How to Hike in Forest Park

April 25, 2016 (Updated November 4, 2019)
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Whether you prefer to walk, run, bike, call birds, spot wildlife or just head out for a woodsy stroll, Forest Park has been an urban oasis for decades, one of the most beloved and iconic parts of the city. Today the park’s signature trail — the 30-mile Wildwood Trail, a designated National Recreation Trail — just became even more safe and accessible, with a brand-new pedestrian bridge that links the trail over busy West Burnside Street. Previously, trail users had to dart through traffic on Burnside to reach the connection on the other side of the busy roadway. 

City officials and hundreds of supporters of the new Barbara Walker Crossing held a grand opening in late October 2019 to celebrate the long-awaited $4 million project and its grassroots success. Nearly two-thirds of the cost came from public donations, spearheaded by the nonprofit Portland Parks Foundation. Park at Hoyt Arboretum or Pittock Mansion to best access the trail. 

The crossing is named in honor of the late Barbara Walker, one of the city’s biggest parks and trails champions. Walker helped establish green spaces in the city including the Marquam Nature Park, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Pioneer Courthouse Square and the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade

Visible at West Burnside between Northwest Hermosa Boulevard and Barnes Road, the crossing is an elegant, 178-foot curved deck, its tricord truss painted green to complement the sword ferns and vine maples found along the trail. Inspired yet? Here are several ways to explore Forest Park.

The newly opened Barbara Walker Crossing lets runners and walkers cross safely above busy Burnside Street on the Wildwood Trail. (Photo by: Nickie Bournias)

Exploring the Wildwood Trail

Take a walk on the Wildwood Trail to experience the Barbara Walker Crossing. Start at Hoyt Arboretum and head north to Pittock Mansion for 1.6 miles, crossing the pedestrian bridge about two-thirds of the way. The trail is family friendly but does include some steep switchbacks before reaching the historic mansion grounds, which offer sweeping views of the city and a great spot for a picnic before your return. (You can also do the trail in reverse.) It’s also fun to add 2 miles to your trek (or just do a kid-friendly out-and-back) by connecting to the Lower Macleay Trail, which leads past the famous Stone House — also called Witch’s Castle — an old hiker’s shelter built in the 1930s that has become a favorite Forest Park landmark.

For a shorter ramble, set out on the 1.3-mile trail starting at Portland Audubon’s Wildlife Care Center just off Northwest Cornell Road. The sanctuary is home to dozens of species of birds that you can visit at the start or end of your hike. The trail winds across a wooden bridge, along Balch Creek and a pond filled with lily pads. If you’d rather navigate Forest Park with the help of an expert, consider signing up for a free guided discovery hike in Forest Park. Some hikes focus on a topic such as taking great photos, learning the history of the park or spotting mushrooms.

What better way to show your love for Forest Park than to join a work party? Volunteers meet at the park to restore trails and pull non-native species, no experience necessary. (Photo by: Forest Park Conservancy)

Join a Project or Challenge

There’s no better way to get up close and personal with the trails at Forest Park than to lend a hand with various restoration projects — whether it’s joining a crew to pull English ivy or removing invasive species, planting native trees and shrubs, and maintaining the trails. If you’re ready to log some serious miles, check out the Miles for Forest Park Challenge, a way to support the Forest Park Conservancy while hiking, running, biking or taking photographs at the park by gaining pledges as you take on more trails. Those who register and log their miles between June and late September can win prizes. For an added bonus, the Nasty Challenge Fundraiser — a program of the Northwest Dirt Churners trail-runners club — challenges participants to take on five lesser-traveled routes in Forest Park that are more hilly and technical, all to benefit conservation at Forest Park.

Whether you bite off a short or long section or even tackle it all at once, the 30-mile Wildwood Trail is one of Oregon's urban treasures. (Photo by: Justin Bailie)

If You Go:

Whatever trail you set out to explore, don’t forget your map, since trails aren’t always well marked and it can be confusing to find your way if you get off route. Check out the list of trailheads to plot your route, or download the Forest Park app for iPhone. 

When hiking in the cooler season, know that there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing choices, so wear waterproof shoes (it tends to get muddy) and lots of layers. Always carry water and snacks, and know that cell coverage in the forest can be spotty, so make sure to download or print any information needed. Also stay on the trail (going off-trail contributes to erosion) and respect all trail users. 

To maximize your fun, pair your hike with another adventure. The new pedestrian bridge linking the Wildwood Trail lets you go by foot between Forest Park (north of Burnside) and Washington Park (south of Burnside), which includes the popular attractions Hoyt Arboretum, International Rose Test Garden, Portland Japanese Garden, Oregon Zoo, Portland Children’s Museum and World Forestry Center. Drive and park at the trailhead or Oregon Zoo, or consider taking the MAX Red Line or Blue Line to Washington Park for a car-free trip.

Washington Park Attractions

Forest Park Trailheads

About The
Author

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson writes and edits Travel Oregon's e-newsletters, annual Visitor Guide and other editorial 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.

Trip Ideas

Ask Oregon

What are the most scenic hikes in Portland?

My favorite and most scenic hikes in Portland: Forest Park at any entrance Hoyt Arboretum Oaks Bottom near Sellwood Leach Botanical Garden There are tons more but this is a good list to begin with. Just outside of the Portland area near Multnomah Falls is whole other list so let me know if you’d like…

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