03-03-2023 Visiting Columbia City and St Helens Oregon

This amazing kayak entry system was at the Scappoose Bay Marina. 

When Mo planned our trip, she originally set us up with three days at Reeder Beach on Sauvie Island, 2 days at Bayport RV Park in Warren, 2 days at Anderson RV Park in Vernonia, Oregon, with two final days at the Dayton RV Park in Dayton, Oregon. 

We loved our time at Reeder Beach, although if you read the previous post, you saw that we were only there for one night.  On Thursday we stayed at Reeder Beach until the last possible minute for checking out since our next park was less than 24 miles away and we were not supposed to check in until 1PM. 

The day was pleasant enough, with clouds and rain, but no snow and no real wind to speak of.  The Bayport RV Park is located at the Scappoose Bay Marina on Scappoose Bay in Warren, Oregon.  The park is clean and pleasant, with electric and water at some sites, and an excellent dump that we decided was worth every penny of the $15.00 fee.  At $30 per night, the fee was more reasonable than many we have visited lately.  Did I mention that our previous site at Reeder Beach was $50 per night?

Site 11 at Bayport RV Park

A web image of Bayport RV Park with our site circled in red

We settled in for the afternoon, and decided that an afternoon trip to our next reserved RV park might be a good idea.  We had read about the little mountain town of Vernonia previously on Nickie’s blog.  Anderson Park, owned by the city, sounded lovely and I made a reservation for two nights. 

There are several ways to approach Vernonia.  From the south, the road north from Highway 26 between Portland and the Oregon coast is narrow and winding, but not very long.  From the north, the route we originally planned, Highway 47 looked winding and long.  From our location, near Scappoose, the Scappose-Vernonia Road looked winding and narrow but it was only 20 miles or so to reach Highway 47 just north of Vernonia.

Traveling in the Tracker, we had no problem with snow or narrow roads, but even so the curves and drop-offs with no shoulder weren’t fun in the passenger seat.  The more we drove, the deeper we saw the snow on the side of the road, the more we decided that, nope, this wasn’t a route we would be comfortable driving in the MoHo.

Once we reached the Vernonia and found Anderson RV Park, we were less than thrilled with our reservation.  Unlike Nickie’s experience, the park was jam packed with big rigs, big dually pickups, and what looked to be permanent residents.  Our reserved site 11 was very tight and hemmed in on both sides by 40 foot fifth wheel rigs.  It wasn’t a place where we would want to sit outside much.  With the predicted snow, we realized that our two days in Vernonia would be spent in the MoHo.  We explored the town a bit and noticed several cute coffee shops and the murals that Nickie photographed, but with the cold weather walking the town wasn’t at all inviting.

Highway 47 north of Vernonia on a stormy afternoon

We decided to return home on the northern route via Highway 47, thinking that might be a little bit less stressful. Within minutes a storm blew through, with hail, rain, and high winds.  Trees were bending and breaking, and I said, “Gee, I hope a tree doesn’t fall on us.” The words were barely out off my mouth when we were stopped by a tree in the road, and a Direct TV guy working to remove it.  We thanked him and continued north through the forest.

Highway 47 from Vernonia is a bit less narrow than the Vernonia-Scappoose Highway, but no less curvy.  It also climbs over a high ridge at more than 1500 feet.  The prediction for snow was anything above 500 feet elevation. 

By the time we reached Clatskanie and the Columbia River, sun was slanting through the rain, creating a magnificent rainbow.  After a day trip that was daunting even in the Tracker, we decided that we needed to cancel our reservations in Vernonia.

I called the park the next morning, and the friendly person who answered the phone was delightful.  She totally understood our unwillingness to travel any of the roads to Vernonia in the snow and refunded both nights, even though we were technically outside the 48 hour window for full refund of our reservation.

Whew.  Now.  What to do about the next two days?  Looking around at our pleasant RV Park, we decided that the best bet was to simply stay put right where we were if possible.  The Marina office wasn’t open, and we rarely saw any kind of park employees around but I finally did get through on the phone to speak with someone.  She was also delightful, checking to see if our site was open for two more days and telling us we could go online to the website and add the additional days without paying any extra fees.

Apologetically fuzzy photo of swans nearby on Scappoose Bay showing how close the snow was to us at Bayport RV Park

With all the decisions handled, we finally relaxed a bit mentally, and then headed out in the Tracker to explore Columbia City and St Helens. It was a short three mile trip traveling the two-lane Old Portland Road between Warren and St Helens.

These two small towns are located along Highway 30 which paralells the Columbia River north from Portland to Astoria.  Mo was born in North Dakota but by the time she was a year old her family moved to St Helens to be near Mo’s maternal grandparents.

Houses in St Helens built by Mo’s grandfather

We meandered around a bit and eventually found the houses that Mo’s grandfather built. The blue house was built first and the gray one at a later date.

This house on 17th Street where Mo and her family lived, was located just behind the above two houses her grandfather built.

Sentinal Mist Building in St Helens

Mo had me photograph the old Sentinal Mist newspaper building where she worked during high school. The Sentinal Mist was also a printing establishment where Mo’s boss, Don Bemis, was the manager. Don’s wife, Sybil, was the manager in the front office.  Mo worked for both of these people while attending high school in St Helens.

When the Sentinal Mist was sold, Don Bemis established the Bemis Printing business in downtown St Helens and operated it until his death. Seeing the Bemis name on this building brought back fond memories for Mo.

Beautiful Columbia County Courthouse in St Helens

We then parked near the city square where we learned that the town of St Helens is also known as HalloweenTown.  We also discovered that there is a large annual celebration in the town during the Halloween season. 

There are pumpkins everywhere, and even a pumpkin themed totem pole currently residing in the waterfront park.  The pole is moved to the town square during the Halloween celebration.

The quirkiest thing we found was a vending machine selling St Helens Halloween memorabilia in  front of a closed gift shop. Many of the gift shops in town were closed during the off season, but there were a few interesting coffee establishments and some restaurants that were open.

Waterfront Park along the Columbia River and the Lewis and Clark Trail

We found a Thai restaurant, and after checking out the reviews decided that we would return to St Helens that evening for and early dinner.

Historic buildings along Strand Street near the waterfront

The theater on First Street where Mo saw her first movie, “So Dear to My Heart”

We still had much to explore, however, and after meandering around St Helens a bit we got back in the car to drive north toward Columbia City, where Mo’s family moved before she was three. 

Historic L Street Bridge in Columbia City

Imagine sledding down this road on a snowy day in the 50’s

Our first site after we drove into town was the beautiful stone bridge on L Street.  This bridge is special to Mo.  She and her siblings would sled from the bridge down L Street on snowy days. The city closed L street sometimes so kids could sled safely.

Mo’s childhood home today

Mo’s family home in the 50’s

Just a block from the L Street Bridge, located at 4th and M Street, is the Columbia City house where Mo lived until she graduated from Oregon State University in 1962.

One of Mo’s old photos of a ship on the Columbia River

The home overlooked the Columbia River and Mo often speaks of the huge ships that navigated the river all the way to Portland.  Empty ships made a thumping noise that rattled the front room windows of the house. Her stories of growing up in Columbia City and playing with her younger brothers on the river are wonderful.  When the family gets together there is a lot of laughter when these stories come up about river adventures.

Columbia City has several small and charming parks along the river.

We enjoyed meandering both towns and talking about Mo’s life when she lived there.  We went back to the RV park for an aternoon rest before returning later to St Helens and the Lotus of Bangkok restaurant for supper.  The service was excellent and the food was delicious.

We sat by a window and before long an older couple sat down at a table beside us.  The gentleman has lived in the St Helens area since he was sixteen, and he and Mo shared some stories.  It was interesting to listen to his description of how the towns have changed over the years. 

Paved paths at the Scappoose Marina wetland area

When we extended our stay at Bayport RV Park, we decided that a rainy Saturday was a perfect day to relax in the MoHo.  I wrote and processed photos, Mo read, and we went for a couple of walks on the paths that are adjacent to the marina.

My camera couldn’t capture the immensity of this old white oak

The ancient Oregon white oaks, quercus garryana, are huge, with their canopies spreading wide in open areas of the landscape. 

As the rain lessened on Sunday, we again drove to Sauvie Island to explore the western part of the island.  We then returned to the Vernonia-Scappoose Highway to find the Bonnie Creek Waterfall.

Bonnie Creek Falls

I read about the falls, and discovered that the Bonnie Creek Trail that is about a quarter of a mile up the road from the actual waterfall isn’t the best place to view the falls.  The falls are on the left side of the road at a narrow turnout.

We mistakenly passed the turnout initially, but turned around at the Crown-Zellerbach trailhead for Bonnie Creek Trail.  The rain was beginning to come down again, but the small waterfall was still quite lovely.  It isn’t easy to get down to the base of the falls, with slippery moss and crumbling rocks surrounding the fall. 

The rock cliff on the opposite side of Bonnie Creek was dramatic.

We were happy to return home to the cozy MoHo, and very  happy that our jello plans all worked out perfectly for this portion of Mo’s birthday trip

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

4 thoughts on “03-03-2023 Visiting Columbia City and St Helens Oregon”

  1. How wonderful that the homes of Mo’s family are still there! What an enjoyable time it must have been for Mo to visit these two towns with memories for her. Living on the river with the ships going by sounds terrific to me. I would say your cancelling the reservations in Vernonia was a very smart move.


    1. So happy to see your comment here, Liz. For now, yes, I am doing two versions of the same blog. Will probably continue. Yes, we were very happy to skip Vernonia this time around. I do think Mo’s youth along the Columbia River had a lot to do with shaping the person she is today.


  2. Wow, that was good that you did the reconnaissance drive to Vernonia before taking your motorhome on that road! Glad it all worked out for you so that you were able to relax and wander down memory lane with Mo. It really is remarkable that the homes she lived in and the two her grandfather built are still there…and they look like they’ve been well taken care of. It sounds like a lovely birthday trip.


    1. It was a great trip, Laurel, overall, and the pouring rain here at home reminds me of how many times at this time of year we have been either in SoCal, or in Florida, or driving on 395 on the east side of the Sierra’s. That wouldn’t be happening this year for sure! Whew.


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