Hiking in Portland: Forest spirits


If you asked me to pick one beautiful thing that sets Portland apart, my answer would be immediate: the forest. No other city has such a large forested park within the city limits, and very few other cities have such magnificent old-growth trees within walking distance of the breweries and coffee shops of the center city.

Being in Forest Park is to be immersed in a sense of both vitality and stasis, this fluid place that exists both in and out of time. In the forest — within a minute or two of leaving a city street — you can forget, or ignore, or wonder at the fact that you are still in a city. Signs of civilization drop away, only occasionally encountered (on cloudy days) by runners and dog walkers and the few times the pathways cross busy city streets.


At times you can stay utterly immersed, walking past stands of western redcedars, immense fallen Douglas-firs, or an impressive array of Deodar cedars. Watch how the hemlock and red huckleberry “nurse” comfortably on snags and downed trees; pick oxalis and licorice fern for intense bursts of forest flavor; push your fingers into the grooved bark of Oregon’s state tree.

Any number of spiritual traditions, and plenty of scientific ones, revere the restorative power of the forest. From the Vedic image of the tree of the world with the roots in heaven and the branches on earth, to the Juedeo-Christian tree of life, to the Druidic-Pagan ideals of beeches, oaks, ash and yew as having special spiritual resonance, to Thoreau and his transcendentalism.

This One Day in Portland is best on the weekday, and best outside of the summer. We know you like balmy weather for outdoor activities; but the spring and fall hold the real forest magic. (And we won’t say “no” to the forest in winter either; the hag is associated with the forest, after all. Think Baba Yaga; don’t worry, we’ll tell you the story in time.)

Bring a small backpack, appropriate layers, good hiking shoes (remember the forest gets wet in wet weather!), a water bottle if you get thirsty easy.

The day begins with its own transcendentalism: coffee or tea at Courier Coffee on SW 9th and Oak. Order two hard-boiled eggs and a chocolate chip cookie. Eat it all.

Walk across the street to Powell’s and pick out a book to bring with you. A few suggestions: A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit; Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest by Ella C. Clark; or Open Secret by Rumi. You may want to walk over to Whole Foods for some portable snacks. Dried figs and bananas are great in the forest.

Take the bus (or ride your bike) up to Macleay Park. Follow the trail there up through the forest all the way to Pittock Mansion. Stop a lot. Learn about the trees.


Keep walking. At the back of the parking lot, you’ll see where the trail goes the other way. Follow it down down down until you reach the neighborhood in Washington Park where the Japanese gardens and International Rose Test Garden are. From here, a bus or an Uber or another long walk will take you back down into the city.

You’ll want to eat somewhere cozy. After a day like today, how about Al’s Den at the Crystal Hotel? You’ll look up at the sidewalk above you; you’ll eat kimchi poutine. If you fall asleep a little in one of the cozy chairs, we’re sure no one will notice.

(Don’t want to do it yourself? We’ll take you on this tour. Book here.)

Written by Sarah Gilbert

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