Owned by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Spirit Mountain Casino is Oregon’s number one tourist attraction. But what many gamblers don’t know is that a side road near the casino leads to what is probably Oregon’s least known attraction on the eastern border of the Grand Ronde Reservation—Fort Yamhill State Heritage Area. Admittedly there is not a great deal to physically see here—the Officers Quarters is the only original structure still standing—but if you bring a little imagination and an interest in Oregon’s military past, you’ll get the most from this lesser-known historic site.
Between 1856 and 1861, Fort Yamhill was manned by about 85 regular military soldiers/officers. By 1866, the fort was abandoned and the original buildings were auctioned off and removed. The fort’s main purpose was to serve as a buffer between white settlers moving into the area and the Native Americans located on the nearby Grand Ronde Reservation. While in service, the fort was very much its own self-contained village and included a store, blacksmith, bakery, laundress houses, hospital, and more.
Pick up an informative brochure near the parking lot, follow the paved path, and in about 30 minutes you’ll have a good understanding of the function and life at Fort Yamhill back in the late 1850s. As you stroll the half-mile path, you’ll pass several sites where whitewashed “cottage” style structures once stood. The foundation of a kitchen and some other buildings are currently being excavated, and you can watch the archaeologists (mostly students) in action during the summer. All it takes is a little imagination to picture a bustling military post from over 150 years ago.
The interpretive signage along the trail tells a very detailed story about the history and hardships faced by both the soldiers and Native Americans. Times were tough for all. Enlisted soldiers fought hunger, isolation, and monotony. Desertion was common. Native Americans from many tribes were forced to move here to the Grand Ronde Reservation from their aboriginal home lands—and along with the move came new rules and a new language.
One thing you won’t need your imagination for at Fort Yamhill State Heritage Area is to enjoy the scenic views. This hillside historic site overlooks the Tribal Powwow Grounds and on a clear day you can see for miles. After taking in the scenery, head back to nearby Spirit Mountain Casino and see if you can find a little Lady Luck at the gaming tables or at any of the 2,000 slot machines!
IF YOU GO:
Fort Yamhill State Heritage Area is approximately 65 miles southwest of Portland and only 25 minutes from the Oregon coast. Entrance on east side of Oregon Hwy 22, 1 mile north of Valley Junction. Phone: 800-551-6949
27100 SW Salmon River Hwy
Grand Ronde, OR 97347
Spirit Mountain Casino provides guests with free RV parking without hookups. You’re welcome to pull up, park, stay and play as long as you like. If you need hookups for longer stays, there are a few nearby RV Parks that will accommodate your needs.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com