What’s to Love: Despite being sandwiched-in between some nasty industrial businesses, Smith & Bybee Wetlands Natural Area is an excellent family-biking destination with several options for family fun. You may just need to hold your breath every now and then.
Luckily, this heavy industrial area is covered with some of Portland’s best parks (e.g. Kenton, Columbia, Arbor Lodge, Pier Park, Kelley Point). Otherwise, it might just be a big wasteland. Thank goodness Portland officials have at least tried in some way to make this entire area a bit more hospitable for families. While you might see trash along Columbia Boulevard and N. Portland Road, the area surrounding the established bike trails is (for the most part) clean and safe. The bike trails by Smith and Bybee are some of Portland’s finest.
While Smith & Bybee Lakes is somewhat of a transitional area, it’s possible to blow a few hours here, even if you’re not a boater (see Insider Info) or birdwatcher. Right near the parking area (featuring a very nice public restroom, a sheltered picnic area, and some sweet stone sculptures), park your bikes and walk about 1/4 mile toward Kelley Point Park. Look for a paved-path that heads toward the lakes. This is strictly a walking path into the wildlife area. If your family enjoys hiking, this is a must do! The entire route is probably less than 1 mile.
For family biking, it’s hard to beat this route. If you bike from the Kenton area, you’re looking at around 6-7 miles of bike-path-riding. Most of the route is totally free from vehicle traffic. Plus, there are so many options for park and ride in this area. Just check-out Portland’s Bike Map, and you’ll be all set to go! Here is a video clip.
Caveats: Most likely, you’ll be exposed to some toxic smells of all sorts. I find the petroleum most disturbing; however, I’ve found that the various offending smells come and go quickly. If I get too hung-up on this type of stuff, I would never leave my North Portland home. Therefore, we just take the good with the bad, and I think the good definitely outweighs the bad in and around the peninsula. Even when we lived in inner southeast, we often woke-up to the smell of burning plastic and/or burnt toast. I guess it’s just the realities of living in an urban area.
Although there is a nice hiking trail, you probably won’t blow hours while visiting the wildlife area. Again, it’s more of an area for a *relatively* short jaunt that can easily be supplemented with other activities (see Insider Info & Family Tips below). If you’re interested in a wetlands area with excellent hiking, check-out the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, which also has some excellent biking options.
Website: Portland Parks and Recreation for Smith & Bybee Wetlands Natural Area – Friends of Smith & Bybee Lakes website
Distance from Portland: Within 7 miles of downtown Portland. Here is a Google Map of the area.
Recommended Ages: If you’re biking, this is the perfect ride for the whole family. Since the route is almost exclusively on paved-paths, it’s relatively safe. It’s not a good option for training wheels due to the one-way-length of the trail. When biking along Columbia Boulevard, watch out for cars when crossing side streets.
Parental Stress Factor: Low stress! This is one of the best areas to ride without having to worry about cars. Of course, you’ll have traffic along Columbia Boulevard and N. Portland Road.
Physical Difficulty: Riding to Kelley Point from Portsmouth or Kenton is a pretty long ride. Most younger kids will probably tire at some point, so be prepared with snacks and plenty of water. The trail is mostly flat the entire way with an occasional hill here and there – certainly, I wouldn’t call the terrain difficult.
Family Fun Factor: High! Biking, boating, hiking, and access to some of Portland’s premiere parks is just what the family is looking for on a nice sunny day!
Pet Friendly: Not a good option for the family dog – like other wetlands/conservation areas, dogs are not allowed, even on a leash.
Weather Considerations: Probably not the best riding conditions during the winter months. Dreary weather and some rather stark scenery don’t do it for me. Save this ride and area for a sunny day; however, access is year round.
Insider Info: This wildlife area offers some nice boating opportunities (kayaks or canoes) in addition to bird watching. Be on the lookout for a paved hiking path along the bike trail. This path brings you to three different viewpoints, which offer a nice panorama of the entire area. My favorite viewpoint is the picture to the left of this paragraph. The metal grating allows hikers to walk over the wetland area.
After hanging out at Smith & Bybee Lakes, bike over to watch the HUGE ships come around the peninsula at Kelley Point Park.
Also, don’t forget to swing by downtown Kenton where Portland’s Development Commission is sponsoring a major reconstruction project. Several new businesses have opened, and the area is becoming more and more lively. We recommend stopping in at Posies Cafe for some yummy treats! If you stop into Posies for breakfast, I highly recommend their Breakfast Biscuit!
Family Tips: If you want to make this an extended bike outing, start your trip at either Kenton Park or Columbia Park. These parks are convenient staging-areas for your trip. If you’re planning a longer ride for a younger child, be prepared for when they poop out! I like to bring my Burley cart, which holds my 6-year old son and his bike (bungee corded into place) for the last 1/2 mile.
If you want to make a day out of it, I recommend starting at Kenton Park and biking to Smith & Bybee Lakes, then over Kelley Point Park for a lunch stop. Head back on the established bike routes (see Portland’s Bike There Map, which can be purchased at any bike shop in town) and head south on North Chautauqua Boulevard to Columbia Park for some serious playtime. Finish off with the short ride back to Kenton Park.
Here is a Google Map of that route. DISCLAIMER: This is not the exact bike route. This map just shows the 3 destinations with a recommended walking route. Consult the Portland Bike Map for detailed directions.
If you’re hiking into the wildlife area, make sure to bring a stroller for younger kids. It’s just long enough to cause problems if there is a meltdown. The path is in excellent shape and any type of stroller should work fine.
Other Posts of Interest...
George Rogers Park on May 6th, 2008
Springwater Corridor/Eastbank Esplanade on February 17th, 2008
Willamette Park on April 19th, 2008