Summer is almost here, and it’s time to plan some extra nature outings for the fam! Studies have shown the huge benefit kids (and adults) get when they’re outside exploring, from better concentration to happier feelings. Even the smell of trees makes us feel better! It’s so easy to get outside in and around Portland there’s almost no excuse to stay inside. Grab some water bottles and snacks and load up the kids—these hikes are all short, fun, easy, with great payoffs. Read on for more!
photo: keri via flickr
Situated just outside of Tualatin, Cooper Mountain offers 3 ½ miles of kid-friendly trails in a stunning natural area. You’ll get views of the distant Chehalem Mountains while enjoying trails under the canopy of white oaks. The nature park playground offers a play area inspired with natural materials like boulders, tree trunks, a sand pit, and more. From the playground, the Little Prairie Loop makes for a great short outing, or extend it up to three miles by connecting to the Cooper Mountain Loop.
18895 SW Kemmer Rd
One of the best urban explorations is on the slopes of a dormant volcano. Start at the trailhead by SE 64th and Lincoln, near the reservoirs, then wander at will through the paths and roads. Dirt trails, paved paths, stairs and more wind around the cinder cone volcano, until you arrive at the very top, with fabulous views of downtown Portland. A playground is on the north side-access it from Salmon St or Yamhill, or make your way there by foot.
6220 SE Salmon St.
photo: dolanh via flickr
The gentle current of the Sandy River flows through Oxbow Park, offering great swimming, fishing, or floating. It’s a popular place in summer, but the 12 miles of hiking trails will allow you to beat the crowds. Two big loops wander through the 1,000 acres, with the southern part being the more developed campsites and day-use area, and the northern being less well known. Head to the brand new visitor center for park info and maps. Whichever route you choose, you’re likely to see river bends, meadows, old-growth forests, wildlife, and more.
3010 SE Oxbow Pkwy.
This easy, mile-long trail is beautiful in the summer, walking through old-growth forests with Mt. Hood peeking in and out of view. A strict no dog policy means that while you can’t take your pooch, you can enjoy seeing plenty of wildlife along the trail–take water breaks at each art bench along the way, as well. The small park is located in Happy Valley, and doesn’t keep very busy even in summer, so it’s a nice out of the way place to explore.
Southeast Boyscout Lodge Rd. and Southeast 147th Ave.
Happy Valley, OR
If you’re not set on ending at a waterfall, one of the best hikes in the Gorge is on the Washington side at Beacon Rock. The unique monolith stands tall above the Columbia and offers amazing views of the river and Gorge. The hike is a fun one, too– lots of twists and turns, stairsteps, railings, and a finish that feels like you’re on top of the world. If your little one is likely to bolt, this may not be the hike for them, but for older kids who can stay on a trail, they’ll love the twisty climb to the top, 850 feet high. It’s just a mile each way, so it’s very manageable, even if you do gain a lot of elevation. The state park is a 50 minute drive from Portland along Highway 14 in Washington.
WA Park Pass, $10/day, $30 annual
The Wildlife Refuge is a great place to catch the migration of spring and fall birds, but in the summer you can still see plenty of wildlife along a beautiful wetland area. In the northern Carty Unit, the Oaks to Wetlands Trail is an easy 2.4 mile loop that passes through oaks, near ponds, and around the wetlands. The trail is re-opening after some maintenance in late June of 2019, so check ahead before you go. The best sight along the way is the authentic Cedar Plankhouse, a modern interpretation of a traditional Chinookan one. In the summers it’s open most weekends from 12-4pm, with many special events. The refuge is about 30 minutes north of Portland, near Ridgefield, Washington.
$3/car entrance fee
1071 S Hillhurst Rd.