As a rule, university campuses are very nice. Even those tucked into the middle of big cities, like the University of Washington in Seattle, offer students and visitors beautiful walking and biking trails and great vistas. But until we moved to Vancouver from eastern Washington three years ago, I had never gotten lost in what felt like a forest on a university campus. Nor had I been able to get a peek at no less than five mountains from one vantage point. That and much more is what I have been delighted to discover on the campus of Washington State University Vancouver (WSU Vancouver).

Discovering WSU Vancouver

When we first drove into the Salmon Creek area of Vancouver at the start of our hunt for a new home, I squealed with delight as we drove past a long field of tall grass. It looked so inviting, peaceful and rural. My husband, Andrew, who had been researching the Vancouver area for over a year, told me it was the edge of the WSU Vancouver campus. I did not even know that there was a Vancouver campus! As I lifted my eyes across the field, I was shocked to have an unobstructed view of snow-covered Mount Hood — it took my breath away!

mount hood from wsu vancouver campus

As someone who grew up on the edge of the Atlantic ocean in eastern Canada — and only experienced mountains for the first time as a college student visiting the Canadian Rockies — I can’t get enough of mountain views. From the edge of the WSU campus, Mount Hood looked so very close. I decided in that moment that we needed to find a house and neighborhood where I could enjoy this view with very little effort. Little did I know how much more this area — and WSU Vancouver in particular — would have to offer including six miles of walking, biking and running trails, and a view of Mount St. Helens to match that of Mount Hood.

mount st. helens from wsu vancouver

As luck would have it, we bought a home less than half a mile from the campus and I have gotten to know the campus fairly well (although my husband knows every inch of it!) He runs regularly and knows where every trail connects, and what is around every corner. He has seen deer, coyote, rabbits and countless squirrels. As a walker, I don’t cover as many miles on a single outing and prefer not to venture too far into the wooded areas alone, but I love to bring a friend or visiting family with me. Everyone is shocked at these “hidden” trails on a university campus. 

mountain sign at wsu vancouver

Exploring the Cougar Trails

Confession: When I walk on my own, I typically walk the paved, open trails that rim the edge of campus, sometimes weaving my way into the center of campus and popping through to the other side to wander through another paved trail that winds through majestic Douglas fir and cedar trees. The campus is on a hill, so regardless of which way you choose to go, you are going to get a good workout.

The campus has six miles of trails, and the prettiest ones are narrow, winding trails in the middle of the woods. Unfortunately, they can be very mucky in the spring so most people stay off them until things start to dry up. Just a few weeks ago, Andrew took me on a trail I had never been on and I was so excited when I realized that the trail actually took us to the other side of Mill Creek, the creek that runs through the campus. My exact words to him were, “What? You can get to the other side of the creek?” Yes, after three years, I somehow did not know that! 

It appears that as I have gotten older, I have acquired a fear of getting lost. My friend and I got lost in the Black Forest in Germany many years ago, as it was starting to get dark, and that haunts me to this day. This was well before the day of cell phones and GPS, so we were on our own, and the signs in German were not much help to us! Andrew, however, makes maps for a living, so he knows how to trust them, and more importantly, how to read them. 

boardwalk trail at wsu vancouver

Parking and Access

There are many ways to access the trails and we regularly see people walking directly onto the campus from neighborhood streets. Many people park on NE 29th Avenue and access the paved trail on the west side of campus. You can also park on campus without a permit after 7:00 pm on weeknights, and anytime on the weekends. On your first visit, weave your way along the paved trails to the middle of campus and find the water feature that marks the center of campus. If it is not overcast or too cloudy, you will be able to see Mount St. Helens directly in front of you, to the north, and Mount Hood to the east. It is truly a magical spot!

wsu vancouver water fountain

For an excellent map of the trails and more information about the trail system, including The Mill Creek Interpretive Trail, visit Cougar Trails on the WSU website.

Photo credit: WSU Vancouver Office of Marketing and Communications. Photo of mountain sign by the author.