Steeped in History, the City is Blazing New Trails with Revitalization
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About Oregon City
In the mid-1800s, Oregon City was the final wagon stop for pioneers making the arduous journey across the Oregon Trail. Today, the city is blazing new trails with downtown and riverfront revitalization efforts, new shops and restaurants, and new housing developments.
Located 13 miles south of Portland at the confluence of the Willamette and Clackamas Rivers, Oregon City is steeped in history. Established in 1829 by the Hudson Bay Company as a fur-trading center, Oregon City became the first incorporated city west of the Rockies in 1884 and later served as the first capital of the Oregon Territory. After the capital moved to Salem in 1851, Oregon City evolved into an industrial mill town.
The last paper mill along the river closed in 2011, but plans are in the works to redevelop the industrial buildings and restore public access to the magnificent Willamette Falls. The volume of water pouring over the falls is second only to Niagara Falls, but views of the falls are largely obscured by the old mills. An observation deck at the top of the municipal elevator (connecting the downtown riverside to the midtown bluff) provides a good overview, but for now, the very best view is from the water. You can paddle a kayak or a standup paddleboard near the base of Willamette Falls to take in the sheer size and beauty of the falls.
Back on land, dip into one of the many new restaurants in downtown. Portland restaurant heavyweights Gabriel Rucker and Andy Fortgang of Le Pigeon and Canard have extended the Canard brand to Oregon City. This French bistro is more laid back than the original, but every bit as satisfying. At Oregon City Brewing Company, you can bask on the sunny patio and enjoy an ever-changing selection of 30-plus craft brews on tap plus pub food from Olympia Provisions’ Public House next door.
For a history lesson that’s far more engaging than the Oregon Trail computer game you played as a kid, head to the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. You’ll learn how much bacon to pack for a 2,000 mile wagon journey and how to make butter along the way.
You’ll find historic homes in downtown Oregon City with many affordable, new construction suburban developments further up from the river.