Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park (Vancouver, Washington)
“Frenchman’s Bar, really? They let kids in?” No, not that kind of bar. More like a “sand bar,” a great strip of beach located along the north bank of the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington. Nestled between Vancouver Lake and the Columbia, north of Hayden Island where the river takes the big turn northward, lies the family-friendly Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park.
The wide, sandy beaches are a fun substitute for the coast when your family craves sandcastles but not the two or three hour drive to the Pacific. A 15-20 minute drive from I-5 just across the bridge in Vancouver will take you past industrial buildings and fields to the entrance to this regional park. The parking fee is $3 per vehicle, and the short drive is well worth the trip.
One of the great things about Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park are the diverse beaches. With smaller kids, it is nice to relax in the shade of trees away from the Columbia’s current, but plenty close enough for boat watching and people-gazing. Older kids and adults will probably want to splash in the water or lay out in the sun, but the beaches are mixed enough that one family can spend the day within Frisbee-tossing distance of one another and still have shade and full sun.
Our twins are old enough now that the big playground is a draw, too. Add the volleyball nets, picnic shelters (which can be reserved for large groups), and bathroom, and you’ve got a full day of summer fun. Last summer, my workplace had a summer picnic at Frenchman’s Bar. We didn’t reserve a shelter, but several people arrived early to find a nice private area with logs to sit on, shade for the kids, and a wide view of the Columbia River. Another co-worker brought a “personal watercraft,” and people took turns riding the Jet Ski on the water.
If you’ve got good little nappers, this can easily be a full day trip. Arrive early to claim your spot on busy summer weekends, then spend the day digging in the sand, exploring the playground, and having a beach BBQ (bring your own, or get there early to snag a spot with a grill). Alcohol is prohibited, so bring your tea and catch up on a book while the tots are napping in the shade.
This is a great place to wear out your dog, too! Our dogs love Frenchman’s Bar – it was the first time our little shelter Shih Tzu mix voluntarily got in the water, and we had to “reel her in” when she kept going while we stood there, jaws dropped in amazement. Our Lab LOVED the water; this was a great place for her, too. Dogs should remain on a leash at all times.
The kids might find old bottle caps or other debris in the sand and late arrivals might have a hard time finding the “perfect spot.” If you are too far from the park entrance, it can be a little far to the bathrooms.
If you’re looking for more adventure, or perhaps want to wear some older kids out, note that a 2.5-mile trail connects this park to Vancouver Lake Park.
This is really a great family spot, so close to the city and yet it can feel like a day at the “real” beach.
Pack your cooler and head for the sand!
Susan is a veterinary technician and hospital manager and writes a pet care blog for the clinic website. She lives with her family in Vancouver, and they are always looking for fun day trips.
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