You may come to Portland, Oregon for the unique culture, but you’ll want to stay for the breathtaking scenery. Not to mention top-notch camping sites and many hiking hot spots that plunge through some of the most awe-inspiring wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. Portland is one of the very best cities in the U.S. for mixing outdoorsy adventures with urban delights. It is an ideal getaway that captivates travelers from all over the world. With so many great options to choose from in the Greater Portland area, read on for some camping and hiking musts that you will want to consider on your trip to Rose City.
The Many Escapes of Forest Park
One of the reasons Portland’s iconography tends to be on the green side is because of Forest Park. Forest Park is a sprawling, 5,100-acre urban oasis only a quick 20-minute drive upriver from the trendy Pearl District. Within the park, the hiking opportunities are as diverse as they are exhilarating. For those looking to recharge, try Ridge Trail. Hikers here treck down a narrow path cut into the pristine wilderness and emerge overlooking St. John’s Bridge and the majestic Willamette River. For more visual extravagance, the Lower Macleay Trail is a relatively light hike filled with moss-coated hemlocks, towering firs and ferns, and Portland icons like the old Stone House and Victorian-era masterpiece Pittock Mansion.
While there are more than a few options for the less seasoned hiker, those looking for a more strenuous workout won’t be disappointed either. The Tolinda Trail offers a steep climb to the locally famous Leif Erickson Drive, with beautiful scenery along the way. Although it can be a little bit on the muddy side, the trail–generally about three miles roundtrip–is a terrific option for the adventurous hiker or anyone looking for a great workout.
The most famous of them all, however, is the Wildwood Trail, which is a series of different trails rolled into one. It is known for being loaded with wildflowers during the summer bloom. Along the Firelane 15 section in the northwestern portion of the trail, you’ll escape the crowds and find a blissful refuge in a region of the park. Known for its mossy scenery, grassy knoll (near Kielhorn Meadow), and potential for an elk or mountain beaver encounter, this trail is tough to beat. Though many of the best parts of Wildwood Trail require a short trip in the car, you can take the light rail from the city’s center to the beginning of the trail in Washington Park. All in all, the Wildwood Trail has 40 miles of hiking, with 27 miles of it resting within the limits of Forest Park.
Hiking in Forest Park is optional year-round, but some additional preparation might be needed if you go during the winter or following a rainstorm. Many locals are not bothered by hiking during a rainstorm. A rain slicker and some good hiking boots can be the key to a true Oregonian adventure at Forest Park. Because Forest Park has about 70 miles of trails overall, checking out the park map and exploring on your own can be the best way to go.
Camping in Greater Portland
One of the go-to campgrounds for Portlanders is at Beacon Rock State Park, a preserve located along the gorge just north of the Columbia River. Although technically in the state of Washington, Beacon Rock is only a 45-minute drive east from central Portland and offers a range of tent-camping options surrounded by nature. Hikes overlooking the river and the spectacular greenery of both Washington and Oregon are on full display. Come see local icons like Rodney Falls, Hamilton Mountain, and Hardy Creek’s Pool of the Winds. Although the park doesn’t take camping reservations, it does have a 200-site group campground in addition to a 26-site main campground.
Heading west to the edge of the wondrous Tillamook State Forest, the Gales Creek Campground offers another terrific experience along with direct access to some of the best natural features in the Pacific Northwest. Loaded with sky-reaching alders, maples, and Douglas firs, Gales Creek Campground is known for its serene and peaceful setting. Visiting Tillamook State Forest has even more options for exploring the Oregonian scenery, including a temperate rainforest that is one of the wettest spots in the U.S.
If you’re in the area, you may find your way to Mt. Hood National Forest, located about an hour southeast of Portland. At the Riverside Campground, you can enjoy amazing views of the Clackamas River as well as hiking and biking in the national forest. Although the river tends to be extremely cold in most parts, those with an adventurous spirit can journey to the south end of the campground for a dip in the crisp waters of the Clackamas during the summer. With its natural seclusion, undeniable beauty, and advantageous location, Riverside remains a favorite for locals and visitors alike.
For a less adventurous wilderness escape, the family-friendly Jenkins Camp-Estate Rivendale is known for its balance of modern lodging and its vast estate containing many outdoor activities. Looking out over the Tualatin Valley, the Jenkins grounds are not lacking in beauty, especially during the late spring and early summer.
Underrated Hiking Gems
Just across the Columbia River from Beacon Rock State Park–on the Oregon side–lies the Eagle Creek Trail. Here, you can make your way along the river toward the thunderous Tunnel Falls. Especially breathtaking in the winter months, the 12-mile roundtrip Tunnel Falls portion of the Eagle Creek Trail can be a transformative experience, showcasing both the unbeatable scenery of the area as well as the region’s raw natural power.
For those looking to stay closer to the city, meanwhile, the Marquam Trail is tough to beat. Less than 10 minutes from Downtown Portland, Marquam Trail picks through lush green spaces to Council Crest, the highest point in Portland. From Council Crest, you can expect to see magnificent views of the city along with glimpses of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, and more. The Marquam Trail to Council Crest is particularly great for having a scenic picnic during the warmer months of the year.
Although you could have a great time skipping about Portland’s many outstanding microbreweries and famous eateries, the pure magic of the area is in the region’s natural offerings. With abundant options for hiking and camping in Portland, there are few places in the U.S.–or elsewhere–better suited for exploring the best features that nature has to offer.