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Oxbow Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

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Cottonwoods on the Sandy, Oxbow Regional Park (bobcat)
Roundhead mushroom (Stropharia sp.), Oxbow Regional Park (bobcat)
Sandy River and the buried forest, Oxbow Regional Park (bobcat)
Spawned out, Oxbow Regional Park (bobcat)
In the Ancient Forest, Oxbow Regional Park (bobcat)
Lollipop loop beginning at the north end of Oxbow Park (Use the park's brochure to navigate) (bobcat)
  • Start point: Oxbow North TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Buck Creek Bend
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop, with shorter options
  • Distance: 7.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • High Point: 400 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes, along the river


Hike Description

Oxbow Regional Park's thousand acres nestles in lush forest along two great looping meanders of the Sandy River. The southern section of the park is developed, with campgrounds, restrooms, picnic areas, and interpretive signs. The almost unknown northern section is described in the North Oxbow Hike. Most people drive to the day-use areas in the middle of the park and pay short visits to the river's verge. The hike described here visits every section of the park on the southern bank of the Sandy, including river bars, an old growth forest, an upland meadow where deer graze, and views of a forest killed and buried by Mount Hood lahars. Trail markers lettered A through O mark the junctions and are shown on the park's map. The campground here is popular, although pets are not permitted in the park, and the area buzzes with activity during the Salmon Homecoming every October, when visitors get a chance to view spawning fall Chinook. There is an entrance fee to the park, but you can also hike in via the Homan Road Trailhead, where there is no fee station.

According to big tree enthusiasts, Darvel and Daryl Lloyd, Oxbow is home to the biggest trees in the world that are close to a metropolitan area. You can see some of these tall Douglas-firs near the west end of the park as well as near the trail in the center of the park. The largest trees come close to 290 feet tall.

From Marker A, the trail drops down to parallel the park road under Douglas-fir, cedar, alder, big-leaf maple and cottonwood. Sword fern, nettle, hazel and thimbleberry form an understory. The trail undulates along, passing across a blackberry-choked hillside. Pass a small water tank and then some large boulders of conglomerate. Three footbridges cross small creeks flushing down the hillside. The Sandy makes a big meander to the left. After a narrow footbridge, the path descends to Marker B.

Cross the park road here and head east across a footbridge and then a grassy picnic area bounded by cottonwoods and cedars. Spurs lead left to the willow flats by the river. Head towards the restrooms and then left across a small gravel parking area to Marker C, where the trail proper resumes (This is another spot from which to do a loop hike if you want to leave out the northern extension just described). At a junction, a trail leads down to the river. The main trail rises under larger Douglas-firs and passes along a higher bluff on the level. Another spur leads steeply down the bluff. Reach a split-rail fence on the edge of the bluff. A short spur left leads to a clifftop viewpoint. This little margin of woods is composed of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, western red-cedar, salal, hazel, wild rose, and sword fern. A group picnic area appears on the right, and a spur leads to the river. A view from the bluff at a split-rail fence gives a nice view of the Sandy, gravel bars, islands and upright trunks of trees buried by lahars flowing from a Mount Hood eruption in the late 18th century. Pass a play area and then another group picnic shelter. The trail passes through a cedar grove at the top of the eroding bluff. There’s another picnic shelter. A path leads down the bluff to a riverside path good for viewing spawning salmon. From the bluff, the main trail drops under a fallen tree to a wide beach favored by fishermen. Walk across the boat landing and pick up a paved trail on the other side.

At a junction, leave the paved trail and go left along a lushly wooded bench of Douglas-fir, cedar, and hemlock. A spur leads right to the campground. At the next junction, go right (The former trail heads left but has been eroded away). The trail rises to reach the campground. Walk left along the road until you reach a split-rail fence, where the main trail descends, switchbacking down to a cobbled bar on the river. Here one has a choice of walking on the bar or on the trail which verges the beach area. The trail rounds Buck Creek Bend and heads through thickets above the rushing Sandy. Look for bald eagles and ospreys scouting the area. Pass a covered shelter and outhouse at a group camping area. This is a favorite spot for fly fishermen. Willow thickets back the beach. The trail proceeds under mossy Douglas-firs with a salal carpet. Reach Trail Marker J and go left under alders. This rough trail ends at a small beach, so head back to J.

Head up and then go level to reach a service road at Marker N. Go left here under mossy big-leaf maples. There’s a group camping area to the right. The trail rises up the slope of Alder Ridge and reaches a road above a ball field. Make a left here up the road to Marker H, which begins a clockwise loop around the Elk Meadow. First, keep going on the road to survey the meadow, where you're more likely to observe black-tailed deer than elk. Back at Marker H, loop around in woods of cedar, Douglas-fir, big-leaf maple, and hemlock. There’s a viewpoint through trees down to the river. The trail continues through cedar groves and passes the south side of the meadow heading through more deciduous woods of alder and maple. Take note also of a few big Douglas-firs here. Reach Marker I and an Area Closed sign. Here go right and head back to the road. Then, go left down the road for about 130 yards and reach Marker F.

The route heads up into an alder thicket and then a small grove of cedars. The tread then drops down to road level and parallels the road, passing through an area of picnic tables. Ascend to a junction, and then rise into the Ancient Forest of Douglas-firs, cedars and hemlocks with a lush sword fern carpet. Pass under a pair of fallen Douglas-firs and reach a junction. Go left up into the woods. This is a one-way trail that passes over blowdown and dives through a salmonberry thicket before reaching a dead end (An old connector led up to Alder Ridge). Back at the main trail, turn left and head down to Marker E. Here, go left and keep left at the next few trail junctions. The trail passes a few rather large cedars and Douglas-firs. The path switchbacks down to a junction near a picnic area. Make a left here and the trail drops again towards the road and crosses several small creeks, undulating up and down to Marker B. From here, it’s three-quarters of a mile back to the Oxbow North Trailhead. This trail was well brushed out by Trailkeepers of Oregon in 2017.

Alternatively, you can walk back along the road. In a grassy area, there’s a marker commemorating the Great Flood of 1996. Eventually, a gravel road leads right into the Flood Plain parking area, with restrooms and picnic tables. Trails lead down towards the river and past No Trespassing signs to the YMCA's Camp Collins. The trail to the right leads past a hiker sign and drops to cross a channel. At a fork, it’s best to go left to enter the willow thicket and sandbar and finally reach the cobbled strand on the river. Going right would take you the same way, but debris from flooding has fetched up on the bar here, and it’s a real scramble to reach the river and/or make a loop

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • No pets
  • $5 day-use fee (Annual Metro Parks passes $40)
  • Brochures available
  • Open 6:30 a.m. to sunset
  • Campground, picnic areas, restrooms


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • 100 Hikes: Northwest Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Urban Trails: Portland by Eli Boschetto
  • Take a Walk: Portland by Brian Barker
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Nature Walks In and Around Portland by Karen & Terry Whitehill
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • Oregon Nature Weekends by Jim Yuskavitch
  • A Walking Guide to Oregon's Ancient Forests by Wendell Wood
  • Best Trail Runs: Portland, Oregon by Adam W. Chase, Nancy Hobbs, and Yassine Dibboun
  • Wild in the City: Exploring the Intertwine by Michael C. Houck & M.J. Cody
  • Oregon Campgrounds Hiking Guide by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Oregon's Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill

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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