With majestic Mount Hood to the east and dramatic sea cliffs to the west, Oregon is well known for its hiking, biking and rugged outdoor endeavours. But unknown to some, the state’s largest city has grown into something of an urban adventurer’s playground, too, with a multitude of high-octane activities on offer inside the city limits.
Portland sits near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers atop an extinct volcanic field, with the Willamette River running through the middle. There are more than 10,000 acres of public parks and natural areas packed with walking and hiking paths, more than 300 miles of greenways and bike boulevards, and people here have a genuine appreciation for getting out and enjoying the surroundings.
Shawn Granton, who runs the Portland Urban Adventure League, said the city is uniquely suited to exploration because its variety of landscapes are all within easy reach, thanks to the light rail, aerial tram and trails that connect them. “We have lots of traditional urban things, but the wildness [that sits] around the fringes and sometimes runs through the heart of the city is something that is rarely found in a city our size,” Granton said.
Whether you are most comfortable on foot, on a bike or in the water, adventure lovers will find something to smile about in Portland – and you won’t have to leave town to find it.
Overlooking the Willamette River west of downtown Portland, Forest Park is one of the largest protected wilderness areas inside a US city. The park comprises more than 5,000 acres and 70 miles of trails nestled under towering old-growth trees. The 30-mile Wildwood Trail is a good place to see some of the park’s hundreds of wildlife species; keep an eye out for flying squirrels, beavers and chickadees.
For a unique geological experience, Mount Tabor – technically an extinct volcanic cinder cone – sits in the middle of Mount Tabor Park, located in the eponymous south Portland neighbourhood. There are meandering trails, reservoir views and wide grassy picnic areas along the moderately steep incline to the top of the extinct caldera. The views of Mount Hood and the Portland from the apex are worth the 400ft climb.
Part of Portland’s charm is how easy it is to get around without a car. The 4T trail – named for the tram, trolley, train and four-mile walking trail that make up the self-guided tour of the city, creates a loop so you can choose where to begin and end. A central starting point is at the downtown Washington Park Light Rail station, which, at 260ft below ground, is the deepest underground station in North America. In the world, only Moscow’s Park Pobedy is deeper.
From there, trek through the West Hills area to Council Crest Park (one of the few places in town where bikes are not allowed), where a wooded path leads up to the city’s highest elevation point, the 1,073ft-high summit.
After taking in the panoramic views of the Cascade Mountain range and downtown Portland, head back down via the Marquam Trail, following the 4T signs to the Portland Aerial tram, where futuristic pods offer a birds-eye view of the city while transporting you 3,300ft in three minutes, depositing you at Southwest Waterfront Street directly across from the Portland Streetcar, which will take you back downtown.
If you are looking to bike, every quadrant of the city is crawling with bicycle shops, many of which offer rentals. Water Front Bikes in downtown Portland has the largest collection, including tandems if you want to ride with a partner. Veloce Bikes in the Hawthorne neighbourhood has high-end and specialty bikes for visitors with an appreciation for the finer things, and with two locations in Northwest, Kalkholk Electric Bikes has motorised bikes for those who want a little extra power.