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There’s a secret park 30 minutes from Eugene, and it seems like almost no one goes there. It’s like the proverbial hidden gem, and I really shouldn’t even be writing this post. Shhhhhh. It is Elijah Bristow State Park, just east of Pleasant Hill on Highway 58. And really, it’s an incredible place to visit, especially if you have kids. Ten miles of trails trace the North Fork Willamette River, circle a beaver pond. and snake through the forest.
Most of the trails at Elijah Bristow are very kid-friendly and safe, as long as you’re watching out for horses. Elijah Bristow is also an equestrian park and most trails are open to trail riders on horses. We always see at least one horse, but the riders are always very friendly and will give you plenty of time to get your kids off the trail. One note…the trails are stroller-friendly, but many horses have never seen a stroller and can be spooked. We always pull our stroller as far to the side as we can and stand in front of it when possible.
Equestrians have their own park entrance, with a broad parking lot and plenty of room for trailers and unloading horses. This staging area also includes restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs, and water. Trails lead from the staging area into the park.
Beaver Pond Trailhead
On this particular trip, we parked at the Beaver Pond trailhead and started by walking to–you guessed–the beaver pond. The Beaver Pond trail is one of our favorites because the first big stop is the overlook. Then you can go right or left. Both directions are short, easy trails, but each has its own distinct flavor. One way goes under the thick canopy of surrounding Douglas fir and big leaf maple trees, and the other direction skirts a big grass field with a rustic wood fence. Both lead back to the main road.
A lot of the trails at Elijah Bristow State Park meander through the park, joining other trails and leading to other trailheads. We decided to just keep walking for as long as little legs were willing. We have several little ones, ages 1-5 but only one double stroller, so they take turns and when they’re all tired, we stop.
Trails can be muddy in the winter, sometimes even with a little standing water, but with rain boots and a good stroller, they’re passable. We try not to go off trail (that damages trails and makes them unnecessarily wide) so often I’ll lift the back wheels of the stroller and push through puddles on only the single front wheel.
Kids love Elijah Bristow
We have six kids, ages 2 to 13 years, and they all LOVE going to Elijah Bristow. There are so many trails that we can choose a new trail or an old favorite. We go in every season. Winter has mud and sometimes snow (!), spring has beautiful wildflowers, summer has blackberries and wading in the creeks, fall has gorgeous foliage, and all the seasons have walking along the river throwing rocks into the water.
We stop often along the trail, sometimes for horses and sometimes just because we find something interesting. This tree fascinated all of us and we spent time playing around it and on it.
Photographs from Elijah Bristow
Photography is often a part of our trips to Elijah Bristow State Park. Our daughter has a DSLR camera, and I have my phone, and we both experiment with new ideas and techniques we’ve read about.
History of Elijah Bristow State Park
The 847 acres for the park was acquired by Oregon State Parks in the 1970s through a combination of gifts, purchases, and transfers. It was originally called Dexter State Park, but was renamed in 1979 to honor the pioneer and founder of Pleasant Hill, Elijah Bristow (1788-1872).
Elijah Bristow came to the Willamette Valley with Eugene Skinner (founder of Eugene) in 1846. It is said that upon seeing “a low ridge covered with scattering oak trees with timbered mountains rising above it.” Bristow is reported to have risen in his stirrups, and said, “There I will take my claim; and I am going to name it Pleasant Hill. That ridge with the mountains in the background reminds me of my boyhood home in old Virginia.” (via Wikipedia). He built a cabin on 640 acres and eventually his family, and others, joined him. He is buried in the Pleasant Hill Cemetary and his stone is there today, just across from the present day Pleasant Hill School District campus.
If you go to Elijah Bristow, and I hope that you do, here are the details you’ll want to know:
Bathrooms: flush toilets are available at the very end of the road in the park.
Picnic facilities: picnic tables and BBQs galore are available throughout the park at nearly every trailhead. Near the restrooms, there is space for large groups.
Entry fee: none
Water sources: drinkable water is available at the horse staging area and also near the restrooms
Dog park: the first trailhead past the entry also includes a fenced dog park
Directions: Map to Elijah Bristow State Park off of Highway 58, just 25 minutes from Eugene