If you forgot to reserve your campsites early this summer, don’t dismay, you can still enjoy one of Oregon’s state parks on an easy day trip from Portland. Set on the banks of the Willamette River, Champoeg State Heritage Area is a place rich in history and recreation opportunities to discover this summer. In the early 1800s, Champoeg was home to the native Kalapuya people and French-Canadian fur trappers before the settlers arrived via the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. It is also the site where the Northwest’s first provincial government was formed in 1843.
Approximate travel time: Less than an hour from downtown Portland.
What to do: Bring the bicycles or some wheels to help little legs cover the 4 mile end-to-end trail or a picnic blanket to relax on under one of the big oak trees.
The Visitor Center and Bookstore is in the big red barn at the park entrance. Stop here first to pick up a map of the area and tour the interactive exhibit. Kids can touch and feel fur pelts and learn about the cultural history and events that occurred here over the centuries. Look for swallows’ nests and baby birds near the entrance before heading inside.
Next to the Visitor Center is the 1860s Kitchen Garden and the Threshing Barn, a restored 1862 barn where the park hosts regular living history demonstrations, such as Children’s Jobs Day to give kids a taste of pioneer life on the prairie.
Take the bike path past the grassy prairie and archeology dig toward the Riverside Day Use Area and you’ll find the Pioneer Mothers Log Cabin. It’s a replica of a pioneer’s log cabin that displays authentic furnishings from the 1850s. It’s open Fri-Sun or by appointment. From there, continue on to the Monument Plaza, known as the “Plymouth Rock of the Northwest”. This is the site of the 1843 vote that established the first government in the Northwest. There is a short hiking trail that begins here that takes you close to the river.
East of the Visitors Center is the Oak Grove Day Use Area. Along the bike path you’ll notice the nest boxes for the native Western Bluebirds, which are part of an effort of the Prescott Bluebird Recovery Project. As you approach the day use area entrance, you’ll see a Disc Golf Course. It’s a 15-hole course and is said to be the oldest disc golf course in Oregon. If you forgot to bring your own discs you can purchase child and adult weight discs back at the Visitors Center. There is also a boat and fishing dock in this day use area.
Continuing east on the bike trail you’ll pass the campground, where you can see the tent sites, yurts and cabins. It’s a nice cruise on the mostly flat trail as it becomes more wooded and has views of the river. Make the Historic Butteville Store just past the end of the park, over the hill, the incentive to continue the whole way. The store was established in 1863 and is the oldest continuously operating store in Oregon. Ice cream, homemade pie, cold drinks and more await to rejuvenate tired kiddos at the end of the trail.
Possible lunch spots: Pack a picnic and enjoy a peaceful lunch at one of the many picnic tables and grassy areas or find a secluded spot under the trees overlooking the river. Alternatively, you can head to the Historic Butteville Store where they serve classic sandwiches and old-fashioned treats. Inside and outside seating is available.
How to dress: Comfortable and weather appropriate.
Need to know: Day use permits are required year-round. Permits can be purchased at the entrance booth and visitor center for $5.
Bonus: Living history events with costumed interpreters are held on Saturdays. Check the schedule for details.
Cost of trip: Inexpensive.
– Ali Livolsi