I’m a Washington state local and this guide will cover the best things to do in Vancouver, WA!
Vancouver is one of the largest cities in Washington. Vancouver is often overshadowed by Portland to the south or the Canadian city of Vancouver, British Columbia. You’ll be missing out on tons of fun activities if you ignore Vancouver, WA, though!
Come to this charming Pacific Northwest city to learn about Washington state history and dine at tiny hole-in-the-walls. You can also hike along the beautiful Columbia River Gorge.
This guide will cover how to do all of that, along with hidden gems you shouldn’t miss.
Table of Contents
- 22 Best Things to Do in Vancouver, WA
- Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
- Esther Short Park
- Slow Fox Chili
- Vancouver Waterfront Park & Waterfront Renaissance Trail
- Beacon Rock State Park
- Naked Falls
- Pearson Air Museum
- Vancouver Farmers Market
- Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
- Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
- Clark County Historical Museum
- Vancouver Land Bridge
- Kiggins Theatre
- Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park
- Burnt Bridge Creek Trail
- Vancouver Lake Regional Park
- Moulton Falls Regional Park
- Columbia Springs
- Day Trip to Portland
- Salmon Creek Greenway Trail
- La Bottega Cafe Deli Wine Shop
- FAQs About What to Do in Vancouver, WA
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22 Best Things to Do in Vancouver, WA
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
Explore a restored 19th-century fur trading outpost with barracks, historic homes, and an air museum.
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 816 6230 | Fort Vancouver National Historic Site Website | Hours: 9 am – 4 pm Tuesday-Saturday, Closed Sunday-Monday | Entrance: $10 entrance pass, adults (16+), free, kids 15 and under
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is one of Vancouver’s top attractions. It’s worth visiting even if you’re not a history buff! The 200-acre site consists of several attractions. These include an air museum, a replica of the original Fort Vancouver, and preserved homes of notable officers.
You could spend several hours here. But if you’re short on time, I suggest starting at the visitor center. Grab a map, then go explore Fort Vancouver and the village. This was the heart of activity for the British Hudson Bay Company’s fur trading network.
Fort Vancouver has exhibits that explain what life was like for its 19th-century inhabitants. Volunteers from the National Park Service give demonstrations while dressed in period-appropriate clothing. Learn about trading and watch a blacksmith demonstration.
Esther Short Park
Attend outdoor movies, concerts, and festivals at the oldest public square in Washington.
Esther Short Park is in the heart of downtown Vancouver. It is the heart of the city in many ways because this small but mighty park was the first public square in Washington state. The park hosts dozens of local events, especially in summer.
Some of the most popular events at Esther Short Park are the free outdoor movies and concerts, an art and music festival, Pride, and Juneteenth. The park also has a playground, historic statues, and a loop for bike riding, scootering, or casual strolls.
Slow Fox Chili
Eat chili so good that you’ll crave it year-round.
The chili at Slow Fox Chili is so good that I’d happily eat it on a hot summer day (and in fact, I’ve done just that).
Slow Fox Chili is a casual spot in Vancouver’s downtown area that isn’t fancy. But its laidback atmosphere and popularity with locals easily earn it a spot as one of the top things to do in Vancouver, WA.
Slow Fox Chili serves a variety of chili and chili-adjacent meals and sides like a chili cheese dog, cornbread, and a meatloaf sandwich. For a first-time visit, I recommend sticking with one of its specialties. Both the chili and Cincinnati-style chili are phenomenal.
Vancouver Waterfront Park & Waterfront Renaissance Trail
Explore an updated part of the city with restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, a quaint beach, and a waterfront trail.
Vancouver Waterfront Park is one of the prettiest places in Vancouver, WA, and it’s just a few minutes south of Esther Short Park. The park’s best feature is the scenic and lively Waterfront Renaissance Trail.
One of the best things to do in Vancouver, WA is to walk the Waterfront Renaissance Trail, which follows the Columbia River. The trail winds past restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, and great Vancouver hotels.
Stop at Surprise Beach and admire the view of Oregon across the water. A glass of wine from Maryhill Winery Tasting Room is a wonderful way to end an evening stroll.
Beacon Rock State Park
Camp and hike at a scenic state park along the Columbia River Gorge.
Beacon Rock State Park is a gem of a state park that should be on any outdoor enthusiast’s to-hike list. It’s a beautiful place to camp, but it’s popular. Book it as early as you can!
The state park is about 40 minutes east of Vancouver, WA. It’s right along the Columbia River Gorge, the area along the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon. This makes Beacon Rock State Park the perfect spot for breathtaking views.
I recommend hiking the Beacon Rock trail for the best views with the least amount of effort. All along the way, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the Gorge. Other hikes lead you down mossy, forested trails, over bridges, and past waterfalls.
Go swimming and cliff jumping at a hidden swimming hole.
Naked Falls is a hidden gem on the Washougal River. Naked Falls is about an hour from Vancouver proper, but, trust me, it’s worth the journey. Naked Falls is the perfect spot for swimming, cliff jumping, floating, or relaxing in the chilly river on unbearably hot days.
The path to get down to the swimming hole is incredibly steep and requires a tiny bit of scrambling to get to the water. There’s also not much shade, and the area is rustic, so come prepared with food, water, and sunscreen when you visit.
One final thing to note: Despite the name, Naked Falls is not a nude destination! You do need to wear a swimsuit while visiting.
👉 Pro Tip: Don’t risk a citation! You’ll need to have the proper pass to visit Naked Falls. You can purchase this on the website or at the Washougal River Mercantile before visiting.
Pearson Air Museum
Admire Word War I and early 20th-century aircraft at this small museum in Fort Vancouver National Historical Site.
Come to the Pearson Air Museum to see World War I-era planes and learn about aircraft production at the historic Pearson Field. The museum has exhibits that detail every plane on display, along with profiles of the pilots who drove them.
Pearson Air Museum is small but free to visit. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in early aviation history.
Vancouver Farmers Market
Browse farm-fresh goods and local arts and crafts at one of the state’s top farmers markets.
The downtown Vancouver Farmers Market is among the best in the state. Visit so you understand why checking out these local markets is one of the best things to do in Washington. The family-friendly Vancouver Farmers Market is open year-round on weekends, so come rain or shine.
The Vancouver Farmers Market is right next to Esther Short Park. Browse stalls filled with locally grown produce and fresh-cut flowers. Purchase handmade jewelry, paintings, and ceramics, and grab tasty treats from various food trucks.
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
Spot wildlife at a massive refuge along the Columbia River.
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places to go in Vancouver, Washington for bird-spotting. The refuge was created for wintering Canadian geese. But it has grown into a destination with both year-round and migrating species.
Hike several trails through wetland and forest terrains and book a ranger-led tour to help with identification. You have a chance to see hawks, otters, herons, and even coyotes in this massive refuge.
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge also has a drive-through auto tour. It takes visitors on a four-mile loop through different habitats. This makes the refuge one of the best things to do in Vancouver, WA on rainy days.
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Hike around Washington State’s infamous (and active) volcano.
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 449 7800 | Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Website | Entrance: $8 (Johnston Ridge Observatory)
Mount St. Helens is one of the mountains closest to Vancouver, Washington. It’s best known for the eruption in 1980 that obliterated forests, altered the landscape, and left the mountain crater-shaped. While it is still an active volcano, you can safely explore its many trails and viewpoints.
Go to the Johnston Ridge Observatory for an incredible view of the mountain and educational volcano exhibits. One of the most unique areas to explore at Mt St Helens is Ape Cave. Bring your headlamp and warm clothing to explore the lava tubes that formed 2,000 years ago!
Clark County Historical Museum
Check out historic and contemporary exhibits on the people and culture of Clark County.
The Clark County Historical Museum provides a detailed glimpse into Clark County History. The museum is located in the historic Carnegie building in downtown Vancouver.
Peruse interesting art and artifacts like historic clothing, portraits, and documents. The exhibits on the county’s Native People are particularly popular.
The Clark County Museum also has rotating contemporary exhibits on topics like the county’s beer culture and its music scene. Attend one of the museum’s historic or haunted walking tours to learn even more interesting Vancouver, WA history.
Vancouver Land Bridge
Walk a historic bridge with sculptures and viewpoints along the way.
The Vancouver Land Bridge connects Fort Vancouver to the Waterfront. It’s both a functional way to get from place to place and a pleasant half-mile walk.
The trail winds past a native garden with Indigenous art and sculptures. You’ll have excellent views of the water and the vast Fort Vancouver Historic Site from the bridge. The trail along the Vancouver Land Bridge also takes you past the Old Apple Tree Park. This park was home to the oldest apple tree in Washington state, which established Washington’s booming apple industry.
Catch a nostalgic classic at a beloved theater in downtown Vancouver.
Kiggins Theater is another ideal spot to spend a rainy Vancouver, WA day. The theater opened in the 1930s. While it’s been renovated over the years, it still retains many art-deco details.
Visit Kiggins Theater to see nostalgic classic movies like Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Goonies, and Roman Holiday. Kiggins also hosts comedy nights and silent films accompanied by live music. Enjoy film festivals and other unique programming.
The theater sells beer, cider, and pizza, so grab a bite to eat before the show and count on a fantastic night.
Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park
Fish, hike, and play volleyball at this popular local park.
Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park is one of the best parks in Vancouver, WA to spend a lazy day outside. The popular park is right on the Columbia River and it’s a good spot to fish with plenty of water access.
Lay out on the sandy beach when it’s sunny or try out a game of volleyball at one of eight courts. Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park has paved trails for walking dogs and jogging. You can admire pretty sunsets and big ships making their way through the river.
Crush your sweets cravings at a tiny but mighty ice cream shop.
I can confidently say that Treat is the Vancouver dessert destination you don’t want to miss. This downtown Vancouver ice cream shop is tiny but has enough rotating ice cream flavors to keep you coming back for more.
Ask for samples to help you make your flavor choices. Two of my recent favorites were the banana nilla wafer and cinnamon toast crunch cereal milk! Ice cream is Treat’s primary dessert of choice, but occasionally it also serves cookies, brownies, and pies.
Burnt Bridge Creek Trail
Bike or walk along an 8-mile trail through a variety of habitats.
Burnt Bridge Creek Trail is another hiking option for anyone who wants to stay close to the city. You can arrive at the trailhead in 10 minutes by car or 20 minutes via bus. Burnt Bridge Creek Trail is flat and mostly paved, making it good for walkers and bikers alike.
Enjoy a peaceful stroll through this easy-to-access trail. There’s plenty to see, including ducks swimming in the creek, birds darting overhead, and a variety of unique habitats.
Vancouver Lake Regional Park
Go kayaking, windsurfing, and rowing at this pretty park with mountain views.
Vancouver Lake Regional Park is adjacent to Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park and is connected by a trail that runs between the two parks. Both are great Vancouver parks, but Vancouver Lake Park is the better choice if you want to be on the water.
Rowing, kayaking, and windsurfing are the most popular activities at Vancouver Lake Park. You can also go swimming and lay out on a small, sandy beach to admire the views of Mount Hood, Mount Adams, and Mount St Helens.
Moulton Falls Regional Park
Wander through a picturesque park with multiple waterfalls, bridges, and a swimming hole.
Moulton Falls Regional Park is a great park to visit if you’re a fan of Washington’s many waterfalls. The park is just outside of Vancouver near Battle Ground, WA. Moulton Falls has picturesque bridges and trails and a stunning green landscape.
Moulton Falls has two waterfalls and the hikes to reach them are relatively short depending on how many you’d like to see. Some trails lead to Lucia Falls Regional Park, another good park for waterfall viewing.
Moulton Falls Regional Park also has an enticing swimming hole which gets crowded on hot days but is popular nonetheless.
An outdoor education center with hiking trails and a fish hatchery.
Columbia Springs is a great resource for kids and adults who want to learn about nature and wildlife in the Vancouver, Washington area. You’ll find Columbia Springs in west Vancouver along the Columbia River.
Its main attraction is the trout hatchery, which is teeming with life from March through November. You can even feed the fish for a more interactive experience. Take a self-guided tour. Different signs have information about native plants, water-powered mills, and the surrounding wetlands.
Day Trip to Portland
Cross the bridge to The City of Roses.
It may seem odd that one of the best things to do in Vancouver, WA is taking a day trip to Portland. However, Vancouver, Washington, and Portland, Oregon are only 20 minutes from one another. Vancouver locals tend to pop over to Portland when they’re craving some of the benefits of this big city.
I recommend checking out Portland’s exciting nightlife if you cross the river to this Pacific Northwest city. Grab unique drinks at Pink Rabbit, shoot pool at McMenamins Tavern & Pool, and enjoy burlesque shows and karaoke nights at Dantes.
📚 Related Reading: Want to know what else to expect in the City of Roses? Check out McKenna’s guide to the best things to do in Portland next!
Salmon Creek Greenway Trail
Hike a pleasant and easy 3-mile trail without leaving the city.
Salmon Creek Greenway Trail is one of the great trails in Vancouver, Washington that you can experience without leaving the city. The 3-mile hiking trail is just fifteen minutes from Esther Short Park and runs through the nearby Salmon Creek Regional Park.
The Salmon Creek Trail’s well-maintained and mostly flat path makes this an accessible trail for hikers of all levels. You may spot rabbits, deer, birds, beavers, and more as you walk through the forests and wetlands along Salmon Creek.
La Bottega Cafe Deli Wine Shop
Enjoy a meal at the best place in the city for a tasty, reasonably-priced lunch.
La Bottega Cafe Deli Wine Shop is one of my favorite places to eat in Vancouver WA. It serves tasty and affordable Italian food in a relaxed environment. Peruse a menu of sandwiches, pasta, soups, and salads.
Order a lighter half serving of some of its delicious dishes if you’re not too hungry or want to save money. The smoked mushroom ravioli or aglio e olio are both delicious. Don’t forget to peruse the deli shop for things like meat and cheeses, handmade pasta, and Italian wine.
FAQs About What to Do in Vancouver, WA
What are the best things to do in Vancouver?
The best things to do in Vancouver, WA are visit downtown Vancouver and Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Fort Vancouver was once Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur trading outpost. Other great things to do in Vancouver, WA are going to the Vancouver Waterfront to dine and drink, and hiking at Beacon Rock State Park.
What are the best things to do in Vancouver with kids?
What is Vancouver Washington close to?
Vancouver, Washington is close to Portland, Oregon, and the Columbia River Gorge.
Vancouver Washington is one of the best places in Washington, and I’m confident you’ll enjoy a trip to this Pacific Northwest city. Think something else should be on this list of the best things to do in Vancouver, WA? Leave a comment and let me know!
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