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Champoeg State Park makes the perfect destination for a first-time cycle tour or for someone who just wants to head somewhere for a short weekend excursion. In fact, it was where we pedaled for our very first cycle tour. The park is open year round and the hiker/biker camping means a cyclist will never be turned away. We’ve changed our setup since that first ride and have gained a bit more knowledge of how exactly to do this cycle touring thing, so we were excited to follow our steps as we departed on our Oregon Rode Trip.
There are a variety of routes one may choose to pedal from Portland to Champoeg State Park, and we had planned to take the same route we had the first time, for simplicity’s sake. We first followed the Springwater Trail before hitting the Sellwood neighborhood. From there, we linked up to the Trolley Trail after a lunch detour to Bob’s Red Mill, which took us all the way to Oregon City and through lovely Clackamette Park before gaining a bit of help with some climbing by taking the Oregon City Municipal Elevator. Once a heavy rainstorm passed, we set off on the 2-mile climb into the scenic rolling hills of the Clackamas County wine country before descending down into the small town of Canby. From Canby, it’s a fairly straight shot into Champoeg State Park, to which we arrived just before darkness set in.
I’ve provided a map of our route from Portland to Champoeg below with some notes of things we’d do differently and lay out in detail various aspects of our journey.
We began from our friend Adam’s house in NE Portland a bit before noon and joined the Springwater Trail from the Eastbank Esplanade path. The Springwater Trail is a car-free bike path that runs from Portland to Boring, Oregon (we’ll complete the second half of the trail from Boring on our return) and is part of the 40-mile Loop envisioned by Frederick Law Olmstead in 1904 that would connect parks and greenways via a multi-use bike and pedestrian boulevard.
The Springwater Trail follows an old trail line along the Willamette River and through Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. It is super popular and summer weekends users will find it packed with runners, cyclists, dogs, and parents pushing babies in strollers. Several nature trails spur off the paved path with access to the river or other natural areas.
The trail stops at the Sellwood Bridge and continues through the Sellwood neighborhood. A darling part of Portland I’ve always thought to “be so far away” is really is just a 15-minute ride down the Springwater Trail. Sellwood is almost like it’s own self-sustaining town with loads of coffee shops, breweries, restaurants, local grocery stores and plenty of parks all within walking distance from most homes. The more I spend time there, the more I adore the neighborhood.
A short well-labeled jaunt through the streets of Sellwood reconnects users to the Springwater Trail. On this journey, however, we headed away from the trail and towards the city of Milwaukie, where we would meet up with the Trolley Trail after a lunch stop at Bob’s Red Mill.
Bob’s Red Mill
Bob’s Red Mill is the place to go for a group with any sort of food allergies or specific diet. Whether you eat it all, are vegan like us or can’t have gluten, Bob’s got you covered. The large covered patio at Bob’s Red Mill means dog-friendly dining even in the rain. We both went for the burger special that came with a side of flax seed chips, a pickle, and a choice of two vegan cheese options. Both the breakfast and lunch menu comes with plenty of veg choices and gluten-free is never a problem.
Bob’s Red Mill is one of my favorite places to find my baking supplies. The brand is available all over the world, but did you know there is a store? A wonderful store stocked with over 500 bulk bins of flours, nuts and seeds, dried fruits, spices, beans, oats, chocolate, baking mixes and more. I used to purchase 25lb buckets of flour and oats since I went through them so quickly making homemade granola, oat flour, and breads, cakes, and cookies. It’s a vegan and gluten-free paradise.
Aside from being an employee-owned company, the best part of Bob’s Red Mill is that the prices are insanely affordable. Bag after bag filled with baking goods would pass the scanner, but I never fretted about the total because purchasing in bulk means lower cost.
In addition to baking paradise shopping and dining options, Bob’s Red Mill offers tours at their offices down the road, as well as cooking classes like Ayurvedic cooking, vegetarian tamales, and ancient grains. If you’re lucky, you might even have the chance to say hello to Bob during your visit.
Fun fact, I used to work for Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory and would sometimes bike to work. By that italicized sometimes, I mean that I rode my bike on those days when I could somehow find the energy to rise out of bed in the cold and darkness and rain at 5AM, blindly grab my lunch and breakfast from the fridge (hello overnight oats!), and then hop on my bike and ride the 15 miles to work. It was not all that often that I would bike to work, as you can imagine.
I always knew about the Trolley Trail, but other commuters strongly advised that I avoid it because it was slow on account of the lights. After arriving to the point where I would normally head along my commute route, we decided to try something a little different. This ride was all about leisure and I had no office expecting my arrival at 7:30AM.
We were so delighted with the six-mile Trolley Trail that stretched between the cities of Milwaukie and Gladstone for its scenic paved path, cycling directions at every intersection, and for the tour of the neighborhood that we would never otherwise see. There weren’t even that many traffic lights we had to contend with.
The Trolley Trail dropped us off right at High Rocks Park along the Clackamas River where another path took us through the woods and into downtown Oregon City. Had we wanted to make a loop of this adventure, we were just a few blocks from the 205-Path which leads back to Portland.
Oregon City’s nickname is the First City because it was the first established city west of the Rocky Mountains in 1829. It also holds significant historical importance for the state of Oregon. It was the capital of the Oregon Territory and vied with Portland for power during the early years and the coin toss between Pettygrove and Lovejoy (names you’ll recognize if you’re familiar with Portland’s NW neighborhood) which determined Portland’s namesake (as opposed to Boston) took place in the Ermatinger house, the oldest house in the county.
The city’s craft beer scene has been growing in past years, much to my delight, as we are always looking for new breweries to visit. Oregon City Brewing was new when we left on our trip, and is located right downtown. Feckin is not too far away and we had our sights set on dog-friendly (indoors!!) Coin Toss Brewing, but time and weather would dictate other plans. We opted to take the Oregon City Municipal Elevator, one of only four working municipal elevators in the world to assist with a short boost up the pending hill to come. We really only saved a whopping 100 feet or so BUT because we took the elevator, it meant we had shelter for the pending storm we saw coming in.
Idyllic Cycling on Country Roads
My least favorite part of my commute (besides the early alarm and the darkness?) The steep hill to the upper part of Oregon City, where my office stood. Our route to Champoeg followed the same course, so up we went. Luckily, after tackling the Andes in South America and dropping a few pounds in gear (read: my giant food bag), the hill seemed much easier than I had remembered. At the top, we followed quiet country roads past farms and vineyards for several miles before descending into Canby, a darling little town with fun shops and fantastic Mexican food. We stopped at El Chilito, as it was late and we knew we’d be racing sunset to reach Champoeg.
I ordered our burritos from the vibrant girl behind the counter (if you’re vegan be sure to ask for whole beans, not refried). She wore intense eye makeup—a grayish blue painted her upper eyelid, with a sweep of green over the lid. It suited her perfectly. She was just delightful and greeted each customer by name, asked them about specific events in their lives, and even repeated back their usual orders. This tiny restaurant was the hub of the whole town.
After chowing down, we hopped on the bikes and booked it to Champoeg, hoping to make reach the campground before sun down.
Champoeg State Park
Champoeg State Park is a large park that sits on the banks of the Willamette River and features over 60 RV sites, walk-in tent camping, a hiker/biker section, and dog-friendly cabins and yurts. The park is open year round and over six miles of trails for biking, hiking, or running meander throughout. For cyclists, there is a bike fixit station at check-in, as well as lockers with electricity at the hiker/biker camp area. The showers are free, clean, and hot and the hiker/biker section is away from RVlandia, so you don’t have to worry about any annoying neighbors.
Logistics: Biking from Portland to Champoeg
Mileage: 40 miles // approx. 19 miles on separated bike paths
Difficulty: Moderate, based on the steep hill in Oregon City followed by the rolling hills and the distance. The portion from Portland to Oregon City is easy.
Food Options: High. There are plenty of cities with restaurant and grocery options through until Canby. From there, you will need to provide breakfast for yourself in Champoeg.
Scenery: Willamette River views, farmland and wineries.
Road: Good condition. The bike paths are well-labeled and the roads either have bike lanes or wide shoulders.
Champoeg: Hiker/biker camping $5