Portland is deservedly known for its robust mass transit system. Light rail connects four of the city’s five quadrants, streetcar service recently expanded in the central city, the transit-only Tilikum Crossing opened in September over the Willamette River, and regular bus service herds thousands of passengers throughout the metro area every day.
Given all that, it’s no surprise that transit network links up with numerous hiking trails, bike routes, and running opportunities throughout Portland, making the outdoors accessible in a way that’s not possible in many other cities and regions.
And with that, we bring you these 10 amazing adventures via Portland mass transit. All are within a quick walk (10-15 minutes, in most cases) of at least one public transit route, and transit lines compiled originate in downtown Portland. Visit TriMet.org beforehand to find the route best suited for your transit needs and to account for any service delays or disruptions.
1. 4T Trail
Why We Love It: The 4T Trail, named for the hiking trails, tram (Portland Aerial Tram), trolley (Portland Streetcar), and train (MAX) that comprise the loop, is the gold standard for linking mass transit and outdoor opportunities.
The venerable trip connects so much of what makes Portland fantastic: Hikers traverse the trails through the Washington Park forests (never far from the hustle and bustle of the city) en route to Council Crest and OHSU, where they take the Portland Aerial Tram to the rapidly-growing South Waterfront neighborhood. From there, it's an easy hop on the Portland Streetcar into downtown, where a short ride on the MAX light trail train completes the route. It's the ultimate blend of urban living and outdoor adventure, made possible by mass transit.
2. Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge
Mass Transit Route(s): Bus - 19
Why We Love It: The 141-acre Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge offers pristine hiking and running opportunities while bringing outdoor aficionados in close contact with several species of birds and wildlife. The routes clock in at three miles, and the water birds, nutria, and beavers that call the refuge home make it easy to forget you’re a quick bus ride from downtown Portland.
3. Springwater Corridor Trail
Why We Love It: The 21-mile Springwater Corridor takes cyclists through some of the more rural areas in the region while keeping proximity to Portland's urban landscapes. Industrial parks, wetlands, forestland, and peaceful parks all make appearances along the route. It starts a few short blocks from OMSI, making it accessible from several mass transit lines.
4. North Portland Loop
Why We Love It: Far from the central city, it’s easy to forget about the hinterlands between Lombard and the Columbia River. But the 19-mile North Portland Loop gives cyclists an opportunity to experience the rich, natural beauty that makes it such a beautiful part of the city. The cycling loop covers the tranquil Smith and Bybee Lakes, the bluffs lining Willamette Boulevard, and the woods of Kelley Point Park.
5. Council Crest/Washington Park Loop
Mass Transit Route(s): Numerous bus and MAX routes, as well as the Portland Streetcar, service downtown Portland, where this ride begins. Visit TriMet.org to plan your trip.
Why We Love It: It doesn’t get much closer to mass transit than this. The Council Crest/Washington Park Loop starts in downtown Portland, where all five MAX lines, all of the Portland Streetcar routes, and numerous bus lines converge. A steady climb rewards cyclists with pristine views from Council Crest (the highest point in Portland) and numerous attractions at Washington Park (including the Oregon Zoo).
6. Forest Park
Why We Love It: Mountain bikers have few routes to enjoy in Portland proper, but Forest Park hosts 28 miles of relatively flat trails that let cyclists explore the park’s vast and impressive wooded expanse. Buses serve nearby 21st and 23rd avenues in Northwest Portland, and the serene expanse of nature makes Forest Park feel worlds away from the downtown core.
7. Forest Park Conservancy
Why We Love It: Forest Park might lack top-quality mountain bike trails, but it delivers a bounty of beautiful trail running routes. Dozens of miles of trails span the park’s 5,000 acres, and they offer a mix of flat and steep trails that appeal to novices and experienced runners alike. Buses serve nearby 21st and 23rd avenues in Northwest Portland.
8. Hoyt Arboretum
Why We Love It: The Hoyt Arboretum, a 189-acre park in Washington Park, offers 12 miles of trails where hikers and runners can enjoy deep wooded scenery. The arboretum’s trails are moderately graded, and with 1,000 species of trees, there is no shortage of forestland to enjoy. One bus line (two in the summer, when a loop connects Washington Park and downtown Portland) and two MAX lines serve Washington Park, making it one of the busiest attractions in the city.
9. Powell Butte Nature Park
Mass Transit Route(s): Bus - 9
Why We Love It: Powell Butte Nature Park might lack the cachet of Forest Park or Washington Park, but it still impresses with views of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens, trails that cater to cyclists, hikers, and runners alike, and a mixture of open meadowland and lush forest.
10. Balch Creek Canyon
Why We Love It: Balch Creek Canyon takes hikers and runners through a lush, wooded canyon in Forest Park that offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the region. The trail follows a bubbling creek in the midst of a dense forest for most of the route before opening up slightly as it approaches the Audubon Society of Portland. Bus service on Northwest 21st and 23rd avenues make the trail accessible, even as cars fill the parking lot (as they often do on weekends).