Portland is changing, I’m told by so many people when I visit.
First the hipsters emerged, bringing with them their organic restaurants, artisan coffee and boutique breweries. The original locals embraced this – the city had always had a bit of a reputation for being cool (it’s official/unofficial slogan these days is ‘Keep Portland Weird’).
The hipsters created a fun city and that in turn has attracted a new group of residents – young Californians who are being priced out of their home cities of Los Angeles or San Francisco. They see Portland as a much cheaper option with just as much to do but still just a short flight back to their roots.
These new immigrants, either by preference or necessity, often end up living in new apartments built on blocks that once had comfortable family houses with gardens large enough for a fire pit and a vegetable patch. The neighbourhoods of hip suburbia are slowly becoming crowded with dense modern developments.
It’s a common talking point as I meet locals during my short stay in Portland. Often they try to paint is as old versus new, good versus bad. I suspect it’s a bit more complicated than anyone can express.
And so I turn to simplicity. To nature.
In a car, it doesn’t take long to leave the suburbs of Portland and find yourself in the wilds of Oregon.
Tall and dense forests, cliff faces, winding valleys along rivers, and waterfalls. The road carries me safely but if I was out here with no path to follow, I don’t think I would last long.
It’s the kind of wilderness that hides a harshness in its beauty. If not snow, then bears. Inclines and declines that would fool even the sharpest sense of direction.
I’ve decided to go on a hike with a few friends and we’ve chosen to start at one of the best marked spots in the region – Multnomah Falls. It’s also one of the most beautiful.
Water sprays everywhere as it crashes down to the ground, a permanent mist hangs in the air. It doesn’t matter, the temperature in Portland. Out here it’s always cool and, regardless of what you think of the evolution of the city, it’s a nice change. Out here everything is organic and the art has been created by nature.
Multnomah Falls Hike
It can often be quite crowded at the base of Multnomah Falls. After all, it’s right on the road and it provides a spectacular photo opportunity. It’s no surprise that people drive out here – sometimes by the busload – to have a look and pose for some photos.
What is less popular is to use this as a starting point for a hike up into the mountains. As soon as we start the walk, we realise that we’ve left most of the visitors behind. The further along, the more sparse the people are. Some walk a part of the way up for a viewpoint and then go back down. I would recommend you do a whole loop.
You can see in the map below the route that I take for the Multnomah Falls hike. It’s a fairly standard way to go, although there are a few deviations you could take to extend the route or to finish up at a different point of the main road (where you might then have a faster walk back to your car).
This hike takes at least two hours for a fast walker, including a few stops along the way to enjoy the views. Whichever way you go, there is a steep climb up at the beginning so be prepared for some heaving chests. I would recommend you go anti-clockwise to make it a bit easier for yourself, though.
As you rise up from the river, you’ll pass along cliffs and rocky outcrops with views along the valley. Streams rush past and smaller waterfalls appear around corners. When you reach the top, large forests dominate the terrain.
Coming back down on the other side, you’ll reach some of the most beautiful parts, where large waterfalls turn into pools and streams become a river. This river will shortly become Multnomah Falls. A viewing platform directly above gives you a terrifying view down. It’s hard not to appreciate how tall it is.
To give you an idea of the scenery and the views along the hike, I would like to share a few more photos. You’ll see what I mean, I hope, about why it’s so important to trek up into the mountains away from the visitor centre and its crowds of tourists.
Portland is a great place for a visit – a cool city with more than its fair share of weird. Its slow pace and healthy air is a refreshing break from many of the urban hubs along the west coast of the US.
I love it here and one of the highlights for me is this hike. If you go, don’t miss what is in the city’s backyard… that, at least, shows no signs of change.