: Dee Browning/ Alamy Stock Photo

Forest Park for Everyone

Experience vast forests, wildlife and mountain views near downtown Portland.
November 8, 2022

Not many cities back right up against a wilderness area full of old-growth trees and more than 80 miles of hiking trails. Thanks to 5,200-acre Forest Park, Portland happens to be one of those cities. It’s the lush green expanse just west of town, stretching from the city about 7 miles northwest to the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers.

Being close to downtown, it’s easy to overlook how rugged things can get here. You’ll hike among thick stands of conifers like Doug fir, hemlock, cedar, grand fir and western yew. The park is home to all types of wildlife — from weasels to elk. If you encounter larger animals like bobcats, be sure you practice safety precautions. Watch and listen for over 100 types of birds, including red-tailed hawks, barred owls and spotted towhees.

Here are several trails — all open year-round and welcoming well-behaved dogs on-leash — that appeal to just about anyone who wants to explore one of Portland’s most beloved parks.

People walking along a forested trail on a sunny day.
(Courtesy of Justin Katigbak/ Travel Portland)

Accessible and Kid-Friendly Trails

With a host of trails of different grades and distances, there are some great options within this enchanting realm for those of all abilities. The Lower Macleay Trail is ideal for shorter journeys, including portions that are wheelchair-friendly on 0.2 miles of ADA-accessible paved trail. Many of the dirt stretches — especially early in this 0.8-mile trail to an abandoned stone house known as the Witch’s Castle — are relatively flat and welcoming. There’s also a viewing area that overlooks Balch Creek.

There’s also the Alder Trail, which offers a nice, wide, fairly flat, out-and-back 2.4-mile stretch. With only 350 feet in elevation gain, it’s good for kiddos and visitors who are after something pretty straightforward. Look for banana slugs, snails and mushrooms as you go. It’s so mossy and thick, you may even spot a gnome or two. There are ADA-accessible parking spaces at both the Lower Macleay and Wildwood/Pittock Mansion trailheads, but note that the Alder Trail itself is not paved.

A woman takes a photo of Portland's skyline from a trail stop in Forest Park.
(Courtesy of Justin Katigbak/ Travel Portland)

Options for a Range of Skill Levels

The Holman Lane Loop is a fine choice, open year-round and just over 2 miles. While popular, it’s easy to feel remote here. It incorporates three trails: Birch, Wildwood and Holman Lane. Much of this land near Balch Creek was donated to the city in 1939 and remains an enchanting wonderland. The creek features a number of little waterfalls and clear pools, not to mention a small population of wild coastal cutthroat trout. Be advised that during the wetter months, you’ll likely want waterproof boots for this outing. 

An absolute classic is a roughly 4-mile venture to Pittock Mansion starting at the Hoyt Arboretum Trailhead across from the arboretum Visitor Center. This jaunt will afford hikers the company of redwoods and young sequoias, not to mention Grecian firs. The real reward is the postcard image of the Rose City from Pittock Mansion, the residence of the man who started The Oregonian newspaper and landed in this prime spot by way of the Oregon Trail. Beyond the city on a clear day, you’ll see Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens among the Cascades’ peaks.

Forest Park staff are always hard at work on restoration projects. If you’d like to take a guided nature walk or help volunteer to remove invasives like English ivy and holly and plant trees, read more and check out the calendar of ongoing volunteer events hosted by the Forest Park Conservancy.

St. Johns Bridge as seen from Forest Park.
(Courtesy of Nickie Bournias)

Training for a Distance Race

The park also has several routes for those looking to really break a sweat or meet lofty fitness goals. Those training for distance races will find peaceful workouts here. One of the more challenging hikes, a loop that begins at the Saltzman Road trail, will get your blood pumping. It also incorporates the Wildwood, Maple, Firelane 5 and Leif Erikson trails for 12.4 miles of muscle-building fun. The loop is pretty close to industrial Portland, but you’d never know it in this lush green forest. There’s good signage, the occasional creek bridge and — if you’re lucky — an owl spotting.

A less frequented loop begins at the Tolinda Trailhead. You work your way up the Tualatin Hills to the Ridge Trail, then take the Wildwood and Tolinda trails. Early on, you’ll take in stellar views of the St. Johns Bridge and Mt. Rainier. Farther back in the woods, common sightings include woodpeckers in the trees above an understory of salmonberry, trillium and sword fern. All in all, it’s about 6 miles with almost 1,700 feet in elevation gain. Those calves will be working.

About The

Mark Stock
Mark Stock lives and writes from his native Portland. He adores traveling, especially when the destination involves soccer, wine or casting for trout.

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