January 11, 2021
One of the things I really enjoy about living in Portland are the abundant opportunities to get outside and enjoy a walk or bicycle ride without having to go too far from home. I've been exploring the trails in Forest Park for the last few years, and this year, with nowhere else to go, I ended up taking a few days or afternoons off over most of the summer.
In this post, I've listed most of my favorite loops in Forest Park. There's one particular favorite I'm keeping to myself. It's not especially nice, but it is virtually unused, and I'd like to keep it that way.
All of these hikes are easily reached from the Portland area. I cycle to all of them, but you can get to several by bus as well, although the Maple Trail hikes start about a mile from the bus stop.
Start/End Point: The BPA/Newton Trailhead on NW St Helens Road
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation gain: 850 feet
The trailhead for this hike is not well marked. There's just a cutting in the curb a short distance from the signed turn into NW Marina Way. If driving, there is ample room on the side of the road to park, at your own risk of course. This hike is especially spectacular in late June, when BPA Road is lined with a profusion of wildflowers.
A short way in, you'll come to a marked fork with BPA Road rising sharply on the right and Newton Road on the left. Take the Newton Road path, which despite its name is just a trail through relatively open land until it comes to a small stream. The trail follows the stream, which doesn't seem to have a name, for about a quarter mile before is crosses the stream bed and then climbs a bit steeply up the hill until it gets to a ridge line, which it follows up the hill. The “road” crosses the Wildwood trail 1.28 miles from the starting point.
Turn right onto Wildwood and follow it for 1.15 miles to BPA Road. Turn right onto BPA road, which is a wide service road getting regular maintenance. As noted, the area lining the road, at least when it's under the power lines, sports a large number of wildflowers which bloom in late June. Common things like daisies abound, but shooting well above these are tiger lilies and columbines.
Follow BPA Road for about a quarter mile. You can continue down BPA Road all the way to where you started. There are some good views north all the way to Vancouver Lake, but the trail is steep and the wildflowers are not nearly as spectacular. If you take this route, just keep right when you come to any forks in the road.
Assuming you don't continue on BPA Road, turn left onto Firelane 12. The trail through old growth forests curves around to follow another stream and slopes gently down for about 1.25 miles. The trail ends at a neighborhood street that winds down to NW St Helens Road. Turn right to get back to the trailhead.
Start/End Point: Ridge Trailhead on NW Bridge Avenue
Distance: 3.7 miles
Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
Forest Park trails have a lot of things going for them, but great views generally isn't on the list. This trail is one of the few exceptions. Not far from the trailhead(s) you'll get a fantastic view of the St John's Bridge, as shown in the photo at the top of the page. If you drive, there's a small parking area not quite midway down the south ramp of the bridge, heading in the direction of downtown. There's room to park six to eight cars.
There are actually two trailheads for the Ridge trail. The one most people use is just a few yards from the base of the bridge, on the south ramp. I prefer to start hikes from the entrance on the north ramp. The reason is that just off the trail about 100 yards in is the fantastic viewpoint the picture above was taken from. You not only get a good shot of St Johns Bridge, but on a clear day you'll have Mt Hood behind it, as you can see in the photo.
Once the trails from the two trailheads join up, there are no further cross trails until you reach Leif Ericson Drive at about 0.6 miles in. Cross Leif Ericson and veer left to pick up the continuation of the trail. About a third of a mile up, you'll cross the Wildwood trail, and then continue on the Ridge trail another .44 miles to reach the end of the trail at Firelane 7.
Turn right onto Firelane 7 and follow it for a quarter mile. Look for the start of the Hardesty Trail on your right. The Hardesty Trail will take you down to Wildwood after a little more than a quarter mile. You will need to turn right on Wildwood and follow it for a hundred feet or so to find the continuation of the Hardesty trail on your left. The trail follows a deep ravine, so if you cross the ravine and head back up, you've gone too far.
Hardesty trail ends at Leif Ericson Drive, where you turn right and walk along the wide gravel road for half a mile to get back to the Ridge Trail back down to the St Johns Bridge. Note the trail will be on your left, and heading down. The trail will take you back down the way you came, except when you come to where the trail forks, this time you will take the path on your right. This will take you to another viewpoint with a different view of the bridge, and then on down to Bridge Road.
Start/End Point: Salzman Road Trailhead
Distance: 4.7 miles
Elevation gain: 500 feet
While Salzman Road is popular among runners and cyclers, the Firelane 4 trailhead opposite the gate on Salzman is largely ignored. The steep trail brings you up to the Maple Trail, making it an excellent access point to make two nice loops, which I refer to as the “South” and “North” loops. If I had to pick, I'd choose this southern route as the more scenic.
It's only about a third of a mile up Firelane 4 to the intersection with Maple Trail, but it's very steep. The trail is worn into a stairway in several sections. On reaching the Maple Trail intersection, turn left. The Maple Trail is more or less level. After about 0.6 mile, you'll pass the Koenig Trail, but stay on Maple for another 0.4 mile to Leif Ericson Road.
Cross Leif Ericson to get to the continuation of the Maple Trail. Note that the trail is to the left, while Firelane 5 splits off to the right. After about a third of a mile you'll come to a short connector trail that will take you to Wildwood and cut more than a mile from the trip, but the section you'll skip is perhaps one of the most scenic bits of thr route.
From the Wildwood connector the trail descends down into a ravine and crosses a usually almost dry stream before heading up again to end at Wildwood after about half a mile. Turn right on Wildwood and follow it for 1.4 miles to the Koenig trail.
From Wildwood, it's a short 0.14 mile down to Leif Ericson. On reaching Leif Ericson, turn left and follow the road for .05 miles to the continuation of the Koenig trail. The start of the trail is a little hidden behind a ridge where Leif Ericson turns sharply.
It's another short hike down Koenig to rejoin the Maple trail. Turn left and follow the trail back to Firelane 4, where you'll turn right and take the trail back to where you started.
Start/End Point: Salzman Road Trailhead
Distance: 4.8 miles
Elevation gain: 550 feet
Starting from the same Firelane 4 trailhead as the South Loop of the trail, for this hike you'll continue on past the intersection with Maple Trail up to Leif Ericson Road, where the firelane ends. Turn right onto Leif Ericson and follow it for 0.36 miles to the Cleator Trail, which will be on your left.
Take Cleator a quarter mile up to Wildwood, where you'll turn right. After half a mile, Wildwood crosses Salzman Road, and then continues on for another 0.68 miles to Fireland 5. Turn right onto Firelane 5 and follow it down to Leif Ericson. Turn right on Leif Ericson and walk along it for 0.15 miles to the Maple Trail trailhead, which will be on your left.
The trail dips below Lief Ericson and more or less follows it for one and a quarter miles until it crosses Salzman Road. Cross Salzman and continue on Maple Trail for just under a half mile to reach Firelane 4. Turn left onto Firelane 4 and take it back down to where you started.