Hike a couple miles through the temperate rainforest in Forest Park and you could easily forget how close you are to downtown Portland. Jog your memory by hiking up to Pittock Mansion for a major view over the city. This 5.4-mile hike with 850 feet of elevation change starts from Lower Macleay Park in Northwest Portland. Stroll along Balch Creek on Lower Macleay Trail to Stone House and examine captivating ruins that make a fine destination on their own. From there, use a section of Wildwood Trail, the longest Trail in Forest Park, to ascend to Pittock Mansion, crossing Cornell Road at an alternate starting point for a shorter hike to Pittock Mansion.
Forest Park covers over 5,000 acres and has more than 80 miles of trails through “one of the largest natural forested urban parks in America.” Lower Macleay Trailhead in Macleay Park is a popular and easy-to-reach entry point for Forest Park in Northwest Portland. Lower Macleay Trail offers pleasant hiking along Blach Creek, which flows year round on a casual course through a dense forest. Hike south on a paved trail beginning from the end of NW Upshur Street. The 1905-built (but 2014-rehabilitated) Balch Gulch Bridge passes overhead. Go straight past a trail on the left to the Lower Macleay Stairs that go up the side of the gulch to the top of the bridge. If you want to walk across Balch Gulch Bridge, check out the 2-mile Lower Macleay Loop Hike and tack that variation on to this hike.
Beyond the bridge, approach a helpful trail kiosk on the right. Balch Creek flows along the left side of the trail through an interesting gated system that appears to be some sort of control for flood debris. Proceed up Lower Macleay Trail, which stays paved for a stretch as it begins a gradual course along the tumbling creek. Cross a stone footbridge to the left side of the creek and get a nice perspective up and down the gulch. Shortly after that, and 0.2 miles from the start, the trail reaches a Stone Overlook next to the creek. Pause to watch the water leisurely sliding over rocks. The end of the pavement is just ahead.
Lower Macleay Trail tilts up in a few places but remains relatively gradual for an easygoing creek side hike. While the trail doesn’t pick up much elevation, the sides of the gulch are steep. Oaks, cedars, and firs rise overhead with trunks and branches covered in moss and lichens. The ground is covered in greens too, including a variety of ferns. Trillium bloom along the trail in the spring, adding tri-pointed splashed of white and pink. Salmonberry bushes along the stream flash flowers of magenta while yellow violets contribute even more pops of color.
At 0.45 miles from the start, take a pair of bridges back to the right side of the creek just below a short crescent-shaped cascade. Lower Macleay Trail stays on the right side of the creek from this point on. After 0.9 miles of hiking, you will come to a T-junction with Wildwood Trail in front of the Stone House.
The Stone House was built around 1930 by the city of Portland as a rest stop for hikers. The building was damaged by a storm in the 1960s and the city decided not to make repairs. Instead, the defunct roof was removed along with the doors and pluming for the bathrooms. Old stone walls remain standing, but have been grown over by ferns, moss, and lichens to give the building an enchanting look. Take a staircase up to the second story and pass through doorways to roofless rooms. Adults will find the Stone House interesting and children seem to love it. A large tree trunk has fallen over the staircase on one side of the building and it feels like the forest is working to envelope the Stone House. Unfortunately, this cool Portland landmark has been marred with graffiti.
Turning back at Stone House would result in a 1.8-mile round trip hike on Lower Macleay Trail with 210 feet of elevation change. If you turning right, you could take Wildwood Trail northeast to an intersection of Holman Lane, exit forest park and walk through Willamette Heights back to Lower Macleay Park. To get to Pittock Mansion, to left in front of the Stone House to head south on Wildwood Trail.
Wildwood Trail continues up Balch Creek in the same manner that Lower Macleay Trail did, staying close to the creek and becoming a bit less gradual. At a quarter mile past the Stone House, take a bridge to the left side of the creek and begin a moderate ascent. The tumbling creek above the bridge looks quite nice.
Leave Balch Creek below and wind your way through switchbacks up the side of the canyon.
As the trail tapers out, pass a picnic area on the right with a path to the Audubon House. Just after that, reach a parking area and a trail kiosk. Wildwood Trail continues around the left side of the lot and comes to Cornell Road. Cross the road and turn left to find the next section of Wildwood Trail ascending to Pittock Mansion. You will now have hiked 1.45 miles from Lower Macleay Park and have another 1.08 miles on Wildwood Trail. This is the starting point for a shorter hike from Cornell Road to Pittock Mansion.
Proceed south up Wildwood Trail from Cornell Road and you will immediately come to a junction. Upper Macleay Trail parts to the right and reconnects with Wildwood Trail farther up the hillside. This trail can be used to add a partial loop to the hike to Pittock Mansion. These directions will save that trail for the descent, but you could also use it on the hike up.
Turn left and stay on Wildwood Trail. The single track aims east up the hillside and gradually rises above Cornell Road. Moss and lichens cling to the trunks of maples and firs along the trail and a dense canopy provides lots of shade.
Wildwood Trail weaves up to a junction with Cumberland Trail, 0.4 after the Upper Macleay Trail Junction. Bear right to stick with Wildwood Trail, passing through two more junctions that come at tenth-of-a-mile intervals. Meet Macleay Trail after Cumberland Trail and bear right to stick with Wildwood Trail. Signs provided by Portland Parks and Recreation make each junction easy to understand.
Wildwood Trail tapers a bit, crossing a landing on the hillside to approach a four-way intersection with Upper Macleay Trail. To the right is the part of Upper Macleay Trail that descends back to the junction above Cornell Road (forming the loop to try on the hike down). To reach Pittock Mansion, continue up Wildwood Trail, which veers right after crossing Upper Macleay Trail.
Wildwood Trail gains 250 feet over the next 0.45 miles, using switchbacks to conquer a slope of lush and lovely vegetation. If the ferns lining both sides of the trail make you feel fancy, remember that every turn takes you closer to a mansion. Hit the top of Wildwood Trail at the back of the parking area for Pittock Mansion. A large panel at the Pittock Trailhead offers information about the mansion and park.
Walk east down the parking lot to the mansion built in 1914 for Henry Pittock, a pioneer newspaper publisher and entrepreneur. The Pittocks were one of Portland’s first and most influential families. To see the inside of the mansion, you’ll need to take a tour. You don’t need to pay for a tour to walk around the outside of the mansion and discover views over Portland.
Take the paved walkway around the house to a viewpoint on the east side. Imagine how much this perspective has changed since the mansion was built over a century ago. The city of Portland is below you, dissected by the Willamette River. Look for landmarks like Broadway Bridge, Tilikum Crossing, the Moda Center, and U.S. Bancorp Tower. On clear days, you can spot the 11,249-foot volcanic peak of Mount Hood rising to the east.
After exploring in the view, go back to Wildwood Trail. The walk between the trail and the overlook east of the mansion is about 0.4 miles round trip. Return down Wildwood Trail, making your way through all the long switchbacks to the junction with Upper Macleay Trail. Turn left to leave Wildwood Trail and add a loop to the middle of the hike.
Upper Macleay Trail goes west, wrapping its way across ripples in the terrain. The mixed forest of deciduous and coniferous trees remains dense and the trail seems to receive fewer hikers and trail runners than Wildwood Trail to offer a more tranquil woodland walk. After 0.55 miles on Upper Macleay Trail, come to a T-junction with Wildwood Trail. Unless you want to head back up to Pittock Mansion, turn left and drop down to Cornell Road.
Cross the road and pick up the rest of Wildwood Trail to the left, passing back around the parking lot and picnic area to descends more switchbacks to Balch Creek. Follow Wildwood Trail along the creek down to the Stone House and turn right on Lower Macleay Trail to hike back to the trailhead. As a variation that extends the hike by 0.2 miles, you could continue north on Wildwood Trail and take Holman Lane out to another trailhead, walking through streets back to Lower Macleay Park (see the Lower Macleay Park to Stone House Hike for more information).
Dogs are welcome on these trails, but bikes are not. No fee or permit is required to hike to Pittock Mansion. The mansion is open daily for tours (except holidays). Visit pittockmansion.org for current hours and pricing. Bathroom are available at Lower Macleay Trailhead and Pittock Mansion.
The basic directions for this hike are:
- Begin hiking up Lower Macleay Trail
- Visit the Stone House and turn left on Wildwood Trail (0.9 miles)
- Cross Balch Creek (1.15 miles)
- Ascends switchbacks to a picnic area and trail kiosk by Cornell Road (1.4 miles)
- Cross Cornell Road and continue up Wildwood Trail 1.45 miles)
- Turn left to stay on Wildwood Trail past Upper Macleay Trail (1.48 miles)
- Turn right to stay on Wildwood Trail past Cumberland Trail (1.88 miles)
- Bear right to stay on Wildwood Trail past Macleay Trail (1.98 miles)
- Continue through an intersection with Upper Macleay Trail (2.08 miles)
- Reach the Pittock Trailhead at the top of Wildwood Trail (2.53 miles)
- Explore views from the mansion and return to Wildwood Trail (2.92 miles)
- Turn left down Upper Macleay Trail (3.37 miles)
- Turn left down Wildwood Trail (3.92 miles)
- Cross Cornell Road and proceed down Wildwood Trail (3.95 miles)
- Turn right down Lower Macleay Trail (4.5 miles)
- Return to Lower Macleay Park (5.4 miles)
To get to the trailhead: From Interstate 405 in downtown Portland, take exit 3 to head west on Route 30. Drive about half a mile to the first exit for Vaughn Street. The offramp passes over the top of Route 30 and merges with Vaughn Street. Drive several blocks and turn left onto NW 27th Avenue. Make the next right on NW Upshur Street and drive 0.3 miles to the park. After crossing 29th Avenue, the road narrows and street parking is available on the right. The road ends with a circle in Macleay Park that has a few more parking spots.
Trailhead address: 2960 NW Upshur Street, Portland, OR 97210
Trailhead coordinates: 45.53585, -122.7125 (45° 32′ 09.06″N 122° 42′ 45″W)
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This 1.8 to 2-mile hike starts by following Balch Creek to fern-covered ruins and can finish with a loop that exits Forest Park and passes through the Willamette Heights Neighborhood in Northwest Portland.
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