Oxbow Regional Park
|Oxbow Regional Park, Oregon (Emilia12345/Wikimedia Commons)|
The glacier-fed Sandy River rises on the southwest face of Mount Hood, tumbling 56 miles to meet the Columbia River at Troutdale, Oregon. In its lower half, the Sandy pours in and out of a whitewater gorge that’s very Pacific Northwest—cool and mossy, with small tributaries cascading over the lip. Oxbow Regional Park lies right in the heart of the Sandy River Gorge, and this 1,200-acre park feels startlingly removed from the urban landscape of Portland, just 20 miles west.
A little farther downriver, the Columbia River Gorge draws hordes of summertime visitors for its parks and scenic driving, but the trails and beaches at Oxbow are a locals’ scene, and the place remains surprisingly uncrowded even on warm summer weekends.
Oxbow has a $5 entrance fee for cars, $7 for busses. And be sure to leave Fido at home, as the park has a strict no-pets policy to prevent wildlife conflicts.
Hiking and Backpacking
Oxbow isn’t really a backcountry user’s park, but 15 miles of trail winds gently through old-growth stands of Douglas fir. Deer and Roosevelt elk are common, and eagles and osprey are often seen overhead. Spot one coming back from the river, and you might glimpse a recent catch still wriggling in its talons.
About five miles of the trail system is shared with mountain bikers, a circuit that mixes up some wide hardpack with softer (and sometimes flooded) singletrack. This is good beginner terrain, with only a couple of mild climbs and some nice river overlooks. Watch out for the occasional party on horseback and also for elk, which congregate in a meadow near the center of the loop.
Swimming and Kayaking
Oxbow’s beaches might be the park’s most popular feature. The river is broad and slow in the park’s namesake meanders, and the white-sand beaches stay pretty shaded thanks to the encroaching woods. The burlier rapids are all upstream, but kayakers put in on the beach or at the small boat ramp for mellower floats along the cottonwood-lined banks and into the town of Troutdale. A few boulders here and there make for some fun riffles for playboaters. Paddlers are likely to share the water with flotillas of lazy tubers on hot days, not to mention families of mergansers and the occasional leaping trout.
Oxbow’s wooded, 67-site campground caters primarily to families, with sites going for $20 a night. The park has showers for campers, a few reservable picnic shelters, and rangers who lead interpretive classes on tracking, foraging, and wildflower identification.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication