: Robbie McClaran

Nature Escape to Scappoose Bay

Just north of Portland, this idyllic getaway is perfect for enjoying the outdoors.
January 2, 2020 (Updated June 29, 2023)

What if there was a place close to Portland where you could quickly escape from city life and feel like you’re in another world? A place where you could almost lose yourself paddling through slim streams and curving channels, watching majestic birds soar overhead or strolling along the mighty Columbia River just 30 minutes from the city?

It’s called Scappoose Bay, and it’s an ideal getaway when you need a little nature fix to lighten the urban load. Just 25 miles northwest of Portland along Highway 30 and the Columbia River, Scappoose Bay is a scenic, 85,000-acre swath of small islands, wetlands, streams and side channels of the Columbia’s estuary just outside of the town of St. Helens. It makes for a perfect nature retreat any time of year. In the quiet bay, wildlife — especially the migrating bird population — truly comes to life. Here’s how to enjoy the wild beauty of the area.

Paddling Scappoose Bay (Photo by: Scappoose Bay Paddling Center)

How to Paddle Scappoose Bay

The best option for exploring Scappoose Bay is by paddling your way through it, either in a boat like a kayak or canoe or on a stand-up paddleboard. Put in at Scappoose Bay Marine Park and head out for a true gunkholing adventure — a term for meandering in and out of shallow inlets and streams. You’ll pass some floating homes, old pilings, and lots of marshy grasses, trees and native plants. The bay is also a resting point for chinook salmon, steelhead and coho salmon, so if your timing’s right in the fall, you might spot a few. 

If you’re up for it, after exploring Scappoose Bay, you can paddle north past the marine park and head over to the northern tip of Sauvie Island. There’s a nice beach for a swim near the Warrior Rock Lighthouse in the summer. Or, if you plan properly for a half-day trip on this stretch of the Lower Columbia River Water Trail, keep paddling north about 4 miles and either take out or turn around at St. Helens Marina. If you don’t own a paddle craft, you can rent a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard at Next Adventure’s Scappoose Bay Paddling Center. If you’re a first-timer, the flat water of the bay is a great place to get your sea legs on. The center also has a demo program where you can try any of their boats before you buy. 

One other paddling option: Make a night of it. Sand Island Campground is a relatively new campground on Sand Island in the middle of the Columbia River across from the St. Helens Marina. Accessed via boat shuttle, the campground boasts beachfront and wooded sites, nature trails, and one-of-a-kind views.

Hiking Warrior Point (Photo by: George Ostertag / Alamy Stock Photo)

Finding Feathered Friends on the Bay

If birding is your game, Scappoose Bay is calling your name. The area is rich with feathered friends, ranging from waterfowl to birds of prey; everything from bald eagles to great egrets, blue herons and American goldfinches have been spotted here. Grab your binoculars before you paddle away from shore, or simply stroll along the nature trails at Scappoose Bay Marine Park for a chance to glimpse that elusive long-tailed jaeger or any other bird you’ve been looking to check off your list. Because the paths are paved, they’re great for many types of mobilities.

The 7-mile round-trip Warrior Point hike on Sauvie Island is another good option for bird-watchers. The flat path, which traverses the beach and an old dirt road, passes the Warrior Rock Lighthouse and wanders through a wildlife refuge before ending at the northern tip of the island. You may also wind through the network of trails in the Dalton Lake Nature Preserve in St. Helens, a lovely place to see birds enjoying the lake and river, plus quiet cottonwood stands and the occasional beaver sighting. 

Rails-to-Trails Route for Cyclists

If you’re more into pedaling than paddling, consider a quick walk through the marine park’s trails, then hop on your bike and ride a section of the 23-mile Crown-Zellerbach Trail, which starts at the northern end of Scappoose Bay on the Multnomah Channel. The gravel and asphalt trail is a rails-to-trails route that links the towns of Scappoose and Vernonia. It’s also a nice path for walking and horseback riding.

A pesto basil pizza is taken out of a wood-fired oven.
Hallows Pizza baked in a wood-fired oven. (Photo by Erin McCown)

Where to Eat and Drink

No matter how you experience Scappoose Bay, be sure to stop for some grub on the way into town. The Rosebud Cafe in Scappoose offers family-friendly pub fare and live music, while Crooked Creek Brewery in St. Helens offers Belgian-inspired craft brews. Nearby Kimbo Spice is known for its tasty Korean/American fare, and Hallows Pizza fires up fresh pizzas with premium toppings like spicy sausage and ripe veggies sourced from local farms.

There’s also a nice selection of food carts sprinkled throughout the area. In St. Helens, Big Food Cart & Brew pod in St. Helens is home to a handful of interesting offerings — including great noodles at Dang’s Little Dragon Thai. In downtown Vernonia, at the end of the Crown-Zellerbach Trail, try a gyro platter or Mediterranean salad at Blue House Cafe or chicken teriyaki at Asian-fusion spot Islands Grill.

About The

Jon Bell
Jon Bell is an Oregon writer and author of the book, On Mount Hood: A Biography of Oregon’s Perilous Peak. He writes about the outdoors, travel, business, the environment and many other areas from his home in Lake Oswego, where he lives with his wife, two children and black Lab.

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