Located an easy 20 miles from downtown Portland in the lovely and lush Sandy River Gorge, Oxbow Park is an amazing blend of recreational diversity, scenic delight, and environmental consciousness.
As one of the nation's leading conservation-minded states, Oregon's Oxbow Park sets a prime example of what a metropolitan park can and should be. The grounds are a sprawling 1,000 acres of dense forests, grassy clearings, sandy river frontage, and sheer canyon walls. Old-growth forest alone covers 180 acres. Native salmon spawn within one-fourth-mile of camping areas on Sandy River, known as the top-rated winter steelhead stream in Oregon. Wildlife abounds in the park, with more than 200 native plant varieties, 100 bird species, nearly 40 different mammals, and an interesting assortment of reptiles and water-dwelling creatures. The park employs a full-time naturalist year-round, who is busiest in summer with a heavy schedule of public and private programs.
The first order of business once you get settled into your campsite is to explore the trails on foot. There are roughly 15 miles of trails that follow Sandy River and wind throughout the park. It's easy to lose yourself to the spaciousness and ramble to your heart's content with no more important thought than to see how many of the birds on the park's list (available at the office) you can identify. Wander into the old-growth forest and contemplate a summer idyll. There's a small waterfall nearby to enhance your poetic musings.
Slip through the underbrush to a sun-warmed curve in the river and wriggle your toes in the sand. Even at the height of the summer season, you'll be amazed at how quickly you can find seclusion.
For a different perspective of the trail system, the park allows horses on most of the pathways. There are designated equestrian unloading areas, and trailhead markers indicate those that are restricted.
Fishing and boating activities are undeniably central to the popularity of Oxbow Park and Sandy River. Most often they go hand in hand. There are very few times of the year when anglers won't find a reason to cast their lines into the broad and shallow waters. Along with its preeminent status as a steelheader's delight, the Sandy also sports healthy quantities of coho, fall chinook, spring chinook, and summer steelhead. Check with the park office for fishing regulations on the Sandy as they differ from other Oregon rivers.
Recreational boating on this section of the Sandy is limited to non-motorized craft, thanks to its recent inclusion under both state and federal Wild and Scenic protection. Above Oxbow Park and dependent on flow levels, there is Class III and IV whitewater for experienced kayakers, rafters, and canoeists to enjoy. A popular run is the 6 miles between Dodge Park and Oxbow, affording exclusive views of this section of the river gorge. Downstream from Oxbow to Lewis and Clark State Park is a pleasant drift trip with gentle ripples and refreshing pools for an occasional dip. Additional river and boat rental information is available at the park office.
If you're interested in exploring beyond the park's boundaries, Oxbow can be the starting point for a couple of scenic drives that take in a lot with minimal time commitments. The shorter of the two is the route along Crown Point Highway, named for the 700-foot piece of basalt that spires above the Columbia River. Crown Point Vista House, with its information center, is well worth the visit, not to mention the staggering views afforded from its lofty perch.
The second route takes you southeast on U.S. 26 through the Sandy River lowlands, around Mount Hood, north to Hood River on SR 35, and back along I-84 to Exit 18 at Lewis and Clark State Park. This is roughly 150 miles of nonstop scenery, with the snowy peak of Mount Hood as the focal point most of the way. From Hood River back to Oxbow, the changing landscape of the Columbia River Gorge unfolds around each bend in the road.
To get there, take the Wood Village Exit 16 off I-84 in Gresham. Go south to Division Street. Turn left, and continue to Oxbow Parkway. From there, follow signs down to the park. The road tends to wind around a bit, and there are several spots where it is easy to make a miscalculated turn. Just keep following the signs. Once you reach the park entrance, it's a sharp and curving drop down into the gorge.
Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press . All rights reserved.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication