Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts are often thrilled by the difficulty of a particular excursion in the wilderness, something that tests their grit, so to speak. Whether that’s driving an hour and a half to explore new trails at Mount Hood, where the elevation hits different and the trails require some decent leg work, or spending a short weekend (and a long drive) backpacking up at North Cascades National Park, hiking often requires preparation, endurance, and the means to get out there. But for families, folks who work long days, or folks with disabilities, hiking can seem inaccessible. That’s where nature parks come in.
Nature parks, cultural or natural areas typically used for conservation, offer a great balance of serene trail hiking experiences and wildlife exploration not too far from home, and all the while you’ll see and learn about the plants, trees, flowers, animals, and insects that share our home. Many nature parks are also accessible to families, and some have been paved to allow for wheelchair access.
So next time you’re feeling the call of the wild, don’t sleep on these Portland-area nature parks. Here are five we recommend.
Marquam Nature Park
Distance from downtown Portland: 1.5 miles
Dogs: Yes, leashed
The oft-overlooked Marquam Nature Park, just a mile and a half from downtown, offers seven miles of serene forest trails with fun elevation gains and switchbacks. Start your trip at the Marquam Mosiac. From there you can take the Sunnyside and Marquam Trail over to Council Crest Park for a bird’s eye view of the city, or try a full loop around the park on the Basalt, Towhee, and Flicker Trails—a great early-morning hike/run and an easy escape from city life. Though its vicinity to OHSU, nearby neighborhoods, and forest roads means city-life sounds might creep in every now and again. Don’t mistake a distant saw blade for an exotic warbler or something.
Tualatin Hills Nature Park
Distance from downtown Portland: 10 miles
Whoever wrote the many placards that decorate this 222-acre wildlife preserve had a lot of fun. Along this easy three-mile loop, you’ll learn about the insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals that call this wildlife preserve home. Not only is much of the loop paved and wheelchair accessible, it’s great for families with children who wish to immerse themselves in varied wildlife habitat, from forests to wetlands to streams. Start at the Tualatin Nature Center for exhibits and discussions before heading out on your walk. Don’t forget to take your time, listen, and observe. Note: the Elliot and Mink Paths are currently closed due to the Clean Water Services sewer construction project.
Powell Butte Nature Park
Distance from downtown Portland: 10.5 miles
Dogs: Yes, leashed
Just over eight miles of trails and 600 acres of meadows and forestlands await at this extinct cinder cone volcano about 30 minutes east of Portland. Powell Butte Nature Park, which accommodates hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and horseback riders, is abundant with wildlife, from black-tail mule deer, to gray foxes, to red-tailed hawks and other birds of prey. The Orchard and Cedar Grove Loop Trails are both easy, year-round, family-friendly loops that offer gorgeous vistas in all directions, while the Forest Edge and Douglas Fir Trails take a varied walk through secluded forest trees. There are plenty of options here, and each has its own advantages. Have fun exploring.
Mount Talbert Nature Park
Distance from downtown Portland: 12.5 miles
Some steep trails circle this extinct volcanic butte in Happy Valley, which gives this forest oasis a bit of a challenge you won't necessarily find at the other nature parks on this list. Still, Mount Talbert Nature Parks offers four miles of trails and a short wheelchair-accessible loop for year-round fun. Immerse yourself in Oregon white oak woodlands and savannas and explore the vast wildlife, such as great horned owls, Western gray squirrels, or even rubber boas. Native wildflowers such as orange honeysuckles and white fawn lilies dot the trails with color. Trails are mostly reserved for hikers and trail runners, and there are no bikes allowed.
Canemah Bluff Nature Park
Distance from downtown Portland: 14.5 miles
There's lots of wildlife amid this short, relatively easy loop—save for the somewhat challenging Old Slide Trail, a .45-mile unpaved trail that takes you up though shadowed forestlands and gives your thighs a decent burn. Listen for white-breasted nuthatches, red-breasted sapsuckers, and other birds around these parts. Around early summer you can spot an array of wildflowers including the common camas, Oregon sunshine, rosy plectritis, and more. With a playground and picnic tables at the entrance of the park, it’s truly a perfect family-friendly hike (you may even spot a few families taking some cute golden-hour photos). The best time to go is when the sun sets over Oregon City. You’ll catch a spectacular view of the Willamette River drenched in an orange-yellow glow (pictured at top). Bring your sunnies.