An Expert Urban Hiker Shares the Portland Parks, Bridges, and Landmarks You Need to See
Any Portland hiker worth their Danner boots knows their way around Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood, and Forest Park. But the wild areas tucked under Portland bridges, up stairways, and between office buildings? That’s the domain of Laura O. Foster, a longtime chronicler of urban hikes and the author of eight guidebooks set largely around the city. Her latest, Portland Stair Walks, highlights more than 140 public staircases.
Her top pick for one of Portland’s most view-gifting urban spaces? Northeast’s extinct cinder cone, Rocky Butte, for its 360-degree panorama and the “amazing hand-cut rockwork” that sits atop it. “If you’d been standing on it when the Missoula Floods roared out of the Gorge, you’d have been on an island,” says Foster.
To craft a two-bridge walking loop, she suggests pairing the “beautiful” Tilikum Crossing with the Sellwood, Hawthorne, Burnside, Broadway, or Steel Bridges. Further downriver, she recommends the trek from St. Johns to Forest Park via the St. Johns Bridge . From the bridge ramp on the west side, “climb Springville Road to Leif Erikson, then up to the iconic Wildwood Trail and back down,” she says. “It’s an epic blend of city, forest, bridge, and views.”
Portland’s highest point, Council Crest, is the destination for a hike from Hillsdale. Foster says it contains “hidden bridges and paths,” some of which are thanks to SW Trails, a citizen activist group that reopened many formerly closed walking routes in Southwest Portland. “This route leads you up some stairs to a hidden former farm-to-market road reclaimed by the forest,” she says. “Continue up to stand beneath the surprisingly beautiful barber pole of a sculpture known as the Stonehenge Tower
[actually a radio transmission tower], and on to Council Crest.”
For a meander through tall, second-growth firs, the oldest sections of Washington Park, accessed from West Burnside, are also high on the list. “Pass historic reservoirs and end among 10,000 rose bushes at the International Rose Test Garden,” she suggests. That’s where “throngs of international tourists drive it home: you are living in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.”