Shady Hikes and Picnic Spots for Hot Days in and around Portland

From the fir frenzy of North Portland’s Columbia Park to a tree-lined trail on Sauvie Island, here are a few places to celebrate the shadows.

By Cassondra Bird, Michelle Harris, and Margaret Seiler

We love Sauvie Island's sun-soaked berry fields, beaches, and pumpkin patches, but it's also home to some extra-shady trails, like this one to Warrior Rock Lighthouse.

When spring finally springs in Oregon, we crave sun-soaked hillsides and chase wildflower blooms. By late summer, though, we're ready for a respite from the sun. Luckily, Portland's urban canopy and surrounding forests offer plenty of places to take a walk under a leafy umbrella or pitch a picnic blanket in a tree's vast shadow. Here are some of our favorite shady spots.

All About Dem Trees

Portland's only state park, Tryon Creek State Natural Area seems to stay moist and mossy all the time, no matter how much the summer sun is turning things dry and brown elsewhere. Similarly, it's always cool and damp under the trees of 5,000-acre Forest Park, which, like Tryon Creek, is among the 50 stops on our Ultimate Portland Bucket List. Officially a "museum of living trees," Hoyt Arboretum in Washington Park combines shade seeking with education, with labels identifying many of the plants along its paved accessible trails. (Save on parking by taking the MAX and riding the elevator up near the zoo, or hope on the Washington Park Free Shuttle.) A 46-acre green oasis tucked into some Southwest Portland neighborhoods just off of Barbur Boulevard, Woods Memorial Natural Area is like a tiny Rivendell, with little bridges over Woods Creek. —MS

Parks with a Little Sun, a Lot of Shade

Columbia Park in North Portland

While it's not quite like going into a darkened, air-conditioned movie theater on a hot day, stepping into the shade of one of Portland's many tree-dense parks has a similar cooling effect—and the entertainment is free. It doesn't get much shadier than Pier Park in St. Johns, where you can square in a round of disc golf before hopping in the outdoor city pool. At Columbia Park in Portsmouth, a splash pad in the northwest corner offers some extra chills underneath all the Doug firs. Even parks that put most of their draws in the sun, like Montavilla Park along NE 82nd Avenue, with its volleyball court, fenced futsal field, and outdoor pool, offer some cover: toss a picnic blanket under the bigleaf maple next to Montavilla's playground. —MS

Not-So-Sunny Sauvie

On a recent Friday, only one other hiker was seen on the path to the smallest lighthouse in Oregon: Warrior Rock Lighthouse on Sauvie Island. The flat, wide trail is almost entirely shaded by willow, ash, and cottonwoods. If the shade isn’t enough, winds off the Columbia help keep you cool, plus there are plenty of beaches along the way to stop at. The seven mile out-and-back takes you to a long pristine beach with no one else on it (accessed only by the trail), and soft grass surrounding the basalt outcropping where the 1930s-era lighthouse stands (the original lighthouse dated to 1889). The grass is perfect for shady picnics with views of Mount St. Helens. See bald eagles and sea lions along the trail. Don’t forget mosquito repellent! And don't forget that a parking pass is required in Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's official wildlife areas on the island, for $10 per day or $30 annually. Pick up a pass on the way, or get it online—CB

A Shady Lake Loop

Henry Hagg Lake

Set in the foothills of Oregon’s Coast Range, Scoggins Valley Park is under an hour’s drive from Portland, meaning it’s just far enough to count as a proper city escape, but you can also make it home before rush hour. The main attraction is Henry Hagg Lake, the man-made, 1,113-acre reservoir that fills up with boaters, kayakers, and swimmers come summer. The sprawling lake also has a tree-covered 13-mile hiking and biking trail that loops around the entire body of water—though if you don’t have four hours to carve out of the day to complete the entire thing, it’s good to do in sections, checking out the multiple spur trails along the way with picnic tables where you can break for a snack. If you’re looking for less crowded spots to picnic, we recommend either Elks Recreation Area (which is a good place to start since it has a large parking area) or Scoggins Creek Recreation Area, a serene, leafy picnic area nestled right next to the creek. The trail is a mixed bag of steep terrain and flatter sections, and if you choose to do the entire loop, be prepared for a bit of a workout. As with the Sauvie Island hike, be sure to bring insect repellent, and be ready for the Washington County park's day use fee ($7, or $60 per year), which can be paid upon entry. —MH  
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