Destination: Portland, Oregon
Photo: Shutterstock.com

From trails and parks to donuts and beer, perks for runners abound in this growing, verdant, and, yes, weird city.

Portland’s popularity—and population—boom suggests that the rest of the world is catching on to what runners have known for decades: the Rose City rewards visitors with breathtaking scenery, miles of interconnected paths and trails and countless quirky attractions.

With a mild climate to boot, elite and recreational runners train outside year-round (after learning how to run in the rain). Global running brands call the Portland metro area home, including behemoths Nike, Adidas, On Running and Under Armour. The city also boasts an impressive list of locally-owned running stores and fun, festive races that embody the unique personality of Portlandia’s running community.

Runners are all thumbs up at the Shamrock Run Portland.

“The Portland running scene continues to be quite dynamic given that we are a hub for some of the most innovative footwear companies in the world. That kind of running prowess, coupled with the proximity of Eugene to Portland, creates a mecca for both elite athletes and some of the greatest minds of the sport,” says Sean Rivers, owner of Foot Traffic running stores.

A proliferation of stores like Foot Traffic underscore a community-based ethos you’ll recognize at run clubs, iconic races, and pub runs. Don’t be fooled by the marathon episode of Portlandia. (Which features real-life local runners as extras!)

Much of Portland’s allure comes from its vicinity to striking natural and historic features, such as Mt. Hood, the Oregon Coast, the Columbia Gorge, and Willamette Valley wineries. But within city limits, acres of world-renowned public space beg to be trod, bucket-list races accumulate, and all of the food carts beckon.

A run along the Willamette River can be added to a variety of easy, scenic loops through downtown Portland or the Pearl District. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Highlighted Runs

Willamette River Waterfront
Don’t miss this iconic route—arguably one of the most popular and convenient routes in the city. Easily accessible from downtown, the waterfront features well marked pedestrian- and bike-friendly paths along east and west sides of the Willamette River. Most bridges are crossable on foot, which allows you to make a loop of your liking.

For a 3-mile loop, start at the Eastbank Esplanade and run north, onto a floating walkway, to the Steel Bridge; cross the bridge and run south through Tom McCall Waterfront Park to the Hawthorne Bridge; cross and return to where you started (then grab a bite at Bunk in the Central Eastside District).

For longer runs: head south to the public transit-, cyclist- and pedestrian-only Tilikum Crossing, at the South Waterfront, or to the most southerly Sellwood Bridge. A loop that includes the Sellwood Bridge and the Steel Bridge ticks off 12 miles. It’s especially popular with commuters on weekdays and with marathon training groups on weekend mornings.

Tip: It’s “Will-am-ette, not Will-a-met,” and “Kooch” Street, not “Couch” Street.

Springwater Corridor

From southeast Portland, this rail-to-trail corridor runs more than 20 miles east to Gresham, Oregon, through neighborhoods, wetlands, buttes, and farmland. The wide, paved multi-use path is mostly flat, and has some parallel soft dirt sections. It’s great for out-and-back workouts, as un-interrupted swaths are traffic- and intersection-free.

Sauvie Island

Just 10 miles north of the city, between the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, and the Multnomah channel, Sauvie Island offers peaceful, pancake-flat running—in addition to bountiful berries, U-pick produce, and corn mazes on several working farms. Site of the annual Foot Traffic Flat Half and Marathon, the most popular loop circumnavigates the island.

Tip: Head to Walton Beach post-run for a dip in the Columbia River. A sandy dune makes for a nice, wide beach. Nearby Collins Beach is clothing-optional.

Forest Park is a 5,100-acre trail running sanctuary on the west side of Portland, offering 70 miles of trails from numerous trailheads. Photo: Elizabeth Carey

Forest Park

Portland is home to one of the largest urban forests in the country. Forest Park includes 5,175 acres and more than 80 miles of trails, including fire lanes, old forest roads, and soft- and hard-packed surfaces. Leif Erickson Drive, which starts at a trailhead at the end of NW Thurman Road, is a wide, rolling, mixed surface road that runs more than 11 miles one-way, with quarter-mile markers. A multi-use road, Leif accommodates cyclists, hikers and runners, but is closed to motorized vehicles.

Wildwood, a single-track, 30-mile point-to-point trail, provides a more technical, hillier run through the forest. Many trails branch off both Wildwood and Leif, multiplying your options for distance, vertical, and views. No matter where you go in this remarkable park, you’ll experience towering trees, abundant ferns, and a range of moss and lichen.

Terwilliger

A classic route in Portland’s southwest hills, this run along Terwilliger Boulevard winds up from Duniway Track—a freshly renovated public track next to Under Armour’s new offices, in a former YMCA. Ideally, warm up for a lap or two on the track before heading uphill. Follow the path up 6th Avenue, past a lilac garden, and stay to the left to climb Terwilliger Boulevard. You’ll cover about 2 miles before reaching the Chart House, where you can flip it for a 4-mile out and back, or keep climbing up to Barbur Boulevard for a 7-mile out and back.

Mt. Tabor

From atop the summit of a dormant volcanic cinder cone, Mount Tabor Park features one of the best views of the city. Paved and dirt single-track trails wind around (flat) and up (moderately steep) the Douglas fir-covered mound. In summer months, pack a post-run picnic and blanket so you can enjoy one of Portland’s free evening concerts or movie showings.

Glendoveer

Check out this 2.2-mile wood-chip trail around Glendoveer golf course on the east side. The golf course hosts Nike’s NXN high school cross country nationals in the winter, which includes a community race if you want to test your mettle; otherwise, stick to the exterior loop for better footing and fewer shouts of “fore.” You can park and start at the trailhead at 14015 NE Glisan Street. This is a great spot to log a soft-surface easy run or intervals on your way to or from Portland International Airport or the Gorge for sight-seeing.

Sarah Bowen Shea is a regular on Portland’s favorite running routes.

Local Flavor

Sarah Bowen Shea, co-founder and COO of Another Mother Runner, moved to Portland from San Francisco in 2000 for a job with her husband. A decade later, she and friend Dimity McDowell published their first “Run Like A Mother” book, which kick-started a growing community, website, podcast and brand that they continue to nurture. Shea originally started running to improve her endurance as a competitive collegiate rower at Colgate University. She enjoyed exploring on foot and savored the alone time running afforded—even through central New York’s epic snowstorms. As a busy professional, wife and mother of three kids (including twins), Shea says she doesn’t race “much,” but will run her 14th marathon this fall and has qualified for Boston twice. “I love running outside in Portland so much, I don’t need the added incentive of a training plan to get me out the door,” she says. “I often joke that just like the Inuit supposedly have 30 words for ‘snow,’ I think Portlanders must have 30 words for ‘green.”

Portland Buzz

Saturday Market, an open-air arts, crafts, and food market, is an essential Rose City experience in Portland’s gritty Old Town and Chinatown District. Every weekend from March through Christmas Eve, the site on SW Naito Parkway becomes a bustling, vibrant collage of sights, smells, and sounds. Each hand-crafted item provides legit local flavor. With everything from jewelry and scarves to bonsais and soap, vendors offer a dizzying array of merchandise. Founded in 1973, Saturday Market is the largest continuously operating crafts market in the US, but it never gets old. Nor do the PDX Original Elephant Ears—enormous, melt-in-your mouth delicacies that happen to be vegan. Don’t forget to snap a shot of the “Made in Oregon” (formerly White Stag) neon sign that hangs adjacent to the Burnside Bridge. PSM is easily accessible via MAX, the city’s light rail system, bus, and—of course—bike. It’s also a close walk to the Pearl District, a bustling revitalized area with the cavernous Powell’s Book Store, multiple breweries, and posh shops.

Local Eats and Sips

To savor the freshest of Portland’s award-winning craft brews, try Breakside, Hopworks, and Great Notion locations. (Watch out for those hard-hitting ABVs after a race effort or long run.)

Close to one of Forest Park’s most visited trailheads and perfect for post-run refueling, St. Honoré Boulangerie on NW Thurman proffers delightfully scrumptious French pastries, breads, drinks, and entrees, with an open-design kitchen where you can watch bakers as they work.

For the conscientious eater, Harlow on SE Hawthorne serves delectable gluten-free, vegan, and customizable dishes in a homey setting on the funkiest of streets. It delivers excellent people-watching and is open all day, most days.

Portland’s doughnut movement started with the colorful and kooky Voo Doo Doughnuts (where you can get married). But Blue Star and Pip’s Originals have risen among the unique doughnut ranks.

If you scream for ice cream, Salt & Straw is worth the (usually long) wait. Seasonal flavors include wildflowers and herbs, while year-round flavors feature local ingredients like Stumptown coffee.

Community Knowledge

Running clubs, group runs, team workouts, hash harriers—Rose City has them all. The well-known Team Red Lizard welcomes high-level and recreational runners alike. “They do a great job bridging the spectrum of abilities,” says Rivers. TRL hosts four weekly runs, including track workouts at Duniway Track each Tuesday at 6pm and group hill runs from Goose Hallow Inn on Thursdays at 6pm.

Oregon Road Runners Club, with deep local roots founded in 1970, hosts year-round speed workouts on the west side of Portland every Tuesday, with monthly post-run pizza parties.

NoPo Run Club, a newer addition to Portland’s running scene, hosts a Wednesday night pub run at 6:30pm from Stormbreaker Brewing, with 5k and 10k distance options and a bevy of post-run beer options.

 

No matter if you run the 5K, 8K, 15K or half marathon, the Shamrock Run Portland is a rite of passage every spring.

Go Fast

Every spring, Portland dons its kelly green, shamrock socks and leprechaun attire for the festive Shamrock Run Portland (March 18, 2018). Whether you race 5K, 8K or 15K, you’ll earn your cold Widmer Brothers beer and warm Irish potato soup, plus a raucous post-race party with live jigs under a massive tent. Also: befriend an elite, because winners in each race will earn their weight in beer!

Both hard to get into and hard to run, the iconic Hood To Coast Relay (August 24-25, 2018) is indeed the mother of all relays. Team up with 11 of your best running buddies to cover nearly 200 miles from Timberline Lodge high on Mt. Hood, through Portland, to Seaside on the Coast. The unforgettable experience consists of epic views, cramped vans, and three legs of 4- to 8-miles, depending on which straw you draw.

If you want to try out something new, or re-live your prep and collegiate glory days, Stumptown Cross Country (September 30-November 18, 2017) is an all-comers series of cross country races ranging from 5- to 10k that include grass, hills, and mud—and draw elites and recreational runners alike.

Kick off summer at the quirky Saturday evening Starlight Run (June 2, 2018), which features epic costume competitions and a fun (or fierce, if you’re near the front) 5K footrace along the Starlight Parade route. A pillar of the city’s historic Rose Festival, spectators will cheer you on and you’ll be in a festive mood.

Race for the Roses Half Marathon (Spring 2018) winds through downtown along the river, and starts and finishes at the warm and dry Oregon Convention Center, where runners can shelter when spring showers are pouring down. It benefits the Alerbtina Kerr, a non-profit that provides services for children and families facing developmental disabilities and mental health challenges.

What better way to start Thanksgiving Day than with a run? With a run that benefits the zoo! At the family-friendly ORCC Turkey Trot at the Oregon Zoo (November 23, 2017), earn your pie with a 4-mile race along a forested hilly road course that finishes at the Elephant Plaza; then cool down with your kids as they trot a 1/3-mile course inside the zoo.

 

After finishing Shamrock Run Portland, runners 21-and-older can enjoy a cold beer and live music at the Widmer Brothers beer garden. Photo: Motiv Sports
Elizabeth Carey
Based in Seattle, Washington, Elizabeth Carey is a freelance writer with nearly two decades of experience in the running and outdoor industries. She enjoys running trails, is part of the Oiselle Volée, and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @elizabethwcarey.