This summer I had the chance to head back home to Portland and work remotely for three weeks, which was awesome amount of time to be back and see my family and friends! Nothing beats the Pacific Northwest in summer! The weather is beautiful- sunny, hot but not too hot, and hardly any humidity! Plus Portlanders know how to take advantage of every day of sun and be outdoors all the time- being active, eating and drinking, hanging out, exploring!
One of my first Portland adventures was with a college friend who was in town from Spain. Both of us had missed the outdoors of the Pacific Northwest so hiking was at the top of our list! We headed to one of my childhood favorites- Forest Park! One of my favorite memories growing up was a day spent with my friends hiking in the park and wading through the creeks and getting soaked (looking back maybe it wasn’t being the most environmentally conscious but in our defense we were 9). Later in high school my cross country team would run from Lincoln HS through NW Portland and then up the Leif Ericson Trail for one of our intense workouts. Summers when working at a day camp we’d take the campers on hikes through Forest Park and explore the many trails that run throughout. I had a lot of great memories there!
Forest Park was created from a combination of smaller parks that had been donated or purchased over time. One part, still called Macleay Park as part of the larger Forest Park, was donated in 1897 by Donald Macleay along Balch Creek. I always learned growing up he wanted it closed off to cars even though the first cars had just arrived in Portland. However the official Parks website says it was to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 60th anniversary of her coronation and that Macleay also decided to donate it instead of paying high taxes on it. Another example is Leif Ericson Drive, which was a road built during a land boom, but after a landslide the home sites were seized by the city for failure to pay an assessment to fix the road. Eventually the collection of parks became the 5,000+ forested acres it is today.
There are numerous entry points, trails, and sights to see through Forest Park’s many acres. One of the crown jewels is the 30-mile Wildwood Trail which runs from Washington Park (with the Rose Garden and Japanese Garden) north past the Pittock Mansion and all the way out to NW Newberry Road. Leif Ericson, which starts at the end of NW Thompson St, was built as a road so it’s wide and well-suited for mountain biking and very popular also with runners, walkers, and dogs! However Wildwood’s 30 miles and Leif Ericson’s 11 miles only make up half of the 80 miles of trails in Forest Park!
One of my favorite parts is Lower Macleay Park and that’s where my friend and I headed. We started at the end of NW Upshur St (just past 29th) under the Thurman Street Bridge. It makes its way along Balch Creek so it’s calm and peaceful with the sound of the water and even a tiny waterfall at the start. Along the way is the Witch’s Castle. It was originally a stone restroom, but it was damaged in the 1962 Columbus Day Storm and eventually gutted instead of being rebuilt. Rumor has it that it’s built on the sight of Portland’s first hanging (and thus haunted). Danford Balch (for which Balch Creek gets its name) was hanged after shooting one of his workers when he eloped with Balch’s daughter. Nowadays the Witch’s Castle is a nice place to stop along the trail and it may or may not be the place of some Lincoln High School parties.. The Witch’s Castle also is where the Lower Macleay Trail hits the Wildwood Trail. Head north and you’ll have miles and miles of the Wildwood Trail to go (with of course many smaller trails branching off). We instead took the Wildwood Trail west continuing for a little bit along Balch Creek before it turned south, climbed up to Upper Macleay Park near the Audubon Society, and then crossed Cornell Road.
Once we crossed Cornell we could have taken Wildwood further to the Pittock Mansion (and on to Washington Park) but instead we took the short Cumberland Trail, which dropped us off at the end of NW Cumberland Road and into the Westover neighborhood. We went by some of my favorite houses in Portland when I found out my friend (originally from California, but who had lived in Portland for two years before Spain) had perhaps never been to the Pittock Mansion! That certainly couldn’t do so we trekked up the steep hills of Westover to get to another one of my favorite spots in the city (past blog post here). It probably would have been easier to stay on the Wildwood Trail (and for those visiting I recommend that), but it was nice to check out Westover and the cool houses there. Turns out my friend might have been to Pittock one time, but it was worth another visit for the views and plus who doesn’t love a good hill workout!
In terms of getting to Forest Park I highly recommend taking a look at the Forest Park Conservancy’s website (http://forestpark.businesscatalyst.com/) for details. If you have a car there are tons of places to access different trails depending on how long and how strenuous of a hike you’re looking for. In terms of public transportation the best options are probably taking the MAX or Washington Park shuttle to Washington Park and the start of the Wildwood Trail, Bus #20 to where Wildwood crosses Burnside, the #15 to the Thurman Street Bridge and walk down the stairs to the Lower Macleay Trail, or take the streetcar to 23rd and Lovejoy and walk the 13 or so blocks to the Lower Macleay Trail at the end of Upshur (and 29th). Consult trimet.org and the Conservancy’s site for the best options and to double check route numberes.
Forest Park is a true gem for our city. Pretty much right in the middle of the metro area and five minutes outside of downtown you can find anything you’re looking for in the outdoors whether it’s walking, running, hiking, biking, horseback riding, dog walking, a short trail, a long trail, water, forest, fields! I definitely think anyone looking for an escape (although honestly who wants to escape the great city that is Portland!) can find it in Forest Park, along with a lot of other cool things to discover! Of course it’s already loved by the locals and I definitely recommend it for visitors who want to get the Pacific Northwest in it’s true glory (especially if you don’t have time to go to the Gorge or farther out from Portland to hike). Check out the few pics I snapped below!
Forest Park- http://forestpark.businesscatalyst.com/ (link to Conservatory website)