Looking for an outdoor adventure vacation? Want to see some scenic views? Lace up your hiking boots and check out the best hikes in Portland for tourists.
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
It’s easy to see why this is one of Oregon’s most popular trails. Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in Oregon, is a stunning 620-foot, two-drop cascade, that plummets into a misty forest.
From the parking area it’s just a short 5-minute walk to the base of the falls. From there I recommend walking another several hundred feed up the paved trail to reach Benson Bridge. Spanning the falls, you have a perfect view of the falls. Gaze up to take in the top tier’s full height or look down over the second tiers drop. Make sure to stop and take some pictures. Also be prepared to get wet from the spray of the falls.
Past the bridge is really where the ‘hiking’ feels like it begins. Reaching the top of the falls is a beautiful hike, but with a quick and steep ascent.
The hike to the top of the waterfall is another mile from the bridge, up a fairly steep path comprised nearly entirely of switchbacks. At the top of the falls is a fenced overlook where you’ll enjoy a dizzying view down, where the lodge and crowds of people look tiny.
There was lots of spray and mist from the falls, and I encountered both uneven and slick walking surfaces. Make sure you are wearing shoes with good traction as well as warm clothing that will keep you dry. The path is heavily trafficked and dogs are allowed on a leash. The weather around the falls tends to be cooler, so keep your ears warm with an easy DIY ear warmer or headband.
Multnomah Falls: Just over 2 miles, up and back, with 700 feet of elevation gain to the top of the falls. For a novice hiker this felt like a moderate hike, recommended for tweens/teens and up. I did not encounter any families with younger children on this trail, those with younger children walked up only to the Benson Bridge. There was no fee to hike this trail.
Cape Falcon Hike
A gorgeous coastal hike through preserved old-growth coastal forests
Part of the Cape Falcon Marine Reserve and Marine Protected Area, this hike is perfect for those wanting a nature trip or looking to do some bird watching. You’ll hike past incredible Sitka spruce and Western redcedar trees, as well as streams, a trickling waterfall, and more.
While the scenes are breathtaking, there is one important note about this hike. It’s muddy. Like, really muddy. The farther you get along the trail, the muddier it gets. There are lots of twisted, exposed roots to navigate, small streams to traverse, and places where the trail is fairly eroded. Make sure you’re wearing good, water proof shoes.
The Cape Falcon Trail is a 5 mile, out and back hike that runs along a forested ridge near the ocean. You’ll hike out to this stunning view of the Pacific ocean, Smugglers Cove, and Neahkahnie Mountain, and then hike back.
Not only does the trail get muddier as you go along, but it also gets narrower. Full disclosure, I did slip on some wet rocks at one point. And some vines snagged my pants in a narrow area close to the end/middle when we were looking out at the ocean. Slogging through mud and over uneven terrain definitely made my feet sore by the end. This was easily the slowest pace of all the hikes that we did in Portland. It also had the best views of plants and vegetation and sometimes I would just stop and look around me because it was so beautiful.
Cape Falcon: About 5 miles round trip, 2.5 miles each way. For a novice hiker this felt like a moderate/hard hike. The trail is more heavily trafficked near the start and becomes less trafficked towards the end. I would recommend this trail for teens and up. There was no fee to hike this trail and dogs are allowed on a leash.
Trail of Ten Falls Loop Hike
See at least ten waterfalls at Oregon’s largest State Park and one of America’s most impressive waterfall day-hikes
Powerful waterfalls and massive old-growth forests make this one of the most spectacular and scenic hikes around Portland. Waterfalls along the hike range from 27 to 177 feet, falling into deep blue pools of water.
The Trail of Ten Falls is the longest of the hikes at nearly 9 miles, but also boasts the most maintained trails. There are also two cut-offs that can make the hike shorter if desired. Based on a recommendation, and since we planned to do the entire 9 miles, we started the hike heading counter-clockwise.
Doing the hike this way took us through the old-growth forest first and let us end with the section of the hike with the most waterfalls. If you’re not planning to do the entire loop I would recommend doing the hike clock-wise so you see the best waterfalls.
After hiking through mossy woods with towering Douglas-firs, western hemlocks, and western red-cedar we got our first peek at one of the waterfalls. Hiking around the rim of the canyon to the North Falls.
One of the best parts of this trail is the chance to walk behind three of the waterfalls on the trail. Three of the waterfalls And yes, you do have to duck to walk under those rocks!
The waterfalls aren’t the only place to see flowing water along the trail either. I love these weeping walls, where water seeps down moss-covered rocks and cliffs. As well as these smaller streams filled with moss covered rocks.
Most of the trail is not strenuous, with some easy rolling elevation. But there are a few areas with steeper increases, including a couple areas with stairs. And another beautiful moss covered wall.
While the trail is full of stunning scenery, my personal favorite was the majestic Middle North Falls (the photo below).
Funnily enough, as this hike wasn’t as strenuous as the previous hikes, I was the most cold! I was happy to have brought an extra layer that I could add on as well as a thermos filled with hot chocolate.
Trail of Ten Falls: This 8.7 mile hike can be done my most visitors in about 4 hours. For a novice hiker this felt like a easy/moderate hike. The trail is heavily trafficked throughout and was filled with people and families of all ages. Many of those with smaller children were only visiting the South Falls area, where our hike ended. No permit needed, but parking was $5, and dogs are only allowed on certain parts of the trail. Start early in the day to avoid crowds.
Forest Park Hike
You don’t even need to leave Portland to go hiking! The cities Forest Park is one of the larges urban forests in the United States.
Stretching over seven miles, Portland’s Forest Park is 5,200 acres, and has more than 80 miles of trails and forest roads. I can tell you from personal experience it’s easy to walk a lot longer than you planned with wandering through this urban park! (For example, on this day I accidentally walked more than 7 miles.)
While there are many spots to see within Forest Park on this day I wanted to visited this ruined stone house, often referred to as the Witch’s Castle. This stone building was constructed as a public restroom for hikers along the trial in the 1930s, but it was badly damaged by a storm in the 1960s. Over time the house caved in and moss and grafitti took over. While I have seen photos of the Witch’s Castle without graffiti, this is how it looked on the day we visited.
Theoretically the stone house is either a 1/2 mile hike from the Upper Macleay Parking Lot of 3/4 mile from the Lower Macleay Parking Lot. These trails are both very easy to walk.
It was after my visit to the Witch’s Castle that my wandering got away from me. With the park so close to downtown I was able to walk from my vacation rental to the park, wander through the park, and then head back. And I got almost 8 miles done at an easy pace between breakfast and lunch!
Olympic Peninsula Loop
Tried of hiking? Do some sight-seeing by driving the Olympic Peninsula Loop!
After several days of hiking you might be ready for some sight-seeing in the car. Head north from Portland to the state of Washington. We drove from Portland through Olympia, and then over towards Tacoma. From there we drove north and west until we met up with the 101 to drive a significant portion of the Olympic Peninsula Loop. The loop took us through Port Angeles and Forks (recognizable cities to Twilight fans). Want more Nirvana and less Twilight? The Olympic Peninsula Loop also takes you through Aberdeen the birthplace of Kurt Cobain where you can visit the Kurt Cobain Under the Bridge Memorial.
However, the best part of the drive was when it took us past the most beautiful lake I have ever seen. Lake Crescent is located at the top northwest edge of Olympic National Park (and somewhere I will be coming to again! There are cabins you can see on the other side of this lake.) The water was so blue and completely still. The reflection of the sky, clouds, and mountains in the water make it look like glass.
If you’re looking for a vacation filled with outdoor adventure and breath-taking views, head to Portland for these three best hikes.
Need a little lest adventure? See my tips for visiting Downtown Portland