Portland-area riders can enjoy an excellent display of fall color at the Sandy River Delta, which has an enjoyable network of easy trails that are open to horseback riders, bicyclists, birders, fishermen, hunters, and hikers. Located just off I-84 near Troutdale, the Delta’s trails go through deciduous forest, across open fields, to the Columbia River, and along the old dikes that redirected the flow of the Sandy River. And all this is only 20 minutes from downtown Portland.
The Sandy River Delta is a flood plain that lies between the Sandy and the Columbia Rivers, on the west end of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The Sandy River originally had 2 outlets to the Columbia River, but dikes were built to redirect most of the Sandy’s flow to the western outlet. Over time the area behind the dikes filled with sediment, creating the Delta.
Several years ago one of the dikes was breached in order to restore the Delta to a more natural state. The Sandy River’s new channel created Sundial Island on the north end of the Delta. In low water periods some riders may be tempted to ford the channel that now separates Sundial Island from the rest of the Delta, but don’t do it. Lewis and Clark originally called this waterway the Quicksand River for a reason.
An interesting feature at the Delta can be found at the confluence of the old Sandy River channel and the Columbia River: a commemorative bird blind designed by Maya Lin, the artist who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Delta is very popular with off-leash dog walkers. Many urban dog owners are unfamiliar with how their dogs should behave around horses, so be aware that that may need to be an ambassador for the entire equestrian community. Be prepared to stop your horse, call out to the dog owners, and ask them to put their dogs on leash until you can pass by. Most people are more than happy to oblige when they understand what is needed to keep both you and their dog safe.
The Sandy River Delta offers very pleasant year-round trails to explore, as well as an opportunity to desensitize your horse to off-leash dogs. The display of fall color offered by the area’s many cottonwood and alder trees is an added bonus.
Ride Statistics: Over 7 miles of trails lead to various destinations around the Delta and create several loop opportunities. Elevations are 25 to 32 feet. Stock water is available on the trail. Trails are suitable for barefoot horses. The best map of the trail is available online at http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3832565.pdf.
Sandy River Delta: From Portland, drive east on I-84 and take Exit 18. The exit loops around and comes to a stop sign. Turn right, drive under the freeway, and turn left into the parking area. From the east, take Exit 18 and at the stop sign turn right into the parking area.
Sandy River Delta Facilities: Parking for 10 horse trailers, though hiker cars parking in the designated trailer parking spots is an ongoing problem. On weekends, your best bet is to get there early to find a place to park. But if you arrive and find the trailer spots filled with passenger cars, the Friends of the Sandy River Delta group encourages you to call non-emergency police for enforcement. The Delta has vault toilets, garbage cans, and picnic tables. No fees. The Delta is open year round, generally from dawn to dusk.
More Information: The Sandy River Delta is covered in the Sandy River Delta chapter of Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2013).