10 Jaw-Dropping Fall Hikes for Families

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With the heat retreating and the summer crowds dying down, autumn is the ideal time to hit nearby trails with your kids. Let your family witness the shifting season including the bright spectacle of leaves changing and the sweet activity of resident animals preparing for the winter as you navigate some of Portland’s best fall hikes. We’ve rounded up some of our favorites. Read on to find our which fall hikes your family needs to hit before winter hits.

Reed Lake

An easy, close-in option that the whole family can enjoy is the 1-mile loop behind the Reed College campus, through Reed Canyon and around Reed Lake. This unpaved trail is open to the public, and even when school is back in session, it’s a lesser-known hike that usually remains uncrowded. Spot the ducks in the lake, tramp across the footbridge, and admire the fiery glow of the vine maples, one of the earliest varieties to turn in the autumn.

Insider tip: Parking at Reed is free, and the closest to the trail head is the East lot off Woodstock. Or, take the bus and extend the adventure!

Reed College
3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
Portland, OR
Online: reed.edu/canyon

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden

Just across the road from Reed, you can get more than your fill of autumn color (and plenty of duck sightings), with this easy meander through well-maintained paths, many accessible by stroller. While the garden’s namesake rhododendrons are the focal point in spring and summer, in autumn the companion plantings of deciduous trees steal the show. This is the ideal fall hike for families with little ones.

Insider tip: Go on a Monday, or sidle in before 10 a.m. to get in free.

Fees: $5 between 10 a.m.-4 p.m. all days except for wed. open at 1 p.m.

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
Portland, OR
Online: portlandoregon.gov

Oak Bottoms Wildlife Refuge

It’s not a long trail or hike, but for a quick afternoon out in nature, it’s a perfect escape. Start on the bluffs at the small parking lot, then wander down the bluff—turn right to head around the pond for the 2.3 mile loop. The path is well kept, with bridges, boardwalks, and viewing platforms that extend over the wetlands. In the small loop at Tadpole Pond kids will find plenty of places to look for the little creatures along with salamanders and birds.

The park is near the Springwater Corridor, Sellwood Riverfront Park, and Oaks Bottom Amusement Park if you need to extend your day of fun at all.

SE Sellwood Blvd & SE 7th Ave.
Portland, OR
Online: portlandoregon.gov


Hoyt Arboretum

If trees are the stars of the show in autumn, what better place to hike than a museum of trees? Make it educational with a stop at the visitor center for a Meet-the-Trees activity map, or simply let your senses be your guide. There’s a one-mile stroller-friendly walk for the littlest tree-huggers, and plenty of other trails accessible to all skill levels. For a couple bucks or often free of charge, you can also take part in organized preschool walks and Family Forest Days, held year-round. Check the calendar for current offerings.

Hoyt Arboretum
4000 SW Fairview Blvd.
Online: hoytarboretum.org

Elk Rock Garden

This quiet trail around the Bishop’s Close, headquarters of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon, is open to the public and offers fantastic views of the Willamette River and Mt. Hood. Located just north of Lake Oswego in the Dunthorpe neighborhood, you and your little ones can wander along peaceful streams and fish ponds and admire the well-tended gardens. Maples, oaks, and redbud hazel shrubs offer pops of color, while late-blooming plantings of windflower and pinks nod to summer’s all-too-recent close.

Insider tip: Younger (read: noisier) children might do better on a more public trail, since this is a meditative garden. No public restrooms available.

Elk Rock Garden
11800 SW Military Ln.
Online: elkrockgarden.org
Open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily

Forest Park

Forest Park is full of options for a fall walk, but the Maple Trail is one of the best: both for fall color and for ease of access. Start off at the end of lower NW Saltzman Road, walk past the gate and turn left at the Maple Trail junction. Or consider Macleay Trail, a gentle walk along the creek with an opportunity to visit the Stone House. Also check the website for details on organized hikes, including mushroom walks throughout the fall.

Getting there: From I-405 in downtown Portland, take Route 30 north toward St. Helens. After roughly four miles, turn left on NW Saltzman Road and park at the trailhead.

Powell Butte

Hike around a giant extinct volcano at this park in the city limits! Powell Butte is a beautiful place for a hike, with wooded paths, meadows filled with the color of changing fall leaves, and perfect views of surrounding peaks on clear days. Starting at the small visitor center kiosk it’s an easy trek to the top on the paved path. There you’ll find a viewing platform pointing out the nine different mountains encircling you, including Mount Jefferson, Adams, St. Helens, and even Rainier. From there, you can follow the hiking trails around the back of the park into the forests or turn around and wind through the grassy meadows instead. The summit is a 0.7 mile hike, and the whole loop is about 2.9 miles. 

Powell Butte Nature Park
16160 Powell Blvd.
Portland, OR
Online: portlandoregon.gov

Tualatin Hills Nature Park

Head west to Beaverton Creek for an immersive experience of the seasonal shift to fall. With wetlands, forests, and streams, the wildlife preserve and nature center allow families to enjoy proximity to a wide range of animals and plants, while five miles of walking trails offer views of fall foliage. This is an ideal fall hike for families with younger hikers!

Insider tip: No pets.

Tualatin Hills Nature Park
15655 SW Millikan Way
Online: thprd.org   

Columbia Children’s Arboretum

For a fall hike that is a simple but stunning one-mile loop that's perfect for small feet, head north to the Columbia Children’s Arboretum, an underused  Parks & Recreation property complete with orchards, natural areas, and meadow trails. It’s an unexpected and inviting haven nestled into an otherwise mostly industrial part of North Portland. Sugar maples and American sweet gum trees make for lovely fall color.

Columbia Children's Arboretum
10040 NE 6th Drive
Portland, OR
Online: portlandoregon.gov

Silver Falls

Venturing a little further, about an hour outside of Portland is one of the most beautiful hikes in the state. At around 7 miles, the Trail of Ten Falls may be a bit too long for your littlest hikers, but several connecting trails allow you to create a shorter route. Hike along mostly flat trails and view the changing leaves above light cascades, turning around when you sense naptime is at hand. Or, for a pet and stroller-friendly hike, choose the paved bike path that begins at the South Falls Day Use Area, which is a 4-mile loop.

Insider tip: No pets allowed on the Canyon Trail. Pets on leash allowed on all other trails.

Getting There: From Interstate 5 exit 253 in Salem, drive 10 miles east on North Santiam Highway 22, turn left at a sign for Silver Falls Park, and follow Highway 214 for 16 miles to the park entrance sign at South Falls.

Silver Falls State Park
20024 Silver Falls Hwy SE
Sublimity, OR
Online: oregonstateparks.org

—Annette Benedetti


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