As a married couple with two small girls, our most adventuresome hiking days seem both behind and ahead of us. Until then, our goal is to instill a love of nature and a joy for hiking in the next generation.
Our favorite go-to and stand-by hike can be found nearby in Washington Park’s Hoyt Arboretum, a short drive from our home in Portland and just up the hill from the Portland Zoo. We have hiked this park in every season, rain or shine. There are always wonders to find and surprises to discover.
The starting point to multiple trail heads and hiking options starts at the Visitor’s Center on Fairview Road. You can go up over the hill for views of the downtown and the mountains beyond or, our personal favorite, cross the road and descend into the valley on the other side.
Our favorite hike is a reasonable loop under two miles and perfect for young hikers that both starts and ends at the Picnic Shelter across Fairview Road from the Visitor’s Center. From the picnic shelter, follow the Spruce trail north down across Fischer Lane and into the forest beyond. Barely 100 yards along the trail is stand of trees to the right called the Fairy Forest – we didn’t name it, it’s that way on the map!
For young kids this is a mandatory first stop, inspiring flights of imagination and showcasing the whimsical nature of Portlanders. For here, in the bends and hollows of the tree trunks you will find small lean-tos and shelters hand-crafted by the fairies themselves, or perhaps their imaginative adult friends simply acting on their behalf. It is enough to inspire delight in young kids who, fooled or not, are soon scrambling in the brush to find twigs and sticks to make their own fairy houses.
Back on the trail, you follow the Spruce Trail along until it ends at the Wildwood trail. This time of the year, the dark green tones of the Sequoias and pines are highlighted and mixed with the colorful explosions of yellow and orange and red run riot as the foliage makes a last incredible display before winter’s arrival in a few short weeks.
Take Wildwood to the left and follow its zig-zag course down through the Sequoia Collection past the silvered trunks of the giants. There is a viewing platform just down the hill, a mandatory stop to enjoy the majestic silence of these great trees. Next, follow the trail down and across the wooden bridge and back up the other side until it’s time to peel off and follow White Pine trail. Cross the road and climb up and around a gentle hill to the Ginkgo Collection, a set of vibrant yellow explosions this time of year.
If you have young kids in tow, there is a natural place for a break at the stone ring just past the Ginkgo Collection at the start of the paved Bristlecone Pine trail. You are past the half-way point here and our kids love to take a break and a snack before we follow the Bristlecone Pine to one of our favorite trees in the Arboretum, the Monkey Puzzle Tree. It is a spiky, bristling tree from the tip of each leaf to the trunk rising up the middle. It is unique and a favorite any time of year.
From the Monkey Puzzle Tree, branch off from Bristlecone to the Creek Trail long enough to cross over a small bridge and climb up to a ridge where you can see the Picnic Shelter that is your end-point once again. At the next fork, take the Fir Trail and that brings you back home through a pleasant meadow marking the end of your hike.
This simple, enjoyable loop is not a long hike by any measure, but it is always there, an easy impulse and a sweet taste of the outdoors for young legs that will one day grow into strong hikers.