A gorgeous retreat for birdwatchers, horseback riders, disc golfers and kayakers, Willamette Mission State Park has something for everyone. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the park marks the site of the original Willamette Mission, established in 1834 and washed away by flood in 1861.
The park’s 1,300 acres include woodland, wetland, rolling meadows and working farmland. Just eight miles north of Salem and only minutes from I-5, it is a convenient retreat for family picnics and company events. Visitors also have a chance to explore almost 15 miles of trails on foot or horseback.
The nation’s largest black cottonwood sits on the shores of Mission Lake. This 270-year old tree is more than 28 feet in circumference, and stands more than 155 feet tall.
Anglers will enjoy fishing for bluegill, crappie, carp and largemouth bass in Mission and Goose lakes. Fishing at Goose Lake requires some trailblazing, and the undeveloped trail can flood in the winter and spring (watercraft walk-in only).
At Mission Lake, cast your line from the ADA-accessible fishing dock (electric motors and paddle craft only).
Access the Willamette River from the boat launch next to the Wheatland Ferry, at the north end of the park. Two trails from the Filbert Grove Day-use Area lead to a beach with a gravel bar popular for launching kayaks. A permit is required for camping along the Willamette River Water Trail; call or visit the park office to obtain one.
The Wheatland Disc Golf Course features 18 holes that weave through a hazelnut grove. A fairway map and scorecards are available at the start of the course.
For more information and a park map, download our Recreation Guide.
The rise and fall of Willamette Mission
The park commemorates the site of Willamette Mission, which served as the first Methodist mission on the west coast and as a boarding school for Native American youth from 1834 until 1841. Established by Québec-born Rev. Jason Lee, the mission marked one of the first Euro-American communities in the Willamette Valley.
Lee and his team of four men arrived Oct. 6, 1834. Racing the coming winter, they built a log Mission House to serve as a school, chapel, kitchen and living quarters. It became the center of missionary life. From 1835-1841, the mission grew to include a chapel, hospital, log cabin homes, blacksmith shop, granary and 30-acre farm. The complex became known across the U.S. as “Wilamet” Station at Mission Bottom and served for a time as the headquarters for satellite missions across the Pacific Northwest.
The Methodist Missionary Society in New York sent several reinforcements to expand the community. These newcomers included a doctor, blacksmith, and teachers -- including the woman who would become Lee’s wife, Anna Maria Pittman.
But from the outset, Lee faced logistical and cultural challenges in establishing his boarding school and converting the Native people. While some Native Americans did convert to Christianity, others struggled to fit this new religion into their existing worldviews. Additionally, foreign illnesses were decimating native populations.
Frequent floods at Mission Bottom pushed Lee to move the headquarters in 1841 to Chemeketa Plain. He reopened the boarding school and named it the Indian Manual Training School, which would become Willamette University.
Families traveling the Applegate and Oregon Trail continued to use the abandoned mission buildings until a catastrophic flood in 1861 washed them away. The state acquired the property through donation in 1979 and opened it to the public as a state park in honor of Lee’s contribution to Oregon’s history.
Though the mission itself was transient, Lee’s legacy endured — both as a catalyst that helped to put Salem on the map as the state’s political capital, and as a reminder of the upheaval in the lives of the Native Americans who first called this area home.