While kiddos in most other areas of the country only get to learn about the Oregon Trail in school, those in the Portland area are lucky enough to live right next to a major piece of vibrant Oregon Trail history. The next time you’re in search of a fun day trip with a lot of history thrown in, check out The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.
The Big Idea
Your pint-size pioneers might have even seen the arches and asked about it, if you’ve traveled on I-205 past Oregon City. Those giant curving, metal arches sweeping up into the sky look like the ribcage of some enormous prehistoric dino, but they’re actually a man-made ode to American pioneer history. They mark the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, an interactive museum that allows visitors to dive into the remarkable journeys that early Americans made on the Oregon Trail. After being forced to close in 2009 due to lack of funding, the museum reopened in June 2013, and now features new exhibits, guided tours and remodeled interiors.
Purchase Tickets and Souvenirs
Upon arrival, you’ll need to purchase tickets in the museum store, which also offers brochures, books, plenty of stuffed animals conveniently located at toddler eye level, and some unique, locally made gifts, such as bonnets, pioneer games and beaded items from the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde.
Choose the self-guided tour or book an interpretive guide to lead you through. Guides are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Watch a Film and Play Dress-Up
The heart of the museum is a 30-minute widescreen movie “Bound For Oregon,” although there is the option of skipping that portion for parents of small ones who have yet to develop that type of attention span. It’s also worth mentioning that the movie begins with a somewhat ominous holographic effect of an old man appearing in a doorway, which might prove a little scary for some of the young ones.
Those who are interested in the film can wait for the next show time in the lounge, where there are several kid-oriented activities, like candle-making, pioneer clothes for playing dress-up, a large doll-house and several games and toys that were used long ago. Pioneer clothes are also available for adults, for that somber-faced, sepia-tinged vintage family photo you’ve been dying to take. Parents with extra small ones will likely appreciate that nearly everything in the lounge is okay to touch or play with, but most of the activities are probably best suited to hold the attention of kids four and older.
Examine the Tools
The third indoor exhibit at the museum is a large building housing a small stage, raised seating and a variety of tools and household items employed by those who braved the trail. As with the lounge, there were several areas in this room that encourage kids to touch and interact with the items, including a small pup tent, a basket full of Lincoln Logs and several pioneer utensils. Those hoping to climb aboard an actual wagon will not get their wish, however, as the two small wagons on display don’t allow passengers of any age.
Explore the Garden
Once visitors are back outside, there are a few more things to see, including an heirloom rose garden and pioneer kitchen garden. Master gardeners are sometimes available for hands-on demonstrations.
There are also a handful of aging, authentic pioneer shacks onsite, which are unfurnished, but nice for a quick final tour. A covered pavilion on the lawn offers a great place for a pre or post-visit meal, and concessions are available, offering sandwiches, wraps, salads and fruit.
While the museum’s winter hours are limited, the center is open seven days a week in the summer, in addition to hosting outside events on the park-like grounds, including a free concerts in the park series every Thursday from 4-7 p.m. Admission to the museum is $9 for adults, $5 for children four to 17 and free for kids three and under.
A quick note for those who have babes and toddlers, you may want to change diapers before leaving the parking lot, as the restroom facilities don’t offer changing tables.
1726 Washington Street
Oregon City, OR
503 657 9336
Online at historicoregoncity.org
Have you been to the End of the Trail Interpretive Center? Let us know in the Comments below!
— Ty Adams
Photos courtesy of Ty Adams