Overlooking the Willamette River, Canemah Bluff Natural Area is a haven for history, hiking and habitat.
Park in the small lot at Canemah Neighborhood Children’s Park, at 815 Fourth Avenue in Oregon City. The city park serves as a gateway to Metro’s natural area.
Canemah Bluff Natural Area is a perfect place to experience spectacular views of the Willamette River, explore rare oak habitat, photograph colorful spring wildflowers and learn about the area’s rich past. Tucked away in Oregon City’s historic Canemah neighborhood, this 330-acre natural area is one of the signature accomplishments of the region’s efforts to protect nature.
Start your journey at Oregon City’s Canemah Neighborhood Children’s Park, where you’ll find picnic tables, a playground, a basketball court and restrooms. From there continue into the natural area, where more than amile of unpaved trails explore a mosaic of habitats.
Animals love the rich diversity of habitats at Canemah Bluff, including rare Oregon white oak and Pacific madrone trees as well as heartier and faster-growing Douglas fir, maple and alder. Metro’s science team has removed invasive plants and strategically thinned trees that compete with oaks – part of a broader effort to reverse their dramatic decline in the Willamette Valley. When oak trees thrive, so do the plants and animals that depend on them for food and shelter.
During the spring, Canemah Bluff bursts with wildflowers, including Camas and Brodiaea lilies, white larkspur and rosy Plectritus. Birders can find chipping sparrows, red-breasted sapsuckers, white-breasted nuthatches and orange-crowned warblers, as well as hawks and eagles soaring above the river.
Canemah comes from “canim” or “canoe” in Chinook. Situated just upstream of the rushing Willamette Falls, the riverside area of Canemah is where hundreds of generations of Native Americans beached their canoes to portage around the falls.
Beginning in 1844 with Absalom Hedges, settlers in Canemah built warehouses and offered stevedoring and transportation services to move freight and steamboat passengers around the falls. The area along the river below Canemah Bluff soon became a shipbuilding center, with steamboats running between Canemah and upstream farming communities. Some of the earliest settlers, including Hedges, live on through Canemah streets named after them.
The boom ended in 1873, when the Willamette Falls Locks were built across the river; no longer did freight have to be unloaded upstream and reloaded downstream of the falls. Canemah’s heyday was past. What’s left today is a gorgeous slice of river, old streets, blufftop views and rare habitats.
A site plan developed with community input calls for more signage and trails, some trail closures and a safety railing at the steep bluffs above the river. Visitors will begin seeing improvements by fall 2013.
Metro also hopes to plan for visitors on the entire natural area. Existing trails allow people to explore the northern 100 acres, which were separated from the rest of the site until a key parcel was acquired in early 2013.
Metro purchased land on Canemah Bluff piece by piece as opportunities arose, using funds from natural areas bond measures approved by the region’s voters in 1995 and 2006. The bond measures were designed to protect water quality, wildlife habitat and opportunities to enjoy nature.
Canemah Bluff Natural Area opens half an hour before sunrise and closes half an hour after sunset.
To protect natural habitats and visitors, Metro does not allow pets, fires, bikes, motorized vehicles, alcohol, weapons or hunting at the natural area. Dogs are allowed on leash in Canemah Neighborhood Children’s Park and all Oregon City parks.