A Quick and Dirty Guide to Trail Running Near Portland

Adam Sawyer
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The Portland area is a trail runner’s dream come true. Thick forests with heavy canopies keep runners relatively dry year-round; well-maintained trails provide plenty of running opportunities; and stunning viewpoints offer no shortage of breathtaking rewards at the end of difficult hills.

And spring might be the best time to go. Months of regular rainfall means the forests are greener than usual and the streams run a little faster, while the bulk of the crowds will stay away until the weather warms up in the summer.

So whether you’re looking for a new workout or are training for one of the myriad regional races—including the Hagg Lake Mud Runs, Gorge Waterfalls 50k, or Portland Trail Series—start with these destinations for some of the more scenic, challenging, or off-beat trails around town.

Balch Creek Canyon

Adam Sawyer

Whether you’re just getting started or are looking for a quick run after work, Balch Creek Canyon provides a solid workout. The Forest Park trail is relatively flat and bypasses a number of fascinating sites, including some of Portland’s biggest Doug Fir trees and an old stone structure. It is a wide, well-maintained trail that’s mostly flat until it runs into the Upper Macleay Trailhead.

North Wildwood Trail

Adam Sawyer

The most popular trail in Forest Park is the Wildwood Trail, a 30-mile trek that follows the contour of the ridge that Forest Park covers, and perhaps the best part of that trail is the North Wildwood stretch. Far from the crowds near Washington park and downtown Portland, the North Wildwood Trail provides a peaceful respite for runners seeking solitude. The trail is full of gently rolling hills, old-growth trees, and bubbling streams, with sections suitable for runners of all skill levels.

Forest Park Leif Erickson Wildwood Trails

Mike Rohrig

Forest Park offers everything a trail runner could want from a workout. The park includes more than 80 miles of trails across more than 5,000 acres, with a mix of pleasant scenery, challenging trails, and easy jaunts.

If the the 30-mile Wildwood Trail is the main course at Forest Park, the Leif Erickson Trail is a hearty appetizer. The low-grade, wide access road challenges new runners with a solid workout and gives experienced runners a reliable starting point from which they can explore the rest of the park.

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge demonstrates, as well as any other park in the metro area, Portland’s commitment to green spaces and nature preservation. The 141-acre park in the Sellwood neighborhood, only a 15-minute drive from downtown, is a floodplain wetland, and part of it was built on a sanitation landfill.

No trace of the landfill remains today; rather, the park provides a somewhat hilly trail along the eastside of a picturesque pond, with mostly-level trips through meadows and marshland. Given that it’s a wildlife refuge, animal sightings are common, with all sorts of frogs and salamanders calling the aptly-named Tadpole Pond home, while water birds and beavers can be found elsewhere in the park.

The park’s relatively small footprint and lack of elevation gain make it ideal for runners jonesing for a quick workout.

Hoyt Arboretum

Adam Sawyer

More than 1,000 species of trees from around the world call Hoyt Arboretum home, and the popular section of Portland’s Washington Park is perfect for runners in search of an exhilarating workout. Twelve miles of manicured, hard-packed dirt trails take runners past larch, spruce, oak, and sequoia trees, but the blooming dogwood and cherry trees steal the spotlight each spring.

Most of the Hoyt Arboretum’s trails are moderately graded, ensuring a challenging workout for relatively new runners and an arduous trip for more seasoned runners. The intricate network of trails means that runners can create any number of loops to their liking.

Lacamas Park

Jonathan James

Camas—that small town just across the river and east of Vancouver—should be known for more than the legendary (and now largely absent) stuffy paper mill smell. Take, for instance, Lacamas Park.

The 325-acre park offers a diverse array of flora, deciduous trees, meadows, and rocky outcrops, all of which showcase the region’s natural beauty through spring and summer. Round Lake provides a lovely backdrop, as well.

Beyond the views, a network of interconnected trails provide options that vary from one- to six-mile loops, with a handful of bridges and waterfalls along the way. The trails are almost all relatively level, making them accessible to runners of all skill levels

Additional Resources:

Trail Recommendations: Balch Creek Canyon, Hoyt Arboretum, North Wildwood Trail
Races: Mount Hood 50, Gorge Waterfalls 50k, Portland Trail Series, Trail Factor 50k, Hagg Lake Mud Runs
Groups: Oregon Road Runners Club, Portland Runner
Retailers: Next Adventure, Fleet Feet Sports, Portland Running Company, REI

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