing their techniques. The flat trails make for ideal beginner’s rides, with the spectacular scenery to match. Since the paths are shared with other recreationists, mountain bikers must be aware of their surroundings. In winter and spring the cyclists should watch out for wet and muddy conditions, as well as exposed roots.
Alternatively, the easyCLIMB Trail in nearby Cascade Locks offers an exciting network of mountain bike trails suitable for beginners, with clinics held regularly onsite.
6. Anglers are welcome to cast a line here.
The fish are biting in the rivers and streams around the Sandy River Delta. Seek out summer steelhead, spring chinook, coho and trout in the river and bass in sloughs. Available fishing types include wade, shore, spin and bait. As always, check the fishing regulations and be sure to purchase an Oregon fishing license before casting a line.
7. Waterfowl hunting is legal north of the power lines.
This multi-use recreation site is used by hunters as well. Come fall, waterfowl hunting is permitted at parts of the Sandy River Delta, specifically the area north and east of the Bonneville Power Administration powerline. The hunting is with shotgun only. Lands below the high-water line of the Columbia and Sandy rivers are not affected by this regulation. Hunters should be properly permitted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and be aware of hunting regulations.
8. Parking is limited, especially on weekends.
A weekday visit offers great rewards — less crowds and more space to play. It also means a better likelihood of finding a parking space. On the flip side, if you visit on a Saturday or Sunday, be prepared for the possibility that you’ll have to turn around and find another Gorge hike to enjoy.
In order to avoid getting a ticket, pay attention to where it’s legal to park and avoid leaving non-trailered vehicles in the 10 horse trailer spots. Check to see if a $5 recreation fee applies; it’s likely to begin in late summer 2019.
9. Sandy River Delta is maintained by several organizations.
Centuries ago when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark first encountered this land, they called the tributary “Quicksand River.” Later it was shortened to the Sandy River, and over time the area stayed under private ownership. That is until the late 1980s, when the Columbia River Gorge was designated a National Scenic Area and the Forest Service acquired the Sandy River Delta.
The vision: It was to become a great public recreation area. Thanks to partner funding, restoration efforts soon began, which included cattle graze of the delta, preservation of wetlands and restoration of forest land. Sundial Island was almost totally repopulated with native plants.
Today the Sandy River Delta is an official U.S. Forest Service fee site, requiring a $5 day use pass or an annual pass (Northwest Forest Pass or Federal Interagency Pass). The Sandy River Delta sustained with the help of several key organizations, such as Friends of the Sandy River Delta, Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Oregon Equestrian Trails. Click the links to learn more information about these groups and how you can help preserve this special place.
10. Good behavior makes a big difference.
With so many scenic outdoor spaces, the Sandy River Delta is popular for good reason — but that makes it at risk for overcrowding.
In order to keep the delta beautiful for generations to come, follow some simple tips:
- All visitors should leave no trace by picking up after themselves and their pets. There are trash cans around the site, but in general it’s best to follow the pack-in, pack-out rule.
- Only dogs who respond to voice control should frequent the off-leash area, and they must never dig holes.
- No commercial use is allowed at the Sandy River Delta, including professional dog-walking services.
- Help preserve the landscape by joining a clean-up work party organized by Friends of the Sandy River Delta or tree-planting event with the Sandy River Watershed Council.