What’s to Love: How many cities can claim an 11-mile stretch of dirt road closed to motorized vehicles that is located within a protected, urban forest? In that same forest, lies a 30 mile hiking trail called the “Wildwood” that sports a healthy amount of peripheral trails and loop-hikes. Well, if you live in Portland, Oregon, you’re incredibly lucky to have this amazing recreational resource called “Forest Park.” Leif Erikson Drive is the 11 mile stretch of dirt road running through the heart of Forest Park. It’s just a small piece of the Forest Park puzzle, but it definitely warrants its own post on Portland Family Adventures.
Certainly, an entire website could be dedicated solely to the recreational opportunities inside Portland’s Forest Park. As the summer approaches, Portland Family Adventures will be more active in cataloging these opportunities inside this vast park. Leif Erikson Drive provides the main artery for hiking, mountain biking, cycle-cross training, endurance running, trail running, and much, much more. Leif Erikson Drive has many access points and is often used as a way of creating loop hikes with the iconic “Wildwood” trail. For many folks Leif Erikson provides a decent mountain biking experience within Portland city limits.
The road is nicely graded and provides a pretty smooth surface. There are rocky sections and some short climbs, but for the most part, Leif Erikson provides a pleasant outing for an afternoon ride. Kids just learning to bike might like a trip up Leif Erikson while pedaling a trailer bike behind mom or dad. It will be a fast, bumpy ride, so make sure your child has the strength to hold on tightly.
Leif Erikson Drive is a wide, service road, and it’s a miracle one can travel this road without seeing housing developments, clear-cuts, paved-roads, trash, etc. You will only see a bunch of people having a great time in the woods! Here is a clip of of my son enjoying a day of mountain biking.
Caveats: The road has pretty good drainage, but if you’re mountain biking, you’re almost certain to get muddy during winter months.
The NW Thurman Street access is a bit overwhelming – parking is difficult, and there is certainly a lot of action there. If you can avoid this access, try Skyline Drive, Germantown Road, or Springville Road.
If you’re mountain biking, stay in control of your bike! Dog owners often let their dogs roam off-leash once away from the trailheads. If you come roaring around a corner at 30+ miles per hour, you may be in for a dangerous surprise. Dog owners, please keep your dogs close by you, even if they are off-leash. There are many user-groups on Leif Erickson, so please be respectful of your fellow recreationalists.
Distance from Portland: Within 3 miles of downtown Portland
Recommended Ages: Leif Erikson is great for kids in jogging strollers and baby backpacks. I don’t recommend taking young kids to hike on this road. Instead, explore the Wildwood and/or many other peripheral trails in Forest Park. Hiking up a road is not too exciting for kids. However, combining other trails for a loop-hike is a decent option.
If you plan on biking, older kids (riding at least a 20″ bike) will have a lot of fun riding here.
Parental Stress Factor: I don’t like crowded places when I’m trying to enjoy the “wilderness.” Thurman is literally like a staging area for a big-time event. Of course, it can be very mellow during the weekdays in the morning or early afternoon. Even during busy times, this is not a stressful activity for most parents.
Physical Difficulty: The road has only slight elevation gains and losses. I don’t consider this to be physically challenging at all. From Thurman, it is mostly an uphill (very gradual and in spurts) ride for at least 5 miles.
Family Fun Factor: If you’re coming for a family mountain bike ride, I rate the family fun factor as “high.” If you’re coming for a hike or stroll, the fun factor decreases.
Pet Friendly: Yes…Forest Park is a great place to take your dog. Please be mindful of other users and pick-up your dog’s waste.
Weather Considerations: Leif Erikson Drive is open year-round, and there are no special weather considerations. If you go in the winter months, there will be mud.
If you park at NW Thurman, check-out the excellent loop-hikes that branch-off from Leif Erikson. Our favorite 4.8 mile loop uses the Alder trail, which is about 1.5 miles up Leif Erikson. When you see it, take a left going uphill until the trail intersects with the Wildwood trial. Take a left on the Wildwood and continue past the Dogwood trail until you reach the Wild Cherry trail. Take a left on the Wild Cherry, which is a fairly steep (1/4 mile) descent-trail ending back at Leif Erikson Drive.
Family Tips: Because Leif Erikson is essentially a road, it’s not very exciting hiking for young kids. Therefore, if we plan on doing a loop-hike, we always bring our jogging stroller for the times when we’re on Leif. My son just hops back in during these road sections, and hops back out when we get on a side trail. This strategy has worked well for us in Forest Park. A backpack was just too much, because my son kept wanting to get in and out of it constantly. A jogging stroller is a bit difficult to push during some sections, but for the most part, it’s doable in almost every section of Forest Park.
If you’re biking, a trailer bike is a good option, but please make sure your child is able to hold on, because you will get going very fast riding downhill! Because of the mud, goggles or sunglasses are a good option, and make sure you have some fenders. We kept getting sprayed in the face, as you can see in the pictures.
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