What’s to Love: The weather is getting nice! If you’re looking for a relatively-flat, straight, paved, bike path for a nice family cruise, the Marine Drive section of Portland’s “40 Mile Loop Trail” is a good option. The roughly 12+ miles of paved path parallels Marine Drive in North Portland, right alongside the Columbia River.
Don’t get too excited – the path is in two major sections (west & east) and I-5 presents a major break in the trail. However, each section of trail offers plenty of riding for the entire family. It’s possible to access the trail almost anywhere it runs along Marine Drive (consult a map – see below). We accessed the trail out at NE 158th, which worked well. For us, it was a pretty short ride that day (see video below).
The west section that starts at Kelley Point Park offers a bit more variety; however, biking through some industrial areas of North Portland doesn’t exactly appeal to everyone.
Here is a short video clip:
Caveats: No shade whatsoever on the east section! Since there is a significant break in the trail, I don’t recommend trying to do the entire trail in a single day. When biking the east section, be careful of drop-offs on the river-side of the trail. While not a cliff edge, you certainly wouldn’t want one of your kids pedaling off the pavement.
Watch out for cars on Marine Drive! People drive VERY fast on that road and crossing it is dangerous. Unfortunately, the most unlikely villains on the bike path are not cars, but other bikers. Adult bikers look at this trail as a place to really cut loose with speed. A family sprawled-out across the width of the trail is an accident/altercation/verbal diatribe, etc…just waiting to happen.
These folks will come up on you so fast – virtually silent. When they say “on your left,” they’ll already be speeding by you. If your kids are in their way, they will keep saying “on your left” over and over. So, my advice is to just be aware of other bikers coming both toward your family and sneaking-up on you from behind. Teach your kids to be good trail users – let’s be pleasant.
Distance from Portland: Depends on where you access the trail and where you’re starting from home. Again, consult the map links and check things out for yourself.
Recommended Ages: Good for all ages, but see my note about other adult riders on the trail under the Caveats section. Since most of the trail is straight and flat, this is an excellent option for beginning riders. Our son Arlo just learned to ride a pedal bike without training wheels before his third birthday. We took him out for a spin, which was a nice relief compared to school parking lots and our neighborhood sidewalk.
Parental Stress Factor: Can be stressful if the trail is busy. You’ll need to keep a watchful eye out for other users. If it’s not too busy, the stress factor will be pretty low, except for when crossing Marine Drive and biking near drop-offs.
Physical Difficulty: Not difficult riding unless there is a strong wind.
Family Fun Factor: While I love biking with the whole family and highly recommend a trip out on the Marine Drive path, this is not a super fun ride for most kids. I think it’s best suited for adults who want to just put the pedal-to-the-metal and go. And, it works well for kids who are just learning, because they won’t have to use their brakes at all in certain sections. My older son (7) likes a bit more excitement in his riding (e.g., turns, dips, ups/downs, etc.). As long as you keep the ride relatively short, you probably wont’ have any complaints.
Pet Friendly: While pets are allowed on the trail, please keep them on a leash and make sure you’re aware of bikers both behind and in front of you.
Weather Considerations: For a family outing, it would probably be miserable riding on the exposed trail next to the Columbia River during winter and/or rain. Save exploration of this trail for beautiful spring/summer weather. It can get REALLY windy down by the water.
Insider Info: Since the trail is right next to the Columbia River, your kids will (most likely) enjoy seeing some BIG jets landing and taking off from the nearby airport. If you’re planning on checking-out the west end of the route, make sure to include Kelley Point Park and Smith & Bybee Wetlands in your adventure.
Not too many options for loop rides, especially while on the eastern sections. If you want to do a loop ride back to where you parked your car, I recommend looking at the west-route-map.
Family Tips: We like to family-bike with a Burley cart attached to one of our bikes. That way, if the kids get tired, we can just pop ’em in the cart and bungee-cord their bike in the cart as well. This has worked well for us over the years. Bring sun screen, water, and plenty of snacks.
It’s a multi-use trail, so feel free to bring skateboards, rollerblades, scooters, training-wheels, jogging strollers, etc.
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