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Portland Waterfront Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View to downtown from the Sellwood Bridge (bobcat)
Wigeon group in Willamette Park (bobcat)
House over trolley line, Powers Marine Park (bobcat)
Downtown Portland from the east bank (bobcat)
Burnside Bridge, Portland (bobcat)
Steel Bridge and blooming cherries, Waterfront Park, Portland (bobcat)
Tilikum Crossing, Willamette River, Portland (bobcat)
Small beach, Willamette Greenway, Portland (bobcat)
The loop route on both sides of the Willamette River (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Willamette Park TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Waterfront Park
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 12.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 320 feet
  • High Point: 90 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes, in short distances
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes

Contents

Hike Description

This long loop takes you along both shores of the Willamette River from downtown Portland to the Sellwood Bridge. While the route is most often touted by cyclists, it’s also a very pleasant flat walk that never takes you more than 100 yards from the river. It reaches the city’s southern boundary at Powers Marine Park (a 1.7 mile out and back diversion), crosses the Sellwood Bridge, and then heads north past the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge using the Springwater Corridor and the Eastbank Esplanade. After crossing the Steel Bridge, you can enjoy the various sights of Portland’s Waterfront Park before threading roads and trails in the booming South Waterfront area. Then take the South Waterfront Greenway Trail, still not completed in a couple of sections, back to the Willamette Park Trailhead. The hike makes use of small natural areas and riparian corridors while also touching on the throb of commerce and industry and noisy traffic corridors. A shorter loop that focuses on the downtown area is the Eastbank Esplanade-Waterfront Park Loop Hike.

Take the paved path to the left of the restrooms at Willamette Park. You’ll be walking south above the Willamette River, with lawns, playing fields, and a play structure to your right. The path curves right under a line of tall cottonwoods, and a spur trail with steps descends to a small beach looking out to a mid-channel rock. Reach the south boundary of Willamette Park under tall spreading oaks, and walk straight down Miles Lane. Then take up the gravel path. A spur leads left through Butterfly Park, planted with deciduous trees and forbs; from the river bank, you can get a downriver vista to Mount Saint Helens on a clear day. On the main trail, enter Willamette Moorage Park, cross Stephens Creek and then pass the entrance to the Macadam Park houseboat community with the Willamette Shore Trolley tracks to your right. As you approach the Sellwood Bridge, you’ll see a gravel road leading down to your left. The site that has been replanted here is the former Staff-Jennings boat yard, and between it and the Sellwood Bridge is the west ramp of the former Spokane Street Ferry, which ceased operation when the first Sellwood Bridge was constructed in 1925.

For a diversion that takes you close to the river, keep hiking under the new Sellwood Bridge, completed and opened in 2016. Interpretive signs under this deck-arch bridge explain its construction and the natural history of the area. You can keep walking another 0.9 miles in this river strip of cottonwoods, alders, maples, and Douglas-firs that constitutes Powers Marine Park. A beach strewn with concrete rip-rap appears to the left, and soon you’ll pass an old water pump station. After crossing a stone-lined creek that descends from Palatine Hill, the trail narrows to become a footpath that rises through a coppice of Douglas-firs, with the trolley line and Macadam Avenue above. Reach a line of cedars, after which the path ascends to the trolley line. You can continue to walk along the line as the trolley runs only on weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Across the river is the green swath of the Waverly Country Club’s golf course. Eventually come to a private property sign at the access Lewis & Clark College’s sailing dock. Ahead, you can see a house built over the rail line!

On the return, you can look for steep user trails that lead down to the beach, sometimes to transient camps. At low water, you can walk the beach back to the Sellwood Bridge, where you can take the gravel maintenance track up to turn left on the paved bike path before ascending the switchbacking ramp under the bridge. You may want use the crossing to cross over to the north sidewalk on the bridge to get better views downriver. There are two viewing bays on each side of the bridge with interpretive signs. Ahead, you’ll see the forested bluff at Sellwood Park. Looking downriver, to the left are the West Hills, dominated by Stonehenge Tower, the tallest structure in the City of Portland at 625 feet. You can see the Macadam Bay houseboats and the Veterans Hospital on “Pill Hill.” In downtown Portland, there are the two tallest buildings in Oregon, the Wells Fargo Tower and the U.S. Bancorp Tower, or “Big Pink.” Ross Island appears to block the river, and Mount Saint Helens might appear on the horizon on a clear day. On the east bank, looking north, are the cottonwoods of Sellwood Riverfront Park.

As you near the east end of the bridge, you’ll pass over the rail line and the Springwater Corridor, which you’ll soon join. Turn left before an array of “geologic totems,” part of the Stratum project by Mikyoung Kim. At the end of the Grand Avenue cul-de-sac, turn left on Spokane Street and cross the railroad tracks to join the Springwater Corridor, and head north. Sellwood Riverfront Park is down to your left, and then you’ll be passing Oaks Amusement Park. The Oaks Station Caboose is parked at the underpass from the trail leading from Oaks Bottom. Across the large pond at Oaks Bottom, you can see the huge mural depicting various birds on the walls of the Portland Memorial Mausoleum: this is said to be the largest mural in the United States. Oaks Bottom is densely vegetated with thickets of cottonwood, red osier dogwood, willow, ash, and alder. Scope out the pond and waterways for herons, ducks, beavers, and other creatures. Dip to another underpass connecting to Oaks Bottom.

Here, a trail leads left into the riparian corridor above the Willamette. Explore a stone-and-glass sculpture garden in the cottonwoods and then reach the riverbank across from East Island and Hardtack Island. Take an unofficial footpath 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 and campsites that transients 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 at a split-rail fence. Go left, and continue walking north on the paved path. You get partial views to the Ross Island Sand & Gravel operation on Hardtack Island. A small greenspace to the left exhibits more sculptures as you get views across Ross Island to the tall buildings of the South Waterfront. Walk by another little park area with a picnic table, and then pass under the Ross Island Bridge. Reach SE 4th Avenue, and walk two blocks north to SE Caruthers. Make a left on Caruthers to arrive at the southern terminus of the 1.5 mile Eastbank Esplanade at the Hampton Opera Center.

This paved trail heads north along the Willamette. Pass under the new Tilikum Crossing pedestrian/bike/bus/MAX bridge and come to the OMSI complex (It is the largest car-free bridge in the U.S.). To your left is the USS Blueback submarine. There’s a viewing bay with interpretive signs under I-5’s Marquam Bridge. Continue with I-5 roaring above you to your right, and 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, and 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. Next, 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 on the old wharf path at the river, walk under the Burnside Bridge, and pass the Ankeny Pump Station. The covered area to your right is the 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. Continue 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 stones, 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). The official trail ends here for now. Note that the South Waterfront Greenway will extend along the shoreline of the property to the south, the former Zidell Yards; the project is in its planning stage as of early 2018. For now, walk out to the turnaround at the east end of River Parkway, and then turn left at the intersection with Moody Avenue.

Follow Moody south under the I-5/I-405 interchange, paralleling the MAX line, which you’ll cross at the Tilikum Crossing. Continue south along Moody, passing under the Ross Island Bridge, and arrive at the lower terminal of the Portland Aerial Tram. Behind the tram terminal, turn right on Bond Avenue, and go two blocks to Curry Street. Make a left on Curry, and head east out to the river, where you’ll meet a section of the South Waterfront Greenway opened in 2015 at the cost of $15.1 million (There’s a concrete trail for pedestrians and a tarmac path for cyclists). Ross Island is across the water, and the north end of the trail reaches private property two blocks to your left. Proceed south for the equivalent of three blocks, and turn inland again at an apartment complex. Walk two blocks to Bond Avenue, and make a left. It’s three blocks south on Bond before you make a left on Bancroft Street to reach the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant on the waterfront.

The greenway now meanders south along the shoreline as a combined pedestrian/bike path. Pass around the cove of Cottonwood Bay. At another inlet, a bronze beaver greets you, and interpretive signs explain the natural history of the Heron Pointe Wetland below in a dense thicket of willow and red osier dogwood. You’ll hike above a set of docks with the Willamette Shore Trolley line running along a wooden trestle to your right. Keep ambling along below condos and pass another dock before turning in at the parking area for the Willamette Sailing Club. Turn left when you reach Beaver Avenue, and walk south next to the trolley line for about 150 yards. Pick up a trail on your left that leads around the off-leash dog area at Willamette Park. Follow this path to the large parking area and boat ramp at Stevens Point.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Parks open 5:00 a.m. to midnight; parking fees in most places
  • Dogs on leash
  • Share route with cyclists

Maps

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Off-Street Paved Bike Paths in Oregon by Rick Branson
  • Walking Portland, Oregon by Sybilla Avery Cook (partial)
  • Portland City Walks by Laura O. Foster (partial)
  • Nature Walks In and Around Portland by Karen & Terry Whitehill (partial)
  • The Willamette River Field Guide by Travis Williams
  • Rail-Trails: Washington & Oregon by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (Springwater Corridor)
  • Best Rail Trails: Pacific Northwest by Natalie Bartley (Springwater Corridor)
  • Best Bike Rides: Portland, Oregon by Lizann Dunegan & Ayleen Crotty
  • Biking Portland by Owen Wozniak

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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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