|Wildwood Trail in Forest Park|
Visitors to Portland often ask us where in the city to go if they have one chance to run during their stay. With all due respect to Tryon Creek, the Willamette waterfront, and other scenic spots in town, my answer is always the same: Forest Park. Visionary civic leaders, generous landowners, and happy accidents of history have bequeathed Portland residents the single largest forested natural area in any U.S. city. Covering more than 5,100 wooded acres in the hills northwest of downtown, Forest Park is the “go-to” for trail running in Portland all year round. The park is easily accessed at multiple points and crisscrossed by more than 60 miles of trails, best-known among runners being the Wildwood Trail and Leif Erikson Drive. The single-track Wildwood Trail winds and rolls along the hillside for 30 miles from Washington Park in the south to Newberry Road in the north. Just down the hill from Wildwood, the broader and less-serpentine (though rockier) Leif Erikson Drive stretches 11 miles from NW Thurman Street (where a PRC group run meets on Sundays) to NW Germantown Road. Quarter miles are marked on both of these popular paths, making it easy to track your progress: Look for white bollards alongside Leif and blue diamonds painted on trees beside Wildwood.
It’s a simple matter to construct loop runs in Forest Park using the numerous side trails and fire lanes that connect Leif and Wildwood to the surrounding neighborhoods and points of interest (Pittock Mansion, Audubon, the Zoo, etc.). An absolute must for all runners wanting to explore Forest Park to the fullest is a 10-map set from the Forest Park Conservancy available for purchase for $22.50 at Portland Running Company. This small, portable set is printed on durable, water-repellant paper, and features an index map to the entire park plus individual maps focusing on specific treks.
A couple of quick notes for the uninitiated. Leashed dogs are allowed in the park. You’ll encounter lots of bicyclists on Leif Erikson Drive and some intersecting roads and fire lanes; they are forbidden from using Wildwood Trail, for now.
(First published in Footnotes, April 2012.)