Fort Vancouver

Historic Fort Vancouver

Fort Vancouver is located on the north bank of the Columbia River across from Portland. This park has a rich cultural past. From a frontier fur trading post, to a powerful military legacy, the magic of flight, and the origin of the American Pacific Northwest, history is shared at four unique site. Discover stories of transition, settlement, conflict, and community.

There are four historic section of the park to see – The recreated Hudson Bay Co. Fort Vancouver, Officers Row, Vancouver Barracks, and Pearson Air Museum. There is also the visitor center and scattered through out the park other buildings, recreational areas and memorial that might be of interest.

Not technically part of the Historic fort is the Confluence Land Bridge. This unique structure allows the historic Fort Vancouver to be connected to the Columbia River and river walk ways. It also speaks to first inhabitant of this area.

Short Videos about Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

I have created a series of short videos about what you can see at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. These run about two to three minutes. They are intended to give you a flavor what you can find on your visit to Fort Vancouver.

Introduction film to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

A short film about Hudson Bay Company Fort Vancouver

Short film about the Vancouver Barracks

A short film about Pearson Air Museum at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

Short Film about historic homes Officers Row.

More detail information on what to see at Fort Vancouver you can scroll down the page or use the links below to jump to the topic you are interest in.

Visitor Center

The Visitor Center, staffed with National Park Service and National Forest Service Rangers, is the place to start your visit. It offers an orientation film (a bit dated), maps, brochures and other information to help you make the most of your visit. There are no official guided tours. The Visitor Center includes a book and gift store operated by the non-profit Friends of Fort Vancouver, a Theater and a few introductory exhibits on the history of this site. Admission is free. Check website for current hours.

Hudson Bay Co. Fort Vancouver

The London-based Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Vancouver in 1825 to serve as the headquarters of the Company’s  interior fur trade. The fort served as the core of the HBC’s western profit making operations, controlling the fur business from Russian Alaska to Mexican California, and from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Fort Vancouver was the principal colonial settlement in the Pacific Northwest, and a major center of industry, trade, and law.

The Village to the west of the fort was Vancouver’s first neighborhood. The employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company lived there with their families in simple one or two room cabins. The Village was incredibly diverse, a community of people whose homelands spanned half the globe. At its peak the village housed over 500 people. The ultimate company town.

In 1866, the fort burned to the ground. What you will visit today, the buildings and stockade, are accurate reconstruction built on the archaeological footprint of the original fort.

Vancouver Barracks – a frontier post

After the treaty of 1846 was settle with the British the US Army sited its first regional post on the ridge north of HBC Fort Vancouver in 1849. It became the headquarters and supply base for troops, goods, equipment and services for the US military posts throughout the Northwest. The west barracks includes 16 buildings build between 1887 and 1939 and was an active military post for 150 years, closing in 2000. None of the buildings that make up the Vancouver Barracks are open to general public but there are some information sign scattered around.

Officers Row  – Historic Homes

The US Army designate the 22 Victorian style homes of Officer Row as surplus property and in 1984 deed them over to the City of Vancouver for $1. The City began a restoration program on the builds and leases them for private use except the Marshall house and Grant House. In Marshall House the main floor is open to visitors and the Grant House, the oldest house on Officer Row, has a restaurant open to the public. You can stroll the length of Officer Row to enjoy the homes and informational signs along the way.

Pearson Air Museum – Historic Hangers

The historic hangers today are used for a small museum that feature the early day of aviation in the area and the role Fort Vancouver played in it. One of the hangers is used as rental space for events. The Museum is free to visit.

Confluence Land Bridge

This 40-foot-wide, earth-covered pedestrian bridge, lined with indigenous plants and Native basket weaving, reconnects historic Fort Vancouver with the Columbia River waterfront. It has view point for seeing Fort Vancouver and the Columbia River. This bridge tells the story of the first inhabitants of the land that make up Fort Vancouver.

Tips for your visit

My first visit to Fort Vancouver was over 20 years ago. At that time the National Park Service had a better budget. With extensive museums, guided tours and extensive reenactors you could spend a day here. Unfortunately, today you are pretty much left on your own to try and figure out this historically complex place. It is still well worth a visit but you should be able to cover the place in a few hour to half a day. The most historically meaningful part of the site is reconstructed Hudson Bay Cc. Fort Vancouver. If it was not for fashion, furs and the Hudson Bay Co. who knows if Portland would have ever happened.

Getting to Fort Vancouver require a little finesse. We have two bridges over the Columbia River and about 80,000 people use them during the work week at rush hour. The fort, museums and buildings do not open until 10 am so after rush hour.  I would recommend heading back over the Interstate 5 bridge by three or wait to 6:30. There is lots of parking available at the fort something you never find in Portland. You can also get to Vancouver by public transit. You can combine Max light rail with Vancouver’s Ctran bus or maybe just catching Ctran from downtown Portland.

I always park on the street in front of Pearson Air Museum. The street is shaded by large trees that keep my car cool in summer. A nice route for the fort only visit is to go up the visitor center then stroll Officer Row. From there walk down through the Barracks area (standard army base layout) to end up at HBC Fort Vancouver. You can then finish up at the Air Museum and be back at your car.

Of course you are going to Washington so the natives are different. They are friendly enough but they are just not weird like Portlanders. Vancouver is a bit more of a straight lace bedroom community of Portland but if you talk to a native don’t say anything about them being a bedroom community, they hate that. They think they are their own city just because they are in another state and there is a big river between us.

Walking Tour Of Fort Vancouver

If you want to make more of a day out of your visit here is a suggested walking route. You can just do the Fort Vancouver Historic site or add in a short tour of Vancouver waterfront and Downtown. This will allow you to see more historic sites, the new Vancouver Waterfront development and a number if dinning ideas.

Walking Route to see Fort Vancouver and downtown Vancouver. This is a general guideline but free to get off the route and explore. The green and orange routes cover just the Fort Vancouver Historic Site. The Purple route take you into downtown Vancouver.