A visit to Portland won't be complete without a trek through nature. Fortunately, Portland is a modern city with an abundance of natural areas. The parks and preserves provide plenty of opportunity to hike through forests and wetlands, to experience nature, and to enjoy wildlife and scenic viewing, all without leaving the metro area.
Here are my top picks for nature hikes within Portland:
Portland's famous Forest Park is just that - over 5,000 acres of forest located within the city limits. This urban park has an astonishing 80 miles of trails through wooded terrain that includes ridges and ravines, creeks and streams, and occasional city, Willamette River, and mountain views. There are park trails available to bikers and horseback riders, as well as to hikers and runners. Forest Park hikes range from easy to hard. If you're feeling particularly ambitious, the 30-mile Wildwood Trail, part of Portland's "40-Mile Loop" metro trail, is a nice option.
Part of the Oregon State Parks system, Tryon Creek State Natural Area preserves 670-acres of mature forest surrounding a stretch of lovely Tryon Creek. Over 14 miles of trails criss-cross the park, each separately designated for hikers, bikers, or horses. Start your visit at the Nature Center, located at the park's east entrance, where you can pick up a trail map, shop for field guides, and check out a topographical relief map of the park. Guided hikes, summer day camps, and educational programs are available.
Portland's Hoyt Arboretum is 187 acres of forest featuring trees from all around the world. You can experience these trees and other plant specimens while hiking the Arboretum's 12-mile network of trails or on a guided tour. Detailed trail maps that break down possible hikes into 1-, 2-, and 4-miles chunks are available at Hoyt Arboretum's visitor center and on their website. Hoyt Arboretum lies withing Portland's Washington Park
, where you'll find opportunities to stretch your legs not only among the trees but in the Portland Japanese Garden, the International Rose Test Garden, or at the Oregon Zoo.
This Beaverton city park is a forested, 222-acre nature preserve crisscrossed with five miles of hiking trails, some paved, most unpaved. The park's ponds, streams, forests, and meadows provide habitat for a long list of wildlife. The Nature Park Interpretive Center, situated at the eastern entrance to the park, offers environmental education and nature programs for all ages. Located west of Portland, Tualatin Hills Nature Park is adjacent to a Light Rail station.
Located west of Portland in Hillsboro, the 725-acre Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve offers a nice selection of trails along with incredible wildlife-viewing opportunities. During your visit you might see beaver, river otter, or black-tail deer. Over 200 different bird species have been seen within the preserve, including blue heron, bald eagles, hummingbirds, and plover. Butterflies, dragonflies, wildflowers, and native flora all call the Jackson Bottom Wetlands home. Begin your visit with a stop at the Wetlands Visitor Center, where you can check out natural history exhibits as well as their Nature Store.
Another gem in the Portland city parks system, Marshall Park hiking trails take you through a lushly forested canyon. Along part of the way you'll skirt Tryon Creek, crossing it via a charming stone bridge. While a relatively short trip, a Marshall Park hike provides a true nature escape complete with native trees, ferns, and berry bushes, birds, and local wildlife.
Just off I-205, these green slopes offer over four miles of trails that lead around and up to the top of little Mount Talbert. This oak and conifer forest is home to the full range of urban wildlife, including larger mammals such as deer and coyotes. Other ecosystems within Mount Talbert Nature Park include a small native prairie, where moisture-loving wildflowers bloom each spring.
This large Portland city park has the full range of lawns, play areas, and sports facilities you expect in a park, along with paced and unpaved trails for walkers. Laurelhurst Park also has a large off-leash dog area, making it a friendly place to hike and play with your pooch.
Roads and trails wind around and up this volcanic cinder cone "mountain" that's been a Portland city park for over 100 years. There are numerous routes to make your way up and down Mt. Tabor, both road and off-road, each offering its own blend of local flora and fauna along with city and territorial views. Most of the paved roads within the park are closed to car traffic, making them friendly for bikers, strollers, and runners, as well as hikers.
Birds of all kinds come and go throughout the year, making Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge a fun place to explore and experience in each season. Migrating waterfowl, songbirds, and shorebirds stop here during their annual treks in order to rest up; some species nest here. Part of the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System, this preserve offers a 1-mile nature trail that is open all year round. The gravel service roads are open to hikers, birders, and photographers from May through September.
The nine-mile trail system in Powell Butte Nature Park offers routes for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians. On previously developed land, Powell Butte offers a hiking experience that includes open grassland as well as woods. From the higher elevation of Powell Butte, hikers have the opportunity to enjoy views of Mount Hood, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and even more distant peaks. Relatively new as an official Portland park, Powell Butte is still undergoing restoration and improvement.
Urban Trails in Portland
You'll also find a variety of flat, paved recreation trails throughout Portland. These trails are suitable for bicyclers, walkers, joggers, strollers, and rollerblading. They are great for green commuting and for exercising and getting outdoors, but may or may not provide you with a nature experience.
Here are a few of Portland, Oregon's urban trails:
- Columbia Slough Trail - still being developed, this future trail system currently has a 4.3-mile paved section available between Kelley Point Park and NE Marine Drive
- Trolley Trail - 6 miles of paved trail in Milwaukie and Gladstone
- Marine Drive Trail - a large section of this trail runs along the Columbia River