Balch Creek

Easy (Balch Creek)

3-mile loop

400 feet elevation gain

Open all year

Moderate (to Nature Trail)

8.8-mile loop

700 feet elevation gain

Use: hikers, bicycles

This convenient portion of Portland’s 5000-acre wilderness park is just a few minutes from skyscrapers, but a world apart. The hiking loops suggested here visit the park’s two year-round creeks. The first hike is a short circuit of Balch Creek’s beautiful canyon. The second, longer trek follows the Wildwood Trail to Rockingchair Creek. If you’re bicycling, you’ll have to stick to Leif Erikson Drive and Firelane 1, the only routes open to bikes in this area.

Forest Park was originally proposed by the Olmsteads, a visionary New York landscape architect team hired to help Portland prepare for the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905. But most Portlanders of that day had seen more than their fill of forests. The city opened a woodcutting camp in the area to help the unemployed, and developers built the 11-mile Leif Erikson Drive in 1915 as part of a plan to subdivide and conquer the wilds. Fires, landslides, and the Depression finally defeated the developers’ schemes. In 1946 the Mazamas outdoor club began planting trees and building trails in a campaign to revive the Olmsteads’ plan. Forest Park was dedicated in 1948—not merely as another manicured garden, but as a refreshing swath of wilderness in the city.

To find the Balch Creek trailhead …

For the other hike it’s better to park at a different trailhead. To find it …