Admittedly, it’s hard to find a bad hike in Forest Park. Among this 5,200-acre urban forest, which stretches more than seven miles along the eastern slope of the Tualatin Mountains, you’ll find hikes for first-timers, morning joggers, budding birders, solitude seekers, and after-work runners. But the hike that’s slipping its way into my winter weekend routine is the Maple-Wildwood Loop.
As with many hikes in Forest Park, the Maple-Wildwood Loop, is a stunner during peak fall. By now, most of the big-leaf maples that give this trail its apt name have dropped their gorgeous leaves across this six-mile lollipop loop, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, particularly on a moody morning draped in fog. It’s not a particularly difficult hike, but the Maple-Wildwood can throw some surprising challenges your way.
On a recent weekend morning I made the drive along Highway 30 in Northwest Portland and started at the Lower Salzman Road Trailhead. After exiting Salzman Road for the trailhead, keep an eye out for roadside attractions, including an old car in a tree overflowing with greenery and a pink bra hanging on a telephone wire. Park near the gated entrance and breathe in a last view of the city if fog/clouds allow. Seclusion is what gives this hike its appeal, meandering through a forest strewn with crisp, cold mist.
On my hike I thought of poor Pippin singing to cruel Denethor in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King—ignoring John Noble eating a cherry tomato like an absolutely insane person and only thinking of Billy Boyd’s shaky, beautiful voice: “Mist and shadow/ Cloud and shade/ All shall fade/ All shall fade.”
After hiking for some time and passing over Salzman Creek, you’ll come across a junction with Leif Erikson Drive. Take it up toward Firelane 3 for a steep climb toward the Wildwood Trail, or keep climbing the Maple Trail for an easier route full of fun switchbacks. Either way, this is the lollipop portion of this loop, so keep an eye out for Wildwood/Maple Trail signs, through you could take the Wildwood up to the Chestnut Trail and back to Leif Erikson for an added challenge.
Depending on your speed the hike could take anywhere between one to three hours, though we suggest taking your time, keeping an eye and ear out for trail runners. Portions of the hike can be steep, but it’s a mostly moderate and enjoyable experience trekking through canopies of big-leaf maples, Douglas firs, western hemlocks, and western red cedars. This time of year, the trail is wet and muddy, but a decent pair of boots should get the job done.
Drive time: 20–30 minutes from downtown Portland // Distance: 6 miles, lollipop loop, with the option to add additional distance along the Wildwood Trail // Difficulty: Moderate
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