The first time our family hiked the trail from the Goodwin Road trailhead, we were surprised to discover that, the farther south we walked, the more familiar things looked. When the trees thinned out and the creek widened into a blue lake, we glanced up the hill to our right and saw, to our mild astonishment, that we were walking below the lakeview houses of Lacamas Shores. We were on our beloved Heritage Trail and had been the whole time.
Although the northern part of Heritage Trail runs more or less parallel to Lacamas Creek, the creek isn’t visible at first because it’s obscured by dense woods. It’s evident, however, that water is nearby because the trail crosses a series of bridges over marshy wetlands where riparian wildlife abounds. During a family walk along the trail last month, we stopped on a bridge and looked through the clear ripples of tiny Dwyer Creek, where we spotted a salamander creeping along the sandy bottom. While traversing the trail a week ago, I heard the distinctive, throaty call of an American bittern among the reeds. (Bitterns are very shy and their striped feathers make them hard to spot in the tall grasses where they like to hide, but you can’t miss the deep honking sound, more froglike than birdlike.)
As the trail continues south, Lacamas Creek becomes occasionally visible on the left. It’s wide and slow here, flowing ever so gently into the north end of Lacamas Lake. During one walk, we saw kayakers paddling placidly in the stream and I longed to join them. I imagine this short, calm stretch of Lacamas Creek would make for excellent bird-watching from a boater’s vantage point — a spot to see kingfishers that sometimes swoop low over the water or red-winged blackbirds that perch on rushes and trill their soulful songs.
Our family walked the northern Heritage Trail in the fall and again in the early spring, although it was a bit muddy in parts and its well-shaded aspect can make it seem cold on cloudy days. In the summer, the path is dry and delightfully cool, with filtered sunlight reaching through the fir canopy and casting diamond-bright patterns on the duff-covered trail.
During the sunny months, woodland wildflowers line the path, such as tiny blue forget-me-nots and shiny yellow buttercups. Last week, I saw ripening salmonberries, pale pink wild roses (also called, less elegantly, swamp roses) and what looked like sweet william but may have been meadow phlox. I’m pretty sure I spied a bright orange jewelweed blossom, but I couldn’t get close enough to say for sure.
If walking the northern portion of the Heritage Trail isn’t enough for you, just keep walking. In fact, a determined hiker could walk from Northwest Goodwin Road to Heritage Park, cross Northeast Everett Street using the new roundabout at Northwest Lake Road and get on the Round Lake Loop Trail, then veer off at the dam to follow Lacamas Creek past Pothole Falls and McEnry Bridge all the way to the southern trailhead on Northeast Third Avenue.
Better yet, exit the Lacamas Creek trail at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and take Northeast Fourth Avenue straight to the boutiques, eateries and galleries of downtown Camas.
Not a bad day’s work, if you’ve got a few hours and very strong legs. Even if you’ve only got an hour and fair-to-average legs, a stroll along the northern half of the Lacamas Heritage Trail will lift your spirits.
The trail’s ease and forested splendor will make you grateful to live in this green corner of America, where freedom can sometimes translate to a simple walk in the woods.