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Elk Rock Island Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View to the Elk Rock cliffs from Elk Rock Island (bobcat)
Pacific madrone flowers (Arbutus menziesii), Elk Rock Island (bobcat)
The crossing to Elk Rock Island from Spring Park (bobcat)
Coast toothwort (Cardamine californica), Elk Rock Island (bobcat)
The loop around Elk Rock Island from Spring Park (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Spring Park TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Elk Rock Island
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 1.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 130 feet
  • High Point: 60 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Spring through Fall, except in times of high water
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No



The oldest place in the Portland area is not a mansion on Nob Hill, nor even the small Boring volcanoes, such as Mount Tabor, that dominate Southeast Portland - it is an island (only at high water) in the Willamette River, the 40-million-year-old exposed volcano of Elk Rock Island (as known as the Waverley Basalt). The island is reached via the Spring Park Natural Area in Milwaukie via a rocky channel which is left partially dry for most of the year. Here, native oaks and madrones crown a forested remnant donated to the City of Portland by businessman Peter Kerr in 1940, and officially known as Peter Kerr Park. Before Kerr's donation, the island, part of the original land claim of Milwaukie founder Lot Whitcomb, had been a riverside playground with a dance hall and other attractions. In April 2016, Portland formally transferred Elk Rock Island to the City of Milwaukie. Scabland vegetation has reasserted itself, with vernal pools rimmed by wildflowers and views west to Elk Rock itself, once reputedly a Native American hunting site where elk were herded over the cliff to their deaths as in a buffalo jump.

Walk past the play area in Spring Park. A large deodar cedar stands in the corner of this small space. A paved path heads through this area before dropping on a log-lined sandy universal access trail to a cottonwood, willow, and alder bottomland. The trail then crosses a new footbridge in a sedge-filled depression and rises up a bank supporting a few Douglas-firs. There may be a bald eagle couple nesting in this area, so look for them up in the cottonwoods. There's a viewing area here overlooking a backwater: this is as far as wheelchairs can go. A path takes you down to the rocky shoreline of the Willamette River. A natural rock causeway leads out to Elk Rock Island.

Reach the open rocky area on the south end of the island. Canada geese often congregate here. Pacific madrones lean over the island's ramparts - the island being the remnants of an ancient volcano now situated in the currents of a major river. Rounding the rocky point, the steep cliffs of Elk Rock and Bishop’s Close (to the right) loom, with a substantial waterfall pouring down. Pools of water dot this open area on Elk Rock Island. Heading to the west side of the island, reach a small willow-lined bay and beach. Near here, there used to be a dance hall operated by the Elk Rock Island Club (It burned down in 1916). Take a trail that turns into the woods, and then hike along the edge of the woodland under cottonwoods and alders. There’s a rock outcrop at the northwest end of the island which invites a scramble. Coming back, head up a to a trail which winds along the top of the cliff at the north end of the island. Here a thicket of snowberry is shaded by oaks. One branch of this trail drops steeply down to another cove, but it may suffice to make a loop back to the west side of the island, and then turn into the hinterland in a small gully under Douglas-firs, big-leaf maples and cottonwoods. The trail cuts right into the interior and reaches a clearing with a multi-limbed maple and historic evidence of beer fests. From here, the trail winds through snowberry, Indian plum, and elderberry thickets. The island has been well-cleared of ivy in recent years although there are still remnants of blackberry around the perimeter. The trail heads around to the south end of the island along the rim of its eastern cliff and drops down the rock face to the causeway of volcanic rock. From this point, return to Spring Park.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Dogs on leash


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Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Peaceful Places: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • Wild in the City: Exploring the Intertwine by Michael C. Houck & M.J. Cody
  • Nature Walks In and Around Portland by Karen & Terry Whitehill
  • The Willamette River Field Guide by Travis Williams

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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.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.