San Diego has its beaches, Chicago has the lake and New York City has Central Park. But Portland has to be one of the best running cities around thanks to a near perfect mix of friendly city streets and stunning trails. On any given day, there’s someone to run with and an amazing brunch spot waiting at the end.
From city streets to off-road trails and tree-lined paths, Portland has a route for every kind of runner.
Oh, the Wildwood Trail — it’s your ticket to some Portland sightseeing, trail-run style. Start in Macleay Park, and set out on the Lower Macleay Trail. You’ll soon find yourself at the Witch’s Castle. More formally called the Stone House, the abandoned structure really does look haunted. Once you’ve had your photo, continue up the fairly steep, frequently muddy Wildwood Trail. You’ll traverse a few switchbacks before appearing in the parking lot of the exquisite Pittock Mansion. Just don’t expect to be admitted to the marbled foyer in those muddy kicks.
Running along the waterfront is like a choose-your-own-adventure story. It depends on how far you want to go — pro tip: Just pick a bridge! For a fantastic 11-mile jaunt with excellent views of the Willamette River and Portland skyline, start at the Steel Bridge on the north side of PDX, traverse the Eastbank Esplanade and cross back at the Sellwood Bridge. Or you can easily shorten the route with the Hawthorne Bridge or Tilikum Crossing.
Mt.Tabor in SE Portland is a great choice for getting in a speed workout or some hills. The paved reservoir loop is just over half a mile around, and nearly perfectly flat. There’s also the option to work those glutes and head on up to the summit of this inactive volcano, catching glimpses of downtown Portland and the mountains beyond. They even have a grueling set of stairs if you want to really punish yourself.
Terwilliger Blvd. has a lot to offer runners: a wide sidewalk, quad-hammering hills, and a perfect mix of tree canopy for shade and street lights for evening runs. If you park at the Duniway Track, you can work your way up to an epic view of the river, the city, and, if you time it for sunrise or sunset, a pink or orange Mount Hood in the distance. It’s no surprise Terwilliger is the literal stomping grounds for tons of Portland runners. Fun fact: It’s also right in the shadow of Under Armour’s gleaming new Portland campus, which overlooks the Duniway Track.
You can go easy and flat or get some hills in at this park just outside of Gresham. The trails are largely made of soft dirt — good for bad knees, but maybe not so much for good sneakers. And although the trails are well-marked, it can be easy to get a bit lost, so bring a GPS watch or phone if you’re new to these trails.
At last, some flat. Springwater is part of the 40-mile loop of trails that goes from Gresham to Boring. The most-traveled portion is perhaps along the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, near OMSI. From here, it’s easy to connect to one of the 2.5-mile bridge loops (Hawthorne Bridge to Steel) over the Willamette River, or extend your loop by going back over the Tilikum Bridge or the Sellwood Bridge. If you are happy with an out-and-back, you can stick to the Springwater Corridor itself. With clear markers placed at half-mile intervals, it’s a great place to time your mile or get in a good speed workout.
This is definitely not a run you want to do in the dark. One, it’s a cemetery. Two, the eerie green glare of animal eyes being illuminated by your headlamp can make your heart beat faster than the steep incline ever could. But for a daytime hill workout, this is a great one. You can follow the clearly-marked bike signs to the top, or take a more winding route. If you’re following the bike signs, be prepared for a hill that does not end. It actually gets (impossibly) steeper before finally evening out a bit at the top. Here, you can easily add on by running (or walking) around the 0.2-mile loop that circles the top of the cemetery. And when you do reach the summit, take a moment to drink in the views of the Sellwood Bridge and mountains beyond before heading back down.
This spot is right next to Lewis & Clark College, but as soon as you’re a few feet into this 650-acre park, you feel as though you are miles from civilization. It’s quintessential Pacific Northwest — towering conifers covered in moss, a creek swollen with water, mushrooms sprouting up in dark corners… it’s a run every nature-loving adventurist can sink their teeth into. Tryon Creek has eight miles of hiking trails, some of which are paved if you aren’t into muddy kicks.
If you’ve had enough of the hills already, the Marine Drive bike path is a nice option. Although the path covers over 10 miles, it’s divided by I-5, which makes assessing the whole trail a bit difficult. The west side of the path begins at Kelly Point Park (where the Willamette and Columbia rivers meet) before continuing to the Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area. It’s a solid course, but you need to catch the flip-side too. The east side of the trail is about 7.5 miles out and back. Here, you can catch amazing views of the Columbia, as well as super-close views of airplanes as they land alarmingly close to the path. Fitt Tip: When running the east side, be aware that there is no shade at all. That’s often not a problem in rainy Portland, but if you’re taking a summer run, you may want to bring a hat.
There’s no better sound than the audible crunch of a run on Leif Erikson Drive. It’s more than 10 miles out-and-back, and you’ll never tire of this route. The gravel fireroad is well-maintained, and couldn’t be more PNW: ferns, mossy trees and a number of mud-flinging bike tires. Don’t let that deter you, though. There’s plenty of room for all, and also a number of opportunities to sneak over to the more rugged Wildwood Trail.