Trails offer hikers their fill of water

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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Water is like a magnet to hikers and the trail systems scattered around Clark County key in on lakes and streams.

Here’s a look at some of the better local hiking opportunities:

Washougal Dike Trail — The gravel trail atop the levee along the Columbia River starts at Steamboat Landing in Washougal and heads east along the river for more than three miles.

Along the way, hikers, runners, cyclists and horsemen go past Capt. William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach. Continuing east, the dike trail eventually leaves the Port of Camas-Washougal Industrial Park and is bracketed by Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the north and the Columbia River and Reed Island on the south.

Gibbons Creek passes under the dike via a fish ladder. The route goes another half-mile east to a fence, where hikers must turn around and retrace their route.

“There are excellent views of Crown Point and Mount Hood across the river and Reed Island in the river,’’ said Craig Romano, author of the 2011 book “Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge.’’

Visitors occasionally see bald eagles in the trees during the winter months at the east end of the trail.

To get to Steamboat Landing, follow state Highway 14 east to Washougal. Turn south into the parking lot at the 15th Street intersection. Additional parking lots are available farther east along South Index Street.

Washougal River Greenway Trail — In Camas, the 1.05-mile paved trail wanders past a series of ponds, along the Washougal River, then crosses the river on a scenic wooden bridge.

The ponds along the way offer a chance to get close to a few mallards. Canada geese also are frequent visitors.

From the west end of the trail at Baz Riverfront Park on Northeast Third Loop, it is only a 0.2-mile walk west to connect with Lacamas Park trailhead just off Northeast Third Avenue opposite the intersection with East First Avenue.

From this trailhead, hikers can access the network of trails in Lacamas Park, plus the loop around Round Lake and the Heritage Trail along Lacamas Lake and upper Lacamas Creek.

The west parking lot is at Baz Riverfront Park on Northeast Third Loop in Camas. The larger, east parking lot is at the junction of East Second Avenue and Yale Street in Camas.

Bells Mountain trail — This 8.3-mile hike in eastern Clark County starts along the East Fork of the Lewis River and ends with 1.4 miles along Cedar Creek. It crosses numerous other creeks along the route. Still, it’s a bit of a reach to call this a water hike.

The trail stretches from Moulton Falls County Park to the state Department of Natural Resources’ Cold Creek Day-Use Area near Larch Corrections Center.

The portion of the trail along Cedar Creek has a feel similar to the Siouxon Creek or Lewis River trails of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

The trail crosses several clear-cuts and does not really rate as among Clark County’s more scenic routes.

But guidebook author Romano said he rates Bells Mountain “a solid 5’’ on a 1-to-10 scale.

“It’s perfect for a winter hike, cloudy-day hike, and early- and late-season rambles,’’ said Romano. “While you won’t get amazing views and the flower gardens of nearby Silver Star, you will get a peaceful trail.’’

Much of Bells Mountain trail is on terrain ranging from 900 to 1,500 feet in elevation, so there are some winter periods when the route is under snow.

The lower trailhead is at Moulton Falls County Park, 27781 N.E. Lucia Falls Road. Cross the East Fork of the Lewis on the wooden bridge. Turn right on the wide, gravel trail and walk 0.4 miles to the start of Bells Mountain trail.

To get to the upper trailhead at Cold Creek Day-Use Area, follow Northeast 139th Street east (uphill). It morphs into Rawson Road and DNR road 1400. Keep going straight into the Yacolt Burn State Forest to a four-way junction at 7.2 miles.

Turn left on to DNR 1000 and drop to Larch Corrections Center at 9.1 miles and the junction of road 1000 and 1300 at 11.1 miles. DNR road 1300 is closed by a large yellow gate. Parking is available along the road edge. Hike down road No. 1300 a short distance to a sign marking the trailhead on the left.