Urban grit or lost: a hike unfinished

On Sunday, my friend Deb and I attempted to do a hike in Oregon City. I say attempted, because we couldn’t actually find the location for part of the hike. It’s hard to know how to break this one down as a result. I think I’ll start with a general description of our experience and then describe the hike as I normally would.

The top of the elevator from the promenade

We wanted to hike the McLoughlin Promenade in Oregon City. The first part of the hike, as described in an article on Oregon Live, is easy to find and easy to do. It begins with the city’s famous elevator, and then there are two directions in which you can go. Our mistake was in not bringing along the article, which we had in the car, and forgetting that it included directions for that part of the hike.

The hike begins in a lovely walk above the downtown, where you have views of the Willamette River, the Willamette Falls, and an interesting old area of factories perched above the river. It’s when you go down that the urban grit comes in and we got lost. We were unable to find the part of the hike that goes to Canemah Park. We went back, got our car, and tried to drive there, but we saw no sign of access to the park except for areas where we couldn’t park. We even asked a resident, who had no idea what we were talking about. If we had taken the article along with us on the walk, we might have found it, but there seems to be no access to the park for a car. We also missed the waterfalls, because we ran out of time looking for the park. Hint: whatever you do, don’t try to find the park using the Heritage Trail brochure, available at the elevator.

There are also several ways to do this hike, only a few of which we took, which makes it more difficult to describe.

McLoughlin Promenade

Rating: Easy if you just go down the stairs and don’t have mobility issues (or you can stop at the stairs), Moderate if you decide to go back up the stairs instead of taking the elevator

Panting stops: 0 if you take the elevator up; otherwise, 1.

Length: 1.3 miles if you go as far as the pullout viewpoint of the falls; 2.5 miles if you can find the park and take the hike in both directions from the elevator

Elevation changes: 190 feet down the stairs; I don’t know about parts of the hikes we didn’t do.

You can park in downtown Oregon City and go up the elevator or do what we did, park near the elevator and take it back up at the end of the hike.

The hike we took

A view of the river from the promenade. You can see the quality of the path and get an idea of the scenery from up above

From the elevator, we turned right and walked along the promenade above the city to the southwest. From there, you can see a bit of the city but mostly the river and the Willamette Falls. At the falls, there is a collection of disused factories and docks that the city plans to make its centerpiece in years to come. The walk is pleasant. Even though it was hot, there was plenty of shade, and people came along the path with strollers. The path is paved and lined with a stone parapet built by the WPA in 1937.

The Willamette Falls from above

At the end of the upper part of the promenade you get a beautiful view of the Willamette Falls. At that point, you will see an old green metal stairway going down to the lower level. Take that stairway down. Here’s where the urban grit comes in. You will be walking alongside a busy highway (Hwy 99). When we were there, construction was going on. The sidewalk is right against the highway with no buffer, so just beware that there is lots of traffic.

When we got to the turnout, we saw another nice view of the falls, but we couldn’t figure out where to go from there to get to the park. We spent so much time after that trying to find the park that we didn’t see the other end of the promenade with the waterfalls.

The downtown area from next to the elevator with a view of the bridge over the Willamette

To get back you can return on the staircase or walk up the ramp to a pedestrian tunnel that goes above the traffic tunnel. This is a little creepy. The tunnel takes you out at the back of a parking lot. If you walk along the backs of the parking lots and around a corner, you can take the elevator back up. It might be more fun to explore the streets of the downtown area before going back, as it looks like a vibrant, interesting downtown with lots of shops and restaurants.

The hikes we didn’t take

South beyond the viewpoint: If you take the hike as described down the staircase ending with the viewpoint, cross the street at the viewpoint. I will warn you that at the time we went, a Sunday afternoon, this would have been difficult to do without being killed. There is no crosswalk, and there was construction. Walk down the highway until you see a power station on your left. Enter the parking lot and go to the back of the fenced-in station. There should be a path that takes you through a small field to the Old Canemah Park.

North to the left of the elevator: I’m now disappointed we didn’t go that way, because if we had, we would have gone down a set of concrete steps, followed a fence down the hill, and ended at a waterfall along Singer Creek and the Dr. John McLoughlin House. I can’t say anything about this end of the path, as we didn’t go this way.

How to get there

From Portland, take I-205 South. Take Exit 9 and turn left onto McLoughlin Boulevard. Turn left on 10th Street. Go up Sugar Hill and turn left onto 7th Street. The elevator is at the end of 7th Street, if you want to start at the bottom.

If you want to start at the top like we did, 7th Street veers right onto Mollala Avenue. That takes you to the elevator at the top.


You can park in one of several parking lots near the elevator, on the streets downtown, or in a very small parking lot at the top of the elevator.