Hikes for kids: Champoeg State Park (Donald)

Nitty-Gritty:

  • The hike we did was 4.85 miles long, and had no elevation gain. Trail length can vary depending on what you are up for, from a short hike around the Townsite Day Use area or walking to Historic Butteville (from the Townsite Day Use Area is it about 8.4 miles round trip and flat along a mix of mowed and paved trails).
  • Very historic and rich in culture!
  • Great Visitor’s center, museums, boat dock, bike trails, disc golf, and more!
  • Campground with 67 electric sites with water, and 8 full hook up sites (sewer, electric and water)
  • Wildlife is all everywhere, from native plants to various bird varieties and bats. Keep an eye out!
  • 45°14’53.4″N 122°53’39.4″W

Having grown up in Oregon, I though I knew a good deal about our state history. I recently found out there was a whole time period I knew very little about when we went down to hike at Champoeg State Park. Fur Trappers and Native Tribes were here long before the Oregon Trail pioneers started making their way west. This area was originally called Champooick by the Kalapuya people. Fur trappers started arriving in the area around 1811 and the Willamette Post was set up in 1813 and served as an important trading post and ferry crossing the river. As men started leaving the Hudson Bay Company and taking up land to farm, fears started to arise about more settlers coming west, which eventually lead to the discussion of which country these lands should belong to. On 2 May 1843, in a 52 to 50 vote, it was decided they would be the most western provisional government in the US (at that time) and denying Canada claim.
From Portland, we drove south on I-5 for about 20 minutes to exit 278. The way to the park is well-marked and easy to find. Upon entering the park a day use fee of $5.00 is charged at a toll booth just past the visitor’s center. You might stop in quickly at the Visitor’s center to pick up a trail map and a park newspaper though. From the pay booth, turn left and make your way down to the Townsite/Riverside Day Use Area. We started our hike there. We went first to the Pioneer Memorial Building, Pavillion, and Monument Plaza to have a look. This is where the famous vote took place, but it is also a nice place to sit and enjoy river views. From here we walked down a set up stairs and turned left following the river around a short loop on the Pavillion Trail before joining the Townsite Trail.

The Townsite Trail is quite interesting. It flanks  the river on one side and a gorgeous meadow on the other. You will notice posts in a marked grid, representing where the streets were in the town of Champoeg before it was washed away during a massive flood in 1861. To be honest, I noticed this only on our way back, and not at the start of our walk. We decided to have a walk along De Grasse Street, which took us back to the parking area upon our return. The streets are mowed into the meadow, giving you a sense of the size of the town and where buildings would have stood. It was quite amazing to think an entire town was wiped out by one of our best known rivers, and it wasn’t the only time. This area flooded again in 1890, taking all remaining structures. We had another big flood in 1996, but the waters didn’t rise as high as they had previously. If you head down to the dock (which is located along the Townsite Trail after the Group Tent Area), you will see a sign on one pylon, way up high, showing the highest point the water level reached in 1996, and imagining the 1861 flood with even higher waters was incredible.

As you continue along the Townsite trail for 1.3 miles, you will pass the group tent sites (as mentioned), the dock area, and come to the Oak Grove Day Use Area. Here you will find picnic spots and a disc golf course. In the meadow areas you will see boxes up on posts which are housing for birds and bats. We saw various types of birds, and I bet the bats are amazing around dusk! Heading back from here, along with the first loop will net you a 3.4 round trip hike. We decided to carry on for a little longer to check out a couple of other things, including the campground and Kitty M. Newell’s grave.

 Kitty M Newell was the wife of Robert Newell, one of the early fur trappers. Kitty was a member of the Nez Perce (Nimi’ipuu) tribe, and fur trappers often married Native women to build strong bonds with the tribes, which was beneficial because the tribes often bought fur from the trappers. There was also a severe shortage of “white women” for the men to marry in those early days. Many families in the Northwest were mixed white/Native American before the Oregon Trail and pioneers started making their way west. Kitty died of illness while she was relatively young (something that was a real problem in Oregon during the time). She left behind her husband and 5 sons. Her husband buried her on the banks overlooking Champoeg Creek, a part of the property he settled and farmed. Nobody knows why she was buried alone or in this location, but the Daughters of the American Revolution recognized her and put in this headstone. The trails in this area are beautiful. After you cross the bridge over Champoeg Creek, which will take you to the campground, continue left and you will see a cut out on your left (off the paved trail). Follow that to the fork where you have 2 choices: 1) go left, which goes along the creek and past Kitty’s grave to a dead-end, or 2) go right and check out the Kitty Newell Nature Trail Loop. We had walked our leg off (at least half way) and decided to save the nature trail for when we camp here (which will hopefully be soon as the campground appeared to be nice).

From here we back-tracked pretty much the same way we came. When all was said and done, we had logged 4.85 miles, which we really enjoyed. There were great river and meadow views!

After our hike we got back in the car and headed towards the road. We made a quick stop at the visitor’s center where people were dressed in period clothing and you can learn all about the early days of the area and the history that shaped our state.

 An Aside: After we were finished at Champoeg we were starving and we did a quick Google search for places to eat in the area. White Rabbit Bakery in Aurora, OR made the most beautiful and delicious sandwiches. And cinnamon rolls. And puff pastries. If you are hungry, check them out. They are about 15 minutes from the state park and if you are gluten-free, you will be in heaven! We are not gluten-free, and decided it everything tasted this good we could be gluten-free and not miss a thing! We will go back again. Especially for those cinnamon rolls!

 

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