10 Free Things to Do in Vancouver WA #TBEXTricities

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Vancouver Washington was a great starting point on our road trip through the Pacific Northwest with the final destination being #TBEXtricities in Eastern Washington. I flew into Portland, OR (PDX) airport which is a quick 15-minute drive over the Columbia River. You will want to stay in what feels like a brand new town but is in fact older (by 29 years) than the more famous Vancouver BC – it is the OG. With urban parks, many nature trails, and even a historic fort, there are plenty of free things to do in Vancouver, Washington.

The Interstate Bridge over the Columbia River from Waterfront Park

The city’s roots originated on the Columbia River’s north shore, where the Pacific Northwest’s first indigenous inhabitants started a diverse and thriving community. Originally occupied by the Chinook Klickitat, and Cowlitz Peoples the city is nestled between the breathtaking Pacific Ocean and the iconic Cascade Mountains.

A visit to the Vancouver Washington provides easy access to outdoor activities with bike and scooter rentals right down town or drive to nearby hiking trails by Vancouver Lake or Mount St. Helens. Here are my top 10 free things to do in Vancouver WA.

10 Free Things to Do in Vancouver WA

1. Couve Scavenger Hunt

Let’s start out with something fun because who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt? Discover the unique sights and sounds of the area by finding nine key spots in the Find Your Couve, Scavenger Hunt. Stops include Pearson Air Museum, Esther Short Park, and Clark County Historical Museum.

Walking to the locations (except Vancouver Lake) is about 5 miles (8 km). Driving to all nine locations is about 16 miles (26 km) and takes 2-3 hours to complete the scavenger hunt. Check-in when you arrive at a location and look around for clues to answer the trivia question—you never know what you might learn!

2. Esther Short Park

This beautiful urban park came about after a hotly contested land dispute with the Hudson’s Bay Company. The HBC played a very important role in establishing a trading post in Fort Vancouver.

Eventually, the land was donated and became the first public park in 1853. This five-acre square is the oldest public park in the Northwest. It is the centerpiece of downtown Vancouver, Washington, and serves as a hub for events and entertainment.

Esther Short Park in Vancouver Washington TBEX Tricities DownshiftingPRO

Enjoy public art, a playful water feature, and a ton of lush gardens. There are concerts and annual festival favourites including the Vancouver Brewfest and 4 Days of Aloha.

Sway to the rhythm of hula dancers and enjoy Polynesian arts, crafts, and food vendors over four-days. The festival culminates in the Ho’Ike and Hawaiian Festival at Esther Short Park.

Check out the park’s most impressive feature, the 69-foot Salmon Run Bell Tower, which includes a glockenspiel diorama that regularly emerges to tell the story of the Chinook Indians. Other pieces of public art around the park create a welcoming setting, including a nearly century-old sculpture of the “Pioneer Mother” herself, Esther Short.

3. Farmer’s Market

Follow the sound of hourly bells chiming from the Bell Tower in Esther Short Park to find the nearly year-round Vancouver Famers Market located on the west border of the park. Vancouver’s Farmer’s Market runs both Saturdays and Sundays during the spring and summer months. Take note, the fall market runs only on Saturdays. The market is Southwest Washington’s #1 visitor attraction and home to over 250 vendors. You shall find fresh and local produce, flowers, plants, baked goods, delicious food, and accessories for yourself, your home, or your garden.

4. Waterfront Park and Grant Street Pier

Grant Street Pier Vancouver Washington @DownshiftingPRO
Grant Street Pier

One of the best free things to do in Vancouver Washington is to walk through Waterfront Park and enjoy Grant Street Pier. Sit at an outdoor patio and people watch on the riverfront. Better yet enjoy a libation at any one of the wineries located on Waterfront Way. You can stop off at any of the three tasting rooms: Airfield Estates Winery, Maryhill Winery and Brian Caster Cellars representing various wines from various vineyards throughout Washington state.

In the last few years, there has been immense growth (which continues with two new hotels slotted for 2022-23), providing easy access to Waterfront Park and the shops and restaurants at Grant Street Pier. Stop by one of my favourite sweet treats – The Yard for one of their decadent milkshake!

Free things to do in Vancouver Washington - strolling on Waterfront Way and stopping in a winery
People watch on the patios of Waterfront Way and enjoy some wine tasting

5. Discover Street Art at Fourth Plain

Connecting downtown Vancouver with East Vancouver is the Fourth Plain International District, a busy road and a hub of cultural events and festivals. With over 150 locally owned businesses featuring cuisine from all over the world, you will also find an abundance of street art and murals. Read about and see some of these spectacular murals on the Visit Vancouver WA blog. You can also download a map of murals on Fourth Plain Boulevard here or explore them at the Clark County Mural Society.

Fiorella Calderoni Photo Credit
“Sugar Skull Girl” by Christian Barrios, find me on the side of Dulce Tentacion
(Photo credit: Fiorella Calderoni)

I am a big fan of street art and murals. One of my favourite street art and murals destinations was in Philadelphia where they have public money set aside for this worthy art form.

Clark County Mural Society also had four murals painted (by competition) each year with a goal of having over 100 and making Vancouver Washington a street art destination. Their philosophy is murals have become a unique and appealing way of increasing tourism and improving commerce. Without a doubt this is very true.

Veterans Memorial Plaza Murals Vancouver Washington

On a side note, l stayed downtown and took a short walk to the waterfront from the Hilton Hotel Vancouver WA, and stopped by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Plaza for some poignant and moving street art dedicated to those who fought in the Korean War.

6. Officers Row

Another option of free things to do in Vancouver Washington is to wander the 21 acres of mansions, gardens, and parks of Officers Row, lining Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Stroll past 22 well-preserved 19th-century Victorian homes on the National Historic Register.

We stopped off at the General George C. Marshall House on Officers Row. The guide was wonderful and gave us an overview of this beautiful mansion.

Free things to do in Vancouver Washington - walk down Officers Row where you will se beautiful victorian homes with stunning gardens.

Built in 1886, the Marshal House was the dwelling for the commanding officer of the Department of the Columbia. Marshall and his wife Katherine lived in the residence from 1936 to 1938. He later became U.S. Army Chief of Staff during World War II, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense, and earned a Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for his work on The Marshall Plan – the rebuilding of Europe post-WWII.

Weave through the grounds on a self-guided tour to learn about the trees and other botanical features around Officers Row. Download The Historic Trust’s brochure map and start discovering the leaves and needles of the Bigleaf Maple, American Elm, and of course, the Douglas Fir, among others. This walk is especially beautiful to do in autumn, as Officers Row is one of the best spots in Clark County to find colorful fall foliage.

7. Heritage Garden at Fort Vancouver

Free things to do in Vancouver Washington - visit the Heritage Garden right in front of Fort Vancovuer.
Heirloom garden outside of Fort Vancouver

Although there is a fee for entering Fort Vancouver, for free, you can photograph the heirloom garden just outside the fortress. Historically, the Fort Vancouver Garden was a place of rest for the fort’s officers and visitors and provided food for the Chief Factor’s House table.

Today’s reconstruction at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is tended by volunteer gardeners. Once spanning 8-acres, the current condense version of the garden was a leisure place to take a stroll as well as a food source for residents of the Hudson’s Bay Company historic Fort Vancouver.

Free things to do in Vancouver Washington - Fort Vancouver was a Hudson's Bay Company outpost
Historic Fort Vancouver, WA

A National Historic Site, Fort Vancouver was a 19th-century fur trading post that was the headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Pacific Northwest region.

8. Parks & Tails Pass

I cannot resist suggesting another great pass that provides more fun and free activities in Vancouver, WA. Find 20 of the best outdoor spots in Clark County with the Parks & Trails Pass. With interesting trail names like Burnt Bridge Creek Trail, Battle Ground Lake State Park, Lacamas Heritage Trail, and Frenchman’s Bar Park you know there is a tale to be told. Whether an urban hiking trail by the Columbia River or two waterfalls at Moulton Falls Regional Park the pass is a great way to get to know the parks and trails in the area while getting a healthy dose of outdoor fun!

9. Columbia River Gorge

Head out to the Columbia River Gorge for spectacular views and waterfall wonder. Seek adventure with dizzying hikes or hit the water to kiteboard, windsurf, and stand-up paddleboard while enjoying the wake of the Columbia River.

About 25 miles (40 km) on Highway 14 from Vancouver USA will bring you to Cape Horn—featuring spectacular views, rocky crags, flowing streams, and two cascading waterfalls. The nearly eight-mile (13 km) loop overlooks the Columbia River at 1,200 feet before dropping down to the water’s edge along fields of lava rocks.

10. Day Trips to Mount St. Helens

Located an hour and a half from Vancouver, you can take a day trip and see the trees in the 1.3 million-acre Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which includes the magnificent Mt. St. Helens. The Johnston Ridge Observatory, located at the end of State Highway 504, provides information about the historic 1980 eruption and is open from mid-May through October.

There are many more things fun and free things to do in Vancouver, Washington you can check on the latest events and happenings on their Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter feeds!

Disclosure: I was a guest of the Hilton Hotel and Visit Vancouver, Washington as part of the TBEX Tricities Conference. I did not receive additional compensation. All opinions are all my own, genuine and trustworthy..

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Margarita Ibbott is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She blogs about travel in Canada, the United States and Europe giving practical advice through restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. She writes for DownshiftingPRO.com and other online media outlets.