Lower Macleay Trail alongside Balch Creek Kathleen Marie

Everybody goes to Multnomah Falls. It’s gorgeous, it’s right off of I-84, and it gives visitors just enough of a glimpse of the Columbia River Gorge to make them never want to leave. But between the bumper-to-bumper traffic and sweaty crowds, it’s about as touristy as Oregon gets. If you’re itching to get a glimpse of the famously stunning nature in and around Portland, you can do better.

Here are three hikes, all of which are in Portland, and all of which are readily accessible—by car, by bike, even by bus. And if you get through these, you can check out other nearby spots, like Tryon Creek State Natural Area, Sauvie Island, and Rocky Butte—all of which boast some great history and some excellent sights.


Powell Butte Nature Park

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: Over nine miles of trails

The rolling trails of Powell Butte offer views of Southeast Portland and way beyond—on a clear day, you can see Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and more. This extinct volcano was used as an orchard and farmland until 1925, when it was purchased by the Portland Water Bureau, which put a huge 50-million-gallon water reservoir underground. You wouldn’t know it: If you wander a bit more, you’ll find yourself in some dark, lush, fern-drenched woods, crammed with gnarled trees and trickling streams. Instead of planning a route, just give yourself plenty of time to explore—given the size of the park and its conical shape, you’ll have to try pretty hard to get too lost.


Marquam Trail

Difficulty: Easy downhill, moderate uphill
Distance: About four miles

The old-timey amusement park at the top of Southwest Portland’s Council Crest might be long gone, but the park and the tranquil ravines surrounding it still offer an excellent escape. You can hike the Marquam Trail at either end; regardless, the shaded trees offer respite from the sun and lots of city wildlife, while the homes teetering on the hills give you a chance to gawp at rich people and think about how you should actually be glad you don’t live in this gorgeous place, because at least your place isn’t on stilts, so who’s going to survive an earthquake, huh? Anyway, here’s a trick: Take the Sunnyside Trail loop on either the way up or the way down. It doesn’t add much distance, and it means you won’t be covering all the same ground on your way back.


Forest Park Kathleen marie

Lower Macleay Trail, Upper Macleay Trail, and Wildwood Trail

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 4.5 miles

This might be my favorite in-town hike, and is the first one I’d recommend to anyone visiting town. Starting in Northwest Portland’s Macleay Park, the Lower Macleay Trail runs alongside the babbling Balch Creek. Easy, chill, and popular with everyone from families to trail runners to friendly dogs, it’s a pleasant stroll through a gully so deep and green you’ll forget how close you are to the city. After passing the graffiti-covered Stone House (originally a bathroom, this old WPA project now looks like Tolkien-esque ruins, if hobbits were taggers), the trail rises to the Upper Macleay Trail, which climbs deeper into Forest Park. At a junction that’s reliably confusing—despite years of hiking inside it, I’ve never not gotten lost on Forest Park’s jumbled trails—take the Wildwood Trail up a series of switchbacks to Pittock Mansion. In addition to being a historical relic—built in 1914 by the then-owner of the Oregonian, it’s a reminder of a long-ago era when newspapers made money—the mansion boasts a stunning view of Mt. Hood and nearly all of Portland, spread out far below. If those switchbacks tired you out, keep in mind that the hike back to the park is all downhill—and there’ll probably be some more dogs on the Lower Macleay.