One of the most interactive historical centers in the Portland Metro area, my family and I had a wonderful time playing pioneer dress up, exploring 19th century games, making our own candles, filling a prairie schooner wagon with supplies and more at the End of the Oregon Trail (EOT) Interpretive Center in Oregon City.
“We’re different than most historical sites,” says EOT Administrative Director Gail Yazzolino. “The interpretive center is both a museum and a play space with artifacts, replicas and displays. We want families, seniors, history buffs and people of all different abilities to visit.”
Reopened in July 2013 after a two-year renovation, the EOT and its grounds are owned and operated by Oregon City. It’s also supported by private foundations and local tourism organizations. Entrance to the grounds and visitor information center is free and open to the public.
After arriving at the EOT, my husband Erik, our four-year-old son Finn and I stopped first at the visitor center, located in the dark brown building. Inside to the left we found the information center offering free Oregon maps and brochures. There’s also a kid’s corner filled with pioneer games and costumes. Note: The EOT’s buildings and grounds are accessible via ramps for wheelchairs and strollers.
On the right is the EOT’s country store where a variety of locally-made goods such as jewelry, books and toys are available for purchase. The store is also where visitors pay admission for the interpretive center. Have any questions? Just ask the friendly EOT staffer manning the reception desk in front of the main doors.
After paying our admission, we walked to the interpretive center, located in the red building just steps away from the visitor center. Approximately 1200 sq. ft., the interpretive center stretches beneath the EOT’s three massive white wagons. Split into three main areas, the center explores the beginning, middle and end of the Oregon Trail.
In the center’s first room are 19th century replica toys, make beeswax candles, shop at the general store, and fill a prairie schooner wagon bed full of supplies. This represents the pioneers preparing for the trail. Erik, Finn and I had a great time exploring this room. Finn especially enjoyed the candle-making station where he created a small blue candle for us to take home.
Along with informational signs and hands-on exhibits in the rooms and hallways, there’s also a dozen or so electronic tablets scattered throughout the center. These tablets are filled with images, stories and facts about the trail, 19th century clothes, pioneer medicine and more.
We were done making candles we continued down the hall to the movie theater. Occupying the middle building, the theater features a new 30-minute film titled “Bound for Oregon.” Drawing on letters, diaries, music and reenactments, the movie portrays pioneer and Native American experiences while traveling on the Oregon Trail. The movie is appropriate for all ages
After the film, we headed to the other side of the theater and exit through the doors into a short hallway that led to the center’s last section, a spacious auditorium and play area. This represents Oregon City and what the pioneers experienced when they reached the end of the trail. In the play area, Finn built a house out of Lincoln Logs while Erik and I explored the pioneer camp and period memorabilia.
Then we headed outside to tour the EOT’s grounds, including a large green space, informational signs and a pioneer garden. Maintained by OSU-accredited master gardeners, the garden grows heirloom vegetables and roses. Visitors can also enhance their experience by using the QR codes and other smart phone technologies available on signs around the grounds.
Along with school and group programs, the EOT also hosts author readings and special exhibits. “Our goal is to highlight various cultures and heritages in Oregon,” says EOT Staff Member Jayme Taylor. A summer concert series is also in the works.
And that’s not all. “We’re working with confederated tribes to tell more of their part of the story,” says Gail. “We want to make it more authentic.” Other future additions include a movie theater equipment upgrade, foreign language transitions and audio displays so families can look forward to visiting the EOT for years to come.
When You Go:
1726 Washington St.
Oregon City, OR 97045
Hours: Oct. 1-May 31, Thurs.-Mon. 11am-4pm; June 1-16, daily 11am-4pm.; June 17-Sept. 2, Mon.-Sat. 9:30am-5pm and Sun. 10:30am-5pm; Sept. 3-30, daily 11am-4pm. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day.
Admission: $9 adults; $5 ages 4-17; free for ages 0-3 and active military personnel with ID.
Special Events: Check the website for more information.