“I don’t think we should go riding today,” Lisa said with regret. “It’s a nice, sunny day, but it’s been raining all week so the trails will be a muddy, slippery mess.”
“What about the Washougal Dike Trail?” I asked. “It has honest-to-goodness year-round footing, and the views on a clear day are pretty awesome. Let’s go there!”
The Washougal Dike Trail is a 3-mile (one way) trail that originates at Captain William Clark Park near Washougal. The park is located at the site beside Cottonwood Creek where Lewis and Clark camped for several days in April 1806. The dike trail (officially named the Cottonwood Beach Trail), parallels the Columbia River eastward from the park to the Steigerwald Wildlife Refuge.
The trail is a wide gravel road that runs along the top of a flood-control dike beside the Columbia River, so it is elevated above the surrounding terrain and provides excellent footing even after heavy rain. For the first 1.7 miles you’ll have the park and a forest of cottonwoods on your right and a light industrial area on your left.
After that the trail runs between the Columbia on the right and the serene Steigerwald Wildlife Refuge on the left. (Sorry, horses, bikes, and dogs are not allowed on the wildlife refuge trails.)
This is a great trail for birdwatching, with purple marten nesting boxes along the Columbia and excellent habitat for aquatic birds at the wildlife refuge.
Nesting boxes encourage purple martens to set up housekeeping along the Columbia.
Deer and coyotes are frequent visitors, and you may see evidence of beaver activity on the banks of the Columbia. In the fall the foliage colors are a delight, and on a clear day you’ll have a nice view of Mt. Hood. Best of all, it’s a great place to ride in the winter!
The Ride: Pick up the trail on the west end of S. Index St. in Washougal. To reach the trail your horse will have to step into and then out of a log box designed to keep motor vehicles off the trail.
To get to the dike trail, your horse will have to step through a log box designed to keep motor vehicles off the trail.
Ride the short access trail to the top of the dike, then turn left and follow the trail to the end 3 miles away. Retrace your steps to return to your trailer.
Trail Statistics: The Washougal Dike Trail is 6 miles round trip, with elevations of 20 to 35 feet. The riding is easy. The route is shared with hikers and mountain bike riders, but it has very long lines of sight so you’ll easily see them coming. Because of the trail’s gravel surface, hoof protection is recommended. There is no stock water on the trail.
Getting to the Equestrian Trailhead at Captain William Clark Park: From I-205, take Exit 27 and head east on Hwy. 14. At milepost 17, turn right on S. 32nd St. In 0.5 mile, turn right on S. Index St. Continue 0.2 mile, then veer left at the junction with S. 27th St. to stay on S. Index St. Horse trailer parking is at the west end of S. Index St. Note that if you want to go west on Hwy. 14 to return home, you’ll need to follow S. 27th St. north to S. Addy St. and turn right, then turn right again on S. 32nd St. and right again on Hwy. 14.
Season: Year round
Parking and Camping Facilities: Parking for 3-4 trailers. You’ll find a toilet at the car parking area on S. Index St. No fee for parking.
More Information: The Washougal Dike Trail is covered in more detail in the Day Rides Around Vancouver chapter of Riding Southwest Washington Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, Ponderosa Press, 2016).
Reprinted with permission from Northwest Rider magazine, January 2016.