Portland Walks and Urban Hikes

"The Settling of the West," 1936, by Edward Quigley, one of several WPA murals inside Portland's Irvington School

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hiking the Wildwood: 3 days at 2 miles per hour

We love mile markers: a blue blaze and quarter-
mile increments were trail highlights.
The dog joined us on Day 3.
It’s the longest hiking trail within a U.S. city’s limits. Portland, Oregon’s Forest Park invites you to travel deep into its 5,000 wooded acres via a 30-mile-long wilderness trail, the Wildwood Trail. At about the 800 foot elevation line hidden in the folds of this rugged landscape, the Wildwood carries you into and out of deep ravines, through mature forests of Douglas fir, cedar and hemlock, and across countless streams. All the while, you never leave Portland city limits. At times, views of Mt. St. Helens or Mt. Rainier peak through. In places, clangs, booms and whistles of docks, tugboats and trains pierce the cathedral-like calm. Pileated woodpeckers laugh maniacally, bald eagles soar silently above the fir tops and songbirds welcome you with outbursts of joy as you pass through their world.

Eight year old Eleanor wanted to claim the Wildwood. So this spring break, with mornings in the 30s and grey skies occasionally gracing us with showers, we hiked its length, plus 6 extra miles. The route brought us off the Wildwood the first night, down a mudslide of a firelane, to a motel on the highway below the park. The second night brought us to some friends’ home in a quiet dead-end above the park, and the last day, we walked to our house just beyond the park’s north end.

Most people hike the Wildwood in segments, looping onto it from firelanes and side trails that carry you down to the trail from streets above or up from the neighborhoods or highway below.

Stumps of trees cut a century ago nurture new life.
But a one-way excursion heightens the sense of adventure, of discovery and of awe at the length and wilderness that the Wildwood traverses. It's a landscape that has been logged, yes, but is in robust recovery, as wild-seeming in places as some of the more remote areas of the Olympic peninsula.

A one-way excursion on the Wildwood like mine is possible, even if you don’t have friends living up on Skyline Boulevard.

Start at Mile 0, at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington Park. Pass through the Arboretum and below homes perched on hills; climb to the Pittock Mansion, and vow to come back another day when your feet are not caked in mud; descend trails cut by Mr. Pittock to Cornell Road and the Audubon’s sanctuaries. That’s at mile 5, and visiting the birds who live there adds a nice educational component. We ate lunch watching a spotted owl preen, crouch and swivel on the arm of a volunteer. From there, it’s down to Balch Creek, then up and out of the canyon, then traveling above the Willamette Heights neighborhood. After a bit, the neighborhood peters out and it’s just you, a few dogs and their owners and miles of trail.

Oxalis, one of countless shades of green in the park.
We stopped at Mile 11 at about 4 p.m. and hiked down the very steep Firelane 1 to its start at St. Helens Road and Yeon Avenue, where La Quinta Inn provided just the sort of oddball juxtaposition I like on a walk. A swim in the pool, pizza delivered by Bellagios, two hours of fluff tv, and snuggling in a big clean bed made for a perfect day’s end.

There are no other motels next to the trail, so the 11 mile mark is the best place to descend if you want to spend the night in a warm bed other than your own. (Camping is not allowed in the park.)

A true friend shares the last of her frozen
peaches with some tired hikers.
Day Two took us back up the firelane, about 1.8 miles of mud alternating with wash outs. Views of trains and tank farms below offer disturbing but interesting juxtapositions with the firelane’s wild, tumbling streams and beautiful stands of Oregon white oak and madrona (relatively rare in Forest Park; seen along the lower elevations above Highway 30). Once back on the Wildwood, we walked to our friends’ home for a day’s distance of 14 miles. The next day we hiked to the Wildwood’s end at Newberry Road, and three more miles to our house.
The end of the trail.

But if you care to walk faster than our two-mile-per hour pace, you could make Day 2 as long as you want, even making it to Newberry Road, at the end of the Wildwood. There, you can walk downhill on Newberry (about 1.5 miles) to Highway 30 and a TriMet bus stop where you can pick the mud out of your boots while you wait for the ride back to town. For a shorter walk, bail off the Wildwood at many places between the 20 and 28 mile marks, heading downhill on firelanes or trails. You’ll end up at or near a TriMet bus stop on the highway.

The Wildwood’s a great walk for kids: level, runnable and so, so close to Portland neighborhoods. If you go, Marcy Houle’s book One City’s Wilderness is an indispensable guide. In print since the 1980s, it’s been updated in 2010 with new maps, full color photos of the birds and plants you’ll see, and great stories that explain the landscape you’ll pass through. The Forest Park Conservancy, a nonprofit advocacy group, leads frequent walks into the park, and offers interpretation, opportunities to help remove invasives or maintain trails, and a wealth of other information about the park.


Adam Sawyer said...

What a great trip. Congrats Eleanor!

Susan Kearns said...

Nice job! At age 44 I just bought my first backpack and plan on doing many hikes this summer. We did a portion of the Wildwood today. A 5 mile loop.

sewa mobil said...

Nice article, thanks for the information.

Carolyn said...

Congrats Eleanor!

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Chiropractor Portland, Oregon said...

2 Miles an hour seems like a really good pace on that terrain with a little one. Good job!