Time has erased the significance of Oregon’s little town of Champoeg, but back in the early 1800’s it was an important transportation link in the Willamette Valley. Steamboat and stagecoaches alike stopped through, and the area was home to over 100 Oregon Trail settlers and trappers.
But a massive flood in 1861, followed by one in 1892, washed away most of the settlement beyond recovery. Today, very little remains of Champoeg’s developed past, with the exceptions of some artifacts and the Newell House.
Yet for the modern Oregon explorer, the loop trail through the Champoeg State Heritage Area serves as a fun mix of history lesson and outdoor adventure. For first-time visitors, it’s well worth delaying your start and stopping by the Champoeg Visitor Center to pick up a map and chat to the volunteers.
To find the trail, head behind the Visitor Center along a path that leads up to the Manson Homestead. Pause to check out the restored barn, kitchen garden, and apple orchard, then switchback downhill and cross the Mission Creek via a small footbridge. Up ahead is the park road that junctions with a paved bicycle track. Take the bike trail, and walk through an open field that leads up to another section of Mission Creek. The cross the creek and wander through a field populated by cherries and cottonwoods.
The trailside foliage will turn into locust and maple trees as you pass first a house, then the Pioneer Mother’s Memorial Cabin. (This is a reconstructed cabin created in 1931 as a museum – pop in at the price of $4 for a quick look-see). Follow the trail down to the end of the parking lot, and head back into a shady grove of sequoias. At the junction up ahead take a right and walk up the to the Champoeg Pioneer Memorial Building and Monument Plaza. Take the Pavilion Trail behind the building up along a bluff overlooking the Willamette River.
The trail will gain elevation, wander past a picnic shelter, and drops down a staircase. Douglas firs and maples keep you company for this stretch, as well as trillium, salmonberry, nettle, waterleaf, and violets. The path then loops east along the banks of the Willamette River and under the shade of cottonwoods. Several junctions will show up – just stick left to stay on the loop, and watch for the trail to rise back up the bluff.
Up ahead is the Pioneer Mother’s Cabin and a junction. Take a left and follow a woodchip trail through a grove of Oregon white oak. Look for chocolate lilies here in the spring. The trail braids next through markers denoting the old Champoeg town site. Then the path leads across a field to a wooden fence and a junction. Take a left here to head onto the Townsite Trail.
Option at the next junction to head down to a floating dock or swing to the right to head down a spur trail through willow and ash trees. Champoeg Creek burbles off to the right, following the trail to the Oak Grove Picnic Area. Just ahead is the junction with the bike trail – take a right to return to the Visitor Center.