With the height of summer fiercely upon us, sometimes there’s no better respite from the heat than a cool, breezy hiking trail. Our city and region are just teeming with easy, flat and shaded paths the entire family can enjoy. So the next time the sun is out, keep these trails in mind for a quick adventure.
photo: Ed T. via Yelp
Leif Erikson Drive
The mileage is up to you on this out-and-back trail.
Once a road traveled by cars, Leif Erikson Drive is now a wide, wooded and level trail that acts as the spine of Forest Park. From where it begins on NW Thurman Street to where it ends at NW Germantown Road, Leif Erikson Drive traverses 11.2 miles of Douglas-fir, western hemlock and red cedar canopies, providing the perfect dose of shade on hot days.
Insider Tip: The handy mile markers on the side of the trail will help you keep track of how far you’ve gone—and how long a walk you have back to your car.
Getting There: Find the trailhead and parking area by following NW Thurman Street west of Macleay Park in Portland. Park your car where the road dead-ends at Forest Park.
Lower Macleay Trail
1.7 miles roundtrip to the Stone House
This heavily-shaded trail is a favorite among Portland families with young children, as it offers a cool and easy ascent along Balch Creek. But kids especially love paying a visit to the ruins of the old Stone House—also known as the Witch’s Castle—where their imaginations can run wild. Feel like going a bit further? Make a sharp right turn at the Stone House onto a level stretch of the Wildwood Trail, and walk to your heart’s content.
Insider Tip: Keep your eyes open for birds on the Lower Macleay Trail. Certain lucky hikers recently spotted a mating pair of pileated woodpeckers.
Getting There: The entrance to Macleay Park is located on NW Upshur Street, just west of its intersection with NW 29th Avenue.
photo: Maura O’Brien
Eagle Creek Trail to Punchbowl Falls
3.8 miles roundtrip
It’s no wonder that the Eagle Creek Trail is one of the most popular in the Columbia River Gorge. This easy ascent offers panoramic views of the valley cut by Eagle Creek; of the secluded 100-foot Metlako Falls; and of the picture-perfect cove of Punchbowl Falls. And after spending a morning on the trail, the creek flowing from the base of Punchbowl Falls creates an oh-so-tempting spot to soak your feet.
Insider Tip: Because the Eagle Creek Trail features several steep edges and drop-offs, this is a trail only suited for seasoned young hikers.
Getting There: From Portland, take I-84 east to Exit 41. Turn right at the bottom of the ramp, and follow the road across a narrow bridge to the Eagle Creek parking area. Cars must have a Northwest Forest Pass or pay a day use fee.
Elowah Falls Trail
1.4 miles roundtrip
The 289-ft. Elowah Falls might just be the most stunningly-situated waterfall in the entire Columbia River Gorge, and (good news!) is easily accessed by hikers of all experience levels. The kids will work up a sweat as they make the initial steady climb, but not to worry—this waterfall, which plunges into a beautiful moss-covered canyon, produces a healthy dose of mist to cool everyone off.
Insider Tip: Elowah Falls can be reached by hikers of all ages, but parents should watch out for several steep banks and slick surfaces.
Getting There: From Portland, take I-84 east to Exit 35 for Dodson. Turn left at the stop sign, followed by an immediate right on Frontage Road. Follow the road east for 2.1 miles until you see the John B. Yeon Trailhead parking lot on the right.
photo: Maura O’Brien
Wahclella Falls Trail
2.0 miles roundtrip
There is so much about the Wahclella Falls Trail for families to love. A wide and flat creekside path that eases you into the hike? Check. A bridge that puts you so close to Munra Falls, you can practically touch it? Check. A three-tiered, 120-ft. waterfall pouring into a wide and gaping canyon? Check. But to get the most out of this short and scenic hike, be sure to take the lower trail when the path splits after the staircase. You’ll hike the upper route on the way back, but the lower approach to Wahclella Falls is much more beautiful.
Insider Tip: This is an ideal hike for all ages, thanks to its gradual ascents and short distances.
Getting There: From Portland, take I-84 east to Exit 40 for the Bonneville Dam. Turn right at the stop sign, and make an immediate right into the Wahclella Falls Trailhead parking lot. If the lot is full, go under I-84 to park in the Bonneville Dam visitor lot.
photo: Maura O’Brien
Trillium Lake Loop
1.9 miles roundtrip
Not only does Trillium Lake offer a flat, often-shaded trail that encircles one of the loveliest lakes in the region; it also boasts one of the most postcard-perfect views of Mt. Hood. Kids will be delighted by the subalpine daisies and mallards that populate the trail, while the entire family will appreciate dipping their feet in the cool lake afterwards. Care to make a day of it? Consider packing your bathing suits, paddle boards, kayaks and inner tubes.
Insider Tip: Arrive early if you want to have this picturesque trail all to yourself.
Getting There: From Portland, follow Interstate 26 west for approximately 58 miles to Government Camp. Shortly after passing through town, turn right on Trillium Lake Loop Road and follow signs to the day use area. Parking is $5 between May 15 and Oct. 1.
photo: Maura O’Brien
4.8 miles roundtrip
Some days (in the past month) are so hot and sticky that all you can do is split for the coast. And if you do, consider hitting the trail in beautiful Oswald West State Park, where the Cape Falcon Trail offers families a flat, shaded path with commanding views of the coast. From the cool and breezy cape, you’ll gaze back upon Short Sand Beach, Neahkahnie Mountain and the wide, sandy expanse of Manzanita in the distance.
Insider Tip: This level trail can be conquered by kids of all ages, but the relatively longer walking distance (and car ride) makes it best for seasoned little hikers. Also, the Cape Falcon parking lot fills up quickly on weekends, so be sure to arrive early.
Getting There: From Portland, take Interstate 26 west for approximately 68 miles until it meets Highway 101. Follow 101 south for 13 miles to Oswald West State Park and park in the Cape Falcon lot on the right.
What’s your favorite family hiking trail? Let us know in the comments below!
— Maura O’Brien