Best of the City 2016: Seven Essential Outdoor Escapes in Portland

Resplendent picnic views to car-free cycling—lucky for us, natural wonder is always close at hand.

By Ramona DeNies June 13, 2016 Published in the July 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Best Close-In Picnicking With a Resplendent View

Follow N Skidmore Court west to its natural end, high above the east-side railyard, and you’ll find Mocks Crest, popularly known as the Skidmore Bluffs—a half-acre oak-fringed meadow that is the hands-down favorite picnic spot of many Portlanders. Sprawled nappers, smooching lovers, tuckered bikers, and dready jugglers: all end up here to watch the sun arc over the Willamette River, basking in late-afternoon glow. Love, but please leave no trace—so that picnickers of the future, too, can witness this pocket of urban wild.

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Best Prize for Eagle-Eyed Urban Forest Explorers 

Few area mushroom hunters will tell you where, exactly, they find golden chanterelles—a territorialism typical of the serious mycophile. But come summer, this yolk-bright forest treasure fruits surprisingly close to home: popping up through mossy duff, encircling conifers and live oaks, or thriving trailside in lightly disturbed loam. If you don’t immediately strike it rich in our more woodsy natural areas, try, try again, well into fall, and especially a few days after a nice rainfall.

Best Little City River SUP Trip—Ever

Have you ever helmed a stand-up paddleboard? Floated past Oregon City’s ghostly abandoned pulp mills (shot for scenes in The Hunted, Evil Cult, even Twilight)? Gazed up from the base of Willamette Falls—one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls—to feel the full effect of its thundering, stress-melting power? Check all these boxes, and in just one hour, with an Intro to SUP class from eNRG Kayaking.

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Best Arboretum Scavenger Hunt 

The tree museum at Hoyt Arboretum hides more secret nooks than a monkey puzzle tree. Seek out these three: the Redwood Deck, a trail sanctuary amid sequoias; the white birch “living sculpture” House for Summer, planted by Helen Lessick in 1987; and the 480-meter Magnolia Trail, a Washington Park destination to rival the Rose Test Garden for fragrance, with late-summer southern magnolia blooms unfurling like white satin ball gowns.

Best 21 Miles of Car-Free Near-City Cycling 

Oregon’s first rail-to-trail “linear park”—the Banks-Vernonia State Trail—debuted in 2010, and it’s quite a ride. About 50 minutes west of Portland on US-26, this Roaring ’20s–era timber train route now chutes pedalers, pedestrians, and equestrians through forest and farmland dotted with spur paths and picnic tables. Wooden trestle bridges soar above wild ravines, and one intersection leads to L. L. “Stub” Stewart State park.

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Best Place to Watch Hard-Core Climbers (and Then Go for a Dip)

Hot weather has us thronging the Sandy River—and why not? The water’s fine, as is the drive time (just 17 miles from downtown). But there’s another reason to haunt Lewis and Clark State Park: rock climbing. Watch ascents from the base of Broughton Bluff, a river-hugging rock wall accessed from a trail off the main parking lot. A close look at these towering basalt crags reveals staggered bolts reaching to the sky: routes with names like “Gandalf’s Grip” and “Dracula,” for the climbers roped in right above you.

Best Pacific Flyway Pit Stop for Sandhill Cranes (and Humans) 

The 12,000-acre Sauvie Island Wildlife Area provides refuge for many of the migratory birds passing through Oregon. From the Eastside Viewing Platform—milepost 7 on Reeder Road—look for wintering raptors, summer peals and grebes, and visiting fall cranes. (Also try out Oak Island and Warrior Rock Trail.) Hear that? It’s nature’s symphony, with you in the wings.

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