Willamette Falls & Oregon City, Oregon

Oregon City, Oregon. I don’t know about you, but to me it has a ring to it (like New York, New York).  Despite the name, it’s more of a hamlet of hub-Portland than a hub itself. When a friend of mine came to town a couple weeks back and invited me on an adventure, we decided on visiting Oregon City. Why? Because of the Willamette Falls on the Willamette River. In my own travels I’ve paused to gaze at the Falls numerous times, but my friend hadn’t. Ever.

Once in Oregon City, I was unsure of the best place to view the Falls and figured we could explore or ask a local. Before we found anyone to ask, we spotted the Oregon Municipal Elevator – an outdoor elevator. While I’d seen it before, I’d never taken it; so what’d we do? We parked, fed the parking meter a silver Washington and dashed across the street to the hallway leading to the elevator. A trippy hallway with 10 or 12 frames on each wall, each frame held three images that changed as you shifted position. The pictures documented the elevator’s construction and history. Fascinating, but our goal of going up and down the elevator and on to the Falls overshadowed it. When we got in the elevator, we discovered a nice public employee running it. That same public employee turned out to be our nice local who directed us to the best viewing spot.

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Municipal Elevator

Once we stepped out of the elevator on the viewing deck, she directed us to our left and down the McLoughlin Promenade, a 7.8-acre park on the bluff overlooking the Willamette River. Dedicated in 1851, the park benefited from the Work Progress Administration with a stone walled concrete pathway built in 1938 and benefited from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which funded the restoration of the Promenade in 2010.

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A short easy walk brought us to truly the best spot I’ve found to view the Falls. Now if you’re like my friend and thinking “vertical” falls, you, like she, may be a little disappointed. The Willamette Falls, as you can see in the photos, flow more “horizontal,” with a short drop amongst an industrial setup. Also, the industrial buildings (power, mills and the like) mashed right up into the Falls appear rather weathered and decrepit. After viewing for a short while, we proceeded down the Promenade and walked the footbridge over 99E, a Blue Star Memorial Highway, and along and then under the train tracks, looping back to my car. The trek took us a grand 24 minutes.

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Oregon City, Oregon

Deciding on the Molalla State Park as our next destination, we headed out of town on 99E, but before completely leaving, I pulled the car over at the scenic area and historical marker. I’d viewed the Falls here many times. Here as we read the informational signs, the Falls’s value, with all its industry evidenced there, began to increase.

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Willamette Falls

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Willamette Falls

With basically a 40-foot drop, we learned that the “Willamette Falls is the second most powerful waterfall in North America.”  While some of the buildings at the Falls sit empty, some of them actually still see use and from the informational sign we learned what many of them are.  For example, one of the buildings is the T.W. Sullivan Powerhouse, built in 1893 and rebuilt in 1953, and is one of the oldest continuously operated power plants in the United States. The Museum, which I have to return to explore, has more information about the significance of the river and the Falls.

After properly admiring the Willamette Falls, my friend and I headed on to the Molalla State Park, took a soggy walk around and wrapped up our adventure by dinning at MOD Pizza. It’s amazing how hungry a person can get while adventuring!

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