family hikes near portland

Four Family Hikes Near Downtown Portland

Spectacular scenery is a fabulous reason to visit Portland, Oregon with kids. Portland is located just west of both the stunning Mt. Hood and the waterfall-rich Columbia River Gorge. Even if you’re in town for just a few days, squeeze in a quick family hike.

Where should you go for your hike? To find out, I e-interviewed Paul Gerald, the Portland-based hiking expert and author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland: Including the Coast, Mount Hood, St. Helens, and the Santiam River.

Q: If a family was visiting Portland and had a half-day for a hike, where would you send them? What’s a must-see, if you can only experience one hike?

Paul Gerald: If you’re only going to see on hike around here, and you have kids, go to Eagle Creek. There are some ledges where you’ll have to pay attention, but the scenery is fantastic: a wild mountain stream pours through a narrow gorge in the Cascades, with waterfalls and trees everywhere. It’s also super easy to get to: the trailhead is right off Interstate 84 near Bonneville Dam.

If you can make it 2.2 miles up (and it’s barely “up”), you’ll get to Punchbowl Falls, where a side trail leads down to the creek and a front-row view of a spectacular falls in a circular gorge. Just past that junction on the main trail is a birds-eye view of the same falls.

How far? Forty-five minutes east of downtown Portland, on I-84.

To get there: Take Interstate 84 east to Exit 41/Eagle Creek and park as far up the road as you can get. NW Forest Pass ($5 for the day) is required but can be bought on-site.

NOTE: The trail features some steep drop-offs without guardrails. The U.S. Forest Service does not recommend this trail for families with young children or for individuals afraid of heights.

Q: What’s a good hike for a family with a toddler? Probably only one mile or so – more of a ramble?

Paul Gerald: The Salmon River, off Highway 26 on the way to Mount Hood, is a great old-growth forest ramble along a Wild and Scenic River where salmon migrate all the way from the ocean. Several trailheads are along the road, and the trail is always very near the rambling stream, so you can go for as little a time as you like — or just look for a quite place by the waterside to gaze at the big trees, look for salmon, and maybe even splash around in the water.

How far? One hour, 15 minutes east of Portland, via Highway 26

To get there: Take Highway 26 east for 36 miles to Salmon River Road. Turn right here, and look for the first trailhead in 2.7 miles. NW Forest Pass ($5 for the day) is required.

Q: How about a good hike for a family with a preschool-aged child?

Paul Gerald: Washington Park is a great place to go hiking with a kid this age, for several reasons. One is that there are trails all over the place, many of them in the Hoyt Arboretum. The trails here are named for the trees that abound along them, and in spring and summer something is always in bloom here. And with all these trails, you can explore in all different directions and head back whenever you’re done.

The other great thing about Washington Park is that when you get tired of hiking, you can choose from so many other family-friendly activities: the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, the Children’s Museum, and the World Forestry Center.

How far? Ten minutes by car or MAX from downtown Portland.

To get there: Take MAX light rail to Washington Park.

Q: How about a trail for big kids or teens (ready to hike a longer distance)?

Paul Gerald: The Triple Falls hike, in the Columbia River Gorge, is a classic. There are some small ups and downs, and some rocky terrain — but there are also four waterfalls, one of which you hike behind, and one of which is actually in three branches.

Plus, you get to look down into the amazing Oneonta Gorge, which is a quarter-mile-long chasm so narrow that to go up it, you have to wade in the stream for a bit.

How far? Forty minutes east of Portland on I-84.

To get there: Follow Interstate 84 east to Exit 21/Bridal Veil. This puts you onto the Historic Columbia River Highway; follow that 5.2 miles to the parking are at Horsetail Falls.

Q: What should families keep in mind, when going for a day hike in the Pacific NW?

Paul Gerald: Safety comes first, of course, so tell someone where you are headed and when you plan to be back. Bring plenty of food and water; if it’s warm, plan for about two liters per adult and one per child.

Also, no matter the forecast, take clothing to account for everything from warm and sunny to cool and rainy — remember where you are! Wear shoes that will work for you on rocks, dirt, and mud, and consider taking an extra pair to wear in the car, so you don’t track dirt all over the place.

Timing is another issue; sometimes it’s hard to know how long the experience will last. All of these trailheads are around an hour away, and for walking speed, plan for about one mile per hour, which includes stops to eat, rest and take pictures.

Thanks, Paul, for your time! If you have further questions for Paul, meet him in person at one of his book sales events, which you can find listed at Find more great hikes, maps and information in Paul’s book — and tell us about your favorite hikes in the comments section below.

Portland Family Vacation

Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.


  • PDXMama

    A great place to hike/ramble with little ones is the Portland Audubon wildlife sanctuary. Easy trails with a little up and down. Stop and look for crawdads and trout in Balch Creek, sit by the pond and watch the red-eyed sliders, visit the Wildlife Care Center to see their education birds and see lots and lots of birds! And so close to the city, right up against Forest Park!

  • Lora

    Yes, Julie, Beacon Rock is a great hike. It was the first hike I went on, when I was a kid. It’s even ADA-accessible.

    Although to be 100% accurate, the hike is in Skamania, Washington — Stevenson is about 15 minutes east. I grew up about one mile away from Beacon Rock. You’ll want to drive to Stevenson to eat.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  • pdxhiker

    Great write up! For hikes in the Portland metro I always recommend Forest Park as it has an incredible trail network with diversity in attractions. I enjoy starting from Pittock Mansion and going through the Hoyt Arboretum.

    For hikes a bit further away my go to is the Columbia River Gorge. One of my favorite trails is Multnomah Falls to Larch Mountain (Sheppards Point). There are a plethora of waterfalls along the trail and at the summit the views of the Cascade Mountain Range are incredible (on a clear day). Check out my write up and pics here –


  • Jim Nariel

    Well I think there is some fantastic information here – loads of suggestions where to hike and spoilt for choice – I really enjoyed this article many thanks

  • Kristin

    Tryon Creek State Park is incredible with kids — a wide variety of trails and the wonderful benefit of feeling like you’re really in the middle of wilderness, forgetting that you’re actually in the city.

  • Milagros

    The Old Salmon River Trail is a great hike, definitely one our family loves.

    Another short hike we love close to Portland is Wahcella Falls which is near Bonneville Dam. It follows Tanner Creek to an amazing waterfall. It’s only about a mile in and a mile out and stays relatively flat for the kids.

    Here are a few of our fave family Gorge hikes, including Wahcella Falls:

  • Keith in Indy

    Hi All – Thanks for the great suggestions. Heading to Portland/The Dalles for business Oct 6 – Oct 8. Might have a few hrs on Wed and Fri, so I’ll check some of these out and let you know the results.

  • Alex

    We tried Eagle creek with our tough 4 and 7 year olds and it was WAY out of their league. It was beautiful, so we will be back….but not for about 5 years. The paths were too narrow and the drops too treacherous. Will keep looking for more appropriate hikes for now.