Enjoy World-Class Hiking—Without Leaving Portland
Five Portland Hikes
Portland, Oregon makes an enviable launchpad for world-class hiking, whether you’re talking the waterfall-streaked bluffs of the Columbia River Gorge, the lush canyons and alpine meadows of the Cascade Range, or the rainforest headlands and surf-lashed beaches of the Pacific coast. But if your feet are itching for the trail, you needn’t leave city limits to avail yourself of some tantalizing immersions in Pacific Northwest nature. From river beach to orchard hilltop, let’s explore five of the finest hoofing-it forays to be had in the City of Roses: Greenwood getaways within startlingly easy reach of its most cosmopolitan corridors
W I L D W O O D T R A I L
Distance: 30 Miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
You’ve paused in the trickling heart of a deep timbered gully. Sword fern bristles in the dusky understory; a breeze sets the Douglas-firs to a slow-dance sway and the golden canopy of a fat streamside bigleaf maple to rustling. A staccato cry echoes through the vaulted woods—a pileated woodpecker, one of the Northwest’s most head-turning birds, taking issue with one thing or another.
Given the environmental cues, you could be in the depths of the Tillamook State Forest in the Coast Range or the Table Rock Wilderness in the Cascades—but you’re not. You’re only a few miles from downtown Portland, tracing the spine of the Forest Park backcountry along the Wildwood Trail.
The Wildwood has few rivals in the U.S. as an urban hiking adventure. Portland’s premier trail links Washington Park with the northwestern frontier of Forest Park: a maple- and conifer-columned refuge that, at 5,158 acres or so, is big enough to make you feel you’re worlds away from the big city just downslope. Wandering the Wildwood is a pilgrimage, as iconic a Rose City experience as any other.
While conceivably you could do the entire route as a shuttle dayhike, you’re more likely going to be biting it off in chunks. Nice and accessible introductions include the Washington Park reach, which partly threads the Hoyt Arboretum, and the segment in Macleay Park (renowned for the old-growth conifers in Balch Creek Canyon). If you’re seeking a remoter experience, consider the Wildwood between Firelane 1 and NW Springville Road, or the secluded mileage in Forest Park’s far north between NW Germantown and NW Newberry.
T R Y O N C R E E K L O O P
Distance: ~2 miles (for the loop)
Easily reached via SW Terwilliger Boulevard beside the Lewis and Clark campus, Tryon Creek State Park is the Southwest Portland (and Lake Oswego) equivalent to Northwest’s Forest Park: a West Hills semi-wilderness serving up deep groves and murmuring salmon streams within a stone’s throw of full-on urbanity.
This 670-acre forestland includes eight miles of hiking trails (in addition to horseback and bike routes), and the best way to experience them is to make a loop depending on your available timetable and your mood. Looking for a good overview of Tryon Creek’s magic? Take the Maple Ridge and Middle Creek trails to the Cedar Trail to the Red Fox Bridge, and then the Red Fox and Old Main routes back to park headquarters.
Roughly two miles in length, this foray through the park’s central reaches—traversing little plateaus and ridges, dropping into the many ravines that convolute Tryon Creek’s steep drainage—shows off a great mosaic of native mixed conifer and broadleaf forest. Critter-wise, keep an eye out for varied thrushes, rough-skinned newts, banana slugs—maybe even a barred owl.
O A K S B O T T O M
Distance: 2.3 miles
The loop through Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge burrows you into Portland’s wild side—right in the middle of the city. Start at Sellwood Park among blufftop picnickers, dogwalkers, and baseball games and descend the sloping woods into the refuge.
Skirt the tallgrass South Meadow (once a landfill), then head north along the toe of the bluff, through the shady, swampy woods edging the heron and goose playground of Wapato Marsh, which is noisily sloshed by carp in the springtime. Happy shrieks waft across the water from Oaks Park; nearer at hand, mallards and wood ducks mutter to themselves in the marsh channels. A swift shadow alerts you to a bald eagle, freshly launched off a giant cottonwood overhead.
As you pass along the monumental base of Wilhelm’s Portland Memorial Funeral Home, crane your neck to admire its gigantic mural of Oaks Bottom beasties, from great blue heron to muskrat, that’s so prominent to eastbound travelers over the Sellwood Bridge just south.
Hang a left at a fork in the trail and cut through an airy cottonwood grove to join the Springwater Corridor, which here shadows the railroad that cleaves the Oaks Bottom wetlands from the Willamette River. Kayakers and powerboat anglers ply the waters between the riverbanks and Hardtack Island as you stroll south on the Springwater blacktop, joggers and bicycles (politely) whizzing past you. Before long you’re coming full circle, strolling along the western edge of Wapato Marsh.
Hit the Springwater’s junction with Spokane Street, and your starting point of Sellwood Park’s close at hand—from which you’re perfectly poised to grab a coffee or a pint on the streets of Sellwood
E L K R O C K I S L A N D
Distance: ~1 mile
Wild riverfront isn’t all that easy to come by in the Portland metro area, but it’s out there. From early summer to late autumn, when the Willamette’s flow is low enough to expose the low, puddled bridge of rock connecting it to the Milwaukie mainland, Elk Rock Island lets you experience a rugged, woodsy shore that almost feels like a tiny displaced chunk of Washington’s San Juan Islands.
Elk Rock Island marks a mostly wooded outcrop of Waverly Heights Basalt—at 40-odd million years old, the oldest exposed rock in Portland. Follow the paths hugging the island’s shoreline: rocky, mossy benches on the south and west, a steep timbered bluff on the north. As you make your way westward, admire the plentiful Pacific madrones that pepper the island’s rim: one of the prettiest native trees of Western Oregon with its peeling orange bark and tropical-looking evergreen leaves.
From a willow-edged cove beach on the west side of the island, you’ll gaze across the Willamette to the steep western shores—including the cliff for which the isle is named: Elk Rock, over which the Atfalati Indians are said to have driven Roosevelt elk. (Sometime, take in the opposite view of Elk Rock Island from the clifftop, part of Elk Rock Gardens of the Bishop’s Close off Highway 43.
P O W E L L B U T T E
Distance: Varies (Mountain View Trail: 0.7 miles)
A sunny afternoon in Outer Southeast Portland finds you gently switchbacking up the grassy shoulders of Powell Butte, primed by the parking lot’s already-impressive vista to drink in, up top, one of the city’s finest panoramas.
It’s breezy—as it often is on this 630-foot hill, not all that far from the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge—and the skies dance with birds of prey: red-tailed hawks on high, kestrels hanging in midair, northern harriers wobbling low over the golden sward of this former pastureland. You hike through the summit’s old orchard of walnut trees and—here you are, up at the mountain locator labeling the spectacular lineup of peaks roughing up the skyline.
You thrill at the parade of High Cascade snow peaks: flat-topped Mount St. Helens, three-horned Mount Adams, the rugged cone of Mount Hood, the distant fang of Mount Jefferson. Once you’re able to tear your gaze from those glistening snowfields, you admire other prominent Cascade Range knobs and ridges: the barren face of Silver Star Mountain, the gentle swell of Larch Mountain, the fist of Table Rock. To a greater degree than nearly any other Rose City vantage, you feel right at the hub of Portland’s geography: gazing from the Columbia Gorge to the West Hills, from the Clackamas highlands out to the wine-country crest of the Chehalem Mountains—and yet farther to the Coast Range.
This showstopper of a view, delivered by the pastoral openness of Powell Butte’s crown compared to other East Portland heights like Tabor, makes a worthy destination all its own. But miles of other hiking trails may well call you down into the oak savannas and mixed forests of Powell Butte’s lower flanks, which to the south skirt the Springwater Corridor