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Leif Erikson Drive
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Leif Erikson Drive in Forest ParkWhat’s to Love: How many cities can claim an 11-mile stretch of dirt road closed to motorized vehicles that is located within a protected, urban forest? In that same forest, lies a 30 mile hiking trail called the “Wildwood” that sports a healthy amount of peripheral trails and loop-hikes. Well, if you live in Portland, Oregon, you’re incredibly lucky to have this amazing recreational resource called “Forest Park.” Leif Erikson Drive is the 11 mile stretch of dirt road running through the heart of Forest Park. It’s just a small piece of the Forest Park puzzle, but it definitely warrants its own post on Portland Family Adventures.

Trailer bike on Leif Erikson Drive in Forest Park Certainly, an entire website could be dedicated solely to the recreational opportunities inside Portland’s Forest Park. As the summer approaches, Portland Family Adventures will be more active in cataloging these opportunities inside this vast park. Leif Erikson Drive provides the main artery for hiking, mountain biking, cycle-cross training, endurance running, trail running, and much, much more. Leif Erikson Drive has many access points and is often used as a way of creating loop hikes with the iconic “Wildwood” trail. For many folks Leif Erikson provides a decent mountain biking experience within Portland city limits.

Muddy conditions on Leif Erikson Drive in Forest ParkThe road is nicely graded and provides a pretty smooth surface. There are rocky sections and some short climbs, but for the most part, Leif Erikson provides a pleasant outing for an afternoon ride. Kids just learning to bike might like a trip up Leif Erikson while pedaling a trailer bike behind mom or dad. It will be a fast, bumpy ride, so make sure your child has the strength to hold on tightly.

Little kids love mud!Leif Erikson Drive is a wide, service road, and it’s a miracle one can travel this road without seeing housing developments, clear-cuts, paved-roads, trash, etc. You will only see a bunch of people having a great time in the woods! Here is a clip of of my son enjoying a day of mountain biking.

Caveats: The road has pretty good drainage, but if you’re mountain biking, you’re almost certain to get muddy during winter months.

The NW Thurman Street access is a bit overwhelming – parking is difficult, and there is certainly a lot of action there. If you can avoid this access, try Skyline Drive, Germantown Road, or Springville Road.

If you’re mountain biking, stay in control of your bike! Dog owners often let their dogs roam off-leash once away from the trailheads. If you come roaring around a corner at 30+ miles per hour, you may be in for a dangerous surprise. Dog owners, please keep your dogs close by you, even if they are off-leash. There are many user-groups on Leif Erickson, so please be respectful of your fellow recreationalists.

Website: Portland Parks & Rec. Site Mountain Biking Map (PDF)

Distance from Portland: Within 3 miles of downtown Portland

Recommended Ages: Leif Erikson is great for kids in jogging strollers and baby backpacks. I don’t recommend taking young kids to hike on this road. Instead, explore the Wildwood and/or many other peripheral trails in Forest Park. Hiking up a road is not too exciting for kids. However, combining other trails for a loop-hike is a decent option.

If you plan on biking, older kids (riding at least a 20″ bike) will have a lot of fun riding here.

Parental Stress Factor: I don’t like crowded places when I’m trying to enjoy the “wilderness.” Thurman is literally like a staging area for a big-time event. Of course, it can be very mellow during the weekdays in the morning or early afternoon. Even during busy times, this is not a stressful activity for most parents.

Physical Difficulty: The road has only slight elevation gains and losses. I don’t consider this to be physically challenging at all. From Thurman, it is mostly an uphill (very gradual and in spurts) ride for at least 5 miles.

Family Fun Factor: If you’re coming for a family mountain bike ride, I rate the family fun factor as “high.” If you’re coming for a hike or stroll, the fun factor decreases.

Pet Friendly: Yes…Forest Park is a great place to take your dog. Please be mindful of other users and pick-up your dog’s waste.

Weather Considerations: Leif Erikson Drive is open year-round, and there are no special weather considerations. If you go in the winter months, there will be mud.

Plastered with mudInsider Info: Look for mile makers every 1/4 mile on Leif Erickson. For parents who jog with their kids, these markers help keep track of mileage.

If you park at NW Thurman, check-out the excellent loop-hikes that branch-off from Leif Erikson. Our favorite 4.8 mile loop uses the Alder trail, which is about 1.5 miles up Leif Erikson. When you see it, take a left going uphill until the trail intersects with the Wildwood trial. Take a left on the Wildwood and continue past the Dogwood trail until you reach the Wild Cherry trail. Take a left on the Wild Cherry, which is a fairly steep (1/4 mile) descent-trail ending back at Leif Erikson Drive.

Plastered with mud - dad too!Family Tips: Because Leif Erikson is essentially a road, it’s not very exciting hiking for young kids. Therefore, if we plan on doing a loop-hike, we always bring our jogging stroller for the times when we’re on Leif. My son just hops back in during these road sections, and hops back out when we get on a side trail. This strategy has worked well for us in Forest Park. A backpack was just too much, because my son kept wanting to get in and out of it constantly. A jogging stroller is a bit difficult to push during some sections, but for the most part, it’s doable in almost every section of Forest Park.

If you’re biking, a trailer bike is a good option, but please make sure your child is able to hold on, because you will get going very fast riding downhill! Because of the mud, goggles or sunglasses are a good option, and make sure you have some fenders. We kept getting sprayed in the face, as you can see in the pictures.

Technorati Tags: Leif Erikson Drive, Lief Erickson, Portland, Oregon, Forest Park, hiking, mountain biking, family hikes, roads closed to motorized vehicles, urban forest

Other Posts of Interest...

Terwilliger Bike Path on April 20th, 2008

Smith & Bybee Wetlands on February 22nd, 2010

Mosier Tunnels on July 7th, 2011


  1. ANd please, bicyclists be respectuful of dog owners also enjoying a safe off leash experience. We nearly had a cyclist run over our dog's tail – on purpose. He rode straight at our dog, who minds very well and was told to "sit" to make it safe for the rider to pass him. The road is WIDE. Aggressive riders could easily hit your child if they are not willing to slow down when others are present. It is a wonderful place with lots of different users. Lets hope we can keep road rage out of our parks.

    • I believe (and you are welcome to challenge me on this) that Leif Erikson Drive is NOT an off-leash area. Therefore, people who let their dogs run free are basically breaking the rules. I think it's important for dog owners to understand this. With so many users, off-leash dogs just create more problems. Most owners think their dogs are well behaved, but they cannot possibly control every variable unless they have control of their dog with a leash. I believe that's why the law exists in the first place.

      Does that give license to bike recklessly down the road? Of course not! However, as of right now, I don't think there is an official speed limit for bikers. Legally, if an off-leash dog gets hit by a biker (no matter how fast they are going) and the biker is injured, the dog owner would be liable. If a speeding biker hits a toddler walking across the road, I think the biker would be liable. I'm not a lawyer, but that seems to make sense to me.

      Off-leash dogs don't bother me as much as trail runners. Most dog owners are respectful of little kids – they don't want to create a conflict. Trail runners often act like it's an inconvenience to have to run around your kid. I've had trail runners shoot me dirty looks as if to say, \”Your kid is taking up the whole trail!\” I'm sorry but hikers, especially kids have the right of way in Forest Park. It's not going to kill your workout to have to slow down while passing kids or hikers.


      • Good points all. We relied on the fact that others had their dogs off leash and assumed it meant that we could as well. Not really an evidence based decision, I will verify before we go again. My family are all avid bicyclists and some communte via bike to work as well. I am not sure who would be liable in a crash, but the obvious "good neighbor" policy would be to be careful and kind to all who share the park, kids, dogs, and adults no matter what their mode of travel. Agressive or even selfish staredown behavior is just not acceptable in any case. I promise to smile at my neighbors as I pass them. We all pay taxes and want to share and care for the parks we enjoy. Thanks for the feedback and I hope you and your kids enjoy the park.

  2. would also like to note: stay away when icy. I have run there during ice.. it is slippery and dangerous.
    Also after bigger storms, the trail could be obstructed.

    As for bikes.. Oy, almost all are awesome. Others are just downright dangerous. The dangerous ones tend to be those that are more experienced riders, too… hammerheads. Of course this is probably 1 out of 100. Not a huge concern. (Probably the ones who have share the road stickers on their cars 🙂 (which i agree with too!) )

    I did have one dart for my dog too yelling "LEASH!" She was on a leashand he nearly clotheslined himself. Not a good experience. Such rage!

    Yes there is a leash law. 🙂

    Order of precidence: Kids, walkers/hikers, runners, THEN bicyclists. Lol, 20 mph around a blind corner.. not smart.

  3. The sign at the Thurman end of the Leif Erickson says "dogs must be on a leash". If I hit a wandering dog on my bike I'm not worried about the dog, I'm worried about breaking my neck or knocking my front teeth out coming down the hill (going east its all downhill) as a I hit a tree or bounce my head off the road surface. An off-leash dog is a statement by the dog owner that my safety is not something they could care less about so how about just being a responsible dog owner and following the rule. Yesterday there were two people with loose dogs and when I politely reminded them about the rule they blew me off. Nice way of indicating "screw you".

    • Yes…dogs are always a tough one for me. My kids have been knocked down on trails right before owners say, "The dog is friendly." My wife used to have a friendly dog, and we'd never use a leash. Even though she was very tame, she licked people and barked. Some people were bugged, but most people seemed okay with her. It really sucked having her out with a leash, especially if no one was around. Dogs like the freedom to move around and run. The trails and roads are already overcrowded with people walking, running, and mountain biking. Off leash dogs present a problem, and I realize that now that the dog is long since dead.

      It's one of the main reasons I don't want another dog. I think it will be very difficult for me obeying the leash laws at all times. Obviously, many people with dogs feels the same way. I have to say Bill, I have been almost run over on Leif Erikson by mountain bikers many times, and I think they pose a notable threat to safety in the park, not to mention all the illegal trails. When I've suggested they slow down, I've been met with the same "screw you" attitude.

      Despite the many user conflicts, it is illegal for dogs to be off-leash. If we don't obey the rules, especially in Forest Park, the park is going to get even more trashed than it's getting now.

  4. I'm planning a visit to Portland in the coming months and need to do some training for a race I'll be competing in later in the year. Is the Leif Erikson trail pretty smooth? I run in Vibram Five Fingers-Bikila, and I want to make sure they would be okay for a 10+ miler on the trail. What are your opinions?

    • Hi,Leif Erickson is a dirt road (90%) – there is a small paved section that is less that 1/4 mile. There are a couple rocky sections, but I think running in Five Fingers would be fine. Most of it if pretty flat with little elevation gain. My wife used to run the 11 miles as well, and it was never a problem. My advice would be to use the Wildwood and other various trails to make loops. You might be able to find a trail map online – I have before, but they're a bit difficult to read. This book has excellent maps: remember running from the start of Leif up to the Nature Trail (I think) heading uphill to the Wildwood and taking that back to the Wild Cherry, which dumps you back on Leif near where you started. It's 11 miles…again, I think.Good luck!VinceVince Schreck, Ed.D.Instructional Designer, Portland State UniversityEditor: Portland Family Adventures

  5. vie dans les forêts et les voyages à travers les forêts est un grand plaisir, et va pour un long trajet sur ​​un jour de pluie est un événement plus et plus agréable.

  6. People generally scoff the leash law. I've been approached by as many as 5 strange dogs at once. Very frustrating!

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