Vernita Bridge: Changes on the horizon


The Vernita Bridge Access Site on the Columbia River

The Vernita Bridge tradition
Many people in Washington and neighboring states have made the Vernita Bridge Water Access Area part of their fall fishing tradition. The Hanford (Reach) fall Chinook fishing season is a very popular fishery that many people participate in; a number of them using the Vernita site to launch their boats and as their home base during the season. Located on the Columbia River just off State Route 243, the site is owned by the Department of Energy (DOE) and managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) under a DOE permit.

While Vernita is considered a day use site, since the late 1990s many people have set up camp there annually for days at a time, or even the duration of the fishing season. It has become so popular over the years that the area turns into a small community each fall, with people setting up trailers, motorhomes, and other temporary living situations for weeks at a time. Many fishing guides use the area to run their businesses out of during the seasons. It isn’t unusual for them to show up prior to the season and stay for over a month.

Boats at the Vernita site during a recent fall Chinook fishing season.

“WDFW understands the importance of this fishery both locally and regionally and is committed to providing public access in the area for anglers,” said Mike Livingston, WDFW South Central Region 3 director.

Unsustainable use
It has become evident that change is required to both address damage and ensure safety at Vernita, align site use rules with how other WDFW properties are managed, and to make the site equally accessible to all users, whether there for an extended stay or just an afternoon.

While WDFW is supportive of the anglers who enjoy the fall Chinook season and encourages people to get outside to enjoy our natural resources, the level of use at Vernita has become unsustainable. The lack of onsite sewage and sanitation facilities poses a human health risk while piled up trash attracts insects and small animals that can become a nuisance. As people seek to find their own space to occupy at the site, more and more of the natural landscape is being destroyed by vehicles expanding into undisturbed habitats. Multiple unofficial boat launches have been created over the years by people backing their vehicles over the natural landscape.

Trailers and campers at the Vernita Bridge Access Area during a recent fall Chinook fishing season.

“As the popularity of this area grew, the footprint of the area the public uses grew as well, getting bigger each year,” said Livingston.

WDFW’s permit from DOE to manage this area dates back to 1971 and prohibits overnight use. While WDFW has not actively enforced that restriction in the past, it is necessary to come into alignment with permitted uses as we work towards developing improvements described below.

Changes at the Vernita Water Access site
With the need to address environmental damage and ensure safety at Vernita, WDFW staff are looking into alternative camping sites for future fishing seasons. In the meantime, camping will continue at Vernita for the 2024 and 2025 fall salmon seasons, but under new rules:

  • There will be designated areas for both overnight and day use (see maps below). A combination of large rock, eco-blocks, and signage will identify those areas.
  • Vehicles and trailers will be allowed in designated areas to avoid habitat and other damage. During peak use times, some users may need to find alternate camping locations.
  • Camping will be limited to 14 days per user in a 30 day period.
  • When fall salmon seasons (Aug. 16-Oct. 15) are not underway, camping will be prohibited, and vehicle access limited to a smaller day use area.

These new requirements will be posted throughout the site, and WDFW Enforcement officers will monitor the area for compliance with these new rules.

An overview of new use areas at Vernita.
On left, Vernita Day Use Area — Designated space is 1.7 acres and accommodates approximately 40 spaces measuring 50’ x 14’. Note: Internal layout is for conceptual purposes only, specific layout of parking spaces will vary based on users and will not be marked in the field. On right, Vernita Overnight Use Area — Designated space is 6.3 acres and accommodates approximately 100 overnight spaces measuring 70’ x 16’. Note: Internal layout is for conceptual purposes only, specific layout of parking spaces will vary based on users and will not be marked in the field.

Alternative camping options
For those who decide not to camp at Vernita for the ’24 and ’25 salmon seasons, there are limited alternative camping options in the area:

Please visit the Grant Public Utility District website at for more information on rules and regulations for camping at sites they manage in the area.

For those looking for alternative sites to launch boats, access to the middle Reach is available near the WDFW Ringold Fish Hatchery area. The upper Reach can be accessed at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service- managed White Bluffs day use launch.

The future of Vernita
Vernita will remain an important site for accessing the Columbia River into the future. The current plan is to phase out all overnight use in 2026; develop an improved boat launch, restroom, and parking area, and transition to a day-use only site. For this to happen, WDFW will continue to work through its site planning process, environmental reviews, and permitting.

WDFW is seeking an alternative camping site. Once one is identified, staff will work through environmental review and permitting, design, and implementation; all of which will take several years.

WDFW will be working extensively with other area agencies, elected officials, fishing and guide groups, and other stakeholders in coming months to ensure a smooth transition to the new rules at the Vernita site. Opportunities for public input on an alternative site will be available in the future as this project moves forward.

The Columbia River at Vernita Bridge at sunrise.



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.