A Native Forest Near Downtown Is a Haven to Nature Lovers and Hikers
Just 15 minutes from downtown Portland, Oregon, a 4,900-acre forest preserve invites hiking, biking, and strolling along 70 miles of trails.
Hikers, bicyclists, and nature lovers flock to the 70 miles of trails that meander through Forest Park. Left undisturbed since its creation in the 1940s, this expanse of native forest stretches for seven-and-one-half miles along the Tualatin Hills on Portland’s west side. Trails cross, fork, and intersect, creating endless routes for hikers to explore. Terrain ranges from high ridges to deep canyons with two creeks that attract a variety of wildlife.
Whether your interest is outdoor recreation, natural history, or a quiet escape from the urban bustle, Forest Park offers it.
Hiking, Strolling, Running & Biking
A major route, Leif Erikson Drive, is a rock surfaced former road now open exclusively to runners, walkers, and bicyclists. A popular route year-round, it meanders for 11 miles, intersecting with numerous side trails. It can be reached by following Northwest Thurman Street west to its end. Bicyclists are welcome here, but many trails prohibit bicycles due to safety factors aimed at protecting both people and fragile trails. Signs at the start of trails generally indicate what kind of traffic is allowed—foot or pedal.
Oriented toward hikers and walkers, the 28-mile Wildwood Trail zigzags through the full length of the park, beginning at Hoyt Arboretum on the Park’s southeast end. The Wildwood crosses dozens of other trails allowing for any number of route combinations from long to short, strenuous to easy.
Another popular trail begins at Lower Macleay Park and follows Balch Creek. This highly scenic trail passes an old stone house and continues for a mile-and-a-half to the Portland Audubon Society, which includes a sanctuary and wildlife viewing area. Lower Macleay Park lies at the west end of Northwest Upshur Street, one block north of Thurman Street.
Along the trails, towering native conifers — Douglas fir, western hemlock, and western red cedar — mix with big leaf maple and red alder, all typical of the native forests of western Oregon. For botany enthusiasts looking for the rarer native species, you’ll be rewarded with grand fir, black cottonwood, madrone, Oregon white oak, and Pacific yew. Below the trees grows an abundance of ferns, vines, and shrubs, including sword and maidenhair ferns, vine maple, red huckleberry, and Pacific dogwood, plus carpets of damp moss. Summer brings forest wildflowers including trilliums, wild bleeding-heart, red columbine, fairy bells, fawn-lily, false Solomon’s seal, and Oregon iris.
The expanse of the forest, plus connecting corridors to the Coast Range allow for a variety of native wildlife to thrive in the park. More than 100 bird species and 60 different mammals have been recorded. Reptiles, amphibians, and fish live in, or near, the creeks. Commonly spotted birds include songbirds and ground-nesters, woodpeckers, owls, and hawks. Deer, rabbits and chipmunks can be seen, and sightings of bear, fox, elk and bobcats have been reported. Look for newts and salamanders around the creeks.
A good Forest Park map will help in finding trailheads, planning hikes and making sure you don’t get lost. Below are references for sources of maps and additional information.
Friends of Forest Park provides information on trails, park etiquette, and more. Their set of 10 rain-resistant maps provides a detailed guide to loop hikes and runs. To find out how to obtain it, click Trails, then Forest Park Maps on their website.
One City’s Wilderness: Portland’s Forest Park, by Marcy Cottrell Houle, published by the Oregon Historical Society Press. This book outlines 20 hikes with maps, descriptions, and directions to trailheads. It contains a complete list of plants and animals in the park.