Most Portlanders have hiked at least some of Forest Park’s Wildwood Trail. But in all, it’s 30.2 miles long, making it America’s longest forested urban trail.
Even though its within the city of Portland, the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park is a worthy wilderness hike. Many Portlanders drive for hours to access trails that are not much wilder than what they have in their own backyards. This 21-mile segment of the 30-mile Wildwood Trail crosses several streams and avoids the portions of the path with the most foot traffic. Road crossings along he way provide turnaround points for more moderate hikes.
Expect plenty of people along this trail, including runners and cyclists. Dogs must remain leash in this enormous — more than 5000 acres — city park, which is the largest in the United States. Carry plenty of water in the summer for you and your dog.
Before you plunge into the forest at Pittock Mansion, take a moment to walk east, past the mansion, to take in the vista of Portland and Mount Hood. It’s one of the few views on the entire hike. Although you’ll be hiking along the top of the Tualatin Mountains — also known as Portland’s West Hills — trees obscure the landscape. The forest here is mostly second-growth fir interspersed with alder and bigleaf maple, though you’ll also find cedars and western hemlock along the way.
From the Pittock Mansion trailhead, the path plunges into a dense woodland as it heads north. The trail is broad and meanders downhill here, reaching Northwest Cornell Road and an Audubon Society reserve in about two miles. This first mile or two can be fairly congested, but the crowds thin once you get beyond Cornell Road. You can find water for a doggie dip at Balch Creek 3.5 miles from the Pittock trailhead.
All along the trail, the forest varies in its density of Douglas fir, incense cedar, hemlock, alder, and bigleaf maple. Look for the scraggly Pacific yew in moist, heavily shaded spots. Sword ferns dominate the forest floor with salal running a close second. Watch for a few rhododendrons to show off in the spring. The trail contours along the intricate topography, sometimes dropping slightly to avoid steep slopes, sometimes rising gently to cross divides.
At 5.3 miles from the Pittock Mansion, the trail crosses Northwest 53rd
Avenue –a point for easy access to an automobile if needed. The path then returns to its meandering through the trees. Watch for anachronisms along the hike. For example, you’ll find fire hydrants tucked in the underbrush — what more could any dog ask for? Many are relics of efforts to develop the park in the early twentieth century. The broad character of the Wildwood Trail belies its origin as a roadway for both development and logging. Look for white mileage posts marked ORRC — artifacts of the Oregon Road Runners Club.
At 12 miles from the Pittock Mansion, the path descends into the broad canyon of Saltzman Creek and intersects Northwest Saltzman Road. This road is a good destination for a day hike — consider it as a drop point if you wish to hike the eight miles from this road to Germantown Road, the next easy access point. Parking is available in a small four-car area.
Your best bets for doggie dips along the Wildwood Trail include nameless creeks at about seven, nine, and 10 miles into the hike, as well as Saltzman Creek at mile 12. However, the trail tours the upper portion of these drainages, so the water is usually gone by midsummer.
Look for glimpses of Mount Hood about 16 miles into the hike. As it gradually descends to Germantown Road, the trail teases you with views of the Willamette River industrial parks. Te sound of traffic presages your return to civilization about 0.2 mile before you reach the Germantown trailhead.
GETTING THERE To reach the south trailhead (Pittock Mansion) where this hike starts, from downtown Portland follow West Burnside Avenue 2.7 miles west from the Burnside Bridge or 1.3 miles west from Northwest 23rd Avenue. Turn right (north) onto Northwest Barnes Road, go 0.7 mile, and then right at the relatively obscure entry sign for Pittock Mansion.
Follow the entrance road about two miles to the visitor parking lot. The trailhead is on the north side of the parking lot. To reach the north trailhead (Germantown Road) where you will park a second car, from Portland, take Interstate 405 west to its merger with U.S. Highway 30.
Follow US 30 west for five miles. Continue another 0.2 miles past Saint Johns Bridge. Turn left onto Northwest Germantown Road. Follow Northwest Germantown Road 1.2 miles to a small pullout on the left and the north trailhead for the Wildwood Trail.
MORE INFORMATION One-way trip: 21 miles; elevation range: 240-820 feet; difficulty: moderate; hiking time: all day; best canine hiking season: year-round; regulations: dogs must be on leash.
Contact: Portland Department of Parks and Recreation, 503.823.7529
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about the author
Ellen Morris Bishop
Ellen Morris Bishop is the author of numerous books on geology and the outdoors, including the Best Hikes with Dogs series. Her present dog, Meesha, is a certified Animal Assisted Therapy dog, providing canine companionship to Alzheimers and nursing home patients. Meesha also has her Basic Obedience Certificate and Basic Agility Certificate, and is a Dove Lewis Clinic blood donor dog. Ellen Bishop's previous work with dogs includes working with stock dogs to work cattle and sheep, and training a Newfoundland to be a certified Water Rescue Dog.