Oregon Summer Day Trip: Ridgefield

This quickly growing northern Clark County town is rich with history, a hub for outdoor recreation and a birders’ paradise.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (Cameron Munn)

Nearly every summer during the 1960s, my mom and her six siblings would pile into the family station wagon and make the 1,100-mile trek from San Diego to Ridgefield, Wash. My great aunt Alice owned a 100-acre farm on the outskirts of the city, where my mom remembers catching white fish from the property’s many streams and doing somersaults through the tall grass. Her memories of Ridgefield are filled with images of swooping starlings, pink creamsicle sunsets, and wide-open space. Those summers were a big reason why she decided to make a home here in the Pacific Northwest as an adult.

That charm of Ridgefield remains, but to say it hasn’t changed since then would be an understatement. Its population has increased expeditiously since the early aughts: Ridgefield is one of Washington’s fastest-growing cities, according to the 2020 census, and several commercial and residential developments are under construction trying to keep up. The ultimate sign of rapid expansion? A Costco is coming to town.

But for Portlanders willing to cross the Columbia River, a quaint and quiet community brimming with life awaits. Here, trees hold more history than most buildings, and the proximity to a sprawling nature reserve of the same name beckons visitors to slow down. There are breweries and bookstores as well as the best fish and chips you can find some 80 miles inland from the coast. Be sure to set aside enough time to discover all that Ridgefield has to offer, which is probably more than you ever realized in its roughly 7.5-mile footprint.


Grab a Cup of Joe at an Old Movie Theater

Old Liberty Theater (115 N Main Ave., 360-887-7260, oldlibertytheater.com) opened in 1946 as a movie house, built by Red and Sue Hicks for their son Frank, a returning World War II veteran. But Frank never got to run it. He survived combat, but died in an airplane crash shortly before the venue held its grand opening. Today, a bronze plaque is located at the entrance in dedication to his memory. While its life as a movie theater was short, you can now enjoy live performances in the space, which was purchased and refurbished by locals Don and Earleen Griswold. And here’s another twist: There’s a pretty good coffee shop in the lobby. Seasons Coffee Tea & Remedies serves a variety of caffeinated beverages and small bites, keeping Ridgefield’s local creative scene fueled. The theater will undergo renovations this summer, but the Griswolds plan to pack the calendar with performances after September. Until then, Old Liberty is still worth a visit for a Mexican hot chocolate with a shot of espresso paired with one of the signature bagel sandwiches.

River Rendezvous

Consider diving into Lake River when the dew just begins to dry in the morning sun and the inhabitants of Ridgefield’s wetlands start to wake up. Ironically, this body of water is not a lake, or a river, but an 11-mile channel running parallel to the Columbia, and it’s best navigated via paddle-powered watercraft. Booking a guided wildlife kayak tour with Ridgefield Kayak Rentals (5 Mill St., 360-727-4520, aldercreek.com/rental-overview/ridgefield-kayak-rentals), whether you’re a beginner or a full-blown paddling pro, is a no-brainer. As you set off from the marina, kayaking through the water feels like slicing through shimmering, green glass—the undercurrent slow and steady, reflecting clouds above. Along the 5-mile, three-hour excursion, you’ll be greeted by blue herons, American kestrels, bald eagles, painted turtles and the occasional white-tailed deer. Guides provide detailed information about the surrounding land’s history, which was once traveled by Native tribes. It’s worth the workout.

Ridgefield Kayak Rentals (Courtesy Ridgefield Kayak Rentals)

Hit the Town

There’s no better way to get to know a place than pounding the pavement. Lucky for you, Ridgefield’s downtown spans a single street, but the businesses that occupy it are all one of a kind. Take Ridgefield Hardware (104 N Main Ave., 360-887-3721, ridgefieldhardwarewa.com): On the outside, it looks like a typical place to grab nuts and bolts for home repairs or gardening tools for a vegetable patch. But inside, you’ll actually find a wide selection of quirky gifts and funny knickknacks, like petite tea cups, clocks and cheeky décor. A few blocks down the road is Ridgefield Mercantile (418 Pioneer St., 360-841-5300, ridgefieldmercantile.com), a two-story vintage boutique with more than 30 vendor booths. Peruse the large collection of classic records, a bountiful array of wicker, ceramics and plants, and a variety of locally made foods, like chocolate-covered fruit, fancy vinegar and health elixirs.

BYOB: Build Your Own Buffet

Portland may have popularized the food cart pod, but the setup has gained popularity in smaller towns across the Pacific Northwest. And it makes sense: When chefs wants to introduce their signature dishes to an audience on a budget, they do so on wheels. That’s what Lynnae Oxley-Loupe did. Sugars Barbecue (219 Pioneer St., 360-818-3687, sugarsbarbecue.com) was founded as a competitive cooking brand in 2006, arriving in Ridgefield in 2021. Back then, it was the only cart in the gravel lot across from City Hall. Now Sugars has been joined by Little Conejo Norte (littleconejonorte.com) and Sushi Kato (360-488-8752), creating Carts by the Park (360-389-3642, cartsbythepark.com), giving you quite the assortment of cuisine. So don’t just settle on one! Order a half-pound of smoked chicken or sliced brisket; a Ridgefield Special Roll packed with spicy tuna, crunchy shrimp tempura, avocado and cream cheese; and a plate of tacos dorados—tortillas filled with potatoes and cheese that are then fried and topped with shredded cabbage, oregano, onion, cilantro and housemade hot sauce. It’s the ultimate midday buffet.


Stroll Through Time

A trip to Ridgefield would be incomplete without visiting Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (28908 NW Main Ave., 360-887-4106, fws.gov/refuge/ridgefield), 5,300 acres of now-protected habitat that, in 1805, William Clark deemed too noisy. According to a journal entry, he worried all of the honking geese would keep him up at night. But wildlife is part of the spectacle here. There is also a newly opened visitors center and pedestrian walking bridge that leads to the Cathlapotle Plankhouse, a reconstruction of the large, wooden tribal gathering places that used to occupy this land. While the inside of the plankhouse remains closed to the public, it acts as the centerpiece for the refuge’s many trails. A mile north, look for the 400-year-old “great, great, great grandmother” oak tree. Also keep an eye out for any of the more than 200 feathered species that have been observed here. An advanced birder could spend hours spotting dozens at dusk along the nearly 1.4-mile Oaks to Wetland Trail. But most visitors will simply marvel at the scenery and soundtrack, seemingly untouched and unbothered by modern-day society.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (Cameron Munn)
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (Cameron Munn)

Don’t feel like walking? Take your car! No, seriously. Encompassing the south side of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is the auto tour route—a 4.2-mile stretch where visitors can spot red-winged blackbirds, red-tailed hawks and nutria from their Subaru windows. However, it’s imperative to bring a pair of binoculars!

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (Cameron Munn)
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (Cameron Munn)
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (Cameron Munn)


Catch a Fly Ball

You may know the Portland Pickles, but are you familiar with the Ridgefield Raptors? Head to Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex (3101 S Hillhurst Road, 360-887-0787, ridgefieldraptors.com) and catch one of the team’s 31 home games. Bring your own chair for lawn viewing or sit in the stands and cheer among fans. You don’t even need to be a baseball lover to enjoy a $6.50 hot dog. And if you happen to go on a Tuesday, admission, dogs and nachos are all discounted to three bucks.

Ridgefield Raptors (Justin Tucker/Justin Tucker / @nine80four)
Ridgefield Raptors

Go Fish

There’s a reason why Pacific Northwest Best Fish Co. (24415 NE 10th Ave., 360-887-4268, pacificnwbest.com) keeps winning Clark County’s best seafood award: Its house special is a masterpiece. The thickly battered and fried-till-golden halibut resting on a bed of crispy shoestring fries will evoke oceanside images even though you’re just off of Interstate 5 dozens of miles from the Pacific. The fish here is so fresh you could imagine one jumping right out of the case and smacking you in the face. Not hungry? Be sure to take advantage of the restaurant’s extensive marketplace. Grab a few fillets to grill later in the week.

Top Scoop in Town

Seasons Coffee Tea & Remedies

115 N Main Ave., 360-887-7260, oldlibertytheater.com/about. 7 am-5 pm daily.

In Ridgefield, there aren’t many options for ice cream. In fact, Don Griswold might be the only game in town. By now, you know that the Old Liberty Theater houses a stage for live performances as well as a cafe in the lobby. Seasons Coffee Tea & Remedies also serves a curated selection of Tillamook and Cascade Glacier ice cream. Flavors include classics like vanilla, chocolate and orange sherbet, as well as specialties like espresso, with crunchy bits of chocolate-covered coffee beans, and huckleberry, accompanied by tart tidbits of actual fruit. Enjoy a scoop in a cup or sugar cone and take it for a stroll along the main drag. Fair warning, though: If you come on a weekend, Seasons will be busy. Every first Saturday of the month, Ridgefield hosts citywide events, like street fairs and markets, while downtown’s proximity to both the Columbia and Lake rivers make it a haven for paddling enthusiasts who tend to mill about after docking for the day. So is it really the only place in town to nab a sweet treat? “As far as I know,” Griswold says.


Seasons Coffee Tea & Remedies - Mexican hot chocolate $3

Sushi Kato - Ridgefield Special roll $13

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge - Entry fee $3

This story appeared as part of Oregon Summer, our annual free magazine out now all over Portland. See where to pick one up here.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.