Don’t miss out on Lake Merwin

What is so special about Lake Merwin? My friends and I all love to take our kids there. Though most of my friends are bringing their families from nearby Woodland, Yacolt and La Center, I relish the occasional trek from downtown Vancouver to clear my head and let my kids run and play in the crystal clear lake.

Lake Merwin is a reservoir on the East Fork of the Lewis River. The lake is cool and clear even on the most scorching of summer days Vancouver seems to be suffering lately, and worth paying a visit in the cool days as well.

Merwin Park, at the west end of the Merwin reservoir, is open year round for swimming, boarding, fishing and general hanging about. The park can accommodate big groups of people, with 250 parking spots and 135 picnic tables. Merwin Park is especially family friendly, with a playground, clean and spacious restrooms, and hiking trails. Speelyai Bay Park at the east end is also open for day use year round. Smaller but equally as beautiful as Merwin Park, Speelyai offers a busy two-lane boat ramp, another 250 parking spots, but only 25 picnic tables.

Cresap Bay campground, east of Speelyai Bay Park, is open the Friday before Memorial Day and closed September 30. So consider making campsite reservations now for the busy time. Reservations can be made up to nine months in advance, and considering the increasing pull of the East Fork, it’s a good idea to be planning ahead. Cresap Bay Campground has a swimming beach, 56 overnight campsites and a group camping facility with 15 sites, a covered shelter and a fireplace. A two-lane boat ramp and 23-slip marina are available to overnight guests.

While you won’t be able to camp at Lake Merwin yet, take a day trip to two to this spectacular portion of the Upper Lewis River during one of our many beautiful spring days.

photo by evans burik

Get Outdoors, North Bank-style

Although some of you broke out the camping gear the moment the temperature rose above 50 degrees, for most Southwest Washingtonians, Memorial Day weekend marks the traditional start of the outdoor recreation season. Fortunately, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest gives us so much to choose from: 40 campgrounds, 102 trailheads, nine horse camps, and 17 picnic and boating areas—just for starters. In addition to the traditional campgrounds and trailheads, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest also has Johnston Ridge Observatory on the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument for you to explore.

Some campgrounds require reservations  (go to and some trails require a pass to help us keep them maintained (see Recreation Passes and Permits)—but every acres of National Forest lands belong to you and beckon you to come visit. Unlike some public lands, you can camp nearly anywhere in your national forests. There are three fee-free days and a fee-free weekend left this year, with two coming up in June. Here they are:

For more information about having fun in your local national forests, visit Discover Your Northwest. For information about the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, visit