If you didn’t know it already, the place where we live has the largest volcanic field in an urban area anywhere on the planet. In geological terms, this is the Boring Lava Field
, a collection of almost 100 vents, cinder cones, and small shield volcanoes stretching west-east from the Tualatin Hills to the Gorge and north-south from Battle Ground Lake to Highland Butte in Clackamas County. While some may insist that a few of these volcanoes are really quite boring, they are, in fact, Boring, as in William H. Boring, a Civil War veteran who settled where the community of Boring now finds itself.
Many of these volcanoes are hikeable, as in short walks of 30 minutes to a couple of hours, good outings for part of an afternoon or on a winter’s day that precludes a more adventurous sortie. Mt. Tabor
Where: There are various access points. You can park on the side of Lincoln St. as you enter the park and make a circuit from there.
The basketball courts in Mt. Tabor’s crater, a multi-hued wall of olivine basalt, offer unique access to the Boring experience. You can hike up and around this city park, which continues to hold three of the original four reservoirs constructed here. The turreted concrete gatehouses, delicately detailed to resemble real stone, and wrought iron fences offer the same distinctive architecture as the two historic reservoirs in Washington Park. A network of trails, both paved and earth, lead around the slopes of this cinder cone. On the southern slopes is another cone, Poison Oak Hill. The summit of Mt. Tabor, at about 640’, delivers a view of Mt. Hood to the east and sunsets across the cityscape to the west. Up here is a statue of Harvey Scott, longtime editor of The Oregonian in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His statue, created by the great John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum while working on his masterwork at Mt. Rushmore in the early 1930s, stands at the south end of the summit area.
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Where: Off S.E. Mather Road, Milwaukie
Mt. Talbert Nature Park is a Metro-funded acquisition now developed with a fully signed trail system of about four miles. You can make a loop around the forested butte and up to the 750’ summit area. This is mixed native forest with Douglas-fir predominating in addition to western red-cedar, red alder and big-leaf maple. Sword fern, Oregon grape, and trailing blackberry form the basis of the understory. There has been a concerted effort to control the expansion of Douglas-fir in order to restore the oak savannahs that used to dominate the south slopes of the butte.
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Where: Access from Luscher Farm, Stafford Road, Lake Oswego.
This is a pretty country walk beginning at Luscher Farm, a Lake Oswego Parks property. After exploring the farm’s buildings and gardens, you can walk up the slopes of Cooks Butte on Atherton Drive, passing a large field, Stevens Meadow, with its own circular trail. A network of trails rims the butte and switchbacks up to the forested summit area. From certain spots around the butte, you can get views of Bull Mountain, the Tualatin Hills, and the Coast Range. A loop can be made by walking down on neighborhood streets to connect with Stafford Road.
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Where: from Sandy and 85th (at The Grotto)
A trail heads towards the I-205 freeway from Skidmore St. out of a depression below The Grotto caused by the Bretz Floods. One walks parallel to the freeway before you go right at a junction to switchback up below cliff faces used by climbers. Rocky Butte lay in the direct path of the Bretz or Missoula Floods, some of the largest known on the planet, which blasted down from what is now Montana over a period of about 2,000 years until about 13,000 B.C. This eastern face was scoured out as the Portland area went under 400 feet of water. The west side of Rocky Butte, now known as the Alameda Ridge, became a collection of debris from hundreds of miles away. Still rising, you walk past a tunnel to Rocky Butte Road. From here, walk uphill past the buildings of the City Bible Church to Joseph Wood Hill Park at the summit. The decommissioned airway beacon that used to guide planes in to PDX is still here and the red-cindered summit area is buttressed by massive walls constructed by the WPA. Rocky Butte Drive descends the west side of the butte and crosses over itself in a tunnel. A trail leads down past a tall wall used by climbers to the tunnel.
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Where: S.E. 103rd Avenue, off of Division
On Portland Hikers, we explore abandoned trails, but what about an abandoned park? You park at a rusting gate and walk up a paved road to the former Kelly Butte Civil Defense Center, carved into the middle of the hill bunker-style. The Center was built in 1956 to act as command center in case of nuclear attack. It later became the 9-1-1 emergency dispatch center, but in the mid-90s was completely abandoned and vandalized. Now a massive slope of bulldozed dirt covers the entrance. A great horned owl flapped away from the entrance when I visited here last. On top of the Center is a meadow that used to host park amenities like picnic tables. A trail leads around and over the top of the butte through woods of Douglas-fir, hemlock, and vine maple and thickets of hawthorn and snowberry. You can walk west to get views to Portland’s downtown and then continue down towards Powell to the large water tank at the southwest corner of the “park.”
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Willamette National Cemetery
Where: 11800 S.E. Mt. Scott Boulevard
Mt. Scott, the highest Boring Volcano on the east side at 1,095’, is built over, but on its northern flanks, draping what is actually a separate vent, is the Willamette National Cemetery. This is a quiet place, with some expansive views, which you can walk around in relative solitude most days. The Assembly Area, with its large flag and amphitheater, is at the top of the cinder cone. There’s a forested gully on one side and views across the cityscape to the West Hills and Powell Butte. Mt. Scott is named after Harvey Scott (see under Mt. Tabor).
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Where: S.E. 162nd Avenue, off of Powell
The summit of Powell Butte, at an old walnut orchard, gives commanding views of the Cascade volcanoes and foothills in Washington as well as Mt. Hood. Much of the area on the north side of the summit is fenced off for creation of a large new covered reservoir to replace the five open reservoirs at Mt. Tabor and Washington Park. The southeast side of the butte is closed off as a wildlife area, but perhaps the most surprising aspect of this nature park is the forested south slope, where you will find large western red-cedars and Douglas-firs, including a Portland Heritage Tree. A network of trails for hikers, bikers, and horses crisscrosses the accessible areas of the park and provides a connection to the Springwater Corridor Trail.
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Where: S.E. 152nd Avenue and Aston Loop
This is a mostly undeveloped property acquired by Metro. It lies just south of Powell Butte. Housing developments rise up its slopes and only the northern side, which drops to Foster Road, is densely forested. This area is home to deer, pileated woodpeckers, and other urban wildlife. The summit area is a grassy expanse with some views east. A very short trail, constructed by the Youth Conservation Crew of Portland Parks and Recreation, leads over three footbridges to connect the meadow with a neighborhood street. At this point, Clatsop Butte is more of a neighborhood park, but Metro has grand plans to include it in a network of trails
extending from the Willamette to the East Buttes.
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Where: W. Powell Loop off of Powell
The best way to access Jenne Butte is from Linnemann Station on the Springwater Corridor. Walk west and, after crossing Johnson Creek, go 60 yards and take a trail heading up the butte to the left. This trail switchbacks up in mixed woods towards the first summit, which is mostly shaded by alders and big-leaf maples. Trails continue into a saddle and head up to the water tower on the second summit. To make a loop, you can head south from the tower down into blackberry thickets, from which you need to bushwhack east across a series of steep-sided gullies in mixed forest to meet up with your original ascent trail. You will probably stir up the butte’s deer population as you go, and their trails will assist your passage. This route is best done in winter as there are dense stinging nettle thickets to augment your hiking pleasure.
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Where: S.E. 19th Drive off of Regner Road, Gresham.
Gresham Butte is one of a series of Boring Volcanoes clustered close together, collectively known as the East Buttes. The Gresham Butte Saddle Trail leads up an old road to a saddle between its two summits, Wagner Hill to the north and Gabbert Hill to the south. You can hike up through alder woods to the summit of the latter and find the old van left there to rot. Gresham Butte is part of a larger Metro plan to connect various Boring Volcanoes by trail, from the East Buttes, North Damascus Buttes, Scouter Mountain, Powell Butte, Mt. Talbert, etc. Right now, you can head from the Saddle Trail down to the Butler Creek Greenway and make a circuit using the Springwater Corridor.
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Chamberlain Hill (Broughton Bluff)
Where: Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area, off I-84 at the Sandy River
Chamberlain Hill, whose basalt interior was exposed by the Missoula Floods, is at the official beginning of the Columbia Gorge. You can access the lower slopes from the state park area. One trail heads east above the railroad with a spur to a bouldering spot known as The Zone. Other trails head along the base of Broughton Bluff’s 160-foot cliffs, the premier rock-climbing destination close to the city. Sections include the North Face, Hanging Gardens, and Red Wall, with routes sporting such fanciful monikers as Gandalf’s Grip, Bela Lugosi, Mystic Pizza, and Physical Graffiti.
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Battle Ground Lake
Where: East of Battle Ground in Clark County, Washington.
A crater lake lies in one of the more fascinating Boring cones. A few miles of trails lead around the lakeshore and up to the rim through open meadows and mixed forest beyond. The area is a Washington State Park especially frequented in the summer as the lake is a popular swimming hole. This is a maar volcano, the crater created when an upwelling of magma encountered underground water, resulting in a huge steam explosion. The lake was originally named Crater Lake, but that was changed in deference to its larger and deeper volcanic cousin farther south in Oregon. As for Battle Ground, it was the battle that never happened. Settlers here predicted a confrontation with local Klickitat Indians, thinking they would not obey a U.S. Army imposed curfew, but the Klickitats returned in time and a skirmish was averted.
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