By Stephanie Patterson
At the end of a side road on the outskirts of Scappoose, past a myriad of gentleman farms, sets one of the most unique and serene spots in all of Columbia County – the privately owned, Vedanta Retreat. While Columbia County boosts many great hiking locations with terrific scenery, the Vedanta Retreat offers something extra along its twisting trails. It offers serenity, and an opportunity to contemplate and meditate as you feel guided. Along the densely paths of foliage you discover pilgrimage shrines for all the major religions and philosophies of the world.
Vendanta is a Sanskrit word meaning, “The conclusion of the Vedas” – the Vedas being the oldest sacred writings of India. These writings provide the foundation of Hinduism. Vedantic teachings affirm three tenets: The oneness of existence, the divinity of the soul, and a harmony of all religions. Nowhere is the last tenet so visible at the retreat than in its shrines to various faiths which are scattered throughout the property.
The Vedanta Retreat is located on a 120-acre parcel of land that has been privately owned by the Vedanta Society of Portland since 1936, but visitors and pilgrims are welcome to hike the trails and visit the shrines. There is a gravel drive that stretches through the trees beyond the main gate where you leave your car. Almost immediately you understand that this place in different. Speech becomes quieter, less frequent, as if you automatically comprehend that this is hallowed ground. During spring, the forest floor is covered by wildflowers and new vegetation – white trillium, ferns and Dutchman’s britches to name a few. The paths are well-marked and by bearing right you soon find yourself walking up a long hill. The cries of birds and the patter of rain on leaves and needles are the only sounds you hear. Suddenly, through the tops of the trees you spy a golden, onion-shaped dome. You have found the main temple, or perhaps more correctly, the temple has found you.
There are benches along the edge of the glade housing the temple – places where you can sit and take in the calmness, the sanctity of the site. There is a garden plot with a sign proclaiming it ‘Mother’s Native Garden,’ filled with plants indigenous to Oregon. From the temple, you can take a trail marked, ‘Mothers Trail’ that leads you through the forest to the Karma and the Biblical Trails. Along this way you visit the Shrine of the Holy Mother (Sri Sarada Devi) and the meditation seat of St. Francis of Assisi. Farther up a steep hill, the Christian shrine holds a picture of the Madonna and Child inscribed with the simple words, ‘Amazing Grace.’ From there you can travel a world of beliefs – Sikh, Judaism and Native American, as well as many others. The natural forest, the wildlife, the trails and shrines all serve to make the retreat feel as if it’s a place out of time and space from the modern world.
While the retreat is located on private land, the general public has always been welcome to use the trails and visits the shrines. There are only a few requests the Vendanta Society makes of its visitors. Be respectful and remember this is sanctified ground for many religions and philosophies. There is no alcohol allowed on the property. There is no hunting, or firearms permitted. It is a ‘noise-free’ zone, which means it’s a space designated for quiet contemplation and meditation. This is not a place designed, or intended for running and playing, or climbing trees. Children are welcome, but some of the constraints on them may be difficult for them to follow and it may not be the best choice in a hiking location for them. There is a trash receptacle at the front gate, but none through the trails. If you pack it in, you must pack it out. This property is pristine and the Vendanta Society asks all visitors to ensure it remains this way. It comes down to one thing – be a good guest with good manners. Please check the Vedanta Society’s website for more information at