While Portland may get most of the attention, Oregon City has its own unique charm that deserves a little limelight of its own. As the state’s first city and the final stop on the Oregon Trail, Oregon City is a true pioneer town, and people who visit fall in love with its Victorian architecture, abundant foliage, and natural waterfalls.
Located just a few miles outside of Portland, Oregon City is a quick trip from the urban center but it feels like it's a hundred miles away.
Oregon City wears its history on its sleeve to charming effect, honoring the past without being stuck in it. A walk downtown offers a glimpse into the city's history: colorful tiles in the sidewalk illustrate how the streets looked in their early days, and wooden signs hang from the porches of the city’s oldest Victorian homes, proclaiming the names of their original owners. Oregon City also offers plenty of nature and abundant wildlife. Situated at the confluence of the Clackamas and Willamette rivers, you can spot everything from Great Blue Herons to errant sea lions along its water ways.
In the center of the downtown area, an outdoor municipal elevator scales a bluff; using it allows visitors to easily explore two layers of the city -- its strip of shops and restaurants, as well as its scenic promenade overlooking Willamette Falls. The elevator is free to ride and runs daily year-round and for extended hours through the summer.
The waterfall is the second largest in the U.S. by volume, and it has played an important role in the lives of local Native Americans, as a source of sustenance and spiritual significance for thousands of years. The Willamette is replete with wild salmon, which have inspired a small population of sea lions to permanently trade saltwater for the river in hopes of catching a snack. There’s a floating dock where you can watch the sea lions lounge between meal time. The city is currently redeveloping the banks of the river for a retail space and other public use.
For more views of nature and the adjoined waterways, walk or bike the Clackamas River Trail. Join the trail just steps from downtown, and follow it around Clackamette Cove, a lagoon formed by the river, that spits you out right at the water’s edge. The paved trail is a little less than a mile long and crosses a bridge into the neighboring town of Gladstone. After dark, have a pint at the Highland Stillhouse, a Scottish pub with live Celtic music several nights of the week.
The Best Western Plus Rivershore Hotel is located right on the Willamette River along the path to Clackamette Park. Rooms start around $100, and put you within walking distance to all of Oregon City’s main attractions.
Oregon City is just a quick jaunt from Portland. From the airport, it’s a 20-minute ride via I-205. From inner Southeast Portland, it’s also about 20 minutes by car via McLoughlin Blvd., which takes you straight through the center of town. For a more scenic route, Oregon state highway route 43 overlooks the Willamette River and the surrounding forest, and there are plenty of roadside parks with trails and beaches where you can stop along the way.