Outdoors with Kids in Chehalem Valley: Vernonia Lake

We spent some time yesterday at Vernonia Lake, which isn’t in the Chehalem Valley, but it’s fairly accessible to those of us living in the Chehalem Valley. I’ve always passed signs to Vernonia when on the way out Highway 26 toward Tillamook, just as the road begins to enter the Coast Range, but I hadn’t ever actually been to Vernonia. It’s a cute little town, and there are a number of trailheads between Highway 26 and Vernonia that we’d like to go back and explore on other trips. There’s also a bike path that goes from Banks out to Vernonia, and someday I’d love to take our bikes out to Banks and then bike the 21 miles to Vernonia as a family. (In our case, since we have to stop in Banks and charge our Nissan Leaf, this would make a lot of sense—except for the fact that the Leaf doesn’t do so well with hauling 4 bikes.) It’s called the Banks-Vernonia State Trail, and it’s a paved path following an old rail line.

Picnic next to Vernonia Lake, OR
Picnic next to Vernonia Lake, OR

On this trip, we visited Vernonia Lake. The weather presented us with a beautiful day for walking, fishing, picnicking, and enjoying the company of our family. We met my brother-in-law and his kids and my in-laws out there, and most of the crew went fishing while my mother-in-law and I walked around the lake. It has a paved .95-mile path around the small lake, and we circled it three-and-a-half times before some of the kids got bored in the boat, so we got our exercise in for the day.

Fishing on Vernonia Lake, OR
Fishing on Vernonia Lake, OR

The details:

  • From Newberg, it’s 51.4 miles
  • Parking: $5 cash (bring exact, or stop by the bank in town, but there’s not a way to make change)
  • No motors on boats, no swimming
  • Fishing: resident bass, crappie, bluegill, brown bullhead; stocked with rainbow trout (as with any fishing, requires a license)
  • Amenities: bathrooms, docks, wheelchair-accessible fishing platform, drinking fountain, small playground (two swings and short monkey bars), boat ramp, picnic tables, benches, access to hiking trails
  • Camping: you can hike in to a primitive campground, apparently, with water, fire pits, and restrooms. $10/tent per night
  • Birding: marsh-loving songbirds, as well as some larger birds such as osprey, hawks, turkey vultures, and bald eagles
Fishing on Vernonia Lake, OR
Fishing on Vernonia Lake, OR

The lake used to be the mill pond for a Douglas fir mill that closed down in 1957. It’s fed by what must be a branch of Rock Creek. It’s a beautiful little pond with cattails and lily pads. We saw small songbirds such as red-wing blackbirds (though their wings are decidedly orange, not red), swallows, starlings, and others I don’t know the names of. There are lots of ducks, and at this time of year, there were ducklings of all sizes. We also saw osprey, bald eagles, hawks, and turkey vultures circling above the lake and surrounding mountains. Be sure to bring binoculars! I got to see an osprey dive and catch a fish.


E and his same-age cousin enjoyed fishing and boating for a while, and then spent a while disturbing everyone else’s peace by noisily having a grand old time on the swing set.

K loved fishing! This was his first time fishing from a boat, I believe, and he could have sat there for hours more. He’s a water guy! Ever since he was little we’ve noticed he loves to swim and do anything relating to water, so he’s definitely going to be a fisher-person like his dad.

After walking for a while, I supervised kiddos at the playground by facing away from them, watching the water and birds, and reading a book. Although it wasn’t exactly quiet, in addition to the human noises I could hear birds and see the beauty of the water, mountains, trees, and other beings. It was a great way to spend an afternoon.

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