Fifteen minutes from the Portland Airport, Camas is as accessible for Eastside Portlanders as downtown PDX is—and the parking is way better.
In fact parking was on the minds of city planners in 1966 when they established the downtown’s “shopping park” model with its angled spaces for cars. Along with planters, benches, and public art, the entirely beguiling approach succeeded in creating a draw even as the bigger-is better juggernaut of modern life overtook American life.
The flagship Liberty Theater, with its well-curated roster of movies, is planted firmly on the downtown strip—4th Avenue—along with the historic Camas Hotel, boutiques, pubs like Birch Street with its mellow lighting, eateries including the jazzy-named Feast@316, and Camas Antiques where you’ll find memorabilia from the paper mill.
It was way back in 1883 when Portland’s wealthy entrepreneur from England, Henry Pittock, bought land in Camas for a paper mill— a mill that eventually became Georgia Pacific and is now owned by Koch Industries.
These days the sulfurous aroma of pulp-processing is gone since that part of the paper mill shuttered in 2017. Instead of the 2500 people the mill once employed, a workforce of 150 remains for paper towel production that currently keeps the mill alive.
Unlike Vancouver and Washougal, Camas does not have a waterfront scene. While many city officials would like to take advantage of the Columbia River’s beauty, they are well aware that it took Vancouver 12 years to first decommission their Boise Cascade paper mill and then find investors to back the development. So the focus in Camas is on the adorable downtown “shopping park.” And a more fetching place of commerce one would be hard-pressed to find.
FYI: Camas is named after the camas lily that has purple flowers and an onion-like bulb prized by Native American gatherers here in the Northwest. As an ode to the past the Camas Lily Fields have been preserved and are reached via the Lacamas Creek Trail where blooms in mid-April make a colorful show.