Great Runs in Portland, OR

Mt. Hood over downtown Portland (source: Agape Voyage)

Portland, OR is one of the most active cities in the country. Boasting over 300 miles of bike paths, 200 miles of running trails, and encouraging active over motorized transportation, Portland is routinely ranked as one of the top running cities by Active.com, Runner’s World, and the American College of Sports Medicine. It is also the headquarters for shoe manufacturers Nike, adidas, and KEEN. Also, in keeping with its bike and pedestrian friendly ethos, all 12 of its downtown bridges are accessible for runners, including the new Tilikum Crossing, which is the only bridge unavailable to private cars. There are great running options in Portland. Downtown, the focus is on the wonderful paths along the Williamette River. Just a couple of miles from downtown, there are great residential areas for running, as well as extensive Forest Park, Washington Park, and options around Terwillinger Blvd.

Topgraphically, most of the downtown area is flat, but things get hilly in a hurry in the Northwest and Southwest parts of the city toward the Tualatin Mountains, or “West Hills”.

Portland also provides an efficient and widespread public transportation system in the downtown area, and extending to the suburbs. The TriMET MAX system serves as its above ground light rail and traverses most of the city. It also has bus lines, and the TriMET WES Commuter Rail line, which takes residents and visitors in and out of the city to the suburbs and the airport.

Weather

Portland’s weather is moderate. Winters are cool with quite a bit of rain and many wet days, but little snowfall. Summers are gorgeous — generally dry, around 80 during the day, and rarely too hot or humid. Temps drop off in the evening during summer more than in some other cities.

The Iconic Routes

  1. Waterfront /Esplanade Loop
  2. Terwilliger Boulevard
  3. Pittock Mansion
  4. Council Crest — Terwilliger Boulevard
    Council Crest — Washington Park
  5. Spring Water Corridor
  6. Forest Park

Waterfront/Esplanade Loop

4.1 Mile Loop; downtown; starts at the Salmon Street Springs Fountain. MAP

Salmon Street Springs Fountain (source: Pinterest)

This is the signature run along the Williamette River in Portland, within blocks of downtown hotels and near the Convention Center. The Waterfront/Esplanade Loop starts at the SW Salmon Street Springs Fountain. The Fountain is located at Waterfront Park and changes the patterns of its water display based on its programmings, with up to 185 water jets engaged at a time. Run north along the waterfront path, crossing the North Steele Bridge and the Tilikum Crossing. You will run past such landmarks as the Tom McCall Waterfront park, Oregon Maritime Museum, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and over the Eastern Esplanade, which “floats” over the Williamette River. To extend the run, continue on the east side, heading south along the Springwater trail.

Terwilliger Boulevard

5 miles, out and back; approximately 2 miles from downtown; HILLY; n the outskirts of Portland State University; starting at Duniway Park Track; MAP

Terwilliger Boulevard Park Runners (source: theintertwine.org)

Starting at the Duniway Park Track, which is open to the public, and located just before the Duniway Lilac Garden. This hilly route winds through the Terwilliger Parkway and is a mostly shaded route through one of the many city parks. The first half is a steady, nearly 1,000 foot climb. There’s a separate running/walking path along the boulevard. The route incorporates a few hundred foot climbs, with views of downtown and the Tualatin Mountains along the way. Turnaround at the intersection of Terwilliger and Capitol Highway and head back to the start.

Pittock Mansion

5.5 mile, out and back; approximately 2 miles from the downtown area; NW Portland, MacLeay Park and Kings Heights neighborhood; hilly; MAP

The culmination for this run is Portland’s famous Pittock Mansion. Used in a number of motion pictures, and as the end point for the 13th season of the fitness-themed reality program The Amazing race, the Mansion is an architectural landmark symbolizing Portland’s migration from a lumber town to a bustling city. This 700 foot climb starts at the Lower Macleay Trail and the Kings Heights neighborhood, and follows that into the Wildwood Trail and up to the Mansion. It’s uphill one way, and downhill on the return. There are great add-on or alternative options here: the trails of Macleay Park to the North, Washington Park to the South, and the residential streets of the Kings Heights neighborhood.

Left: Pittock Mansion (source: thecrazytourist.com); Right: view of downtown and Mount Hood from Pittock Mansion (source: Everywhere Once)

Council Crest, Part 1: Terwilliger Boulevard

6-mile LOOP; start and finish downtown, run about 3 miles out; SW Portland; hills; MAP

Marquam trails in Council Crest Park (source: theintertwine.org)

A variation on the Terwilliger Boulevard trail detailed earlier, this run culminates at Council Crest, the highest peak of the Tualatin Mountain range at 1,071 feet. (We stop a little short at 976 feet.) Running through Portland State University and the shaded part of Terwilliger Boulevard, this route gives a taste of downtown, urban crowds, and the outdoor, natural beauty that surrounds Portland. Both Mt. St. Helens & Mt. Hood can be seen from the top of Council Crest. Once at the top, feel free to explore some of the Marquam Trails.

Council Crest, Part 2: Washington Park

7.2 miles, out and back; many entrances, hilly; approximately 1.5 miles west from Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Well served by bus; MAP

Another way to run to the Council Crest peak is through Washington Park, home to some of the more scenic landmarks in Portland including the Portland Japanese Garden, the Portland Children’s Museum, and the Washington Park Ampitheater. This route starts at the intersection of SW Madison and SW Park, but there are many entrances into the southeast part of the park. Run through the winding trails, and turn around at any point for a shorter, less intense hill run. Council Crest, the highest peak in the city, is approximately one mile from the south edge of Washington Park.

Springwater Corridor

8 miles, out and back; downtown; many entrances along Williamette River from SE side MAP

Bridge along Springwater Corridor (source: wikipedia.com)

Extending along eastern part of the waterfront and curving south east, the Springwater Corridor runs through downtown, following an old rail line into the suburbs of Boring and Clackamas. Popular among cyclists, this route will pass by many of Portland’s famous bridges, and the connected Ross and Hardtack Islands in the middle of the Williamette River. You will also pass Oaks Amusement Park, Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. This route starts at a coffee shop on SE 6th Avenue near the Museum of Science and Industry, turning around at the intersection of SE Oaks Park Way and SE Spokane St.

Forest Park

6 mile out and back; approximately 2.5 miles from downtown; gravel, trails, pedestrians only; MMR MAP. Additional Trail Info. Parking nearby.

Runners along Leif Erickson Road, Forest Park (source: Trail Factor Half Marathon)

At 5,157 acres, Portland’s Forest Park is the largest urban forest in the United States. There are 80+ miles of soft-surface trails, fire lanes and forest roads, stretching for more than 7 miles along the eastern slope of the Tualatin Mountains, overlooking Northwest Portland and the convergence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. There are tons of options here. The Lief Erickson Road is a former auto road and now a wide forest trail, extending 11.2 miles one-way. Our route follows the first 3 miles, out to Firelane 1. There are mileage markers on white concrete posts for the entire trail.

Trail Running Option: The Wildwood Trail in Forest Park

30 mile trail running option. Start: Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington Park, or at mile 3 in Forest Park when it crosses West Burnside St.

The Wildwood Trail, designated by the Secretary of the Interior as a National Recreation Trail, meanders for 30.2 breathtaking miles, from the southern end of the trail at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington Park to the Northwest terminus of the trail at Newberry Road. The trail is marked every quarter-mile by blue, diamond-shaped blazes stenciled onto trees. This is a great trail running option. Hilly.

Further Afield

  1. Airport - Marine Drive
  2. Blue Lake

Airport - Marine Drive

6 mile loop; many entrances; MAP

If you are staying near the airport, there are a couple of options, one further of a drive than the other. A 3/4 mile bike path down Airport Way from the terminal will bring you to Marine Drive. Marine Drive is a 12 mile long bike path that runs along the Columbia River on the northern border of the city. As opposed to the more scenic routes in Portland, Marine Drive is completely flat. Depending on whether you travel east or west, you will traverse some bridges. A 6 mile route has been included above as an example.

Blue Lake

If you are near the airport and want to get out a little further, Blue Lake Regional Park is a public park 10–15 minute drive west of the Airport, along the coast of the Columbia River. Its 101 acres boast bike paths, wetlands, and the titular lake, which is formed from underground springs. There is very affordable parking. Follow the bike paths for runs ranging from 3 - 7 miles, or even longer, if you so choose. For more information about the park, visit its website.

Stay

Like most cities where the downtown area centers around the waterfront, Portland has many hotels to stay near the iconic routes. The largest cluster of hotels is on the western side of the river between W. Burnside St. and SW Clay St. There are also hotels on the eastern side near the Convention Ctr./North Steel Bridge, with good access to the waterfront trails.

West side on left, east side on right

Running Stores/Community

It is no surprise that an active community and city like Portland has many helpful independent running stores to choose from in the downtown area.

Portland Running Company - Located right in downtown Portland (corner of SE Morrisson and SE Grand), Group Runs of many distances and types every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday

Foot Traffic - There are four branches of this store: Downtown, Northeast, Southeast, and Western Portland. Boasting a handful of maps and routes around in the city on its website, Foot Traffic also hosts free group runs every night of the week, between all four locations. They also host two half marathons during the year: the aforementioned, Easter-themed Hop Hop Half and 5K, and the Holiday Half and 5K.

Road Runner Sports. Near Washington Park/Japanese Garden.

Fleet Feet Sports PDX. Downtown, between the river and Kings Heights. Many group events. Group Running Calendar.

Red Lizard Running Club - Formed in 1992, Team Red Lizard hosts free group runs every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday evenings, welcoming all non-members to run. Thursday evenings in fall and winter, the group runs the Council Crest route described above; in the summer and spring, they run the Pittock Mansion route described above.

Oregon Road Runners Club - Formed in 1970 as an outgrowth of the Trails End Marathon, the ORCC is the second oldest running club in Oregon. With over 1000 members, it is the largest running club in the west and among the top ten largest int he country.

Events

Portland Marathon and Half Marathon . October. Ranked by Runner’s World as the “best people’s marathon in the west” and routinely ranked as one of the top 10 marathons in the country, the race will celebrate its 45th anniversary in October 2016. The half marathon portion of the race fills up fast, with registrations filled up by early February every year.

Adidas Shamrock Run. March. The largest running event in Oregon, and the second largest on the west coast, the adidas Shamrock Run offers a race for runners of any distance: 5K, 8K, 15K, half marathon, 5K walk, and a 1K for children 10 and under. Held the Sunday closest to St. Patrick’s Day, this festive race will be run for the 38th time this year and has sold out for six consecutive years.

Hood to Coast / Portland to Coast Relay. August. One of the largest relays in the world, the Hood to Coast is an overnight running event, usually held in late August, the Friday and Saturday before Labor Day. Starting at Mount Hood and consisting of 200 miles to the coast of Oregon, over 1,000 12 person teams compete. Enjoying great popularity, this event has sold out on opening day of registration for the past 18 years.

Trail Factor Half Marathon - Held on or near Memorial Day each year, the Trail Factor Half Marathon runs through the rolling trails of Forest Park in the NW section of Portland. This challenging, but scenic, course is new to the Portland area and benefits the Forest Park Conservancy.