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The Ride: A north Portland loop that’s perfect for the whole family

Posted by on April 22nd, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Ultimate North Portland Family Loop-15
With half the mileage on paths completely separated from auto traffic, this nine mile north Portland/Columbia Slough loop could be the ultimate family ride.
(Photos J. Maus/BikePortland)

If you’ve been looking for a great loop ride in north Portland that’s perfect for novice riders and families, I’ve got an exciting route to share.

Thanks to the completion of a new, 1.2 mile section of the Columbia Slough Trail back in January, it’s now possible to ride a nine-mile loop with nearly half of the total mileage completely separated from auto traffic. Add about three miles of neighborhood greenways and over one mile of bike lanes and you’ve got a route where biking is both fun and safe for all ages.

Me and my three little ones (ages 3, 8, and 11) sampled this route on Saturday and it’s easily one of the best family rides we’ve ever had. Scroll down as I take you along with us…

The route starts at Peninsula Park in the Piedmont Neighborhood and heads west on the nice, wide bike lanes of N Rosa Parks Way. In September 2011, PBOT put Rosa Parks on a “road diet” — which means they re-allocated space so there’s less room for driving and more room for biking. From there, you head north on the Michigan Avenue neighborhood greenway and onto the Bryant Bridge. (Note: For the next three miles, you’ll be guided along by big bike symbols — a.k.a. sharrows — in the street.)

Tucked away in a residential area, the Bryant Bridge is a gem. It provides a safe way across I-5 and it’s connected to neighborhood greenways on both sides. As a bonus, local artists (Brian Borrello and Tiago DeJerk) have added colorful touches, including a recent installation of mirrors to help discourage people from dumping trash and vandalizing the path…

Ultimate North Portland Family Loop-1

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Following the sharrows, you’ll be directed over to N Dekum Ave, which is where you’ll cross N Interstate. Since Interstate is a large street that crosses a neighborhood greenway, PBOT has installed a special traffic signal that changes quickly and easily for bike riders. Simply roll onto the little bike symbol with a line through it and the light will change quickly.

Ultimate North Portland Family Loop-4

Eventually you’ll head back to the Bryant Street neighborhood greenway, which you’ll take west all the way to Wabash. On Bryant, you’ll pass by the first of many parks along this route: Arbor Lodge Park. If you’re ready for some fun and a little break, check out the fantastic playstructure known as Harper’s Playground.

Continuing west your next turn is N Wabash. On Wabash (another neighborhood greenway) you’ll head north toward Columbia Blvd. Just before Columbia, stop in at Trenton Park. It’s a favorite of our family because it’s never crowded and there’s a spring-loaded-car-teeter-totter thingy that we really enjoy playing on.

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Just north of Trenton Park Wabash dead-ends into the sidewalk/bike path on the south side of Columbia Blvd. This path is really great but I’m afraid most people don’t even know about it. Over lightly rolling hills and a few railroad crossings, the path takes you about one mile west before you cross Columbia with a traffic signal. We got lucky on Saturday and had a long train cross right in front of us. My three-year-old was thrilled to watch the cars go by just a few feet away from us!

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The little-known sidewalk/bike path adjacent to Columbia Blvd.
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At Portsmouth Avenue you cross Columbia Blvd and hop onto the Columbia Slough Trail. This is the highlight of the trip. There are tons of fun places to park the bikes and explore on this path. We usually take a spur of the path that heads up a hill overlooking the water sanitation facility (don’t worry, it doesn’t smell). There’s a rock sculpture to climb on and big grassy hills to kick a ball or practice off-road biking skills.

Ultimate North Portland Family Loop-10
The girls kick a soccer ball while their brother (tiny red dot in background) explores the grassy hills on his balance bike.
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You know you’re away from traffic when a three-year-old demands to bike by himself.

Once you get to the Columbia Slough, I recommend stopping at the water access just before the bridge. There are nice big stairs that make for a perfect spot to take a break, have a snack, watch for birds, and soak up the surroundings.

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Ultimate North Portland Family Loop-14

Once you cross the bridge, you turn right and head back toward the east on the Columbia Slough Trail. The pavement in this section of the path is in really bad shape. It’s got some holes and lots of loose gravel. I like it because it has sort of an adventurous, rustic feel, but you should slow down and be ready for tricky spots — especially if you’ve got narrow tires.

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A bit further east along the Slough you’ll see Portland International Raceway. There’s almost always some type of racing going on and you get a great vantage point from the path. On Saturday we watched bike racers speed around the track on aerodynamic time trial bikes.

When the slough path comes to N Denver Avenue, head right and merge onto Schmeer Road. Be careful, this is the only part of the ride where you will share the road with people driving cars and trucks. It’s a very low-speed and low-volume area, but use caution. Also, keep in mind that this is the road where ODOT plans to prohibit auto use in the future when they create a new path from PIR to the slough.

Schmeer will take you under N Denver Avenue and lead you directly onto the newly paved portion of the Slough Trail. Enjoy views of the mountains, Portland Meadows race track, and lots of geese…

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Freshly paved and painted path with Portland Meadows in the background.

The new segment of path ends at N Vancouver Avenue, where my two girls took full advantage of the nice seating area ODOT designed into the new bridge.

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Just over the bridge we couldn’t resist one final stop at Farragut Park, where a grassy knoll full of daisies and beautiful big trees made for the perfect rest stop.

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On Vancouver, you’ll have a bike lane all the way south to N Bryant, where you’ll weave back through quiet neighborhood streets to Rosa Parks Way and eventually Peninsula Park.

The whole route has only about 200 feet of climbing and there are no significant hills. I mapped it out for your convenience at RidewithGPS.com.

Give this route a try next time you’ve got a few hours. It’s really great. And it shows why it’s so important to not just build good bike access into our infrastructure, but to connect it all together as well.

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Comments
  • Steve Hoyt-McBeth April 22, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Can’t wait to do this with my ladies! Thanks Jonathan.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Scott Mizée April 22, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Nice ride review, Jonathan. Great to see your little guy out there with you all too!

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • PomPilot April 22, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Thank you Jonathan. I lead an alumni bike ride during the University of Portland reunion weekend in June. With a couple of tweaks this route would be perfect for that ride.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Joseph E April 22, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    “The pavement in this section of the path is in really bad shape. It’s got some holes and lots of loose gravel”

    Any info on future repaving for this section? Who maintains this path, Metro?

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Art Fuldodger April 23, 2014 at 1:47 pm

      Good question – adjacent to the Golf Course & the Raceway, it’s Portland Parks maintenance responsibility – the part next to the seage ponds is Bureau of Environmental Services). It’s the Parks section that’s in really bad shape, in my recollection. I’ve complained and been told “not in the budget”. Maybe if enough people complain..?

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      • lester April 25, 2014 at 12:14 am

        Paving is bad for the environment. Let it be.

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  • Jim Labbe April 22, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    I love this loop. Thanks Jonathan for the write up. This is a great time year to do this ride if you enjoy birding because the spring migrants are passing through the region. For even better birding you can add a side trip from the Columbia wastewater Treatment Plant to Smith & Bybee Lakes entirely on a multi use path.

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    • Chris I April 23, 2014 at 6:59 am

      This is a great side trip add-on. The path along Portland Rd. is decent (and also parallels the UP mainline if your kids are into trains). There are a lot of great things to see at Smith/Bybee.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Kristi Finney-Dunn April 23, 2014 at 2:29 am

    Thanks for all of this, Jonathan. I want to ride, but am afraid to. Maybe if I do this and remember how good it feels (I used to ride to work), I’ll get the courage to ride more again… wow, your oldest looks like you!

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Bob Woodruff April 23, 2014 at 5:25 am

    I dig the Trek ‘Lara’ your daughter is riding. I looked all over Portland and couldn’t find one for my seven hear old. Interesting that even in a bike crazy town a decent quality bike for kids is hard to find. And no one sells them with fenders. We got a nice bike from REI, but had to jury rig adult fenders to fit.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • MaxD April 23, 2014 at 10:11 am

    My family will attempt this ride soon, thanks for the route and the excellent write-up!

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  • Ted Buehler April 23, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    Nice writeup — I’ve also been biking around those parts more often since they built the bike path along Columbia Slough between Vancouver and Denver/Interstate.

    For those doing it, I highly recommend going clockwise — the same direction Jonathan and co. rode. Otherwise you need to cross 4 lanes of Denver at grade, since its not safe to go against the flow of traffic on the Schmeer Road exit ramp.

    Ted Buehler

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  • Ted Buehler April 23, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    If you want to see more trails like this, Metro Trails Program (Intertwine) is looking for comments on their next 25 year plan for trails in Greater Portland.

    You can leave positive comments at their website — http://makeagreatplace.org/

    It only takes a minute — give them some love!

    Ted Buehler

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    • Ted Buehler April 23, 2014 at 7:13 pm

      For instance, one of the 3 survey questions is
      “What three investments would you most like to see made in your community (where we live and work) in the next 10 years?”

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  • Mark April 23, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    More posts like this, please!

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • jim April 24, 2014 at 12:45 am

    How long did this take you guys?

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Marty April 25, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    I live near Trenton park. Love how mellow the bike lanes are in my area

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • PdxPhoenix April 27, 2014 at 12:42 am

    SHHHHH…. don’t tell people about it… That’s what makes most of these sections so great… They arn’t cluttered by people & their brats mindlessly wandering down the path clogging it up.!!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

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