Westside wonders

macleay trail 2

“Balch Creek is a fabulous gem at any time of year,” says Portland author Laura O. Foster. Amazing to realize this scene is just 2 miles from downtown.

This week’s urban hike took me to Northwest Portland — and what an amazing experience it was going from a hilly neighborhood of high-priced homes to nature trails of breathtaking beauty.

During a mid-morning walk that began in an industrial area just two miles from downtown Portland, I ascended into the hills via the Thurman Street Bridge, followed a dirt trail into Forest Park, emerged into the tony Willamette Heights neighborhood and descended via the Wildwood Trail and Lower Macleay Park, taking in the gorgeous scenery and soothing sounds of Balch Creek.

This was just my third urban hike since launching a new routine in late January and, so far, it’s my favorite.

Rocky Butte & Reggie Deluxe

Exploring my own city

thurman st bridge

Looking east from the Thurman Street Bridge, also known also as the Balch Gulch Bridge.

When I began these hikes, I hoped these weekly outings would help me learn more about the city I love. Thursday’s walk did all that. The route put me on paved streets and dirt paths I’d been on before, but which I didn’t realize connected to each other. In some cases, I didn’t know the names of certain landmarks. At other points, I found myself on entirely new terrain glimpsing vistas I’d never experienced before.

On top of everything, I saw dinosaurs.


The morning began at Costello’s Travel Caffe in Northeast Portland’s Irvington neighborhood. There I met Doug, a fellow retiree, for coffee and conversation.

It’s a popular, family-owned place, a good counterpoint to the corporate coffee shops further down the street on Northeast Broadway.

As we consumed a light breakfast — ciabatta sandwich with spinach and tomato, cheddar and bacon (not everything I eat is drenched in gravy) — Doug and I talked about our forebears, our upbringings, our siblings, our children, our careers. Didn’t discuss our wives. That’ll be a topic for next time. Maybe a two-ciabatta meal. 😉


I drove out to Northwest Portland, intending to park on the street but none was to be found so I grabbed a space in the lot of the old Montgomery Ward building on Vaughn Street.

montgomery ward

From Northwest Thurman Street, a great view of the old Montgomery Ward building.

Heading south toward Thurman Street, I crossed a bridge I have driven over countless times on my way up to run on Leif Erikson Drive. Little did I know I had been passing over the entrance to Lower Macleay Park all these years.

Climbing in elevation, I followed Thurman onto two adjoining streets, marveling at the varied architecture and tastefully decorated homes, many of them built into steep hillsides and requiring a walk up or down to the front door via 45-degrees or more staircases.

I passed the entrance of the White Shield Home, a residential facility for unwed mothers that The Salvation Army has been operating for more than a century, then went past a gate that took me past a city reservoir and up a trail to Leif Erikson Drive.

As if on cue, a guy on a mountain bike pedaled past on a trail I’ve run many, many times before on long weekend runs. At the end of the trail, I ran into a trio of women who were about to head up the hill on their bicycles.

thurman st mansion

Willamette Heights is one of the city’s oldest and most affluent neighborhoods.

Leaving the park, I took a right onto Northwest Aspen Drive and ventured into a development of Old Portland residences — a mix of sizes and styles valued from $500,000 to about $2 million. The streets were quiet, the lawns well manicured and the views were quite nice.

I had no idea I would encounter not one but two collections of toy dinosaurs lurking on the sidewalks. Nice to see such displays of humor.

The biggest discovery? That you could follow one residential street to a dead end where it leads to the Holman Trail and then to the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park. Walking amongst towering Douglas Fir trees in Balch Creek Canyon, I went crazy with the camera. Had to stop at least three times to delete photos to clear space for new ones.

Another surprise? That the Wildwood Trail would take me to the Stone House on the Lower Macleay Trail. A runner saw me taking pictures and stopped to tell me of a close call he had recently when a huge tree toppled in his direction, luckily falling short of where he was.

Now that I know these trails intersect, I will be back for sure to run them myself.

Final thought? This particular route, the first one described in Laura O. Foster’s excellent book, “Portland Hill Walks,” offered great variety and a big old helping of nature’s best. I had to pinch myself to realize I was trekking through a portion of an urban park boasting more than 5,000 wooded acres in the midst of a mid-sized city.

I love this place.


3 thoughts on “Westside wonders

  1. Wish I was living in PDX so that I could carry your blog with me and take this walking tour. Maybe I should create my own walking tour in these Oakland Hills! You get exercise, fulfill one of your retirement goals and offer inspiration to the rest of us!

  2. Pingback: Lower Macleay Trail to Stone House | Forest Park | Hikespeak.com

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