The Top 10 Forest Park Hikes: Explore Nature in City Limits

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Written By John @ The Portlandist

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With more than 5,200 acres of lush forest and more than 80 miles of well-maintained trails, Forest Park is unquestionably one of Portland’s crown jewels. Open daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., the park is situated along the southern edge of the Tualatin Mountains, and 30 miles of streams provide sustenance to a wide diversity of plant and animal species.

Much of the park is shaded by a thick canopy of Douglas fir, big leaf maple, Western red cedar, and Western hemlock, and the silty forest floor is carpeted with various ferns, vines, and shrubs. Visitors are likely to catch a glimpse of the park’s abundant wildlife, which includes more than 100 species of birds, 50 species of mammals, and 400 species of invertebrates as well as trout and a handful of other fish.

Though Forest Park features 25 miles of roads, fire lanes, and trails available for bicycle and equestrian use, the lion’s share of its paths is reserved for hikers (and their leashed canine companions), providing dozens of options for treks of all difficulty levels and lengths. Below, we’ve rounded up 10 of our favorite hikes in Forest Park.

The 10 Best Forest Park Hikes

Below are our picks for the top 10 best hikes in the Mount Hood area. To snap directly to a specific location, please click the corresponding link in the list below.

  1. Ridge Trail
  2. Tolinda Trail to Waterline
  3. Lower MacLeay to Stone House
  4. Maple Trail Loop
  5. Firelane 15-Wildwood Loop
  6. Dogwood Trail/Alder Trail Loop
  7. Nature-Wildwood Loop
  8. Audubon Society Loop
  9. Firelane 7-Springville Road Loop Hike
  10. Newton Road to Newberry Road

10. Ridge Trail

Forest Park Hikes Info: Out and Back | 3.5 Miles | Difficulty: Moderate

This challenging out-and-back trail rewards hikers with scenic views of wildflowers and the iconic St. Johns Bridge, a Depression-era steel suspension bridge spanning the Willamette River. The narrow, often muddy trail starts at the Springville Trailhead near Skyline Boulevard and follows Firelane 7 toward Leif Erikson Boulevard, losing almost 1,000 feet in elevation over less than 2 miles.

The trail ends at Highway 30, where a break in the maples provides a perfectly framed shot of the bridge’s pastel green arches. After taking a few minutes to rest and soak in the sights, turn around and head back the way you came to complete the hike. It’s incredible that such a beautiful hike can be found right in Portland.

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9. Tolinda Trail to Waterline

Forest Park Hikes Info: Out and Back | 3 Miles | Difficulty: Hard

Named for a former Camp Fire Girls shelter destroyed by fire in 1976, this demanding trail rockets upward nearly 400 feet over less than a mile, a change in elevation that will strain even the best-conditioned lungs and legs.

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can extend the hike by taking the Waterline Trail up a steep ascent to a water tower overlooking Skyline Boulevard.

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8. Lower MacLeay to Stone House

Forest Park Hikes Info: Out and Back | 1.7 Miles | Difficulty: Easy

This gentle stroll starts at the Lower Macleay Trail at the end of NW Upshur Street and winds along the waters of Balch Creek, which flows through the dense forest year-round. The trail is paved for the first quarter-mile or so before transitioning into a well-marked dirt path.

Moss-covered oak, cedar, and fir trees form a thick canopy overhead, and swatches of white and pink trillium and yellow violets add bold color to the route in the spring. At just under a mile, you’ll reach the iconic Stone House, built around 1936 as a shelter for hikers.

After a storm severely damaged its roof in the 1960s, the city opted not to invest in repairs and allowed nature to take over the deteriorating structure. Its regal stone walls remain intact, but they have long been covered by the rich green tones of moss, lichens, and ferns, giving the old building a charming fairy-tale veneer.

After taking the time to explore the interior—including the staircase leading up to the roofless second floor—go back the way you came to complete the Lower MacLeay to Stone House hike.

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7. Maple Trail Loop

Forest Park Hikes Info: Loop | 6.7 Miles | Difficulty: Moderate

Named for the abundant maple trees that make up the majority of Forest Park’s canopy, the Maple Trail is especially stunning in the fall, when the branches are painted with bright blazes of red and yellow leaves.

This quiet trail is best accessed via the junction with Saltzman Road; head north toward Leif Erikson Drive and enjoy nice views of the St. Johns Bridge. Once you pass Saltzman again, continue along the upper 4.3-mile segment of the trail, which steadily gains elevation until it reaches the Wildwood Trail.

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6. Firelane 15-Wildwood Loop

Forest Park Hikes Info: Lollipop Loop | 4 Miles | Difficulty: Moderate

Located in the park’s secluded northwest corner, this route is ideal for hikers seeking a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Begin this trek at the Firelane 15 entrance off NW Skyline Boulevard, where standard views include the rushing waters of the Willamette River and Mount St. Helens in the distance.

Descend to the banks of Miller Creek and traverse the dirt path through the moss-covered ancient-growth forest before joining the narrow footpath of the Wildwood Trail. If you’re not in a hurry, take the spur to Kielhorn Meadow, a peaceful spot where elk and other wildlife frequently come to graze.

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5. Dogwood Trail/Alder Trail Loop

Forest Park Hikes Info: Loop | 2.8 Miles | Difficulty: Moderate

This well-shaded route includes just 400 feet of elevation change and travels along Keil Trail, Dogwood Trail, Leif Erikson Drive, Alder Trail, and Wildwood Trail. This loop is at its most colorful in the fall when the tree canopy along the Dogwood Trail is painted in brilliant shades of amber, orange and crimson, and in spring, when bursts of trillium, yellow violets, and other wildflowers dot the path.

The route begins at the Northwest 53rd Drive trailhead and heads uphill to the right along Keil Trail. In less than a quarter-mile, turn left at the junction with the Dogwood Trail, where you’ll quickly navigate a hill that forms the circuit’s high point at 900 feet. The path descends through a thick pass of alders, maples, and Douglas firs, and the white-capped peak of Mount Hood is visible to the east during breaks in the tree line. Over the next third of a mile, the trail descends sharply into the denser forest, which is carpeted by licorice ferns and other fern varieties.

The path joins Leif Erikson Drive, passing several basalt ledges and crossing Alder Creek before making a left turn onto the Alder Trail. This single-track dirt path is lined with red alders as well as bigleaf maples, licorice ferns, and ruffled lichens. After just under a mile on the Alder Trail, you’ll turn left at the junction with the Wildwood Trail, hiking another three-tenths of a mile to return to the trailhead.

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4. Nature-Wildwood Loop

Forest Park Hikes Info: Lollipop Loop | 2 Miles | Difficulty: Easy

This leisurely stroll provides the ideal setting for a relaxing picnic, as Firelane 1 leads hikers to a pair of picnic tables before joining the gently-rolling Nature Trail.

After stopping to enjoy a meal or snack, you’ll continue through a shaded gully and over Rocking Chair Creek before joining the Wildwood Trail to return to the Firelane 1 gate.

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3. Audubon Society Loop

Forest Park Hikes Info: Lollipop Loop | 2 Miles | Difficulty: Easy

Birding enthusiasts will want to put this hike at the top of their lists, which passes through the 150-acre Audubon Society reserve off NW Cornell Road. Feathered species spotted inside the park include grosbeaks, sparrows, and warblers, as well as more than three dozen other types of birds.

From the parking area, head toward the Pittock Bird Sanctuary, featuring a one-mile loop trail that hugs Balch Creek and passes a lily-dotted pond. Next, take the Founders Trail through the 34-acre Uhtoff Sanctuary, known for its abundance of pileated woodpeckers.

The sanctuary also operates the Wildlife Care Center, where the Audubon Society houses a flock of owls, falcons, and other wild birds in need of rehabilitation.

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2. Firelane 7-Springville Road Loop Hike

Forest Park Hikes Info: Loop | 4.9 Miles | Difficulty: Easy

This hidden gem takes full advantage of the network of fire lanes and old forest roads that traversed Forest Park before the construction of the Wildwood Trail, the park’s 30-mile main artery. It starts at the green gate off Springville Road, joining the tree-lined Firelane 7 on the right, where you’ll see red alder, Western red cedar, bigleaf maple, Oregon grape, and Douglas fir, grand fir, and even a handful of hemlock saplings along the way.

Stay right at the junction with the Hardesty Trail, past the Trillium Trail, and right again at the junction with the Ridge Trail. Bear left at the Wildwood Trail-Firelane 7 Junction, passing through groves of maple and alder dotted with tangles of salmonberry.

At the Wildwood-Hardesty Trail Junction, head right to join the Hardesty, a broad, well-packed trail that quickly descends over a creek to reach the “Big Stump,” a massive cedar stump that has evolved into a Forest Park icon since the tree was felled more than a century ago.

Take a left at Milepost 9 where the trail intersects with Leif Erikson Drive, where ivy-covered cedar, hemlock, and Douglas fir dominate the forest. When you reach the Forest Park map sign, head left up Springville Road, where you’ll eventually rejoin Firelane 7 to return to the green gate.

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1. Newton Road to Newberry Road

Forest Park Hikes Info: Out and Back | 9.4 Miles | Difficulty: Hard

This challenging trek incorporates the northern section of the Wildwood Trail, starting at the Newton Road Trailhead. In addition to strenuous slopes and notable elevation changes, you may also encounter elk and black bears in this quiet, heavily wooded section of the park, so stay alert while on this hiking trail.

From the parking lot, the route quickly joins the Wildwood Trail, which may be muddy during the region’s rainy season. You’ll pass through several small gullies before crossing Newton Road and gradually losing elevation. After the creek crossing, switchbacks lead you to a brief section of the B.P.A. Road before returning to the Wildwood.

Three creek crossings later, you’ll see a memorial bench and a scattering of large stumps with springboard notches, evidence of the logging industry that once thrived in the area. Continue through the canopy of cedar, bigleaf maple, grand fir, and hemlock until you reach the Newberry Trail trailhead, where you’ll head back the way you came for the return trip.

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For more resources relating to hiking and more, right here on The Portlandist, we implore you to check out the following articles and guides:

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