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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Feb. 28, 2024

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Take advantage of Clark County’s great outdoors in autumn

By , Columbian staff writer
15 Photos
There’s no better way to take in lots of colorful fall foliage than via the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad’s 13-mile trek across north Clark County in October.
There’s no better way to take in lots of colorful fall foliage than via the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad’s 13-mile trek across north Clark County in October. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

The air is getting crisp, the sun is getting scarce, the clouds are coming on. It’s autumn in Clark County — time for a last little bit of outdoor exploration before gloom descends and sticks around for a while.

Eye-popping colors can be found without too much trouble here, but Clark County isn’t exactly New England, where autumn “leaf peeping” is a regional pastime. While the right coast teems with explosively deciduous beauties, our Pacific Northwest is mostly home to towering evergreens. What we don’t have in rainbow colors we more than make up for in height.

The following list of outdoor outings and sites to explore, right here in our own collective backyard, should keep you smiling for the next several weeks. Store up all that color — be it burning crimson-and-gold or cool forest green — for the gray months to come.

Chelatchie Prairie Railroad

North Clark County’s tourist train runs many weekends, spring through winter, but there’s never a better time than this weekend to enjoy its round-trip run through kaleidescopic scenery between downtown Yacolt and Heisson, with a stop at Moulton Station to visit Yacolt Falls. The 13-mile round trip also plunges through a 330-foot rock tunnel, so you’ll get one dark pause in all the glittering scenery.


Chelatchie Prairie Railroad Steam Fall Leaves Special

When: Noon and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 13 and 14.

Steam Headless Horseman Halloween Train

When: 9:30 a.m., noon and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28.

Where: Yacolt station, 207 N. Railroad Ave., Yacolt.

Tickets: $20; $19 for seniors; $15 for youth 5 to 12, $13 for children 2 to 4. Under 2, free.

Contact: tickets.bycx.org, 360-903-3480.

Cedar Creek Grist Mill’s apple pressing day

When: 9 a.m. until 10,000 pounds of apples run out, Oct. 27.

Where: 43907 N.E. Grist Mill Road, Woodland.

Admission: Free.

Contact: www.cedarcreekgristmill.org, 360-225-5832

The train departs at noon and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 13 and 14 from Yacolt Station, 207 N. Railroad Ave.; you are strongly advised to buy tickets online ahead of time and arrive at the station 30 minutes prior to departure.

Speaking of darkness amid autumn glories, if you can’t climb aboard the Steam Fall Leaves Special, you might consider the wonderfully weird outing that comes later, as October gets creepier. The Steam Headless Horseman Halloween Train is set for three runs daily, at 9:30 a.m., noon and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28. We don’t want to spoil the scare too much, but be aware that the legendary ghoul does make a sudden, shocking appearance — and even poses for photo ops.

Who is this charming yet domeless jockey? He’s a timeless European legend who got updated in an 1820 short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving; our hapless hero, schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, fails to win his beloved’s hand, slumps homeward through a spooky forest — and winds up chased into eternity by a headless, pumpkin-hurling ghoul on horseback. The next morning, all that’s left of Crane is his wandering horse and a shattered pumpkin.

Check the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad schedule for more upcoming tourist-train excursions through the end of the year, including Patriot’s Weekend runs in honor of Veterans Day and a series of Christmas Tree Specials.

More fall glories

Maybe you’d rather find your own journey, and take it at your own pace, and keep your head on? Clark County is chock full of great places to stretch your legs while enjoying awesome sights. Here are some tried-and-true favorites.

Chelatchie Rail Trail. It’s paved, flat and dead ends in one mile — because it’s the first phase of many future extensions — but that mile is full of gorgeous greenery and changing colors. Park at Battle Ground Lake. Map and information at www.clark.wa.gov/public-works/chelatchie-prairie-rail-trail-project.

The Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway Trail cuts across west and central Vancouver, from Fruit Valley to Meadowbrook Marsh. It’s a paved but rolling urban trail that shows off everything the city has to offer — from freeway grit to greenway vistas. There are several parking and access points along the8-mile trail; information and map at www.cityofvancouver.us/parksrec/page/burnt-bridge-creek-trail-8-miles.

The Salmon Creek Greenway Trail is a flatter, sweeter version of the same: 3 miles of streamside greenery and great birdwatching. Access at Klineline Pond, the nearby softball fields or the west end of the trail at Felida Bridge. Information and map at www.clark.wa.gov/sites/default/files/dept/files/public-works/Parks/Salmon_Creek_Greenway_Trail.pdf.

 Whipple Creek Park is different: 300 acres of deep woods west of the Clark County Fairgrounds, traversed by gravel and primitive dirt trails open to equestrians and mountain bikers as well as hikers. It can get sloppy along with the weather, and a volunteer citizens’ group has been working diligently to change that. Information and map at https://www.clark.wa.gov/public-works/whipple-creek-regional-park.

Vancouver Lake and Frenchman’s Bar. Many know about the flat, scenic, 2.5-mile path that connects the inland lake to the riverside park; but most don’t know about the well-hidden trail on the lake’s west side, which heads north and then west through a stand of gleaming cottonwoods before joining the main road. Information and map: www.clark.wa.gov/sites/default/files/dept/files/public-works/Parks/FrenchmansVanlakeTrail.pdf.

Steigerwald Lake, Clark Park, Steamboat Landing. Washougal’s riverside dike trail connects with the vast Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge — 1,049 acres of great birding, wetlands, grasslands and forests marking the west end of the Columbia River Gorge Scenice Area. Information and map: www.clark.wa.gov/sites/default/files/dept/files/public-works/Parks/wlm_clk_trail.pdf.

Lacamas Lake, Round Lake, Lacamas Park. One long, straight trail hugs the side of long, straight Lacamas Lake; myriad more web all over Lacamas Park, where there are gorgeous waterfalls, pedestrian bridges and a newly designated mountain bike trail. Information and map: www.clark.wa.gov/public-works/lacamas-regional-park.

Cedar Creek Grist Mill. Not a hike, but it takes a proverbial one to get there. Actually it’s a drive of around 30 miles from Vancouver, or more if you want to meander your way through beautiful north county (highly recommended). At the end of the meander is a historic 1876 mill that still grinds with stone and is still driven by water. (But not a waterwheel, which was replaced by an upstream dam, flume and turbine.) The mill is a working museum, open on weekends only, and its biggest Saturday of the year is coming up: apple cider pressing, set to begin at 9 a.m. Oct. 27. There’s also an open bluegrass jam.

Changing colors embrace the mill in an unforgettable autumnal hug.