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Three Great Places to Run in Portland, Oregon

women runners in Portland
My BRF, Molly (right), and I taking a photo break before dropping down to the Eastbank Esplanade and Waterfront Park. Portland's downtown, on the westside of the lovely Willamette River, lies behind us.

A few months ago, Dimity described her three favorite places to run in Denver, where she lives. Now it’s my turn: I'm serving up a trio of great places to run in Portland, Oregon.

women trail runners at Leif Erikson gate
Another pre-run photo op: This is Molly and me last Sunday morning at the NW Thurman gate to Leif Erikson Drive.

Leif Erikson Drive: Ignore the “drive” part in this options name: It’s an 11.2-mile long fire road closed to vehicles, nestled in the hills of the northwest quadrant of the city. It’s wide, relatively smooth packed dirt "road" that winds through Forest Park, one of the country’s largest urban forest reserves. Shaded by towering trees, like Douglas firs, red alders, and western hemlocks, with beautiful ferns and abundant moss covering the ground (and trees!), it stays cool in the summer and somewhat protected during Portland’s frequent “liquid sunshine” (read: rain). Numerous single-track trails branch off of Leif Erikson, allowing you to explore and make every run unique.

women runners on Leif Erikson
Two mother runners--Jen (left) and Maya--I met last week on Leif. (Each of them has four children!) Note the mile marker behind us: There are trailside markers every quarter-mile.

Waterfront Park: This is my go-to suggestion for folks staying downtown, as it’s almost literally a stone’s throw from many hotels. It’s a roughly 3-mile loop that hugs both the west and east side of the Willamette River, the waterway that bisects the Rose City. The paved route runs between the Steel Bridge on the north and the Hawthorne Bridge to the south (although you can easily add mileage by heading north on the west side or south on the east side). There are several water fountains along the route, frequented by numerous runners, walkers, and cyclists. (And, yes, homeless people: You're likely to pass several camped out along the riverbanks or sleeping on benches.) Nifty note: Twelve-hundred feet of the Eastbank Esplanade section is a floating walkway, the longest of its kind in the U.S.

Looking north along the floating walkway of the Eastbank Esplanade.
Looking north along the floating walkway of the Eastbank Esplanade.

Terwilliger Parkway: Another popular running route with a misleading name, but break this one down into its parts: park + way. Terwilliger seems like a winding road with a very wide, well-lit sidewalk up a heavily wooded hillside, but it is actually a roughly 2.25-mile linear park designed by a landscape architect and intended for active enjoyment. Located a quarter-mile south of downtown, it’s another great destination for vacationers or business travelers. If your trip to Portland calls for a long run, you can wind your way from Waterfront Park, up Terwilliger, and on to Tryon Creek State Park—as long as you don’t mind some climbing. Heading south, Terwilliger is almost a continual climb. Not too steep, but it’s consistent. There’s a water fountain and restrooms about a third of the way up Terwilliger, and a water fountain awaits runners at the top.

9 responses to “Three Great Places to Run in Portland, Oregon

  1. I’m not a mother but I am a stay at home father and I really enjoyed this post since I am always trying to find new places to run in Portland. To me it’s a great way to wind down after the kids have been going crazy all day. Thanks again for the awesome running places

  2. So I am “vintage”- have never been called that! Kinda like it! Better than “old” for sure…has some class…I am using this from now on! Thanks!

  3. Thank you, SBS!! I travel to Portland quite a bit and I love suggestions that extend further than a loop around my hotel room. I am going to print this out and keep it in my running journal.

  4. I wish I could remember the course for the “Cascade Run-Off” course back in the 70s/80s. I remember being along the waterfront and climbing a good hill mid course. Maybe that is the hill you speak of. I got to see Bill Rogers and still have my finisher’s shirt. It was a great 15k!

    1. Hi Cheryl–Fabulous vintage memories! I bet you climbed Barbur Blvd., which climbs much the same hill as Terwilliger. Many races go along waterfront, then climb up Barbur.

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