: Robbie McClaran

5 Family-Friendly Hikes Around Portland

With these perfect destinations and a few tricks up your sleeve, you’ll have an amazing family day outdoors.
April 17, 2024

My 8-year-old daughter was growing tired and irritable with still another mile or so of hiking before we were back to the trailhead — not an unusual occurrence. We took another break before continuing, but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it. Time to play a mom card. Walking is boring, but to my horse-obsessed daughter, galloping is an acceptable form of travel. So I let out a loud, boisterous neigh and started down the path. We were off to the races, whinnying and laughing our way back to the car. 

Hiking with kids is not without its challenges. With a bit of planning and a few tricks up your sleeve — like a vigorous gallop — you can create smooth adventures and great memories outdoors. Here are some of the best kid-friendly hikes in Portland, along with some of my favorite tips for enhancing any hike with kids.

People on a forested trail at on the Lower Macleay Trail in Forest Park on a sunny day.
Lower Macleay Trail in Forest Park (courtesy of Justin Katigbak/ Travel Portland)

Go on a Fantasy Adventure or a Scavenger Hunt

Incorporating a sense of imaginative play into a hiking trip is one way to inspire fun and conversation while hiking with littles. There is nothing more motivating to a 6-year-old than the anticipation of finding enchantment — the objective of the short 0.8-mile forest walk from Lower Macleay Trailhead in Forest Park to Portland’s famous Stone House. The structure is an abandoned public restroom known as the Witch’s Castle, covered in graffiti and moss. 

Encourage a lookout for fairies and gnomes among the ferns and the spells of sorcerers hidden in the incessant whisper of rushing Balch Creek as you hike. The paved path of the first 0.2 miles is accessibility-friendly, too, for strollers as well as wheelchairs. From the house, you can extend the adventure on several trails where you can let your child’s imagination guide the trip.

How about a good old-fashioned scavenger hunt? Kids of all ages find wonder and a sense of place when they engage their senses in observation. Go slow and stop frequently, taking the time to talk about finds like moss or bridges. In the forested loops of Tryon Creek State Natural Area, with over 8 miles of hiking trails, there are plenty of trail options, including the 3.4-mile Triple Bridge Loop.

Create your own hunt list using the park’s guide to birds like owls and native plants and trees, like the easy-to-spot, three-petaled Pacific trillium in spring or yellow bigleaf maple leaves in fall. To brush up on your nature knowledge, take a kid-friendly guided hike led by rangers and naturalists throughout the year.

In the distance, two people walk along a paved trail through a meadow at Powell Butte Nature Park.
Powell Butte Nature Park (courtesy of Gino Rigucci/ Alamy Stock Photo)

The Sky’s the Limit on the East Side

Turn a hike into an adventure by offering kids a pint-size challenge. Trails with obstacles — like downed logs or, my personal favorite, an uphill trek — can build a kid’s confidence outdoors and teach perseverance. While hiking, listen and anticipate needs, calling for frequent breaks. At the end, be sure to celebrate with a treat like ice cream. Powell Butte Nature Park in Southeast Portland is an ideal location to experience a first summit. Ascend gradually through forest, oak savanna, wetlands and meadows on the way to the top of the extinct cinder-cone volcano and open views of Mt. Hood and other volcanic peaks. A “mountain finder” area at the summit makes it possible to identify each one. Soak in the sun before choosing a new route down — and let the adventure continue. You might also take different trails up and down, such as the Mountain View Trail to the summit, and descend on the forested Elderberry and Pipeline trails.

Another east-side gem is the Camassia Natural Area in West Linn named for the common camas, which blooms in full shocks of pink, purple and blue in April and early May.  There are several trails to choose from, along with a terrace a boardwalk, a pond and lots of wildlife to keep things interesting for the whole family.

A great blue hero caught in midflight taking off from the water.
A great blue heron at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge (courtesy of Natalia Kurpiel / Alamy Stock Photo)

Capture the Moments in Wetlands and Wildlife Refuges

Kids love to see themselves on film and revel in the opportunity to take photos too, so head out on a photography shoot. You’ll tap into a sense of play and creativity that is accessible to anyone with a phone in their pocket. Pose on a bridge or capture wildlife from a distance in their native habitats. One of the largest urban wetlands in the U.S., Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area is a budding photographer’s paradise and kind of a hidden secret in the industrial part of North Portland. Take the 1.8-mile round-trip, paved, accessible Interlakes Trail to three wildlife viewpoints. Capture the best angle for western pond turtles sunning near shore, or shoot a quick video of water-loving birds as they swim by. You can continue the adventure at home by using the photos to identify what you saw that day.

A 20-minute drive from downtown Portland, the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge also offers a variety of wildlife habitat to experience. Cruise through over 4 miles of trail in riparian forests looking for signs of beaver and past wetlands bustling with waterfowl. Take the 2-mile River Trail all year round, or combine with the Seasonal Trail in the off-season for a long loop. Dense evergreen forest and oak woodlands host squirrels and woodpeckers. Keep a safe distance — at least 25 yards away — and use binoculars for a closer look. Birds are especially abundant in the refuge, so spend some time paying attention to the colorful and patterned field marks that aid in identification. Record your findings in a field journal that you can carry with you on all your outings.

About The

Emily Parent
Emily Parent is a science educator, writer, self-professed nature nerd, and avid hiker. To read more of her writing about science and nature in the outdoors, visit www.trailscholar.com.

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