What’s to Love: I’ve explored the rock climbing area up at Rocky Butte many times. I’ve been turned off by the trash and noise from highway 205, which runs underneath the bluff. The climbing itself looks pretty good and worth a shot. I’ll give that a try this summer with the kids. This trip, I was interested in exploring the structure on the summit of Rocky Butte, which I’ve heard offers excellent bouldering.
Of all the times I had driven around the Portland Bible College campus looking for Rocky Butte’s climbing area, I had never actually been to the summit. It’s just a short drive beyond the college to “Joseph Wood Hill Park,” where you’ll notice a small stone fortress. I don’t think “fortress” is the correct word to use here, but I cannot think of anything else to call it. It’s a beautiful site offering a nice 360 degree panorama of Portland and beyond.
In the middle of the fortress, there is a large radio tower surrounded by a small green lawn. Despite the looming radio tower, it looks like a nice place for a family picnic or an afternoon nap. Kids will be into exploring because the fortress looks like something right out of a medieval tale.
We were most interested in the structure due to the hand carved stones that lend themselves well to bouldering, which seems to be an acceptable activity. You can explore the entire structure by walking along the outside. Here is a short clip of our adventure.
Caveats: I don’t recommend bouldering or climbing on the stone walls on your drive to the summit. You’ll see these walls on your drive up after you pass the college. There is very little room to pull your car over and the climbing is deceptively dangerous. Trust me on this one!
Any type of climbing can be very dangerous! Be careful and watch your kids at all times. The rock holds are very small, and it’s practically impossible without special climbing shoes. If you don’t know how to boulder, which includes spotting someone, DON’T DO IT! I recommend getting some instruction first at The Circuit Bouldering Gym.
Website: Portland Parks and Recreation Site
Distance from Portland: Rocky Butte is 8 miles from downtown Portland. Here is a Google Map.
Recommended Ages: All ages can enjoy Rocky Butte!
Parental Stress Factor: If you’re coming up to boulder, you will have a fairly high stress level keeping an eye on your kids. Otherwise, it’s a fairly stress free outing.
Physical Difficulty: The fortress is not handicap accessible. It has a gravel entry/roadway that is a reasonable grade. Technically, someone in a wheelchair could be pushed up to the top. Kids with physical limitations could make it to the top with assistance. The hike around the outside of the structure is flat and easy to hike in about 10 minutes. If you bike up, the physical difficulty is hard! It’s a pretty sustained/steep climb.
Family Fun Factor: If you bike, picnic, and boulder, it could be a very nice outing for the whole family. If those activities don’t sound too fun at Joseph Wood Hill Park, then I’d probably skip bringing the kids and just drive up for the view and/or sunset.
Pet Friendly: Although a state park, this is not a great destination for a dog. The entire area is surrounded by homes, and this isn’t an area where you’d want your dog off-leash.
Weather Considerations: Mainly a fair weather outing, especially if you plan on doing some bouldering or biking.
Rocky Butte appears to be an Oregon State Park. As stated in the introductory paragraph, Rocky Butte has a bunch of roped-climbing, some of which can be found here.
Family Tips: If you’re a biking family, this is worth exploring by bike. The road up from the 82nd Avenue-area is steep, and most kids will not be able to make it all the way up. Therefore, if you have smaller kids, bring a trailer-bike, bike seat, or Burley-type trailer/cart. Not a lot of room or shoulder, but the traffic is light up and around the Butte. Check-out the map and plot a course for fun!
Due to the fact that the *roped* climbing area is so accessible (right off the main road), there have been several accidents. Do not let kids out of your site when approaching the cliffs – you’ll be at the top, NOT THE BOTTOM. If kids go unattended at the climbing area, they could easily walk right off the cliff!
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