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Eastbank Esplanade-Waterfront Park Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The Tilikum Crossing, Willamette River, Portland (bobcat)
Downtown Portland from the east bank (bobcat)
The Eastbank Esplanade's floating walkway descending below the Burnside Bridge (bobcat)
Train on the Steel Bridge, Willamette River Greenway (bobcat)
Old pilings and the Fremont Bridge, Willamette River Greenway (bobcat)
March-blooming cherries in Waterfront Park (bobcat)
South Waterfront Park Garden in winter, Willamette River Greenway (bobcat)
The loop route using the Eastbank Esplanade and Waterfront Park, with a northern extension on the Willamette River Greenway (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Water Avenue TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Waterline Pier
  • Hike Type: Loop with spur
  • Distance: 7.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 50 feet
  • High Point: 40 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes, in short distances
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes

Contents

Hike Description

Two public access projects on both the east and west side of the Willamette River tie together a pedestrian/cycling loop where there were once busy roads (on the west side) and a blighted shoreline (on the east side). The Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade, completed in 2001, runs 1.5 miles from the Hawthorn Bridge at its south end to the Steel Bridge at its north end. Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park is Portland's central play space and hosts big events throughout the year, including the Rose Festival, the Bite of Oregon, the Waterfront Blues Festival, and the Oregon Brewers Festival. The park is a relatively recent creation: it opened to the public in 1978. Before that Harbor Drive occupied the space, but the completion of Interstate 5 through Portland relieved the need for that particular conduit. This description also includes a section of the Willamette River Greenway which runs north of the Steel Bridge, a project that may see completion in the coming years.

The spur along the Willamette Greenway from the Steel Bridge to Waterline Pier is 3.2 miles round-trip. The loop without this spur is 4.7 miles.

There are numerous access points for this walk. This description takes an anticlockwise direction and begins just north of OMSI at the south end of the Eastbank Esplanade, essentially right under the I-5 Marquam Bridge. Head north to pass under the Hawthorne Bridge. You’ll notice the bronze of Portland’s former mayor Vera Katz, after whom the Esplanade is officially named. The downtown skyline is across the river, with the two tallest buildings in Oregon, the Wells Fargo Tower and the U.S. Bancorp Tower, or “Big Pink,” rising prominently. Sections of columnar basalt decorate the pathway. At Salmon Street, there are public port-a-potties. Pass the curving ramp that leads up to the Morrison Bridge. Portland's first river bridge was constructed here in 1887; the current structure, completed in 1958, is the third Morrison Bridge. Continue where the walkway splits, with a steel grid to the left and concrete to the right. Stay left at a junction, and drop to begin the floating section of the Eastbank Esplanade. Walk under the turreted Burnside Bridge, pass below an I-5 off-ramp, and curve left to cross the narrow pedestrian/bike passage across the Steel Bridge at the railroad level.

When you reach the west end of the Steel Bridge, you’re in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. To your right is the Friendship Circle from Portland’s sister city Sapporo. Across the river now, you can see the glass towers of the Oregon Convention Center. For the diversion north along this section of Willamette Greenway path, head west towards Naito Parkway. A path leads under the three western ramps of the Steel Bridge and crosses the railroad tracks that lead to nearby Union Station. Much of the path from here on is on public easements at waterfront developments, and access is prohibited between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. Unless you're a resident of the condos, you also cannot access the river itself.

Pass above a some small private beaches, and see across the river to the Louis Dreyfus grain elevator and the Trailblazers' Moda Center. The walkway becomes the Mayor Frank Ivancie Pedestrian Bridge and is wrapped around the riverfront of a series of condominiums. Hike under the Broadway Bridge, and descend a wide set of wood steps before continuing above the river next to a parking lot. Pass a viewing area with benches and then the 1911 Albers Mill Building, with its new "moat" and artificial cascade. The trail is discontinued here for three blocks where the old Portland Police stables will be replaced by a new development. Take the sidewalk along Naito Parkway, and turn back towards the Willamette at a parking area. The riverside path resumes under deciduous locust trees. The Fremont Bridge towers ahead, and across the river you'll see the Cargill grain elevator. Pass another viewing platform, and continue under the Fremont Bridge. The newest section of the Willamette Greenway passes in front of a development of modern condominium complexes and ends up at Waterline Pier. Across the river is the massive Union Pacific railyard. Scan old pilings for sunning cormorants, and look down to the river's edge for great blue herons before returning to the Steel Bridge and Waterfront Park.

Continue south along Waterfront Park's seawall. You'll walk by lines of cherry trees at the Japanese American Historical Plaza, and above Naito Parkway, you can make out the historic White Stag neon sign. Keeping to the old wharf path at the river, you'll notice the old bollards where ships used to tie up; nowadays, these are used mainly by the visiting fleet during Portland's Rose Festival. The February 1996 floods drew level with the top of this seawall in Waterfront Park and threatened downtown Portland. Walk under the Burnside Bridge, and pass the Ankeny Pump Station. The covered area to your right is Portland's Saturday Market. Continue hiking under more Waterfront Park maples to reach the docked sternwheeler that is the Oregon Maritime Museum. Closer to Naito Parkway, you’ll see the foremast of the Battleship Oregon, which saw action in the Spanish-American War. Next pass the Portland Spirit, a river cruise boat, and the historical marker for the Stark Street Ferry. Pass under the Morrison Bridge to view the gushing fountains at Salmon Street Springs; about a block north of here, in the middle of Naito Parkway at Taylor Street, is Mill Ends Park, the world’s smallest park. Near the fountain are the offices of the Portland Rose Festival Foundation. There are restrooms under the Hawthorne Bridge; then the path swings towards Naito Parkway above a grassy bowl that hosts grazing Canada geese all year.

Drop down towards the Willamette, and stroll the walkway in front of the storefronts of RiverPlace. Pass the South Waterfront Park and Garden – it’s hard to believe there was once a lumber mill here! Under the Marquam Bridge, a stone-lined path leads down to Poet’s Beach; the poems are by local elementary school children and are etched into the rocks, along with vocabulary from the Chinook tongue. The beach itself is billed as a swimming beach and was opened in 2017, with lifeguards on duty during the summer (make sure you wear some kind of foot protection, however). Bear left on a new section of sidewalk along Bond Avenue. There's a fence to your left and new Meade Street passes between two OHSU buildings to your right. The pavement curves right to meet the sidewalk coming in from the left over the Tilikum Crossing.

Turn left to hike over the Tilikum Crossing, admiring the river views from the largest car-free bridge in the U.S., with the busy Marquam Bridge to the north and the Ross Island Bridge to the south. At the east end of the bridge, make a left and head back towards the river. Turn north and come to the OMSI complex. To your left is the USS Blueback submarine. There’s a viewing bay with interpretive signs under I-5’s Marquam Bridge. Then head back to your vehicle/bus connection.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Waterfront Park open 5:00 a.m. to midnight; parking fees on most nearby streets
  • Willamette River Greenway north of the Steel Bridge open 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; respect private property
  • Dogs on leash
  • Share route with cyclists

Maps

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Urban Trails: Portland by Eli Boschetto
  • Best Easy Day Hikes: Portland, Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Oregon: The Creaky Knees Guide by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Oregon Townscape Walks by Tyler Burgess
  • Take a Hike: Portland by Barbara I. Bond
  • Trips & Trails: Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Walking Portland, Oregon by Sybilla Avery Cook
  • Walking Portland by Becky Ohlsen
  • Portland Townscape Walks #1 by Tyler Burgess
  • Portland Step-by-Step by Joe Bianco
  • Portland City Walks by Laura O. Foster (partial)
  • Best Bike Rides: Portland, Oregon by Lizann Dunegan & Ayleen Crotty
  • Off-Street Paved Bike Paths in Oregon by Rick Branson
  • The Willamette River Field Guide by Travis Williams
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • The Dog Lover’s Companion to Oregon by Val Mallinson

More Links


Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

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