What’s to Love: This is an area classic! It’s a challenging 5 to 5.5 miles round trip, depending on a couple factors. There are also many options from the Lower Macleay trailhead. Check-out this hike I suggested in an article back in 2007 – it’s a 2 mile loop that is much better for younger kids. However, if your kids are up for a stiff challenge, the hike up to Pittock Mansion from Lower Macleay is a step up on the Forest Park hiking scale. Since it’s an “out-and-back,” you can always turn around if your kids revolt.
This hike begins at the Lower Macleay trailhead, which has a very small parking lot. If you can find a parking spot, start hiking on the Lower Macleay Trail, under the Thurman Street Bridge, and along Balch Creek. In about 3/4 of a mile, you’ll come to the Stone House, which was originally built as a rest station. Unfortunately, it continues to degrade and is an easy target for vandalism. On our last visit, there was a homeless person sleeping inside.
At the Stone House, continue straight (slight left) onto the Wildwood Trail following Balch Creek. In about 1/2 mile, you’ll reach Upper Macleay Park, and be forced to cross Cornell Road, which is very busy and lacks a crosswalk. Keep a close eye on your kids here!
After crossing Cornell Road, you’ll come to a fork in the trail where you can take the shorter (and steeper) Upper Macleay Trail, or continue on the Wildwood. The difference is mileage isn’t too much, so it’s more a preference issue. Sometimes, coming down steep terrain is harsher on the knees. On our hike, we went up and down the Wildwood, and didn’t even use Upper Macleay. Take a stroll around the Mansion, check-out the view, have some lunch, warm-up in the gift shop, and head back down the same way you came up.
Caveats: Half your hike is practically ALL uphill! The return trip is practically all downhill. On the weekends, this is probably one of the busier trailheads and hikes in Forest Park. Be prepared to move constantly for runners, dogs, and other hikers.
Website: Portland Hikers. ORG
Distance from Portland: Lower Macleay Trailhead is within two miles of downtown Portland. Here is a map of the area.
Recommended Ages: If you’re bringing kids 5 years and younger, you’ll probably want to be prepared to carry them, if necessary (see Family Tips below). If you want to do the full 5 miles, this hike is best for kids 10 and older.
Parental Stress Factor: Our 6 year old definitely made things a bit difficult the final few miles. He was really starting to poop-out, even though we were in the downhill section of the hike. We did not bring a way to push and/or carry him comfortably, so it got a bit stressful. He managed to pull it together. Bring along friends the same age, and this will make it easier on everyone.
Physical Difficulty: This is definitely a challenging hike. It’s steep in parts, and at the limits of what most kids want to do for a single outing. We pulled it off by taking along a bunch of kids, so they kept each other moving along.
Family Fun Factor: Again, hiking with kids can be really fun, especially if they bring friends along. Make sure the other parents understand that this is a pretty difficult hike, and 5+ miles long. If they are not hikers, your “fun hike” will turn into an epic adventure.
Pet Friendly: This is a great hike for a dog. There is good tree cover in hot weather, and your dog will see many canine friends along the way. Make sure you keep your dog leashed-up!
Weather Considerations: Because of the physical nature of this hike, I recommend it for early fall. Although there is plenty of shade, it can be like a greenhouse in the forest during the summer months.
Insider Info: Why not add a tour of the Pittock Mansion to your hiking adventure? We’ve always wanted to do it, but it’s a bit costly for the whole family. If you can afford it, I’ve heard it’s worth the money. At the very least, make sure you hike around the Mansion, so you can take in the awesome view of Portland.
While hiking up, stopping along the way is a good idea, but don’t linger too long. You don’t want to lose your momentum! I recommend stopping for a snack and water. Taking pictures is also a good way to distract kids from the physical challenge of hiking.
Don’t be tempted to carry too much water. There is a fountain up at the Mansion, which usually has a bowl for dogs as well.
Family Tips: If you want to hike to the Pittock Mansion, but 5 miles is a bit too much, start your hike at Upper Macleay Park/Trailhead. This shortens the hike by about 2.5 miles. Make sure you use the bathrooms at Lower Macleay before you start hiking, or you can use the porta-potty at Upper Macleay. There are also bathrooms at the Pittock Mansion gift shop.
Although I’ve used one on this hike many times, a jogging stroller is not recommended. There is too much traffic, and the steepness of the trail makes it a bit dangerous. Go with a backpack carrier.
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