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The key for family hikes is to pick the right excursion for kids' experience level. (Photo credit: Mo Sherifdeen)
Giant trees greet visitors to Tryon Creek State Natural Area, a 670-acre park known for its fantastic resources. (Photo credit: Richard Tammar)
Find the storied Stone House, also known as the Witch's Castle, on the Lower Macleay trail in Forest Park. (Photo credit: Susan Seubert)

As any parent knows, hiking with kids is a blast — until it’s not. Little hikers are bound to get cold, tired and hungry, but the mix of right strategies can keep the adventure going just a little bit longer.

So says Richard Tammar, a Portland photographer and blogger at Things To Do In Portland With Children. “I really enjoy hiking, and I’m not going to get to do that if the children don’t want to do it too,” says Tammar, who’s hiked with his 10-year-old son since he was an infant, toting him in the Baby Bjorn. His 13-year-old stepdaughter joined in later.

For his crew, a light rain is OK but not a heavy rain, and it has to be at least 50 degrees outside. “I don’t want to make them miserable,” he says. Layers and weather-proof gear are essential, as are enough trail snacks and promised rewards at the end of the trip. A nice arsenal of word games come in handy too, for distraction.

When picking the destination, Tammar looks for loop trails rather than out-and-back routes, for plenty of interest. The key, he says, is to pick the right excursion for their experience level — even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood. And toss out any expectations about time and speed. “If they want to look at slugs for 10 minutes, you do it,” he says. “You’re going to go slowly, so being OK with that is a good idea.”

All the logistics are worth it, Tammar says, as he’s seen his kids develop a sense of wonder about their natural surroundings. He also loves the quality family time, when they can chat about anything as they walk. Here are his top recommended spring hikes in the Portland area with kids:

North side

Wapato Access Greenway State ParkPrepare for muddy conditions at this out-of-the-way retreat on Sauvie Island, just north of Portland. After all, it is a wetland, and the 2.2-mile trail loops around Virginia Lake, which is vibrant with wildlife all year long. The kids might see frogs, bunnies, garter snakes, ducks and even signs of beaver activity. You won’t be close to any coffee shops or bakeries, but you can’t get any closer to wild, pristine space in the city.   

South side

Tualatin River National Wildlife RefugeThere’s just one mile of trail open here during the winter, three miles May through September. But that’s because this sanctuary in Sherwood was built for the wildlife in mind — more than 200 species of birds, 50 species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles and amphibians and many more insects, fish and plants. Bring the family (but leave the dogs at home) to the 21st annual Tualatin River Bird Festival at the Refuge on May 20, 2017 for guided bird walks, wagon rides, archery, crafts and a live bird show.

East side

Powell Butte Nature Park The kids will love exploring this extinct cinder cone volcano, a little piece of paradise in outer Southeast Portland, just west of Gresham. The million-dollar view of Mt. Hood is a nice backdrop to the varied scenery, from grassland to forest, seasonal wetland to oak savanna. Grab a map at the visitor center and hop on a trail. And bring binoculars to spot wildlife, including the spectacular array of butterflies here.

West side

Tryon Creek State Natural AreaGiant trees, wooden bridges to cross and all sorts of moss, lichen and other curious species greet visitors of all ages to Tryon Creek, just minutes from civilization in Southwest Portland. The friendly 670-acre park is best known for its fantastic resources, like self-guided activities and other events like guided nature walks and “Story & Stroll” hours several days per week.

In the city

Macleay Park — This lush section of Forest Park, on the Lower Macleay Trail, is an easy getaway from the urban noise of Northwest Portland. Follow Balch Creek for less than a mile in and you’ll find the storied Stone House, also known as the Witch’s Castle, built by the city in 1929 as a public restroom only to be abandoned, covered in graffiti and moss. For more of an adventure, continue on to the Wildwood Trail and make the 5.4-mile round trip to Pittock Mansion for a picnic lunch and a stunning panorama of the city.

about author Jen Anderson

Jen Anderson writes and edits Travel Oregon's e-newsletters and other online content. She loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two young boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.

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