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Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge – Hiking Loop
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What’s to Love: A great 2 mile loop-hike right in the heart of the Westmoreland area, and right in the heart of a beautiful Wildlife Refuge. Many hard-working people have transformed this entire wetland into a wonderful destination for hiking, biking, bird watching and exploring. For the most part, it is now very clean and safe. Historically, that has not always been the case (see Caveats).
The hike itself is just the right distance for young toddlers to begin exploring hiking and the outdoors. Granted, they will not be able to hike the entire distance, but there is a good mixture of a paved-path and dirt, single-track hiking. The trail can be combined with a trip to Oaks Bottom Amusement Park, Sellwood Park, or a longer stroll along the Springwater Corridor. Here is a short clip from the Refuge.

Caveats: The parking lot (off Milwaukie Ave.) is very small, but we have never had problems parking. Don’t leave valuables in your car – we have seen enough smashed glass in the parking area to know theft in the area is a problem.

This area used to be an illegal dumping ground (literally) for trash, washing machines, couches, etc. Although clean-up efforts have helped get rid of most of this junk, there are still remanants. Within the past few years, there have also been reports of violence toward hikers and runners in this area, but we have never had a problem. It appears that the clean-up efforts and increased use by families has driven-off most of the concerns.

Website: Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge

Distance from Portland: Within Portland city limits.

Recommended Ages: All ages – we started carrying our son on this hike right after he was born. As soon as he could walk, we let him go on the dirt sections. He loves this hike!

Parental Stress Factor: Low Stress! It’s a nice area for kids to hike and explore. I think your family will enjoy it. 🙂 Watch out for the beehive (see Insider Info) and bikes along the Springwater Corridor.

Physical Difficulty: Low to Medium – this is a pretty easy hike. The only difficult section is pushing the stroller back-up to the parking area on Milwaukie Ave.

Family Fun Factor: Medium High! We always have a great time on this loop. It’s just the right distance for our son, and it’s a great choice if you have other things to do that day. It’s the perfect hike for weekend mornings

Pet Friendly: Dogs will like this hike. Parents note that many people let their dogs off-leash on the trail (illegally). My son likes to run ahead, and one time a running dog really scared him, but usually even the off-leash dogs are under control. If your kids like to run, make sure you keep them in your sight.

Weather Considerations: You can hike this trail year round. If you do it in bad weather, make sure you have rain-gear packed. If it has been dry, the trail should be void of mud.

Insider Info: There are some homeless people who often hang out near the parking area. Personally, I don’t think homeless people cause problems at Oaks – they mind their own business. However, some people are very turned-off by this and therefore, think the area is unsafe. I disagree, but you will need to use your own judgment.

The real thing to watch out for here is the beehive along the dirt trail. It’s about 1/4 mile down the trial on your right-hand side. I put a picture of it here, but it’s not too obvious. It’s the hole in near the bottom of the tree. It’s close enough to the trail to warrant hasty movement through this section! Leave the hive alone – the bees are helpful to the environment.

Also, if you’re on your bikes (not on the dirt trail – that’s illegal!) riding the paved-path through the wetland area, watch out for uneven pavement. The spots are marked with paint, but I had a friend take a nasty fall here – pay attention! Along the way, there are some great spots for throwing rocks and sticks – take some time to let your kids explore.

Finally, if they parking area is full on Milwaukie Ave., head over to Sellwood Park. You can take a trail located on the north-end of the parking lot right down to the loop (see Family Tips).

Family Tips: This hike starts in the parking area and immediately heads down a steep hill on pavement. Watch out for bikers who go very fast down this hill. When the hill bottoms out, look for the dirt trail on your left (bikes are not allowed on this dirt section). This trail is about 1/2 – 3/4 of a mile, and it’s relatively flat with just short up and down sections. There are some rocks, roots and stumps – new walkers will inevitably end-up taking a digger here and there, but it’s all part of learning!

After you leave the dirt trail, you’ll see a spur trail that switches back up to Sellwood Park. If the parking area is full on Milwaukie Ave., you could start the loop from this parking area. To complete the loop stay on the main trail (you’ll see our “snack area” in this picture) and head toward the Amusement Park. Follow the bypass under the paved path, and head right (north) on the Springwater Corridor for about 3/4 of a mile. This is when you’ll be happy you have a stroller!

Look for the return section on your right – the paved path takes a dip, and you’ll see the underpass. Walk through and straight up the steep hill to return to your car. This is a great little outing.

An off-road stroller (like a Bob Jogger) is a great option for a carrier. We used our backpack before our son could walk, but as soon as he started walking, he constantly wanted to get out of the backpack. Then, after walking a bit, he’d want to go back in, repeat, etc.

If you bring an off-road jogger, you’ll be a happy parent! If your kids want to walk or run, they can just hop out. When they are tired, or your back on the pavement, you can push them. It works well.

Osprey Nest!

Technorati Tags: Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, Wildlife Refuge, birdwatching, ornithology, osprey nest, springwater corridor, Oaks Amusement Park, family hiking in southeast Portland

Other Posts of Interest...

Leif Erikson Drive on May 28th, 2008

Springbrook Park/Uplands Elementary on March 8th, 2008

Audubon Society of Portland on August 1st, 2008


  1. That place looks creepy, it was nice though but if you are walking alone in that area, you will think that there are something behind you like a ghost or something, but nonetheless it was pretty amazing place to visit.

    • I have been to Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge probably a hundred times without incident. I think it used to be a creepy place, but they've put so many resources into cleaning it up. There are currently so many users that are in the area on a daily basis. However, it's NEVER a bad idea to go hiking with a friend.

  2. It looks nice when it would be spring. It's autumn because the leaves are orange and red.

  3. I don't readily see the "loop" on the map. Will someone help me see it?

    • Hi Travis,

      You'll want to park in the lot across the street from the NW Trackers' office (5040 SE Milwaukie Ave Portland, OR 97202). Then, hike downhill from the parking lot on a paved path. At the bottom of this paved path, you'll see "The Bluff Trail" off to your left. Follow the Bluff Trail all the way to a fork (take the right fork to stay on the Bluff Trail). This will put you out on the Springwater Corridor right at Oaks Amusement Park. Take a right on the Springwater to the first intersection, where you'll take a right back to the bottom of the paved path where you started the route. You can see all of this on a satellite view on Google.

  4. When is the best month in spring to see salamanders & tadpoles/frogs?

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