Hiking in the Cascades, in the Columbia River Gorge, or on the Oregon coast is epic, but it can take a while to get there and back. If you’re looking for a quick outdoor escape, Portland’s fringes have plenty to offer. Between scenic mountain buttes, leisurely nature trails, and historic landmarks, the good old burbs are sure to surprise. So grab your walking shoes and get ready to hit the trails, and still be home before rush hour.
Distance: 1.7 miles
Elevation gain: 350 feet
Once the grounds of a fancy summer home, Jenkins Estate takes you back to the early 1900s with its historic structures and English-style gardens. Located on the northwest slope of Beaverton’s Cooper Mountain, it was purchased by Ralph and Belle Jenkins in 1912. In the 1970s, Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District purchased the 68-acre park with the intention to restore the grounds, gardens, and 20th-century house and stable. Jenkins Estate is also listed on the Register of Historic Places.
The well-maintained property has almost two miles of trails, and is especially magical in spring, when gardens bloom with daffodils, trilliums, and daylilies. From the parking lot, take the wooded trail through a canopy of Douglas fir, alder, and hemlock, and you’ll eventually reach a slope that takes you up toward the grounds, where you’ll see the stately Main House perched high up on the hill. The entire property, according to the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District, has been preserved to emulate “the early 20th century genteel lifestyle,” with both a rhododendron and perennial garden, as well as an herb garden filled with everything from lavender, scented geraniums, and thyme—perfect for a leisurely stroll. But the highlight is the lotus pond surrounded by Japanese maples, adjacent to the teahouse. A miniature waterfall flowing into the pond lends a tranquil soundtrack as you take in the scenery. All in all, the entire hike just feels like one big retreat, and between the peaceful gardens and birds chirping you’ll never want to leave. It’s no wonder the Jenkins chose this place as their summer escape. —Michelle Harris
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Hogan Butte Nature Park
Distance: 0.5 mile
Elevation gain: 121 feet
From the summit lookout of this Gresham park, visitors thrill to bluebird views of Cascadia’s geologic greatest hits. Jefferson and Hood tower to your right. Burly heartthrob Adams claims the east. And then, to your left, Rainier and St. Helens dominate the gaps between stands of mossy red alders.
But consider, too, the butte what brought ya. The entirety of Hogan Butte Nature Park—46 acres of picnic spots, interpretive placards, and a half-mile ADA-accessible path—is itself an extinct volcano, one that predates some of those studly stratovolcanoes on the horizon by more than two million years. Part of the Boring Volcanic Field, Hogan Butte was one of 80 or so clustered steam vents that helped shape the Gorge from modern-day Beaverton east to Damascus.
It’s been a while since Hogan Butte blew its top. Now, this tranquil, 930-foot rise is ringed with native cedars and maples; each spring, it blooms with Oregon grape and red flowering currant. The groves beyond the meadow are home to black-tailed deer, red foxes, downy woodpeckers, and northern flickers. And, since September 2017, the park has also welcomed human visitors: to stroll its walkways, snap shots of wide Columbia Gorge vistas, and gawk, back at the parking lot, at the handsome yellow Brite House, once known as the “Crest of Heaven Club”: a dairy-turned-Prohibition speakeasy (and “house of ill repute”) known for its rooftop blue neon star, lit during open hours. —Ramona DeNies
Scouters Mountain Nature Park
Distance: 1.5 miles
Elevation gain: 210 feet
Once the site of a Boy Scouts camp, Scouters Mountain near Happy Valley seems destined to continue nurturing love for the outdoors. At more than 900 feet tall, the extinct lava dome is a natural site for exploration, with panoramic Cascade Range views and stands of centuries-old Douglas firs. After several years of restoration work, Metro opened the 100-acre site in 2014, and there are now about 1.5 miles of trails. Clear days mean unrivaled views of Mount Hood and glimpses over the Columbia River. After circling the summit, trace the Boomer Trail down into a deep forest clinging to the mountainside. (The trail is named for an unusual species of mountain beaver that lives here.) As the trail continues through the mountain’s lush eastern flanks, scan the forest floor for mushrooms and herds of black-tailed deer silently loping among the trees. —Brian Barker
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Orenco Woods Nature Park
Distance: 1.6 miles
Elevation gain: 85 feet
This 44-acre park, a short walk from the Orenco Station MAX stop, officially opened in February 2017. Once home to the Oregon Nursery Company (famous in the early 1900s for its sweet Orenco apple), its remnant wetlands, oak savannas, and streamside forest now bulwark residential developments, providing refuge for beavers, black-tailed deer, red-tailed hawks, and songbirds. Tour rolling topography along the 0.9-mile Habitat Trail over pocket-size prairie and down to gurgling Rock Creek, a Tualatin River tributary holding cutthroat trout and lamprey. Then rise to meet the paved Rock Creek Trail (which links to nearby Orchard Park), where an arched bridge soars above creeks and wetland ponds. —Brian Barker
Tualatin River Greenway Trail
Distance: 4.6 miles
Elevation gain: 55 feet
Meandering along the Tualatin River, this breezy trail was made for those suburban power walks (or bicycle rides). The good news is, you can choose your own adventure here since the trail—which crosses through Tualatin, Durham, and Tigard—has various access points. Of course, you can also tackle the entire thing, but keep in mind that you’ll then need to trek all the way back for this in-and-out hike.
Beginning in Tualatin, the Tualatin River Greenway Trail technically commences near the intersection of SW Natchez Court and SW 46th Avenue, but it might be easier to begin at Brown’s Ferry Park. Clear signage will keep you on track as you pass through city streets, forests, and wetlands. Part of the trail crosses the Tualatin Art Walk, where you’ll walk along a concrete path lined with everything from crushed blue glass and to-scale mastodon footprints, all made to represent Oregon’s geologic history starting from the Ice Age through when pioneers began settling in the Willamette Valley—a most excellent adventure indeed. You can also view a full-size mastodon skeleton, excavated in the early 1960s in the area where Tualatin’s Fred Meyer now stands, on display at the Tualatin Public Library—which happens to be right along the trail.
Gawk at herons and egrets while passing the wetlands, and you’ll soon cross the Tualatin River over the scenic Ki-a-Kuts Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge, where you’ll continue towards Durham City Park (which, by the way has a dog park) and then weave through a quiet forest of Douglas fir, big-leaf maple, and Oregon ash. Finish at Jurgens Park, a 12.15-acre park named after William and Rosa Jurgens, who operated a potato farm nearby in the 1800s. —Michelle Harris
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Nansen Summit Trail
Distance: 4.6 miles
Elevation gain: 775 feet
In terms of nature and the outdoors, the suburban landscape of Lake Oswego is probably not the first thing to cross your mind—unless you’re Carl Halvorson, the landscape designer who in the 1970s was responsible for integrating nature trails and green spaces into a planned community called Mountain Park. What we have now is an intricate trail system that weaves through quiet, leaf-dappled parks, watersheds, and playground areas. Even better, it’s all built on an extinct volcano—a.k.a. Mount Sylvania, which is part of the Boring Volcanic Field.
Depending on how long you want to make the hike, there are a number of places to start from, such as McNary Park, located near Nansen Summit Park (where you’ll likely conclude your trip). For the ultimate suburban trek, begin at Westlake Park, where you’ll have access to a large parking area and rest rooms. From there you can turn right onto Melrose Street and then loop onto Botticelli to connect with the trail network. One word of advice: bring along a printout of the Mountain Park Trail Map or at least have it handy on your phone. Along the way you’ll come across faded green trail signs that are simply marked “PATH” to help guide you. An unexpected trail feature that makes this hike unique? A series of drainage tunnels incorporated into the trail system to help keep pedestrians safe from traffic crossings.
The hike gets more intense as you inch closer to McNary Park, where you’ll then continue walking through a community of houses that more or less harken to the 80s McMansion era. A short stairway leads up to Nansen Summit Park, soaring 1,000 feet above ground with sweeping views of the Tualatin Valley, the West Hills, and Mount Hood. The park also has a grassy spot and some benches for a much-deserved rest before heading back down. —Michelle Harris