One of the best perks about living in Portland is that, no matter where in the city you might be, you're never far from nature. The city hosts a myriad parks, and the banks of the Willamette River—nestled against downtown—offer a peaceful respite from the city.
But several trails, all within city limits, offer breathtaking views of the downtown skyline and other natural features that make Portland such a unique place. So, the next time you have a few free hours on an unseasonably beautiful spring day, hike one of these three trails for stunning views of downtown Portland and the surrounding landscape.
Balch Creek Canyon and Wildwood Trail
What Makes it Great: This pair of trails, which ends at Pittock Mansion, offers the kind of nature-and-city mix for which Portland is known. The trailhead, in Balch Creek Canyon , is a short walk from the hustle and bustle of 23rd Avenue, but some of the largest Douglas fir trees in the area loom just a few hundred feet into the hike.
The trail stays relatively flat, with minimal elevation gain, until it intersects with Northwest Cornell Road. Carefully cross the road and continue on the Wildwood Trail; at this point, you’ll climb an easy 400 feet before ending at Pittock Mansion. About a hundred yards in, take a scenic detour onto the Upper Macleay Trail, which reconnects with the Wildwood Trail after about a half mile. From there, it’s a quick jaunt up to Pittock Mansion.
There’s a fee to visit the mansion, but the east lawn offers (free) Instagram-worthy views of the downtown skyline, Northeast Portland, and majestic Mount Hood. Plenty of benches make it the ideal place to take a well-deserve rest and bask in the views.
Fun fact: Stop at the Audubon Society of Portland’s Wildlife Care Center when you hit Northwest Cornell Road. The center cares for about 3,000 wild animals each year; many are rehabilitated for release back into the wild, while other native birds are housed at the center when they can’t be released. Volunteers regularly offer educational programs about some of the birds at the center, where visitors can sometimes see owls and falcons up close.
4T Trail and Council Crest
What Makes It Great: The 4T Trail offers a little of everything for the casual hiker seeking urban adventure: A ride on the MAX takes hikers into one of the deepest tunnels in the United States, a few minutes at the top platform of the Portland Aerial Tram offers unparalleled views of the Willamette River snaking through the heart of the city, and a hike to the top of Council Crest rewards hikers with views of North Portland, as well as Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens.
The 4T Trail—“trail, tram, trolley, and train”—can be started on any one of the four legs. But the most rewarding section comes between Washington Park and the summit of Council Crest—about four miles, depending on which route you take.
Fun fact: Council Crest is widely considered to be the highest point in the city of Portland; it is 1,073 feet above sea level. A streetcar once took locals and tourists between downtown at the Council Crest summit in the early 1900s.
Mount Tabor Park
What Makes It Great: Mount Tabor Park, with a peak at about 640 feet, offers several miles of walking and hiking trails, many of which offer views of Southeast Portland, the downtown skyline, and the West Hills. None of the trails are day-long destinations, but the park’s network provides ample opportunities for after-work walks or sunset hikes on weekends.
Fun fact: Mount Tabor, also home to park facilities, basketball courts, an off-leash dog area, tennis court, and volleyball court, is an extinct volcanic cinder cone. It has been a Portland park for roughly 100 years.