Willamette River Walkway Beckons to Strollers, Joggers & Cyclists
It used to be that people wanting a scenic and safe place to run, walk or bike along the Willamette River were limited to Waterfront Park on the west side of the river. In 2001, however, that changed with the dedication of the Eastbank Esplanade along the eastern side of Willamette.
The Eastbank Esplanade stretches for 1.5 miles from the Hawthorne to the Steel Bridge and includes some parts which are anchored to the ground and some parts which are floating on the river itself. It not only runs alongside the Willamette but also connects to the neighborhoods attached to it as well, making it accessible for residents of those neighborhoods as well as others. Since it opened it has become a popular place to walk or jog on the east side of the river.
In addition to the wide pathway that makes up most of the Esplanade, there are also several pieces of public art that were worked into the design. These include the “Echo Gate,” which is meant to remind us of the era of the Shanghai tunnels, and the “Stackstalk,” which suspends a Japanese glass fishing float as part of the design. The floating walkway which connects two land-based pieces of the Esplanade is 1,200 feet long, making it the longest floating walkway in the United States.
While the Eastbank Esplanade was dedicated while Portland Mayor Vera Katz was in office, it wasn’t until 2004 that the path was officially renamed the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade.
This wide urban walkway sometimes hugs the river’s edge, sometimes floats on the water, and always offers stunning downtown views.
Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Formally known as the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade, the mile-and-a-half long pedestrian and bicycle promenade follows the east side of the Willamette River, which runs through the heart of Portland. Connecting to the river’s west side Tom McCall Waterfront Park, it completes a recreational riverside loop, plus a bicycle commuter route between eastside neighborhoods and downtown.
Connection points are at the historic Steel Bridge on the Esplanade’s north end and the Hawthorne Bridge on the south.
The north end crossing, the Steel Bridge RiverWalk, is a specially built pedestrian and bicycle bridge deck just 30 feet above the river that offers stunning views of downtown and the city’s series of bridges, including the Burnside and Morrison. Trains rumble along on a separate deck of the Steel Bridge, and cars and light rail whiz by on the upper deck.
Esplanade Features Art, Native Plants, and a Public Dock
Public art can be viewed all along the Esplanade. At the south end, near the Hawthorne Bridge access, is a statue of namesake Vera Katz, Portland’s mayor during much of the planning and development of the walkway.
The building of the Esplanade included restoration of the riverbank to enhance river habitat for steelhead and salmon. Hundreds of native trees and shrubs were planted to filter water running off adjacent highways. Both sides of the walk bloom with wild roses and other flowering natives in spring and summer. Beavers, ducks, geese and herons frequent the shores.
The 1,200-foot-long floating section of the Esplanade rolls with the river and rises and falls seasonally. Connected to it is a 300-foot long public dock where boats can tie up for free and visitors can extend their walk.
Interpretive Panels Tell Portland’s Willamette River History
Near the Steel Bridge access, a stairway leads to an overlook that offers an expansive vista of the river and downtown skyline. The Portland Convention Center is only a short walk away.
Interpretive panels outline Portland’s river history, including the building of the bridges, development of eastside neighborhoods, early riverside industries, and the story of the many houseboats that once crowded the river.
Benches installed all along the Esplanade allow visitors to rest and enjoy the river and city views.
A small plaza occupies the opposite, south end with sidewalk access to the Hawthorne Bridge leading to downtown.
The south end of the Eastbank Esplanade can be reached from Southeast Water Avenue and Hawthorne Blvd.
The Steel Bridge RiverWalk is reached from Waterfront Park downtown on NW Naito Parkway. From the east side, the north entrance is at Interstate Ave. and Lloyd Blvd.
The Eastbank Esplanade is one of Portland’s key attractions and well worth visiting.