Hikes for Kids: Covel Creek River Trail (Cispus Environment Learning Center)

During our annual camp out with our teardrop group at Mossyrock, 6 of us decided to head out on a hike. Our summer was particularly dry this year and fires pretty much had us surrounded, which made finding open wild space to walk a bit tricky.

Hiking during forest fires (they were roughly 50 miles from us in Issaqua) is something I haven’t spent much time doing and there were a few things that I found quite interesting. The light is so different than what we are used to seeing. The sun was so red, making the forest have this orange tinge to it. You felt like you were walking at sunset for hours. Air quality is poor and I found my lungs to be heavy for a couple of days following. The risk might have been a little greater than first realized as during our walk the winds switched a little and started moving toward us. Luckily we were able to make it out with no problem, but it really could have been. Mother Nature will do as she wishes and it is all about calculated risk. We calculated well that day, but felt the effects of our decisions for a few days.

We popped into the local Forest Ranger Station after 2 failed attempts at getting to trail heads that were closed, and learned of some areas that were open for hikers. They gave us several suggestions and we chose to do the Covel Creek River Trail at the Cispus Environment Learning Center.

That isn't fog, it is smoke from a fire burning about 50 miles away.

That isn’t fog, it is smoke from a fire burning 50 miles away.

The website above says the hike is easy, but I would probably say it is a little bit harder than that. Make sure to pick up a trail map at the office of the Learning Center so you can get your bearings.

The hike starts off with a relatively small incline (this part is easy!) walking along the creek through a lush forest. Following the creek, you have a choice of which trail you want to take – there is one that goes up either side of the creek. Due to low water we were able to cross the creek with a small jump as we went up the trail on the left side. This could have been an issue if there had been a good amount of rain. We missed the cut off for the brand new, beautiful bridge, that would have been a nicer path, although it also involved crossing some large felled trees that can be slick, so watch your footing. You really get to chose your own adventure! There are also some other fun bridge crossings which our son found to be exciting.

Either way will take you to the first water fall, which is Covel Creek Falls. This is reminiscent of our walks at Silver Creek Falls because you get to walk behind the water fall! On a hot day, this can be quite refreshing! It doesn’t look very impressive in my picture, but this was taken in our drought year, in August, and we were just happy to see some water coming over the top! We weren’t sure if the waterfalls would be running at this point in the year. After you come through the waterfall is where the big incline starts, and continues for nearly a mile, switch-backing up the hill. This is the point I would say wasn’t “easy”. The trail is also quite narrow and it is a long drop if your footing isn’t secure, so our son was a little nervous but did fine. After you climb the big hill and descend a bit on the other side, you will have a choice of going left or right. We were a bit confused, but chose left, which kept us on our path. This will take you to your next reward, Angel Falls! Again, this water fall was running, but not as well as usual, but it was still beautiful.

It was in this area we saw a bit of wildlife, but you have to look closely. We came across one of our frogs! I am not an expert, but based on the research I did, I believe it to be one of our Cascade Frogs! Keep an eye out, because you might see one too! And also, you don’t want to step on our little forest friends who might just be hanging out! They blend in with the ground especially!

As we continued on, the smoke was getting thicker and we decided we needed to start hustling back to the car. The scenery along the way back didn’t disappoint. Around the rock faces, be careful of wasps nests. One of our friends was stung in that area.

IMG_7619The hike in all ended up being around 4.5 miles and took us about 1.5 hours or so. There are port-a-potties at the Learning Center and driving directions can be found here.

I would love to go back and explore more and see the falls with more volume. Plus that hill was tough on my fractured leg, so I would love to go an conquer it with confidence! This hike is one we recommend for sure!

Long Weekend: Joseph, Wallowa Lake State Park, Hells Canyon, and the Oregon Trail

I am trying to get back in the saddle. I needed to give myself a break over the summer as this summer has been a hard one for me. I have had loss, I have added a job working from home. I have had to deal with way more summer and heat than ever before (darn you climate change!!!). All of our water was low. And the fires. I had to make decisions about what I could handle this summer and what I wasn’t up for.

This summer I stayed closer to home. We camped less.

And while I love being out on the road, less was ok this year. It is what I needed. My heart needed it. My head needed it. We got out and I will be talking about a couple of amazing places we stayed and things we saw and places we hiked. For us, this year, it was wonderful and enough. Sometimes that is just what we need. Enough. Lesson learned universe!

IMG_7372IMG_7377One of our first trips this year was a long weekend in Joseph, Oregon. Joseph is an amazing little town in the very tip-top of the north-eastern part of our amazing state. It is about a 5.5 hour drive from Portland and it is a destination. It isn’t really on the way to anything, so going there is completely intentional and that is part of the charm. I love it here for so many reasons. The town itself is wonderful and welcoming and the people are salt of the earth and hard workers. They are friendly and make you feel like you belong. They have lovely little restaurants and shops owned by locals. There are art galleries with amazing work. There is no fast-food joints or mini-marts. They are surrounded by mountains and sit on the edge of a lake and it is just such an amazing place to kick back and enjoy the beauty. I did a trip over there years ago with my dad and fell hopelessly in love. I have been making plans to get back there since and this was the year!

IMG_7369Joseph is a historic town and you really feel that as you travel down their main street. Wonderful 2-story buildings from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s line the road, with a few newer buildings mixed in. Things are wide open. The town is named for the great Nez Perce Chief, Joseph. You can learn all about him and the Nez Perce people in several locations throughout Joseph, but the interpretative center is said to be amazing. We didn’t get a chance to check it out on this trip, but we did visit a photo exhibit set up in town that was incredible and gave us a glimpse at their daily lives and their hardships. Their native cemetery is on the out-skirts of town, next to Wallowa Lake, where people come from all over to pay respects to Chief Joseph at his grave site and his people.

IMG_7382While we were there, the town was hosting a celebration of their emergency services and we were invited on the street to come over, have breakfast and check out the ambulances, fire trucks, snow mobiles and the rest. It was awesome! We got to ask lots of questions, the lad got to push buttons and turn on lights and sirens and sit in the firefighters seats.  We had our blood pressure checked and they gave him a ride on the gurney, which involved a hydrolic lift to get him into the ambulance, which was pretty fun for him to experience. It was such a wonderful thing for the kids to be involved in and the adults enjoyed it too. We even saw a man come up to the paramedics and thank them for saving him a few weeks before. To be in such a close knit community and experience that shared web of life was really humbling.


This area is so much more than just the town (although the town is pretty great). There are amazing outdoor activities and adventures that are available for visitors. We were only here for a few days and spent much of our time at the campground and at the lake, but hiking, mountain climbing and biking are very popular.

IMG_7394I mentioned the campground and we stayed at Wallowa Lake State Park. It is one of our newest State Parks and is a lovely campground nestled at the base of two mountains (Mt. Howard and Mt. Joseph), in a little valley, with the sparking blue Wallowa Lake to the north. This very scenic
setting has amazing acoustics which can lead to a lot of noise during the busy
summer season. That said, I would not avoid camping here, but if you are sensitive to noise or prefer a quieter setting either bring ear plugs or camp during spring or fall when things are less busy. Spots in the D loop, where we landed were tighter than in other loops. This campground fills up early in the summer so make sure you get reservations. I was late, and I would have picked a different spot but I got the very last spot available for my dates (I will make sure to book early next time!). Our loop had nice restrooms, but the showers got very busy and we wIMG_7386aited in line for 45 minutes one night to get a shower. That was the first time we have experienced that in one of our state parks. There is a small marina for boaters and fisherman. There is a nice playground where the kids hung out and you are close to town (just about 2 miles away) so if you wanted to head in for dinner, it is super easy! Just outside of the State Park there are other campgrounds and businesses selling food and lots and lots of mini-golf. Wildlife is present at all hours, so make sure you are practicing “clean campsite” and following the rules. Some neighbors left all of their food and drinks out and the deer, birds and squirrels had quite a party. The people were not at all happy.

IMG_7387We brought out little kayak and the paddle-board and decided to head out to the water. We were told by locals the water was a little bit warmer on the north end of the lake (it is all snow melt), so we headed up there for some water fun. The pebble beach reminded us of beaches in the Mediterranean and there is a great roped off swimming area. There were lots of families enjoying themselves there. It was really lovely and the water is amazingly clear! You could see all the way to the bottom even as it got deeper and deeper. We saw fish swimming by and had a dip in the water. It was wonderful!

IMG_7396After our time in and around Joseph, we opted to head out towards Hells Canyon in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. I had never been there and have always wanted to see it. Hells Canyon runs along the borders of northeastern Oregon and western Idaho, and is the deepest river gorge in North America – it is even deeper than the Grand Canyon! The vastness and beauty of the area may or may not have stirred a little something in me, bringing a tear to my eye. It is a pretty special place and continues to show how very different the regions of my beloved state are. This is an area a lot of people come to for various outdoor activities, from hiking to white water rafting. There are various outfits that can help you plan that sort of trip. We chose the driving variety and as we were on our way home, trucked on down the road towards Baker City after taking in some amazing panoramas.


Baker City is home to the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. I come from a family of Pioneers who came across the Plains into Oregon between 1848 and 1853, and passed through this very area. This part of our family history is somethingIMG_7404 I wanted to share with the Lad, so he understands how our family got here. This is a great place to help teach that. He watched videos about having to leave family behind, usually never seeing them again, and how the decision was made. He learned how difficult it was to pack a covered wagon and what they needed. He also learned how homesteading happened and what kind of work in Pioneers could find. There is also an exhibit where he learned about Oregon’s first people and what the settlers diIMG_7405d to them. That is a hard, but important lesson and we are not hiding any of our history from him. I feel like the museum does a good job of showing how hard the life was as they walked for 4-6 months, across varying conditions with all of their worldly possessions, fighting for a better life. Temperatures were very hot then. The day we were there in July it was 105 degrees and we were there around the same time the families would be passing  through. We stayed in the center a bit longer, enjoying some A/C and working on the Junior Ranger program before venturing outside to have a look IMG_7407at the wagon ruts that are still visible. It is amazing to stand there, where my ancestors trekked, imagining what they must have gone through. That is impossible though. It was around this point that a decision would have to be made: to risk the mountain or the river. My family chose the mountain which lead them to the southern Willamette Valley where they home-steaded in Linn County. According to all accounts, people that came out on the trail were forever changed. People who were here and experienced the Pioneers coming in were forever changed too.

This was an amazing place to visit and will be great for anyone who is interested in Oregon history, like I am. We would recommend it. The heat started to get to us, so we loaded up the horses and hitched the wagon, and followed our own trail back to the Willamette Valley, thinking of those who came before us the whole way home.


A week later we set off for Southern Oregon and the Oregon Caves. Keep an eye open for that post soon!

Hikes for kids: Falls Creek Falls (Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Carson)

Nitty Gritty:

  • Trail to the falls view-point (up and back round trip) is about 3.4 miles with roughly 650 feet of elevation gain. There is a longer loop that goes up to the top of the falls and around the back side to the parking area. We did not do this one, but nets a 6.3 mile loop with 1150 feet of elevation gain.
  • Lots of families hiking and kids of all ages making the trek. Great family area!
  • Trail is closed December-April, but amazing the rest of the year. From what we understand, the waterfall flows year round.
  • Best driving instructions on how to get there can be found here
  • 45.90935 N   -121.9127 W


This week my sister came over for dinner. My husband was away on business and I needed an adult to talk to and I really like her – she is great company and tolerates being constantly interrupted by the Lad. As we were chatting we all decided we should do a hike together since my husband was going to be away for the weekend. We pulled out my trusty and well-loved hiking guide (which I should really buy an update to since it is from 2006) and discussed possible trails to hike. It was kind of a Goldilocks’ situation where some hikes were too long, and some hikes too hard, but my son decided we should hike Falls Creek Falls, which turned out to be just right!

Just outside of Carson, Washington in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest lies some pretty amazing and scenic places to hike. You are a stones throw from Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and the Columbia Gorge. It really is the perfect Northwest Trifecta, if you are like us and into that sort of thing. Driving from Portland, it will take just shy of 1.5 hours to get to the trail head, unless you are like me, happily chatting away, completely missing the Bridge of the Gods exit 44 and making your way to Hood River and having to back track on Hwy 14 (oops!). That will take 2.5 hours. It was a bad navigational day to be sure, but is making for a good story and that is all part of the adventure, right? Right! You will need to pay a $1.00 toll each way to cross the Bridge of the Gods.

Once you make your way through Carson, up Wind River Road (which is also known as Hwy 30), turning onto Wind River Road for .6 miles, then turning onto USFSR 3620 and then on to USFSR 57, you will drive to the end of the road, you will come to the trail head (see link for more detailed directions in the nitty gritty section above). Roads and the trail are well marked. One interesting thing we saw on our drive in (along the gravel road) was a sign where road 3620 splits to 57. It talked about the trees on our right (or behind us if we were standing in front of the sign) being our native Ponderosa Pines, and the trees in front of us being a collection of various pines that had been collected from other parts of the country. This was an experiment done by the National Forest Service to see which types of pine tree grows best in our environment. Based on what they saw, our native Ponderosa’s grew bigger faster than the other pines proving native plants were best in this area. It was quite interesting especially since the study was started in the first half of the 20th Century.

This trail head currently does not require the Northwest Wilderness Pass for parking. It is free to park here. Once you get to the trail head you will find a composting toilet if you need it and a handy info board letting you know of some of the things to be looking for (like Steelhead Salmon, Hermit Warblers and Western Tanagers). At the trail head there is a really nice picnic table in case you brought lunch or a snack with you and want to sit and enjoy it before or after your hike. It is a good spot to lace up your boots (we like to bring shoes to change into after hikes, just for comfort and if we happen to be tromping through mud, it contains the mess…a little).

I have not been able to find a proper trail map online for this hike. William Sullivan has a trail map he has drawn in his book (the one pictured above). To give you an idea of what it looks like, the map here is from my GPS from the trail head, up to the falls view-point and back to the trail head. When you are there, the path is very straight forward and you would have a hard time getting lost.

This hike was also considered “not crowded” according to online descriptions, but I think the secret got out. There were quite a few people there. The parking lot was full when we left and we passed quite a few people on the trail. Even with the various people, it was still really pleasant and there were some very peaceful places.

The hike starts off as a very flat walk that gradually works into a slight incline. You come to this wonderfully shaded wooded area, with dappled sunshine streaking through, where the creek turns to the left and ripples over the rocks. We heard the Tanagers calling in this area and were looking for their yellow/red heads. We didn’t see them. This would also be a great place to look for salmon swimming up-stream (sadly we didn’t get to see them either). It was in contrast to the area just up ahead where the creek flows through a small canyon and you have to cross a very sturdy suspension bridge to get across. To be honest this was one of the main draws for the Lad. I think suspension bridges must be a favorite thing for most kids! We had a quick look up and down the canyon before continuing on. From here the trail really starts to have more of an elevation gain. The trail is mostly level, however there are some places that have been worn away by our wet weather and a little extra dexterity is required to walk at a bit of a slant. Kids should do just fine here, but the really littles might need mom or dad to hold their hand and help them.

We found the trails to be very well maintained and easy to walk. There are a few roots sticking up and some rocks you need to cross over, but if you are watching your step it is a very easy trail. You get to walk through a forest with large pines, cedars and firs. You are surrounded by native plants like ferns, Oregon Grape, Vine Maples and lots of salal. The salal berries were not quite ripe as last weekend, but they are getting close as were the Oregon Grapes. Both are edible, but make sure you know your plants before foraging to stay safe. Not everything is edible for humans.

As the walk continues, you get to cross a second bridge, which was an added bonus for our guy. This one goes over what was a dry creek bed while we were there, but from what I saw, it looks to be where a  good amount of water during certain times of year flow. The mossy boulders all stacked on top of each other in this area look positively cuddly, and it was fun to see which shapes we could see as we looked at them (sort of like seeing pictures in clouds). The moss layers added to the fun.

After about a 1.25 miles you will come to a “Y” in the trail. There is a trail that goes off to the left and is marked as the Falls Creek Trail. This trail will take you to the top of the waterfall (go up the trail and turn right at the junction for the top of the falls, then back track but go straight and follow the trail back to the parking area). If you stay to the right, after about a quarter of a mile, this will take you past a beautiful mossy cliff area to the view-point of the falls.

At the view-point there is a nice flat area to sit and have a snack and watch the water flow over the tiered-falls. I know some will argue this with me, but I find this waterfall more beautiful than Multnomah Falls. While Multnomah Falls is beautiful, this one gives us such a different look that what we are used to, you get to be closer to the power, and there are far fewer people to deal with to get a good view. You feel nestled into a beautiful section of forest and can feel the light spray of the water on your face. We risked it and make our way up to the first tier of the waterfall.  There is a rough trail that has been etched into the hill by people trying to get up there after scrambling up the boulders, but it is risky and tough and I don’t recommend it.

On the hike back to the car we stopped at this little spot along the creek to enjoy the cool shade.  Plus, it is fun to race small sticks down the water.  My son enjoyed plopping a few small stones in the creek as well.  The water is particularly cold, so we stayed out of it, but it was a nice place to take a small rest and cool off as the temperatures were going up.

This hike was really great and a welcome change from our hike the previous weekend through a very urban environment (read about our 4T Trail hike here). We already have plans to get back sooner than later so we can take my husband along. We will probably make that left turn at the Y junction and go to the top of the falls the next time though. We highly recommend this hike!

Great Hikes for Kids: Mary S. Young State Recreation Area (West Linn)


  • A great state park in the suburbs of Portland along the Willamette River
  • Hiking trails, off-leash dog park, picnic areas, fields for play and river access
  • The best trail map comes from the City of West Linn
  • Heron Loop Trail is just over 3 miles with very little elevation gain, Riverside Trail .75 miles with elevation gain (from the parking lot near the off-leash dog park area), Turkey Creek Trail .17 miles with elevation gain
  • 45°22’55.4″N 122°38’15.5″W

Last weekend my sister invited me and our pup along on a hike. She suggested we head to Mary S. Young State Park because it is very close to Portland and as temperatures were going to be in the 90s, the river was going to be a special treat for the end of the hike for humans and pups alike! I had never heard of this park, but was so pleasantly surprise when we arrived. It is such a beautiful gem that is so close to home!

This park allows you to pick your own adventure. There are various bark trails available for walking throughout the park. We started in the first parking lot you come to when you turn into the park. We took the .1 mile Railroad Trail that connected the parking lot with the Heron Loop Trail. We took a left and followed the trail up and around, crossing over the road into the park, turning right again and looping and zigzagging down to the Trillium Trail. From there we continued to the Riverside loop Trail and followed that down to the river where there is an off-leash area for the dogs and humans to splash around in the Willamette River or lay/roll on the sandy beach. The route we took netted us around 2.5 miles total. Following just the Heron Loop Trail will get you more mileage, but the beauty of this place is that there are so many places you can explore. One of the best things about this trail system is how shady it is and on a hot morning was nice and cool for everyone.

With the very even trails, no drop offs, and only slight elevation gains (I am guessing the gain is around 100 or so feet going to and from the river), these paths are ideal for people of all ages to get out and see nature. There were lots of walkers and families with children of all ages. The kids were enjoying the sandy/pebbly beaches of the river and splashing in the water.

The park is full of native plants and I saw butterflies sunning themselves on one of the beaches. There are lovely gullies where Turkey Creek and Mary S. Young Creek have cut away the hill-side to feed into the Willamette River. It is a beautiful and quiet place to walk. There are great places for kids to kick the ball around or throw frisbees very near the picnic shelters. Dogs have their own off-leash area to run and play in their own field . They even had kiddy pools for them to play in and water to refresh their bowls.

The river does have motor boats going past and we saw paddlers of all types in this area. The water is very calm here and is a great place for wading. A word of caution: the water in the early summer is quite cold and can cause hypothermia and eventual drowning. Please make sure you are wearing life jackets. We have already had several drownings this summer and are one of the top states in the nation for drownings due to water temperatures. We have a suggestion for a great life jacket for kids here, but any will do. I have also just bought my own PFD for paddleboarding. I went to one of our local paddle shops and found a great Stohlquist life jacket made for women that is super comfortable and will be great for days on the rivers or oceans. It is a great example for my kiddo too that everyone is our family practices water safety, no matter how well we all swim.

We highly recommend this park for all folks. We think you will have a great time!

Where are your favorite places to hike when it is hot? Tell us in the comments do we can try it out!


Hikes for Kids: 4T Trail (Portland)

Nitty Gritty:

  • 4.2 miles if you take the Forest Route through the Marquam Nature Park or 3.5 miles if you chose the Urban Route
  • 810ft taking the forest Route, 600ft of elevation gain on the Urban Route
  • The trail connects with 3 modes of transit to complete a loop
  • Trail signs in the city are brown with white type, signs along the trails are green with white types, and there are interpretive signs. All will have the round 4T logo which will help guide you.
  • Trail is well marked with signage so you know where to go (see picture below), but it is always good to take a trail map. The 4T Trail map can be found here.
  • This is a longer hike with elevation gain, but is good for kids. They might need rests, will need snacks, and plenty of water. Leaving the fun trains and trams to the end makes for a good goal to work towards!

Portland has been classified as one of the most walkable cities in the U.S. We have trails all over the place. Some are beautiful nature walks, others are gritty urban walks, some take you through gorgeous neighborhoods, and trails like the 4T Trail give you a little of everything!

Last night we were trying to figure out where we were wanting to go for our walk this weekend. My husband wanted to stay as close in as possible because school has just gotten out and our traffic patterns are showing it. When I suggested the 4.2 mile 4T Trail, I was met with some resistance until I explained the way the loop works.

This is a complete loop, and you can choose to park anywhere on the loop (click here for the best trailheads), but most people start at the Oregon Zoo. Parking for the day will cost you around $6.25 (they love to write tickets up there, so make sure you pay!). You then walk 4.2 miles to OHSU where you catch the Tram. At the base of the Tram you catch the Streetcar, and you ride that to catch MAX which returns you to the zoo parking lot. The 4 T’s are Trail, Tram, Trolley, and Train! Both boys were “in” at the mention of trains and trams, so we got up early to start our trek. Getting there before the zoo opens (at 9:00a) is a good idea since the lots will fill up, especially on weekends. Plus, going early means cooler temps on warm summer days!

Here are the details by section! This is a longer post, so bear with us!

The Trail

If you are like us, you will start your walk at the Zoo parking lot. Tip: This is the last bathroom access you will have for a while. If you need to use one, head over to the Zoo. Just inside the ticket booths are restrooms off to your right. This part of the zoo does not require the entrance fee.

From here there are two ways to get to the main trailhead. We chose to follow the main road that takes you into the Oregon Zoo from Hwy 26 as there is a nice sidewalk and there are easy to find trail markers. There is also a path behind the Portland Children’s Museum you can take (have a look at the trailmap). Both will meet up near the Hwy 26 on/off ramps, where we crossed over the highway overpass. As you are crossing these roads use caution and make sure drivers see you (they might be very excited about their zoo visit and may not be watching for you). Once we crossed over the overpass, we turned left and walk on the shoulder of the east-bound on-ramp. About 200 feet down we found the trail marker on our right which lead us up the hill (as you can see in the picture above).

This trail is a very well maintained trail with a series of stairs, boardwalks and zigzags that will lead to the Portland Heights Neighborhood. This section of trail is around a half mile and will let out on SW Patton Road. Take a right and follow the road up to the Shell gas station on the corner. At that gas station we turned left, up the hill onto SW Talbot (like my boys are doing in the picture on the left). Follow SW Talbot up and around a few corners until you come to an intersection (about 2 blocks), where you will see a paved walk way going into the woods. That is the way up to Council Crest, one of the most scenic and wonderfully historic parts of Portland. Currently it is one of the hills that is home to our radio and tv towers, as well as a watertower and is a lovely park that many people walk/hike or bike to. It affords one a view of our grand “Rose City” as well as giving folks views of 5 of our nearby volcanic mountains on clear days. There is no trace of the amusement park (from 1907-1929) that was once perched atop this hill. Portlanders could ride a trolley up the hill to enjoy a nice day out. It was considered “The Dreamland of the Northwest” in those days. These days it is a lovely place to enjoy a beautiful day, perhaps a picnic and has become a different kind of dream land for current residents.

As we worked our way around the watertower (following the trail signs), we came to one of the 4T Interpretive signs (they look like the signs at the start of each of my sections). This gives you all sorts of information about the various legs of the 4T Trail. From here we turned left and followed the trail down the hill and into the Marquam Nature Park. This is the point where you will decide if you want to take the slightly shorter Urban Route which will require you follow various streets through neighborhoods, or the Forest Route which keeps you within the Nature Park, but requires you cross three roads in a one mile section. I suggest the Forest Route if you are doing the hike with kids as the streets have no sidewalks, there are very narrow shoulders and quick drivers.

For these reasons we chose the Forest Route and followed the path through the Marquam Nature Park to the Marquam Nature Shelter. The Nature Shelter gives you history about the area and acts as an amphitheater coated in beautiful tile and ceramic creatures representing our native wildlife. If you check the pamphlet holders on the signage you will see a fold out with lots of pictures and descriptions. We spent a few minutes playing, “Can you spot?” where we looked at one of the pictures on the pamphlet and tried to find the animal or plants in the mural. Our son really enjoyed that while running from level to level pointing out the Pacific Wren or the False Solomonseal and so on.

When we finished that, we continuted on the 4T Trail which took us up another hill for roughly .7 miles. While walking along this section we were in a beautiful gully which opened up a bit at the top to reveal the backside of some of the massive OHSU buildings to our left and some precariously perched aparments on our right. As we marveled at the support structure of the apartments we noticed 2 young deer grazing to our right. You just never know what you are going to see, so keep your eyes open! As we got to the top of the hill, the trail opened up to SW 9th and we continued straight ahead to the corner (SW Gibbs). There we turned left and went down the hill towards the main hospital. There are 4T signs, but from here you can also just follow the signs directing you towards the Tram. Once you reach the Tram, the walking portion of this trek is complete! Now you and/or the kiddos get to sit back and enjoy the ride and more adventure!

The Tram

The Portland Aerial Tram is an engineering marvel that takes folks from the top of OHSU down to the SW Waterfront area (and vice versa). It connects the two campuses of OHSU. When we have visitors come to stay with us, the Lad always suggests that we take them on a Tram ride. This has been a favorite of his! The views from the top are stunning on clear days – you can see the Willamette River snake its way north giving folks a sense of Portland and it’s layout as well as the natural environment that surrounds it. The ride on the way down is free, so if you start at the top, going through the loop in a counter clockwise motion (like we did), you will not have to pay. If you ride up the tram, there is a fee of $4.35 per person (kids under 6 are free). The pay box is at the bottom Terminal and accepts cards (debit/credit) only.

The Tram runs daily (M-F 5:30a-9:30p, Sa 9:00a-5:00p, Su 1:00p-5:00p however the sunday service doesn’t run during the winter between Labor Day and 18 May, so check their website in the link above for more details). If you arrive here during the times it is not running, there really isn’t a direct alternate route for your to take. You will have to catch one of the busses that will take you directly downtown. On the Tram, you will fly 3,300 feet (with a 500 foot elevation loss) passing over the Lair Hill neighborhood at 22mph. We watched hawks and crows playing in the wind as we rode and you can also spot other wildlife living in the area. The big bump at the end, where you go over the riblets at the tower, is always fun as your tummy sinks a little bit. The entire ride takes about 3-minutes total.

Once the doors open at the bottom, exit and walk out and to your right. You will see a streetcar shelter directly in front of you on the corner and this is where you start the next leg of your adventure!

If you are hungry wait to buy your ticket for the Streetcar, and check out a restaurant in the area. There are several cafes to grab a bite to eat. One of our favorite places to grab beautiful sandwiches and massive salads is Lovejoy Bakers, which is just across the stree and down one block from the Tram Terminal (3159 SW Moody Ave). Check it out! We, and our guests, have never been disappointed!

The Trolley (aka the Streetcar)


The Portland Streetcar is the next leg that took us from the SW Waterfront to central Downtown.

Trolleys were a big part of Portland history. In the early 1900’s they were the only form of public transport that shuttled Portlanders around the city. Our modern Streetcars are very remniscent of those early trolleys and have found their way back into the heart of the city’s residents. This is part of the Tri-Met system, so when you buy your ticket it will be good for both the Streetcar and MAX as long as you use it within the 2-hour window (if you buy the Tri-Met Adult/Youth tickets). The tickets are $2.50 for adults and $1.25 for kids. The Streetcar runs continuously around an 8-mile loop so wait times are minimal. The Streetcar Shelter has a readerboard letting you know when the next trolley will be coming to help answer all of the kids questions, which are all usually about when it will be there. I had no idea how many ways that same question could be asked.

Once we boarded, we rode the Streetcar and exited at the Central Library stop after weaving through the Waterfront, University area, and the SW Park Blocks. The beauty of the tickets you buy, you can get on and off as much as you want. You just need to be mindful of the time as you have 2-hours to get back to Washington Park, unless you don’t mind buying extra tickets. The ride was around 15 Minutes to the Central Library. We decided to take a quick detour into the Library before boarding MAX. This part of town is also very near Pioneer Square, many of the food carts and several restaurants as well as shops, in case you were hungry or needed some things!

The Max stop is just a block down SW 10th on Morrison, which brings us to the final leg of the loop!

The Train (aka MAX)


The final leg of the journey starts at the corner of SW 10th & SW Morrison at the MAX “Galleria” stop. Trains come every 5-15 minutes depending on time of day. The ticket you bought for the Streetcar is also good on the MAX as long as you are in your 2-hour window, so just step aboard your west-bound train. The MAX will head up the road and wind it’s way through Goose Hollow, passing Providence Park (our MLS Portland Timber’s/Thorn’s Stadium) and into the tunnel that takes you directly to Washington Park. The ride is quite short at around 15 minutes, but is the perfect end to this big adventure. When you get out of the train, take a look at the amazing Core Sample and geologic display that lines the platform. Also, you will know which platform you got off on as the East Bound platform has yellow roof girders representing the sunrise and the West Bound platform has orange girders representing the sun set.

Head over to the elevators and travel up 26 floors to the parking lot and find your car again. Congrats! You have finished the famous 4T Trail! This is one we all really enjoyed and will definitely do again. We will park in a different area next time, just to change things up!

Tip: We hiked this in a very dry time, but looking at the trail when the rains are here it will get very muddy and slick. Boots with good traction are going to be your best choice for your walk.

Have you done the 4T Trail? What did you think? What were your favorite parts and did you do the Urban or Forest Route? Tell us in the comments below!


Hikes for kids: Champoeg State Park (Donald)


  • The hike we did was 4.85 miles long, and had no elevation gain. Trail length can vary depending on what you are up for, from a short hike around the Townsite Day Use area or walking to Historic Butteville (from the Townsite Day Use Area is it about 8.4 miles round trip and flat along a mix of mowed and paved trails).
  • Very historic and rich in culture!
  • Great Visitor’s center, museums, boat dock, bike trails, disc golf, and more!
  • Campground with 67 electric sites with water, and 8 full hook up sites (sewer, electric and water)
  • Wildlife is all everywhere, from native plants to various bird varieties and bats. Keep an eye out!
  • 45°14’53.4″N 122°53’39.4″W

Having grown up in Oregon, I though I knew a good deal about our state history. I recently found out there was a whole time period I knew very little about when we went down to hike at Champoeg State Park. Fur Trappers and Native Tribes were here long before the Oregon Trail pioneers started making their way west. This area was originally called Champooick by the Kalapuya people. Fur trappers started arriving in the area around 1811 and the Willamette Post was set up in 1813 and served as an important trading post and ferry crossing the river. As men started leaving the Hudson Bay Company and taking up land to farm, fears started to arise about more settlers coming west, which eventually lead to the discussion of which country these lands should belong to. On 2 May 1843, in a 52 to 50 vote, it was decided they would be the most western provisional government in the US (at that time) and denying Canada claim.
From Portland, we drove south on I-5 for about 20 minutes to exit 278. The way to the park is well-marked and easy to find. Upon entering the park a day use fee of $5.00 is charged at a toll booth just past the visitor’s center. You might stop in quickly at the Visitor’s center to pick up a trail map and a park newspaper though. From the pay booth, turn left and make your way down to the Townsite/Riverside Day Use Area. We started our hike there. We went first to the Pioneer Memorial Building, Pavillion, and Monument Plaza to have a look. This is where the famous vote took place, but it is also a nice place to sit and enjoy river views. From here we walked down a set up stairs and turned left following the river around a short loop on the Pavillion Trail before joining the Townsite Trail.

The Townsite Trail is quite interesting. It flanks  the river on one side and a gorgeous meadow on the other. You will notice posts in a marked grid, representing where the streets were in the town of Champoeg before it was washed away during a massive flood in 1861. To be honest, I noticed this only on our way back, and not at the start of our walk. We decided to have a walk along De Grasse Street, which took us back to the parking area upon our return. The streets are mowed into the meadow, giving you a sense of the size of the town and where buildings would have stood. It was quite amazing to think an entire town was wiped out by one of our best known rivers, and it wasn’t the only time. This area flooded again in 1890, taking all remaining structures. We had another big flood in 1996, but the waters didn’t rise as high as they had previously. If you head down to the dock (which is located along the Townsite Trail after the Group Tent Area), you will see a sign on one pylon, way up high, showing the highest point the water level reached in 1996, and imagining the 1861 flood with even higher waters was incredible.

As you continue along the Townsite trail for 1.3 miles, you will pass the group tent sites (as mentioned), the dock area, and come to the Oak Grove Day Use Area. Here you will find picnic spots and a disc golf course. In the meadow areas you will see boxes up on posts which are housing for birds and bats. We saw various types of birds, and I bet the bats are amazing around dusk! Heading back from here, along with the first loop will net you a 3.4 round trip hike. We decided to carry on for a little longer to check out a couple of other things, including the campground and Kitty M. Newell’s grave.

 Kitty M Newell was the wife of Robert Newell, one of the early fur trappers. Kitty was a member of the Nez Perce (Nimi’ipuu) tribe, and fur trappers often married Native women to build strong bonds with the tribes, which was beneficial because the tribes often bought fur from the trappers. There was also a severe shortage of “white women” for the men to marry in those early days. Many families in the Northwest were mixed white/Native American before the Oregon Trail and pioneers started making their way west. Kitty died of illness while she was relatively young (something that was a real problem in Oregon during the time). She left behind her husband and 5 sons. Her husband buried her on the banks overlooking Champoeg Creek, a part of the property he settled and farmed. Nobody knows why she was buried alone or in this location, but the Daughters of the American Revolution recognized her and put in this headstone. The trails in this area are beautiful. After you cross the bridge over Champoeg Creek, which will take you to the campground, continue left and you will see a cut out on your left (off the paved trail). Follow that to the fork where you have 2 choices: 1) go left, which goes along the creek and past Kitty’s grave to a dead-end, or 2) go right and check out the Kitty Newell Nature Trail Loop. We had walked our leg off (at least half way) and decided to save the nature trail for when we camp here (which will hopefully be soon as the campground appeared to be nice).

From here we back-tracked pretty much the same way we came. When all was said and done, we had logged 4.85 miles, which we really enjoyed. There were great river and meadow views!

After our hike we got back in the car and headed towards the road. We made a quick stop at the visitor’s center where people were dressed in period clothing and you can learn all about the early days of the area and the history that shaped our state.

 An Aside: After we were finished at Champoeg we were starving and we did a quick Google search for places to eat in the area. White Rabbit Bakery in Aurora, OR made the most beautiful and delicious sandwiches. And cinnamon rolls. And puff pastries. If you are hungry, check them out. They are about 15 minutes from the state park and if you are gluten-free, you will be in heaven! We are not gluten-free, and decided it everything tasted this good we could be gluten-free and not miss a thing! We will go back again. Especially for those cinnamon rolls!


Hikes with kids: Mt Pisgah (Springfield)


  • The trail to the summit is 3 miles and around 1000 feet of elevation gain. Great views of the southern valley and part of the Cascades.
  • Great trails for families and kids of all ages. While there is an incline, it is gradual and there are benches to rest.
  • Watch for poison oak as it can grow like crazy up there
  • Click here for the various trail maps they have available online

I grew up hiking the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, in the Willamette Valley, right where it narrows. Eugene and Springfield were my playgrounds and there is so much fun to be had there. There are 2 very popular hikes for families just outside of the city limits (sort of) – Mt. Pisgah Arboretum and Spencer’s Butte. Both are fantastic for different reasons. This post we are going to tell you about Mt. Pisgah because it really is one of our favorites and, in all honesty, we haven’t gotten around to taking the lad up Spencer’s Butte yet. That is on the plan for our next trip down!

Mt. Pisgah is an Arboretum to the south-east of Eugene, that overlooks the Middle and Coastal Forks of the Willamette River as well as the mountains to our east. To get to Mt. Pisgah Arboretum follow any of these directions from their website (I really can’t improve on them). There is a nice big parking lot, with a pay station. The entry fee is $4/car and this helps maintain the Arboretum for all to enjoy. You will see the pay box in the  main lot nearest the entrance to the Arboretum, but all cars require them if you are on the property.

There are several trails in this 209-acre living tree museum. Some of the most amazing and rewarding trails are the ones that take you to the summit (plus kids love to tell other kids they climbed a mountain…heck, adults love to tell other adults they climbed a mountain too!). There is a river walk trail as well as the trails through the Arboretum itself. These are great walks for the littlest kids.

We usually follow the Summit Trail. This trail starts right at the gate next to the pay box at the main parking lot and will lead you all the way to the summit.  There is a pretty good incline but it eases up as you make your way up the hill. The trails are wide and level gravel paths and I have seen kids 3 and up walking on their own. You will see lots of families on weekends for sure, especially if the weather is nice.

The trail will continue up the 1000 feet of incline for about 1.5 miles to the summit which gives people sweeping views of the valley, mountains and what our pioneers called the “Promise Land”. The summit is a nice wide open grassy area with benches to sit and watch nature or enjoy the view. They are also nice spots for quick picnics if you pack one along! There is a bronze sculpture (sighting pedestal) that shows the topography of the area so you can get a sense of what you are looking at. This pedestal is a memorial to Ken Kesey’s son Jed, who died in 1984 in a tragic accident while traveling with the U of O Wrestling Team to Eastern Washington.

On the trail back down the hill, we usually back track the way we came up, but break off the Summit Trail and take Trail #3. It is a trail you will see at one of the scenic benches about .8 miles down and it will be on the right. This will take you through grassy fields dotted with smaller trees. This area can be muddy with rains, but was  being maintained and improved when we were there in February. Wildflowers grow in these areas and you will see various species of wildlife as well.

A word of caution: make sure to stay on trails and keep dogs on tight leads. There is a lot of poison oak in this area (all over Pisgah) and I know way too many people who brought a terrible rash home as a souvenir. Dogs can also transfer the oil from the leaf onto humans, so keep a close eye on what they brush up against. If you do that, you should make it out just fine and itchy-free!

In the future we will try starting at different trailheads and try out some of the other trails that will take us up to the summit. This is such a great place to explore for families and we highly recommend it!

Have you hiked Mt. Pisgah before? Which trails are your favorite? Let us know so we can check them out!



Hikes with Kids: Balch Creek (Forest Park, Portland)


  • 3-mile loop with about 400 feet of elevation gain along Balch Creek. There is a nice little waterfall for kids to enjoy (Macleay Falls).
  • Great for littles and their folks. Kids 4 and up will have no trouble (depending on endurance)
  • Very popular with the locals, so expect company, and on nice day, lots of it!
  • Trails can connect to the Portland Audubon Society or other trails in Forest Park, in case you want to extend your hike.

You feel like you are a world away here. The Balch Creek Trail is part of the Forest Park trail system through Macleay Park and it is really lovely and lush. This trail is great for kids 4 and up to do on their own 2-legs with nice wide and level trails. Littler kids might need a little help but can “section hike” for sure!

The trail follows Balch Creek, which starts in the Portland’s West Hills (“Tualatin Mountains”) and flows along Cornell Road, and eventually into the Willamette River (which we can’t see because towards the end of the trail it goes into a culvert which delivers it to the river under the city through sewer lines).

From the parking lot, there is a short, but reasonably steep hill to walk down (and you will have to walk back up at the end).  After that, the hills don’t seem that bad and you can choose how long you want to walk. I have enjoyed a 3+ mile round trip that takes you through the ‘park’, then through a beautiful NW Portland neighborhood, under one of our many bridges, and then back up along Balch Creek (the route can be found in William Sullivan’s ‘100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southern Washington’…hands down, these are the best hiking guides for Oregon!).  

Balch Creek is home to a small population of cutt-throat trout and a huge variety of birds and other creatures, not to mention some beautiful stretches of forest and native flora like my favorite, the Oregon Iris! There is also ruins of an old stone building to check out (although I hear it has been vandalized quite a bit since we hiked there last). It was originally built by the Federal Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, was later maintained by the city as a bathroom in the park, and was later abandoned in the 1960s.

The parking lot at the trailhead  is unmarked and can be a little hard to find. If you get to the Audubon Society of Portland, turn around and turn into the very next driveway on your way back into Portland. To find the trail head, click here for directions. The Parking lot is a little small, and this has become a very popular hike, so get there early in the morning for a spot.

This is a great hike for kids, but it has become very busy with our growing population. If being around a lot of other people in nature is ok for you, this will be a great hike and you can’t beat the travel time to get there. If you prefer something a little quieter, make sure you give this one a miss or get there early in the morning before most families are out.

Hikes with Kids: Audubon Society of Portland (Portland)


  • 3 different sanctuaries are host to various trails of different abilities and lengths.
  • You can connect the Audubon trails with the Forest Park Trails for even more adventure, including the Balch Creek Trail.
  • Wildlife Care Center gives families an up lose look at some of our native birds including a great horned owl, turkey vulture, raven and more.
  • Questions answered about all things natural (especially our native plants and birds).

The Audubon Society of Portland is one of our favorite places to take our visitors and to go when they are holding their native plant sales. Only recently have we started to venture out on their hikes. The land the Audubon society sits on is a lovely plot off Cornell Road in Portland and connects to Forest Park through various trails. There are a few trails on their property that are open to the public for hiking and exploring. What is very special about the area is, because the Audubon Society is devoted to conservation of the land, the trails are surrounded by all sorts of native plants and due to that, our native animals. Kids and parents alike can learn so much, and enjoy the bird song of the area.

On top of that, the Wildlife Care Center gives you an up close look at a few of our birds who are being cared for here. Many of them have been injured badly enough that they were rehabbed, but unable to be released back to the wild. They have outdoor pens where the various birds can spend a few hours a day enjoying some fresh air. There are signs telling visitors about the birds. They do talks about the birds and answer all of our questions. Special classes are offered through the Audubon Society covering a wide range of topics and summer camps in the summer are highly regarded. It is a great place to get more in touch with our nature without a long drive. 

We had never explored the Uhtoff/Collins areas before and decided to do the Founders Trail. Here is a link to their trail map so you can bring one along with you. The Founders Trail which takes you through a section of the Uhtoff Sactuary and is is about 0.8 miles and forms a complete loop from the Visitor’s Center. Just walk across the street from the visitors center and head to the left. You should see it easily. This sign is there too! Just a heads up, dogs are not allowed on the hiking trails here. If you were wanting to make this a longer hike you could connect to the Collins Trail making it a 1.3 mile loop.  We were coming off a hike at Hoyt Arboretum, and decided to just stick with the Founders Trail.

This hike is really one for older kids who have greater dexterity and coordination. I would recommend 7-years and up due to very uneven, sloped, narrow trails. You really have to watch your step, on occasion are having to jump over big mud pits and walk through some brush. Our nearly 8-year-old had a little bit of trouble in certain spots, but you know your child’s skills best and can decide if your younger kids will be able to manage. That said, it is an absolutely gorgeous area. 

They call this area “Pileated Woodpecker Alley” for all of the woodpeckers they see at the various snags in the area. We didn’t see any on our walk a few weeks ago, but the woods were teaming with life among all of the native plants.

When you return to the Visitors Center, there is another section for hiking in the Pittock Sactuary, which can be found heading down the trail between the visitors center and the Wildlife Care Center. These are excellent hikes for the younger kids to enjoy and many families can be found walking the trails named for our various native birds. The trails are a bit wider and much flatter. There is a lot of signage to tell you what you are looking at, or what to watch for. It is peaceful and really lovely. A walk along the creek on a hot day makes everything feel cooler.

Parking is limited in the area, so arriving early will assure you a spot for your short walks. The visitor’s center is great for learning a bit about the various animals and you can watch the Stellar’s Jays from the window. The store they have is great too: full of books, bird feeders, binoculars, gifts, and lots of things for kids. We highly recommend checking this out. If you are looking for directions on how to get here and the hours they are open, click here for advice from the Audubon Society.

We highly recommend spending some time here. Entry is free, but donations are welcome and help support all of their work, including caring for the rescued animals.

Hikes with kids: Hoyt Arboretum (Washington Park, Portland)

Washington Park is a famous landmark in Portland for lots of reasons. The Oregon Zoo is found here, as are the Children’s Museum and the World Forestry Center. There are lesser known attractions like the Vietnam Memorial as well. One thing a lot of families know: there are some great, easy hikes through Hoyt Arboretum for folks of all ages and abilities.
Last Sunday we loaded up the car, and drove on over for a quick 2 mile hike through our favorite sections of the Arboretum. Longer and shorter hikes are available and we consider this a place where you can “pick-your-own-adventure”. There are walks for folks who want to push a stroller or need to have an accessible (ADA) path in nature. Hoyt Arboretum has a 1-mile paved trail that is perfect for that. They also boast a 4-mile self-guided tour of all of the arboretum highlights. One of the best things is that their trails connect with the Forest Park trails and more experienced hikers can make a whole day of it!

Are you wondering what an Arboretum is? I googled it and the definition came back as a “botanical garden of trees”, which means their slogan “a museum of living trees” is pretty spot on!  The Arboretum was founded in 1928 and is home to more than 2,000 species (and 6,000 specimens). Each trail is named after a different tree that can be found living in that “collection”. Magnolia Trail will take you through magnolia trees, on the Cherry Trail you will see cherry trees, and so on.

We always try to find parking near the Visitor’s Center. Going earlier in the morning will assure you a place as these lots fill up as the day goes on and it can be a bit tricky to find a spot later. I have marked up our route on one of the trail maps right here so you have a visual reference, because it can be a little tricky with the different trails. Once you are walking it, it is well marked and easy to follow.

Our 2-mile route starts with the Overlook trail. This trail is a pretty great trail for a couple of reasons. 1) it is flat and who doesn’t love that? 2) On one of our clear mornings, there is a special spot where you can look out and see 4 of our active volcanos. Growing up here, we have a huge respect for these mighty Giants and are reminded of their power, especially this month which recognized the 35th anniversary of Mt. St. Helens blowing her top. It is a day I will never forget. She is one of the 4 mountains you can see (Hood, Rainier, and Adams are the other 3). This is a great place for the kids to learn about some of our geography and what makes our part of the world so special.

Following the Overlook Trail past the less than beautiful water cistern, and through a gate, you will cross over SW Upper Cascade Drive and join the Magnolia trail. This trail leads you through a patch of lovely magnolia trees that bloom April-May usually.  We caught it on the tail end of the blooming season, but it was still very beautiful. As you leave the Magnolia trail you can either turn left, which takes you up the Beech Trail and back to the visitor’s center for a short hike, or cross over SW Cascade Drive into the Winter Garden.  This connects you with the very well known Wildwood Trail. As you continue walking the trail, past the houses that loom above and below you as if they are perched in the trees, you will eventually hear water flowing. If you look down the hill you will see a pond (we could even see the special koi swimming there), and probably people walking around. That is the Japanese Garden at Washington Park. Continue along the trail, past the Archery Range. The Wildwood Trail will eventually split into either the Walnut Trail or the Hawthorn Trail. We just find the Walnut Trail really nice, so we went that way and connected back with the Overlook Trail which took us back to our car and the Visitor’s Center.

The Visitor’s Center is open 9:00-4:00 (M-F), & 11:00-3:00 (S & S), however the grounds are open from 5:00a-9:30p daily. There are tours available for a fee if you wanted to learn more about the gardens. Just give them a call at 503.865.8733.

Have you hiked Hoyt Arboretum? What are your favorite trails? Tell us below so we can check it out!