Best Portland Winter Hikes:
Washington Park and Hoyt Arboretum

Even though we haven’t seen much winter weather so far this year (where is the snow??) I am still posting a series on the best Portland hikes in the winter. Even if it was normal (crappy) weather, these are all hikes near (or in) Portland that you can usually do in winter.

Washington Park is one of the best Portland hikes in the wintertime.
Woodsy Washington Park is a great place for a winter stroll

Why You Should Go

A family could spend a weekend in Washington Park and never run out of things to do. The park has a zoo, a children’s museum, the World Forestry Center, the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a world-class Japanese garden, the Hoyt Arboretum, and miles of hiking trails. The loop described here, from the upcoming 5th Edition of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland, is only a suggestion.

Washington Park is one of the best Portland hikes in the wintertime.
There are some mighty big trees, especially for a city park.

The Stats

  • Length: 4 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Scenery: 1,400 species and varieties of plants, more than 5,000 labeled trees and shrubs
  • Exposure: Shady, with the occasional open spot for city views
  • Traffic: Heavy on weekends, moderate during the workday or bad weather
  • Trail Surface: Pavement, packed dirt, gravel
  • Hiking Time: 2 hours for the recommended loop
  • Driving Distance: 2 miles (5 minutes) from Pioneer Square (or take Max)
  • Season: Year-round
  • Access: No fees to hike, but parking is $1.60/hour up to $4/day from October to March.
  • Wheelchair Access: There are several barrier-free trails in the area; ask at the visitor center.
  • Maps: Trail guide at Hoyt Arboretum Visitor Center
  • Facilities: Water and restrooms at Visitors Center
  • Info: Visitors Center, 503-865-8733.
Washington Park is one of the best Portland hikes in the wintertime.
This view of Rainier (left) and St. Helens is on the suggested loop.

Getting There

The best way to get to this trailhead is to take the MAX Light Rail to stop #1021. It takes you to the deepest transit station in North America (at 260 feet, the second-deepest in the world), which features artwork and displays on the geological history of the region. An elevator puts you right next to the World Forestry Center; turn right when you’re facing the Center, and the trailhead is across the road and about 100 yards uphill.

To drive here from downtown Portland, head west on US 26 and take Exit 72/Zoo after 1.3 miles. At the end of the ramp, turn right on SW Canyon Road. Then stay to the left, circling the parking lot, and turn left at the MAX station. Our trailhead is at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on your left 0.1 mile ahead.

Washington Park is one of the best Portland hikes in the wintertime.
Viewing platform in the redwoods / sequoia collection

The Hike

This loop hike can be your base for exploring and an introduction to all that Washington Park has to offer. From a hiker’s perspective, the heart of the park is Hoyt Arboretum (literally meaning “tree museum”), founded in 1928 on land that was completely clearcut in the early 20th century.

Washington Park is one of the best Portland hikes in the wintertime.
A section of the Oregon Vietnam War Memorial

Beginning your walk at the Vietnam Veterans of Oregon Memorial, follow the trail under and then across the bridge and through a circular series of memorials describing events at home and in Southeast Asia from 1959 to 1972. Follow the trail out of the memorial, and then turn left onto Wildwood Trail.

Stay on Wildwood Trail 0.4 miles as it circles to the right, crosses a road and climbs a small hill to a viewpoint between two water towers. About 200 feet past the viewpoint, you’ll come to Magnolia Trail on the left; take it 0.3 miles to the Winter Garden if you’d like to cut about 1.6 miles off your hike and stay in the Arboretum. For a pleasant, woodsy stroll and access to other Washington Park attractions, stay on Wildwood Trail.

Washington Park is one of the best Portland hikes in the wintertime.
The Japanese Garden is just one of several possible side trips from this loop.

The wide, flat Wildwood Trail loops out 1.5 miles, with access along the way to the Hawthorne, Walnut, and Maple trails. At the 1.2-mile mark, you will have a view down to the right of the waterfall area of the Portland Japanese Garden; just after that, a trail on the right leads to the garden, the largest in the world outside Japan and a must-see. Just down a hill beyond that is the International Rose Test Garden, with 8,000 rosebushes in more than 550 varieties. Did I mention you could spend quite a while in Washington Park?

Washington Park is one of the best Portland hikes in the wintertime.
The Rose Garden is nice, even without the roses blooming.

Back on Wildwood Trail, 0.3 miles past the Japanese Garden Trail, you enter Winter Garden, where Magnolia Trail reenters. Just 0.6 miles later on Wildwood Trail, after passing a wonderful viewing platform, take a left on Redwood Trail for an exploration of the sequoia collection. Shortly beyond that, you’ll enter the redwood collection, which includes a specimen of the dawn redwood, which, until a few decades ago, was thought to be extinct.

Note: If you were to stay on Wildwood Trail here, you could add a 2.4-mile out-and-back trip to Pittock Mansion, which is at the top of the Macleay Park Hike I described last week in my Best Portland Hikes in the Winter series.

Washington Park is one of the best Portland hikes in the wintertime.
This amazing root system can be found on Creek Trail, past of this loop.

Back on Redwood Trail, when you come to a trail on the right marked “To Creek Trail,” take that, then go left on Creek Trail. It dead-ends at a road; pick up Redwood Trail at the far side and you’ll pass through the larch collection on your way to the picnic shelter. Cross the road, and you’re back at the visitor center. Turn right, take Holly Trail back to Wildwood Trail, turn right on it, and follow it a half mile back to your car.

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