An afternoon ramble to Johnson Lake, 9 January 2021

Clear and dry winter days are a commodity. You have to seize the moment. But for me, that “moment” is often in the afternoon. As much as I wish it otherwise, I am no morning person. I developed my “stay up late” habits in the later ’80s when I was a teen. (Late Nite with David Letterman did not come on in the morning.) Of course the big problem with this roll-out-of-bed lifestyle is that there’s not that much daylight in the winter. But one does not need loads of daylight for a li’l bike ramble!

I decided to head northward on the Robin Hood, over the Alameda Ridge and towards the Columbia River. My goal: Johnson Lake, an obscure body of water that’s next to the Columbia Slough just west of I-205. The last time I was down this way was a year ago, which happened almost two years after the next-to-last time! (Fun note: All of my “recent” journeys to this lake seem to happen in winter, and I always end up riding the Robin Hood. Go figure.) Johnson Lake is obscure enough that while it’s visible from I-205 and the MAX, many people don’t know about it. It’s also far enough beaten paths that one must go out-of-their-way to see it. So I don’t get down here much.

I’ll repeat what I said about the lake from the last time there:

(Johnson Lake) was…owned by one Harry Johnson. The lake was spring fed and clear, Mr. Johnson had built a dance hall next to it, and oh how the neighborhood loved to swim in it. But then a series of unfortunate events happened: the dance hall burned down, the glass plant opened on the south shore and wasted no time in polluting it, I-205 chopped off a bit of the eastern park. Now it’s a relatively placid body of water, surrounded by woods, industry, and freeway. No one fishes here or swims here anymore, and for good reason.

It was about six miles of riding from my house to get to the lake. There’s no “great” way to get to it other than using the I-205 Path, but I chose a different route so it required a negotiation of NE Killingsworth and Columbia Blvd. (Not a crossing for the faint-of-heart, but at least there’s a traffic light.) I also got to meet a cute goat working a grassy patch on the back side of a lumber warehouse!

And indeed, Johnson Lake was a placid experience, once you get over the din of I-205 or occassional noises from the MAX light rail or close-by Union Pacific Railroad.* While I’d never want to touch the water, from a distance it looks nice. It would be nice for it to get cleaned up, but active industry still there plus little interest in this pond means it’s not likely to happen anytime in the future. The trail goes along the north side of the lake, through a small hardwood forest of mostly alder (I’m guessing) with a few firs and not much in the way of ferns. It reminded me a bit of the woods growing up in Connecticut. The area was remarkably litter-free, which was surprising, considering the amount of garbage and burnt husks of automobiles I saw on my way in.**

The park is pretty natural, as much as a spot like this can be. Just one trail with a little spur to look at the lake. The wooden fencing at the overlook looks fairly new. No benches, though. I hung out for a bit, enjoying the last bits of daylight. The sun was shining from across the lake, flooding the woods with gorgeous golden light. I took more than a few photos, and then took off when someone else showed up at the overlook.

I decided to mostly take the I-205 path back to Montavilla. I passed by Gateway Green, which has just finished a big round of construction. As it was sunset, there were loads of people leaving Gateway Green on I-205 (there’s no direct vehicle access to the park, unless you decide to stop your car on the freeway and hop some barriers.) Lots of families, lots of young kids. It warmed my heart. While the pump track is not my thing, I did ride on the gravel path that cuts through the park, which was nice.*** It has been improved as well, especially the climb on the south side. I’m glad that the city has invested in this park, and I’m really glad that land once considered useless (it sits between I-205 and I-84 with no vehicle access) now has value. I’ll swing by again soon…

For photos from the ride, check out the dynamic flickr album below or click here.

Johnson Lake, 9 Jan 2021

*And the fact that the glass plant is still there, visible behind the trees on the south shore.

**Since you are going to ask: I’ve only ever seen one camper in the park, which is also surprising.

***There are a couple mellower mountain bike trails that I could ride as well, if light wasn’t fading.

5 thoughts on “An afternoon ramble to Johnson Lake, 9 January 2021

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  1. When I saw your pictures from Johnson Lake before you wrote this, I looked it up on google maps and it comes up as a lake on Sauvie Island, which I also didn’t know about. But this is one to put on my list of things I didn’t know existed but now because of you will have to work into an adventure:) (Thanks!:)

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