Brief History Of Washougal Washington

Washougal is a small community in SW Washington State and is situated just east of the City of Vancouver on the north banks of the Columbia River. It is named after a tributary river that flows into the Columbia and the name means “rushing water” in the Chinook dialect. The Washougal area has one of the oldest histories in the region, dating back to the time when all of the surrounding land was occupied by the Chinook tribe.

Early History Of The Region

Until the late 18th century the only human inhabitants were native Americans who used the Columbia River as their major food supply. Salmon, steelhead and other trout were primary sources of nutrition for these people, along with the numerous wild berries and edible greens. In 1792 the fur trader Robert Gray explored the area and hearing of this venture, the British explorer George Vancouver later sent one of his lieutenants, the young William Broughton, on an upriver investigation. Broughton named Mt. Hood, OR after a prominent British admiral and camped at what is now the present site of the town of Washougal.

Later explorers and fur traders would become acquainted with the Chinook residents and a good deal of supplies were traded between the natives and visitors. In 1805 the Corp of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived at the site on their way to the Pacific. The following spring they again camped in the vicinity and made notes on the terrain, the fertile land and the availability of salmon and other fish in the rivers.

Fort Vancouver And Population Growth

In 1825 the Hudson Bay Fur Company established Fort Vancouver downstream from present day Washougal and the British seaman Richard Howe was one of the first settlers to occupy a cabin near the mouth of the Washougal River. He married the daughter of one of the local chiefs and the two both lived well into their 90s. Today their graves can be seen at the local Catholic cemetery and several of their descendants are still living in the region.

After the Oregon Trail became a popular route to the Willamette Valley the nearby confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers was developed and is now the site of present day Portland. The increasing population in the area meant the need for lumber, fresh fish and local crops. The area around Washougal slowly transformed into a multi-industry region, and David C. Parker, who had arrived in the area in 1845, quickly filed a land grant after the Oregon Territory dispute between the U.S. and England was resolved. This large parcel became known as Parker’s Landing and is often regarded as the oldest incorporated settlement in Washington State. However another community begun a mile further upriver was more suited to the loading of boats with farm and dairy goods, and this would become the actual site of what is now the city of Washougal.

Today Washougal is a distant suburb of Portland and has a population of about 13,000. It is governed by a mayor and city council, has several small museums and theater groups, and is considered one of the gateways to the Columbia Gorge. Hiking, rafting the gorge and windsailing on the Columbia River are all enjoyed by residents and visitors.

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Demographics and Culture of Washougal, Washington

Nestled on the west end of the Columbia Gorge and situated along the mighty Columbia River is the little town – village, really – of Washougal, Washington. Coming into town one is greeted with a sign that reads, “Washougal, at the mouth of the Columbia Gorge.”

Washougal is a beautiful little town, with Mount Hood rising up to the east, the Columbia River to the south, the Cascade mountain foothills gently sloping up to the north, and the gorgeous – and noted for its white water rafting – Washougal River running through it all.

Incorporated in 1908 with a population of around 400, Washougal currently has a population of 14,100 people with a median age of 34, younger than the average age in the US.

Washougal is world famous as the location of the Washougal Motocross Park. This bucolic berg annually hosts a motorcycling event that started in 1971 with a few motorcycle enthusiasts. It now brings over 20,000 participants and fans from around the world to the Cascade foothills of southwest Washington. In July, throngs gather to watch daring feats on two wheels, while the roar of engines is heard echoing through the foothills for miles.

On a quieter note, Washougal is proud of its aptly-named Two Rivers Heritage Museum, run by volunteers who are long-time residents of Washougal and the surrounding countryside. It’s an utterly charming facility in a little house just off highway 14. There are numerous interesting historical artifacts, historical books for sale, and extensive documents that record events reaching back to a time before Washington was even a state.

Right across from Two Rivers Heritage Museum is the famous Pendleton Washougal Mill outlet store, a huge favorite of locals and visitors alike. Here one can find stunning woven treasures from the on-site mill of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing as well as Pendleton’s world-renowned Indian blankets. There is also extremely affordable woolen yardage for sale.

The Washougal Pendleton Mill offers free tours, Monday through Friday at 9:00 am, 10:00 am, 11:00 am and 1:30 pm. Visitors have the opportunity to see Pendleton’s procedure of making their famous woolens from the dye process, to spinning, to weaving, to the finishing of their warm, magnificent blankets, as well as other products. Many local residents are employed at the Pendleton Woolen Mills.

Many Washougal residents are also employed, and have been for generations, at the near-by Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Camas.

A short jaunt down the road from the woolen mills is Orchard Hills Golf and Country Club with sweeping greens as green as can only be found in the northwest, which provides quiet elegance, a good game of golf and an excellent meal for members and their guests.

Washougal has, at last count, 5 bars and approximately 20 churches. There is also the ever-ubiquitous Starbucks.

But one of the favorite places for the locals and Columbia River wanderers to hang out for a bite to eat and conversation is the Puffin Cafe on the water of the Columbia. One can watch the tugboats, the recreational vehicles, the occasional paddleboat and the even more rare site of a tall ship, sails filled with Columbia Gorge winds, pass by on the wide Columbian, all while gently rocking on the water in the houseboat-like cafe.

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Geography And Things To Do Outdoors In Washougal Washington

Located on the banks of the Columbia River east of the city of Vancouver, WA the community of Washougal is known to both residents and visitors as the “Gateway to the Gorge”. With a population of about 13,000 the town is both a suburb in the Portland, OR metropolitan area and at the same time a semi-rural collection of historic buildings, fine shops and plenty of sightseeing opportunities. The nearby Washougal River, the hills and evergreen forests, and the Columbia Gorge itself provide outdoor adventure in nearly every category.

City Parks

There are a total of 12 parks in and around Washougal and many are of historical note. Hamllick Park has a large number of BBQ areas, covered picnic sites and lots of open grassy play areas. Captain William Clark Park is named after the famous explorer and is the site where the Lewis and Clark expedition camped in 1806. Dick Beaver Park is a tiny area near the exit of the SR-14 pedestrian tunnel that is planted with a huge variety of shrubs including elderberry, bitter cherry, Indian plum and red-flowering currant. Campen Creek Park is largely undisturbed and contains a primitive trail system.

Kayaking Adventures

Kayaking on the Columbia River and its tributaries is one of the most popular activities in the area. The Washougal River affords kayakers the opportunity to experience whitewater, deep pools and incredible forest. Along the way are points of interest such as the Sandy Swimming Hole and the Washougal River Greenway.

Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Located 15 miles east of town this area provides a winter home to swans. The lake and its small feeder streams are the birthplace of several species of salmon and the wetlands themselves are in an undisturbed natural state.

Lacamas Lake Park

North of Washougal on State Route 500 is a favorite boating and fishing destination and there are numerous hiking trails that cover more than 300 acres. These trails lead to smaller ponds and the virtually undisturbed Round Lake, affording visitors the chance to see a number of wildlife species in their native habitat.

Columbia River Gorge

The gorge cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range and the river narrows and becomes swift. The winds shift regularly from east to west and for this reason the challenge is great for the multitude of windsurfers that frequent this area. Rubber raft trips are also popular and guided excursions can be arranged in Washougal or other nearby communities. Among the most visited attractions are Beacon Rock, Skamania Lodge, the Crown Point overlook and the impressive Bonneville Dam.

Geography And Climate

Washougal and vicinity is part of the Pacific Ocean marine environment and as such the weather is generally mild the year round. Summers are dry compared to the winter months and the Columbia Gorge is usually filled with moderate breezes that are welcome on sunny summer days. The Washougal River drains into the Columbia River from the north and is fed by lakes, underground springs and snowmelt. Most of the nearby terrain is flat near the river’s edge but high hills are present to the north and northeast.

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Location of Washougal

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