What’s to Love: Although it’s our rainy season here in Portland, I encourage all of my readers to get out with your kids for a family hike. The winter is actually a great time for hiking, but you’ll need to be prepared for slippery conditions, lots of mud, rain, and wind. Forest Park offers many options, but I think you’ll find this little gem one of the better options for kids. Also, check out this review of hiking backpacks from thegearhunt.com.
This hike begins at the NW Springville Road trailhead, which is right off NW Skyline Boulevard on the north side of Forest Park. It’s a relatively small parking area, and this part of the park receives significantly less traffic when compared to a trailhead like NW Thurman. I frequent this trailhead for the many short-loop-options for young hikers. If you want to map out your own loop hike, this online trail map is somewhat hard to read, but it is accurate.
Again, there are many options for hikes including extended loops. My usual hike with the kids involves parking at the trailhead, walking past the gate on Springville Road, taking the right fork onto Firelane 7, and then a left turn onto the Hardesty Trail (0.08 miles). It’s easy to blow right past the Hardesty Trail – it’s right at the bottom of the first hill.
Take the Hardesty Trail down a FUN, root-filled, steep, tight, single track. My kids usually run down this like little wild men. If you decide to run down the trail, be careful! The roots are very slippery in the rainy season, and it’s easy to slip and hurt yourself. After a quick quarter mile (.21), you’ll run into an intersection with the Wildwood Trail.
When you get to the Wildwood Trail (it’s the first intersection), turn right and continue hiking up a gradual incline. Stay on the Wildwood for about 3/4 of a mile. The Wildwood Trail runs the entire (11 mile) length of Forest Park. Because the trail has to twist and turn so much, the actual trail length is 30 miles! You know you’re on the Wildwood because you’ll notice blue diamond blazes on the trees every 1/4 mile.
The next intersection (after 3/4 of a mile) will be the Ridge Trail. You’ll want to turn right and head uphill back toward Firelane 7. This trail starts out pretty steep, but it mellows out for most of the hike. You’ll want to take the Ridge Trail about a half-mile (.4) until it intersects with Firelane 7. Turn right onto Firelane 7 and in .19 miles, you’ll see the Hardesty Trail on your right – that’s where you originally went downhill. It’s only 0.8 miles uphill and back to your car from this spot. The whole hike clocks in around 1.71 miles and is perfect for the whole family.
Caveats: Oh…there are plenty! The parking area is pretty small, but I’ve never had a problem with parking. Don’t leave valuables in your car! Even during the summer, there is plenty of mud. If you have a dog, chances are, they will come back looking like a big ball of mud, and so will your kids.
While it’s just Forest Park, if your kids get too far ahead, there are plenty of chances for them to take the wrong trail and get lost. This hike is straightforward, but the Hardesty and Ridge trails do continue down below the Wildwood to Leif Erickson road. It’s also pretty easy to miss the Ridge Trail – just noticed today that the sign is missing!
On several occasions, I’ve literally almost knocked myself out while hiking alone with my kids. The Hardesty Trail is steep and slippery, and I’ve gone head-0ver-heels twice. One time, I came very close to hitting the back of my head on a cement step that was placed to help with erosion control. Be careful and talk to your kids about what they would have to do if something happened…seriously!
In the middle of the summer, you’ll need to carry water for your dog, if you have one. The many stream crossings are usually completely dry, and your dog will no doubt suffer, even on a short hike.
Website: This website offers a lot of information about the trails of Forest Park.
Distance from Portland: About 8.5 miles from downtown Portland. Here is a Google Map.
Recommended Ages: This is a wonderful hike for the whole family. Young walkers will enjoy the fun downhill sections, but you’ll want to keep a close eye on them. Older kids will enjoy the scenery and fun hiking. If your kids get bored easily with hiking, it’s a pretty quick loop.
Parental Stress Factor: Very low stress! There are no major drop-offs on this hike, even on the downhill sections. The trail is well marked, and if you follow my directions, it’s very unlikely that you’d get lost. If your kids get tired, make sure you have a backup plan!
Physical Difficulty: There are several short steep hill sections, but they are over quickly. The 3/4 mile incline while on the Wildwood Trail is easy. The biggest issue will be keeping your footing on the downhill sections.
Family Fun Factor: Sometimes my kids complain about going hiking. However, as soon as they run down the first big hill on this hike, the complaining is over!
Pet Friendly: This is a one of my favorite hikes for our dog! Even though there is foot traffic, it’s unlikely that you’ll see that many people. Most likely, your kids will be running on the trail, which is really fun for dogs to keep up. This is a hike where you’ll actually feel like you’re deep in the woods. Make sure you have a leash. There are poop-bags at the trailhead parking area.
Weather Considerations: I’ve already talked about the mud. If you go during the dry months, you won’t experience as much mud, but your dog won’t have water. My favorite time of the year to hike this trail is during the winter months. While I prefer no rain, it all adds to the ambiance of the beautiful Forest Park.
Insider Info: As mentioned earlier, there are many different options for loop hikes in this area of Forest Park. Another favorite is to continue town Firelane 7 until you see the Trillium Trail on your right. This is a short and steep trail, which is rather exhilarating in muddy conditions. Prepare to get really grimy if you choose this option! When you get to the Wildwood Trail, you’ll just head to the left and take Firelane 7, the Ridge Trail, or the Hardesty back up to your car. Check the map!
If you want longer options, you can always hike all the way down to Lief Erickson Drive, which is a dirt road that was turned into a trail for bikers, hikers, and runners. Again, consult the map or purchase a hiking book on the trails of Forest Park. Here is a website describing a similar hike.
Family Tips: I’ve taken a BOB jogging stroller on this hike many times. While it’s doable, I recommend keeping it strapped to your hand the entire time! You don’t want to trip and have the stroller go flying off the trail, especially on some of the steeper parts of the Hardesty. A backpack-type carrier is a better option.
During the rainy season, make sure you bring along some extra clothes and/or roll up your kids’ pants. That will help keep some of the mud off their clothes. Make sure you have a towel for the dog!
If you’re having trouble getting your kids out for a hike, I encourage you to invite another family with kids the same age. When kids hike together, they don’t even notice they’re hiking! They just have such a good time running and playing together – it makes hiking easy.
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