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PDX Postcard: Urban Portland Hike Suits to a “T”

Chill in the ultra-lush forest that feels miles from civilization. Photo courtesy of Travel Portland

By Julie Snyder

We were completely alone in the ultra-lush fir forest save for the odd, plump banana slug undulating leisurely along the Marquam Trail, named after Philip Marquam, the largest landowner in Multnomah County in the late 1800s. The patter of rain on the tree canopy and burbling streams muffled the sounds of civilization—yet downtown Portland, Oregon was just three miles away.

We were hiking the Trail portion of the “4T”—a creative and affordable way to explore a corner of Portland via Tram, Trolley, Train and the aforementioned Trail.

Inaugurated in the fall of 2009, the 4T Trail was conceived by urban trails activist Don Baack. The Trail portion might not have been feasible had it not been for the foresight of city planners who, a century earlier, protected huge swaths of in-town woodlands, and for the pioneering reintroduction of an urban light rail system in the 1970s.

One can start the trek with the “T” of choice. We took the MAX Train from Jeld-Wen Stadium, home of the Portland Timbers soccer team, to the zoo (Washington Park Station). Then we hiked the four-mile trail to the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) campus, perched on a bluff above the city. The next “T”—the Portland Aerial Tram—dropped us down to the Willamette River waterfront where we boarded the final “T”—the Trolley (aka, the Portland Streetcar)—for a ride to downtown via Portland State University.

The tram from Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) to the South Waterfront takes in Mount Hood on a clear day. Photo courtesy of Travel Portland

The Trail portion was well-marked with green “4T” signs and highlighted by Council Crest Park—the city’s (and our hike’s) highest point at 1,073 feet. Our peak-studded panorama from the park offered glimpses of Mounts St. Helens, Rainier, Adams and Hood. From the park, the trail meandered down a forested canyon to the pooch-pleasing Marquam Shelter with a water fountain at dog level.

From the shelter, the Connor Trail ascended a narrow ravine—with houses perched at improbable angles amid the giant Douglas firs and cascading ferns. Once at the top of Marquam Hill and the OHSU campus, you can follow the signs or ask for direction to the Tram. We enjoyed a coffee and the view from a mini-solarium near the Tram entry before making our descent.

Opened in December 2006, the Portland Aerial Tram travels 3,300 feet and drops 500 feet from OHSU’s Kohler Pavilion to the South Waterfront in three minutes. Then it’s Trolley time. Streetcars were the transport of choice for many years from the mid-1880s until the mid-1900s, when affection for automobiles trumped the trolleys. But 50 years later, a resurgence began, and the Portland Streetcar network is now a critical link in the region’s superb mass transit system.

Powell’s City of Books consumes an entire city block. Photo courtesy of Travel Portland

We traveled through downtown, past Powell’s City of Books, a gargantuan independent bookstore that consumes and entire block, to bustling NW 23rd Avenue. There our 4T tour terminated at 23Hoyt, a lively gastro-pub where we sipped a seasonal ale while sharing a scrumptious Waygu beef burger. After our multi-transport city tour, it suited us to a “T.”


Julie Snyder lives in Portland, Oregon. As a writer, editor and publisher, she’s contributed to a variety of lifestyle, in-flight and travel publications, and produced award-winning catalogs for Backroads travel company.  Among her passions are animal welfare, walking, travel and the Green Bay Packers.


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