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Oaks Bottom Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Wildlife mural on the Portland Memorial Mausoleum, Oaks Bottom (bobcat)
Purple loosestrife at Oaks Bottom in summer (bobcat)
Ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula), Oaks Bottom (bobcat)
Highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), Oaks Bottom (bobcat)
Looking downriver from the River Trail, Oaks Bottom (bobcat)
Under the cottonwoods, River Trail, Oaks Bottom (bobcat)
The loop at Oaks Bottom (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Sellwood Park TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Tadpole Pond
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 125 feet
  • High Point: 130 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: All
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes


Hike Description

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. To extend the hike, you can continue north on a network of trails above the Willamette until you reconnect with the Springwater to turn and make your return.

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. 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 relatively 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. While salmon don't spawn at Oaks Bottom, they do come in to the pond to rest during their migrations. In summer, the pond retreats, and an unfortunate but beautiful sea of invasive purple loosestrife has taken over. 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. At a junction with a foot trail, head left through an ash woodland to the junction with the paved bike trail that comes down the bluff from Milwaukie Avenue.

Go right 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. Go right when you return to the bike path, and reach an underpass below the railroad. Head up 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. Take an unofficial leading north from here, and stay as close as you can to the river bank. There are a network of trails under these cottonwoods and, despite the No Camping signs, there is plenty of evidence in the form of trash that campers call this river wood a temporary home. Nevertheless, you'll get pleasant views across to Ross Island and downriver before you rejoin the Springwater Corridor.

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


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Urban Trails: Portland by Eli Boschetto
  • 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
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Take a Walk: Portland by Brian Barker
  • Nature Walks In and Around Portland by Karen & Terry Whitehill
  • Peaceful Places: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • Easy Portland Outdoors by Teresa Bergen
  • 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

More Links


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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