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Portland Urban Hike Day 10: Hiking among Mansions and Treehouse Cathedrals

Miles: 15.26

Starting: Multonomah Village

Ending: Goose Hollow

Neighborhoods Visited: Multonmah Village, Hillsdale, Corbett-Teriwlliger-Lair Hillsdale, Homestead,Terwilliger Parkway

Healy Heights-Southwest Hills, Council Crest, Portland Heights,Goose Hollow

View of downtown Portland from Council Crest
View of downtown Portland from Council Crest

After a festive night spent talking at Next Adventure outdoor store speaking to a group of outdoor enthusiasts and people following my hike, the start of the day was bittersweet. Virgo and I returned to Multonomah Village and proceeded on hands-down the most pleasant day of urban hiking on the trip—if not any urban trip anywhere.

Multonomah Village is adorable—if anything twee. Had we not eaten robustly before we started the day, we could have had our pick of numerous cafes and breakfast places on this little commercial street.

From there, we walked through beautiful residential. A flaw on my part with the mapping took us back to the Stephens Creek Natural Area and disc golf park that we saw on Day 1—admittedly, a highlight of that day, but an urban hiking no-no as far as backtracking.

From there, we went through the heavenly George Himes Park and to a fun staircase described in the Portland Stairway Walks book as “party on top, business in the back.” While my maps had suggested that we would need to backtrack here—that there was no way to get from the bottom of the stairway on SW Barbur Blvd down to the SW Trail 3. This trail uses the 169 step Iowa stairway to connect the Marquem Trail to the Johns Landing neighborhood that is cut off from a lot of natural areas and the park. We bushwhacked from Barbur down to the trail (not recommended—if I were to do it again, I’d take the trail from the end of SW Parkhill Drive to the George Himes Trail to access the Iowa stairs).

Ok—so the George Himes Trail to SW Iowa Street may be one of the coolest things I’ve seen in Portland. This area that one would expect to be a dumping ground instead has this beautiful, well-taken care of trail and beautiful stairs under an old-style bridge. Truly an unexpected gem and wonder of the neighborhood.

Well-cared for new-ish trail connects George Himes Park to Iowa
Well-cared for new-ish trail connects George Himes Park to Iowa

The trail started looking more commercial and industrial near the Seymour stairs—an unlikely, slightly sketchy, path in the bushes that leads to Corbett over I-5. From there, we climbed the OSHU hill again (and yet again, I found that my route had made some mistakes that had me hitting stairs I had already completed on Day 3).  Terwillger Blvd was beautiful but the highlight was dashing into the trees on the Marquam Trail and getting spit out by the KMHD-FM radio station. What I love about being an urban hiker in Portland is seeing all the radio towers from the east side and then climbing up to those radio towers a few days later. They look so impossibly far away and high up on the hill when viewed from the east. It makes their climb (though an easy one) feel like a big accomplishment.

This neighborhood was just rad and the best part of it all was SW 18th Ave Drive. It’s this hidden road inaccessible to through traffic and fairly steep and narrow without any turnarounds. This makes it a perfect forest path for the urban hiker. The houses on this hill are each a tree-house mansion. They’re a church of the forest. They’re a retreat center in the middle of a city. Each one would be a hippie billionaire’s dream.

A thru-hiker’s dream resupply town! Everything a thru-hiker needs with a library and an All You Can Eat Chinese restaurant right next door.
A thru-hiker’s dream resupply town! Everything a thru-hiker needs with a library and an All You Can Eat Chinese restaurant right next door.

After lunch in downtown Hillsdale—a cute walkable mini-downtown are that would make any thru-hiker’s dream resupply town (see photo)—we went back into the hidden pathways, alleys, and woods of the southwest. There’s a beautiful ravine bridge at the northern end of Hillsdale Park near the Robert Gray Middle School that reminded me of similar ravine bridge at Lewis & Clark College or Reed College.

One of the largest stairways in all of Portland connects SW Trombley Drive to SW Melville. The climb kept going and going. My favorite stairway of the whole climb was at 4100 Ches to Waputo and Fairmount. They were wooden steps and went past the King of the Treehouse Cathedrals.

The Tree House Cathedral–my favorite house in all of Portland.
The Tree House Cathedral–my favorite house in all of Portland.

It was a surprise to top out at Council Crest—a green steep hill park (as approached from the south). It offered a fantastic view of Portland and lots of people were out. From there, we took the Marquam Trail to connect some stairs in the Southwest Heights.

The shoulders for pedestrians to walk weren’t great on SW Broadway, but otherwise offered some fun walking through ridiculously mansioned neighborhoods. I had no idea Portland had such opulence—especially when we reached SW Hillcrest Dr. I wondered aloud who could possibly afford to live here, and the Virgo told me, “That’s where Kurt Cobain killed himself.” He proceeded to say there was a famous photo of a loft above a detached garage in a residential area at the corner of SW Hillcrest and SW Ravensview. It seemed a lot more likely he killed himself in Seattle, but it seemed like only someone of Kurt Cobain’s legendary status could afford to live in that house.

 

And then he started laughing and it was obvious he was pulling my leg. In my defense, the photos of Cobain’s house in Seattle (at least the loft above the garage) look fairly similar to the house in Portland.

The neighborhood was home to what SoFar (the bike tour guide we hiked with on Day 5) calls “Portland Royalty.” An older couple told us an unreal-y heavenly house we walked past was Pittock’s other mansion. There’s something exhilarating about walking through ritzy neighborhoods with a backpack and a purpose. No one gives you eyes that ask “what are you doing here?” You’ve got to love Portland! Everyone just assumed we were training for something.

The Goose Hollow stairs were my favorite of the day. I had been falsely led to believe by Allgood that Mt. Adams was never visible from Portland (after all, Lewis and Clark never mapped Mt. Adams, though apparently their journals mention it). I was jumping up and down in excitement to see from the top of SW Cardinell. These are the best views in Portland: Mt Adams, Mt St Helens, Mt Hood, and downtown in the foreground. The big house had a plaque from the National Historic Register, but I couldn’t find it on this thorough and engrossing list of places in Portland on the Register.

Vertical garden growing on a fence
Vertical garden growing on a fence

A highlight of the day was descending our last stairway and seeing my friend Dave wave at us from his desk. Every time I’ve been over to Dave’s, I’ve dreamed of the day I’d be on those stairs as a Portland Urban Thru-Hiker. How accomplished I felt to finally be making my dream come true! The feeling was not at all unlike how I felt walking the PCT through a climbing area in Truckee. I remember using the PCT as an approach trail to this climbing area and had dreamed of the day when I would actually get to hike the PCT.

 

Liz "Snorkel" Thomas

Liz Thomas is a well-traveled adventure athlete most known for breaking the women’s unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail in 2011. She has completed the Triple Crown of Hiking–the Appalachian Trail, the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail–and has backpacked over 15,000 miles across the United States. While not on trail, Liz lives in Denver, Colorado.