I grew up on the Great Plains. Wheat, corn, or sugar beets as far as the eye could see, a veritable ocean of it. If you wanted to see the woods, you would have to search a long time to find any. And mountains? HA.
I’ve lived here in Oregon for almost nine years now, and while I have a special place in my heart for North Dakota, there’s still no other place I’d rather be. The woods comfort me, and the mountains impress upon me the power that created them. It’s a gift every time I’m able to make it out for a visit with nature, and I’d like to share some of my favorite hiking destinations that I’ve visited with my small kids. These hikes are great for young children as an introduction to the great outdoors. (As always, make sure you have a print out of the map before you set off, bring plenty of water, and tell somebody where you’re going and when you’ll be back.)
Conveniently located in the heart of Beaverton, this park is great for when we are running errands and need a spot to unwind. The kids love to hike and look for wildlife, and I get a little peace. There’s an awesome interpretive center, complete with interactive displays and a reading area stocked with books for all ages. There are both dirt hiking trails and paved paths (great for those on wheels). There are a variety of environments and habitats to check out, which my kids love. If you live on the westside (and even if you don’t) you have to try this place at least once!
Yeah, I’m sure some of you have seen this about a million times, but it’s not famous for nothing. This place is awe-inspiring for everybody, kids included. After seeing people on the bridge, they’ll want to go up there too; use the momentum to get them hiking even further. There are a variety of short hikes nearby; the visitor’s center should have more information. My only recommendation is to go during off-peak hours to avoid a parking catastrophe.
This is one of my favorite hikes I’ve been on in Oregon. It’s a magical place, people, a whole different world! If I could live at Wahclella Falls, I would. It’s an out-and-back hike with a loop at the end (take the lower route to the right if you have small kids, as it’s less dangerous) and not too far, either. We hiked it with a 7 year old and a 4 year old, with a 1 year old in the backpack. (The kind that’s meant for hauling mini humans, not a book bag. I’m usually responsible!) Be prepared to spend some time at the falls, taking it all in. You might want to pack a jacket, since it can get cool in the canyon. We also took the opportunity to visit the Bonneville Fish Hatchery [free!] while we were there, as it is just across the interstate at the same exit.
Another Oregon wonder, the Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park is great for customizing to your family’s needs. Too many little ones? Just do South Falls (the most famous and photographed, also one of the falls you can hike behind), and hit up the new Natural Play Area that opened last year. Older kids can do part or the entirety of the main hike, which is an eight and a half mile long loop. We enjoyed hiking to Upper North Falls as an out-and-back with our young kids (we stopped at the parking area nearby). You can bring your picnic to enjoy at the recreation area there (and maybe a ball to throw or kick around while you’re at it), or eat at the cafe in the lodge.
This one is a hike with a history lesson bonus. Champoeg was the site of Oregon’s first provisional government, and the visitor’s center museum will teach you all you need to know about its history. Once you are familiar with the background of the area, step out and hike the trail, which takes you past the large 1860’s style kitchen garden and Manson Barn, which is possibly the oldest still-standing structure in Oregon (you can tour both; I nursed my baby in the barn and felt one with the pioneer moms of long ago). The hiking trail is a loop that treks through woods and parallels the Willamette River. You can also visit the Historic Butteville Store, which is considered the oldest running store in Oregon. I love Champoeg State Park because it still has a small-town, friendly atmosphere that reminds me of my hometown.
I enjoy visiting Cooper Mountain Nature Park because of it’s unique environment of a wide-open grassland through the central part of the park, with different types of woodlands surrounding. The views over the Tualatin River valley are pretty amazing. Bobcats and other large mammal species have been spotted, but don’t worry–they don’t hunt humans. There’s a playground next to the parking lot, so you can sit down and rest after your hike while the kids burn the last of their energy. Just be sure to bring plenty of water, wide-brimmed hats, and sunscreen on a hot day, because the sun can be killer with no shade.
Tryon Creek State Park is located in some of the most beautiful woods I’ve ever seen, with a fabulous interpretive center to start you out. From there you can hike a multitude of trails and explore the woods. Some of the trails also are also used by horses and mountain bikers. This place is sure to be hopping with activities all summer, so check the events calendar. Last year we were there when they had different activities going on for kids, like a scavenger hunt and a place to build fairy houses in the trees. I enjoy Tryon Creek when I want to do a longer hike without leaving town.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a state with such diverse landscapes as Oregon, and the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge highlights an under-appreciated one: wetlands. It’s not a stretch to say that over a hundred different species of birds live at or are visitors to TRNWR over the course of a year. The focal point of the refuge is a large, dead tree standing alone in the center of the wetlands; it’s crown is a bald eagle nest. Look inside the gift shop/interpretive center for information about this year’s eaglets, and see the nest through high powered telescopes located inside. There are a few different trails through the refuge, one of which also visits the adjacent Tualatin River. My kids love stopping by the ponds to explore, and trying their best to find animal tracks on the ground.
Not a traditional hike per se, as the Portland Japanese Garden is the exact opposite of wild, but a lovely place to stroll nonetheless. Washington and Clackamas residents, get yourselves to your local library to grab a cultural pass, and head on over to the peaceful trails that have been carefully created in the Japanese tradition. There is a section of the garden that is not wheel-friendly, so beware. While you’re there, you can also check out the other trails that Portland’s Washington Park holds.
I know my list is lopsided, favoring westside locations. So eastside ladies, what are YOUR favorite hikes?