Fall is the perfect time to hit the trails with your little adventurers. With summer crowds dispersing and temperatures cooling off, it’s easy to take in the spectacle of turning leaves on a wide range of deciduous trees. (Yes, even in the green Pacific Northwest, we have fall color!) Check our list of family-friendly trails in and around Portland, then pack the GORP and head out.

photo via unsplash

Reed Lake

An easy, close-in option is the 1-mile loop behind the Reed College campus, through Reed Canyon and around Reed Lake. This unpaved trail is open to the public, and even when school is back in session, it’s a lesser-known hike that usually remains uncrowded. Spot the ducks in the lake, tramp across the footbridge, and admire the fiery glow of the vine maples, one of the earliest varieties to turn in the autumn.

Insider tip: Parking at Reed is free, and the closest to the trail head is the East lot off Woodstock. Or, take the bus and extend the adventure!

Reed College
3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
Portland, OR
Online: reed.edu/canyon

photo: Reed Canyon via flickr

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden

Just across the road from Reed, you can get your fill of more fall color and more ducks, with this easy meander through well-maintained paths, many accessible by stroller. While the garden’s namesake rhododendrons are the focal point in spring and summer, in autumn the companion plantings of deciduous trees steal the show.

Insider tip: Go on a Monday, or sidle in before 10 a.m. to get in free.

Fees: $5 between 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Tues.-Sun., March 1, through September 30. Children under 12 are free. Admission is free to all Oct. 1-Feb 28.

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
Portland, OR
Online: portlandoregon.gov

photo: Elk Rock Garden via yelp

Elk Rock Garden

This quiet trail around the Bishop’s Close, headquarters of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon, is open to the public and offers fantastic views of the Willamette River and Mt. Hood. Located just north of Lake Oswego in the Dunthorpe neighborhood, you and your little ones can wander along peaceful streams and fish ponds and admire the well-tended gardens. Maples, oaks, and redbud hazel shrubs offer pops of color, while late-blooming plantings of windflower and pinks nod to summer’s all-too-recent close.

Insider tip: Younger (read: noisier) children might do better on a more public trail, since this is a meditative garden. No public restrooms available.

Elk Rock Garden
11800 SW Military Ln.
Online: elkrockgarden.org
Open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily

Forest Park

Forest Park is full of options for a fall walk, but the Maple Trail is one of the best: both for fall color and for ease of access. Start off at the end of lower NW Saltzman Road, walk past the gate and turn left at the Maple Trail junction. Or consider Macleay Trail, a gentle walk along the creek with an opportunity to visit the Stone House. Also check the website for details on organized hikes, including mushroom walks throughout the fall.

Getting there: From I-405 in downtown Portland, take Route 30 north toward St. Helens. After roughly four miles, turn left on NW Saltzman Road and park at the trailhead.

photo: Hoyt Arboretum via yelp

Hoyt Arboretum

If trees are the stars of the show in autumn, what better place to hike than a museum of trees? Make it educational with a stop at the visitor center for a Meet-the-Trees activity map, or simply let your senses be your guide. There’s a one-mile stroller-friendly walk for the littlest tree-huggers, and plenty of other trails accessible to all skill levels. For a couple bucks or often free of charge, you can also take part in organized preschool walks and Family Forest Days, held year-round. Check the calendar for current offerings.

Hoyt Arboretum
4000 SW Fairview Blvd.
Online: hoytarboretum.org

Tualatin Hills Nature Park

Head west to Beaverton Creek for an immersive experience of the seasonal shift to fall. With wetlands, forests, and streams, the wildlife preserve and nature center allow families to enjoy proximity to a wide range of animals and plants, while five miles of walking trails offer views of fall foliage.

Insider tip: No pets.

Tualatin Hills Nature Park
15655 SW Millikan Way
Online: thprd.org   

photo via unsplash

Columbia Children’s Arboretum

For a one-mile loop with littles, head north to the Columbia Children’s Arboretum, an underused  Parks & Recreation property complete with orchards, natural areas, and meadow trails. It’s an unexpected and inviting haven nestled into an otherwise mostly industrial part of North Portland. Sugar maples and American sweet gum trees make for lovely fall color.

Columbia Children’s Arboretum
10040 NE 6th Drive
Portland, OR
Online: portlandoregon.gov

photo: Silver Falls State Park via flickr

Silver Falls

Venturing a little further, about an hour outside of Portland is one of the most beautiful hikes in the state. At around 7 miles, the Trail of Ten Falls may be a bit too long for your littlest hikers, but several connecting trails allow you to create a shorter route. Hike along mostly flat trails and view the changing leaves above light cascades, turning around when you sense naptime is at hand. Or, for a pet and stroller-friendly hike, choose the paved bike path that begins at the South Falls Day Use Area, which is a 4-mile loop.

Insider tip: No pets allowed on the Canyon Trail. Pets on leash allowed on all other trails.

Getting There: From Interstate 5 exit 253 in Salem, drive 10 miles east on North Santiam Highway 22, turn left at a sign for Silver Falls Park, and follow Highway 214 for 16 miles to the park entrance sign at South Falls.

Silver Falls State Park
20024 Silver Falls Hwy SE
Sublimity, OR
Online: oregonstateparks.org

-Melissa Poulin

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