Oaks Bottom Loop Hike
From Oregon Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: Sellwood Park Trailhead
- End point: Tadpole Pond
- Trail Log:
- Hike Type: Loop
- Distance: 2.3 miles
- Elevation gain: 125 feet
- High Point: 130 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
- Seasons: All
- Family Friendly: Yes
- Backpackable: No
- Crowded: Yes
The Oaks Bottom wetland, mainly fed by springs at the base of a Willamette River bluff, was rescued from its ignominious status as a landfill and soon-to-be industrial development in 1969 and has become one of Portland's most beloved wildlife parks. Unusually for a wildlife refuge, dogs are allowed here on leash, and the loop hike takes you along a small stretch of a major cycling trail, the Springwater Corridor. Waterbirds can be seen any time of the year, small passerines pass through on migration in the spring and fall, and beaver and nutria are active in the backwaters.
Near the parking lot, the trail leads down the bluff at a battery of information signs. There are views through the maples and grand firs to Oaks Park and the tall buildings downtown. A new split-rail fence here denies access to the switchback trail that led directly down to the Bluff Trail. Fringe-cup, trillium and fairy bells bloom on this slope in the spring. The graveled trail traverses down the slope to stone steps at the corner of a large field. Near here, you can see the railroad line and the busy Springwater Corridor bicycle/walking trail. There are a couple of options here: a maintenance track that leads along the base of the bluff or a footpath that stretches across a meadow in the direction of a line of cottonwoods.
Taking the footpath, go right at another junction and reach the South Meadow Trail, which runs below the cottonwood buffer between the meadow and expansive Wapato Marsh, the large pond which is the centerpiece of the refuge and which sees varying shorelines throughout the year. In the winter, there are good views from here through the leafless cottonwoods to the large wildlife mural on the walls of the Portland Memorial Mausoleum. Dedicated in 2009, at over 40,000 square feet, this is the largest hand-painted mural in the country. Reach the junction with the Bluff Trail and go left.
This formerly muddy track has seen major refurbishment recently (2012-2013). Railed boardwalks, two viewing platforms, and sturdy footbridges make for easy passage above the shoreline of the pond. Look for signs of beaver activity at the waterline, check out large numbers of great blue herons from Ross Island's rookery, and scope for various species of waterfowl. Mallards, buffleheads, pintails, and wigeons are common, and flotillas of green-winged teals scud on the pond surface in winter. Cottonwoods dominate the shoreline, along with red osier dogwood and elderberry. Cedars have been planted all along the trail. Look up to get views of the mural, much better beginning in late fall after the leaves have dropped. Reach the end of the open marsh in an ash swale. Big-leaf maples and white alders also grow here, and there's even a madrone on the hillside. Pass a junction with a cutoff trail that leads through an ash woodland and continue a few more yards until the junction with the paved bike trail that comes down the bluff from Milwaukie Avenue.
Go left here in bottomlands dominated by black cottonwood and Oregon ash. A small interpretive loop leads around Tadpole Pond, where three species of salamanders and three kinds of frog, including the invasive bullfrog, breed. Bird feeders on this loop attract small perching birds. Continue walking on the bike path into an underpass below the railroad and rise to the Springwater Corridor Trail. You can cross the Springwater, passing a Willamette River floodplain sign, and explore a little sculpture garden in the cottonwoods and also reach the riverbank across from East Island and Hardtack Island. Unofficial trails lead north and south from here, eventually needing to rejoin the Springwater in both cases.
The Springwater itself runs straight as an arrow along the railroad. Note the poison oak sprouting on the verges. Bicycles whiz fast and free here, so keep to the right side of the track and always look before stepping out of line. Pass the 2.5 mile marker. Take note of a couple of pylons with osprey nesting platforms - sometimes these are coopted by Canada geese. Also look for bald eagles on this stretch along the river, and scope out the pond for waterfowl from the fence line that divides the Springwater from the rail track. Oaks Park appears on the right. Past the three-mile marker, reach a junction, and descend off the trail to the right; then turn left to go through an underpass below the railroad to pick up the South Meadow Trail, which cuts across the grassy sward with a myriad dipping swallows in the spring. Reach a junction and keep right and then, 35 yards later, head uphill from the stone steps to Sellwood Park.
Fees, Regulations, etc.
- Park hours: 5:00 a.m. - midnight
- Dogs on leash
- Maps: Hike Finder
- Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge (Portland Parks & Recreation)
- Southeast Portland Bike/Walk Map (Portland Bureau of Transportation)
- Search Trip Reports for Oaks Bottom Loop Hike
Related Discussions / Q&A
- Search Trail Q&A for Oaks Bottom Loop Hike
Guidebooks that cover this hike
- Wild in the City: Exploring the Intertwine by Michael C. Houck and M.J. Cody (editors)
- 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald
- 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
- Nature Walks In and Around Portland by Karen & Terry Whitehill
- Peaceful Places: Portland by Paul Gerald
- Best Easy Day Hikes: Portland, Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
- Walk There! 50 Treks In and Around Portland and Vancouver edited by Laura O. Foster
- Walking Portland by Becky Ohlsen
- Trail Running: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
- The Willamette River Field Guide by Travis Williams
- Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
- Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
- The Dog Lover's Companion to Oregon by Val Mallinson
- Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge (Portland Parks & Recreation)
- Sellwood Park (Portland Parks & Recreation)
- Oaks Bottom Habitat Enhancement Project (City of Portland)
- Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge – Hiking Loop (Portland Family Adventures)
- Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge (The Intertwine)
- Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and Sellwood Park (Every Trail)
- Oaks Bottom Hike (YouTube)
- "An easy hike through Oaks Bottom, Portland's urban wildlife refuge" (Oregon Live}
- "Huge mural will join heron overlooking Portland's Oaks Bottom" (Oregon Live)
- bobcat (creator)