Hiking the Wildwood Trail (or, about 10 more miles than you probably want to walk)

Those of you in Portland are probably familiar with the Wildwood Trail, that famed, switchbacking, roundabout trail that snakes its way from one end of Forest Park to the other and then a few miles into Washington Park as well. It’s a fantastic thing to have nearby: 30.2 miles of unpaved, forested, peaceful, birdful, right-now-becoming-fall-colored trail that makes you totally forget that you’re in a city.

It’s where I used to spend a lot of time running, back when I worked nearby. And this weekend, James and I set out to hike the length of it, end to end.

wildwood start(no, we didn’t start at midnight, despite the appearances of this picture:)

Because in Portland the sun’s up for less than 12 hours these days, we opted to get a ride to our start from one of our favorite walking partners in crime, Craig from Walklandia fame. He didn’t hike with us this time around, but he’s a two-time Wildwood-length walker, so he appreciated our quest enough to pick us up in the dark and drive us half an hour in the dark to the north end of Forest Park. Because of him, we were able to start walking just as it was starting to get light. Now that’s a true friend:)

The Trimet bus can take you within a mile of that trailhead, but not early enough for us this time around.


wildwood trail markings(every quarter mile of the Wildwood Trail is marked with a blue diamond and a mileage sign, making it way super easy to navigate the myriad other trails that crisscross it. Though I’m not sure I wanted to know every quarter mile of progress.)

Maybe we should put this in context. Before we set out on this hike, the farthest that James had ever previously walked in a day, we decided, was probably about 14 miles. I think the longest I’d ever walked in a day was a backpacking day with my brother, maybe 25 miles on the Tahoe Rim Trail (I’m not sure if I should count having run a marathon, since that seems like a whole different thing. But either way, somewhere in the 25-26.2 mile vicinity). Nevertheless, we figured hey! It’s walking! How hard can it be?

And actually, it felt pretty good. At first. We kept a pretty steady and comfortable 3 miles/hr pace, even including a snack-and-stretch break after 10 miles, until we stopped for lunch somewhere around 17 miles. It was a beautiful day, super peaceful and perfectly temperatured, and we were having a great time. Sometimes we talked; sometimes we listened to the wind and the birds, hearing squirrels bound through the underbrush. The varied thrush are back for the season; they kept us good company as we strolled. Every so often a gentle breeze would shower us in leaves. We saw hairy and pilleated woodpeckers. It was a quintessentially fall day and we were in the woods and there were mushrooms coming up everywhere and it was lovely.

spider building its web(just taking some time to watch a spider build its web)

wildwood trail halfway point(yay! 15 miles! Halfway and PSYCHED!:)

lunch stop(this might be my favorite picture of the whole day: James contemplating whether or not he will share the chips with me at lunch;)

I’m not sure exactly where it started feeling more like a slog, but after a while, it definitely transitioned away from “aw, what a happy walk in the woods!” to “okay, only 7 more miles; we can do this.” James started to look like an 85-year-old man with hip problems. I ignored a limp from my knee, which has been annoying me since I started my bike trip in September. We took more breaks. We distracted ourselves by trying to name all the countries in Africa, NW to SE, and then all the states in the US. I worried that in my attempts to be chipper and encouraging I would go overboard and James would kill me in a fit of anger and exhaustion. And then I remembered that James would never kill anything, and I started to worry that maybe I would kill him by making him walk too far.

But there’s something to be said for momentum and precedent. Having walked 23 miles already, and then 25, and 26, and 27, of course 30 was feasible. Once you’re in process, it’s almost harder not to finish.

And you know what? We made it. As we knew we would. It took just about 12 hours, and it was actually a really nice walk. I would even do it again (I think, anyway. James might have a different story;)

Macleay Trail intersection(5.5 miles left at the intersection with Lower Macleay Trail. I think it was at this point that James said he was “manning up.” Heh)

wildwood end -- or start(YAY! Made it! Another couple who, unbeknownst to us, had been hiking behind us all day, took this picture for us)

The end is just about .2 miles away from the Oregon Zoo MAX station, so we walked down to the train (yay! More walking!) and trained to downtown, where we minced our way back onto the streets and to a bus stop a few blocks away (even more walking! YES!!:). We’d decided somewhere along the line to just order some Thai food from the delicious restaurant by our house (cuz who wants to stand in the kitchen and cook after that?), so we got off the bus, I escorted James home, and then picked up our dinner (more walking!! Bring it!!:)

I’m getting snarky here, but really, it was an awesome hike. Though we were pretty darn tired (this might be a fun time to mention that on Saturday, the day before, I’d been totally laid out in bed all day feeling super sick: nothing like 30 miles of fresh air to make you feel healthier!) — though we were tired, and though James may have looked entirely crippled, it was a fantastic day of traipsing through the woods. And a fun adventure.

And it’s all possible within city limits! Portland is a pretty fantastic place to live:)



  1. Bravo, vous 2!!

  2. How wonderful! My drive to work is 30 miles (freeways, streets, traffic), but I would much rather be rambling through a lovely forest!☺


    • Heh — maybe someday you could walk to work! It would take approximately 12 hours. ;) (Though it sounds like it would be much more soul-crushing of a walk.)

    • Oh, and hi Monika!! I didn’t know you knew about this blog! :)

      • Yes, your mom sent out an email about your bear adventure, so I started reading! And I forwarded her email to Elisabeth, so now she knows, too. A pleasure to see what adventures you’re having!

  3. Pingback: Wildwood end to end: the best “urban” trail run! – CarFreeRambles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.