A few months ago Outside Magazine ran an article on America’s Best Trails. I was thrilled (but not totally surprised) to see the Wildwood Trail chosen as the best trail within city limits. The Wildwood is a 30 mile trail that zigs and zags its way along the spine of the Tualatin Mountains in Portland’s Forest Park, one of North America’s largest urban parks.
I first become aware of Forest Park soon after moving to Portland in 2000 and was shocked to discover that it is much more forest than park. In fact, it’s much too dense for a game of Frisbee, a summertime picnic or other typical park activities. Forest Park is a full on wilderness experience and all within the city limits.
There are more than 70 miles of trails within the park, but the real showpiece is the Wildwood. It has numerous trailheads, the closest of which is about 5 miles from my home and just two miles from my workplace. I can access the trail on foot, by bike, bus, or light rail. For a trail-running urban dweller without a car, it’s a dream come true. In the last twelve years, I’ve logged hundreds of miles on its hard packed switchbacks sometimes before work, sometimes after, and occasionally even sneaking in a “quicky” on my lunch break.
The Wildwood does get a little crowded on weekends and in certain sections, but the further you get from the popular trailheads the less people (and more animals) you’ll see. Once while in the depths of the park I came across a couple of elk. If you’ve never seen an elk before, let me tell you, there’s no mistaking these guys for deer. They’re HUGE. Supposedly there are also bear and mountain lions hiding out in there somewhere. However, if I had to nominate one animal to be the Wildwood’s official mascot, it would have to be the giant slug. These slimy critters use the trail almost as much as runners do and can grow to about half the length of my size 12.5 Sauconys.
If you live in Portland, I highly recommend checking out this gem of a trail or taking part in one of the races that utilize it. Next month the Oregon Road Runners Club is putting on its annual Wildwood 10K. There is also a 50K ultra marathon in May and for the first time this year, a trail marathon in October. Proceeds from the marathon will benefit the Forest Park Conservancy, the non-profit caretakers of this urban forest reserve. Because of its size and density, Forest Park can be a bit intimidating at first. Before diving in, you should pick up one of Green Trail’s waterproof Forest Park maps or a copy of the book, One City’s Wilderness, and then you’ll be all set to get wild on the Wildwood.