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? Well, there is.
It’s called Scappoose Bay, and it’s an ideal getaway when you need a little nature fix to lighten the winter load. Just 25 miles north 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 just outside of St. Helens. It makes for a perfect nature retreat any time of year, but in the winter the bay is quieter and less busy with people, and wildlife — especially the migrating bird population — truly comes to life. Here’s how to enjoy the wild beauty in Scappoose Bay.
The best option for exploring Scappoose Bay is by paddling your way through it, either in a kayak, in a canoe or on a stand-up paddle board. Put in at Scappoose Bay Marine Park and head right for a true “gunkholing” adventure — gunkholing being the 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 you’re 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 little 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. Rent a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard at Scappoose Bay Paddling Center, or book a beginner-friendly paddling tour. The flat water in the bay is also ideal for taking a class in kayaking, kayak fishing, stand-up paddle boarding or stand-up paddle yoga.
If birding is your game, Scappoose Bay is calling your name. The area’s 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 you’ve been looking to tick off your list.
Though Scappoose Bay by boat is your best bet, there are other ways to take in this singular spot. The nature trails at Scappoose Bay Marine Park make for a nice amble through the trees along the river, and because they’re paved, they’re great for all mobilities. Another hiking option is to bail on the boat and instead do the 7-mile round-trip Warrior Point hike on Sauvie Island. The hike is flat, passes the Warrior Rock Lighthouse and wanders through a wildlife refuge, so bring your binoculars for lots of bird spotting. It ends at the northern tip of the island, which puts you just at the edge of the mouth of Scappoose Bay.
On Two Wheels
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 55-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.
Where to Eat
No matter how you experience Scappoose Bay, nothing serves as a better buffer back into city life than a stop for some grub on the way into town. Try Mark’s on the Channel, a floating restaurant on the Multnomah Channel in Scappoose that’s great for burgers and fish ’n chips.