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Trolley Trail tour: You can now ride Portland to Oregon City nearly carfree (photos)

Posted by on May 19th, 2017 at 10:43 am

There are many signs along the route to help you along.
(Photos and words by Adam Herstein)

— This post was submitted through our subscriber post system by Adam Herstein.

It’s easier than you think to venture down to Oregon City. (Map details here)

We finally got a bit of dry weather, so I decided to do a ride that I’ve been contemplating for a while now – riding the Trolley Trail from my home in SE Portland to Oregon City. The bicycle infrastructure along the Orange Line, the new SE 17th Avenue cycleway in Milwaukie, the Trolley Trail through Milwaukie and Gladstone, and various paths along the Clackamas River, combine to form a nearly 100 percent carfree route for the 20-mile journey.

The carfree portion starts at the Portland-Milwaukie border near Sellwood. Getting to this area used to require an uncomfortable ride along SE 17th in Sellwood. But now, once you leave Portland, there is a completely separated cycleway that takes you to Milwaukie’s Waterfront Park. Upon reaching Milwaukie, one can easily connect with the Trolley Trail that takes you all the way to a walking-and-cycling-only bridge over the Clackamas River at Gladstone. The newly-completed Trolley Trail primarily consists of a car-free multi-use path with a few low-traffic, sharrow-marked streets.

Overall, the path feels very comfortable and safe. The only sketchy part was a two-stage crossing of McLoughlin Boulevard. A bridge over this busy thoroughfare would have been useful here.

The Trolley Trail ends at an old truss bridge that has been converted to a bike and walk crossing over the Clackamas River. From there, various paths along the river will take you to Clackamette Park and on to Oregon City. There was a ton of construction going on along this path but the detours were well-signed and easy to ride in. There was even a permanent barrier-separated cycleway underneath I-205 and alongside McLoughlin! This path took me directly to downtown Oregon City, where I enjoyed a cold beer at Oregon City Brewing.

This was a great ride on comfortable paths and roads that nearly anyone can tackle. The bike routes were well signed and there was plenty of beautiful scenery to look at. What I liked about this route was that you’re never far from civilization or a TriMet bus route in case something happens (luckily everything went smoothly for me). It took me about two hours to ride the 15 miles from SE Portland, as the paths encourage a slow, leisurely pace. I highly recommend this route! (If you’d like detailed directions, I mapped out the route on Strava.)

Follow along on my journey via the images below…

Typical cross-section of the Trolley Trail.


Tricky crossing McLoughlin Boulevard here. Had to ride up onto the sidewalk.


Old Clackamas River truss bridge converted to bike and walk access only.


The Trolley Trail near the Park Ave MAX Station. The trail through Milwaukie ran alongside peoples’ backyards.


Trolley Trail near Gladstone.


Some portions of the Trolley Trail are on low-traffic streets with sharrows.


Other parts of the Trolley Trail were separated cycleways along busier streets.


Path near Oregon City along the Clackamas River.



Excellent cycling facility under I-205 and separated from a dangerous ODOT road.


Clackamette Park in Oregon City.


The confluence of the Clackamas and Willamette Rivers.


Some sort of apartment complex is going in here.


Lovely day for a bike ride!


Beautiful river views!


Oregon City is cool.



Thanks for the beer Oregon City! And for the great ride.


— Adam Herstein is a BikePortland subscriber.

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38 Comments
  • Jonathan Gordon May 19, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Great post! I’ve biked from Portland to Clackamas Cove dozens of times and I’m really excited to try this route.

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  • soren May 19, 2017 at 11:07 am

    Adam, thanks for the ride description but you really should disclose your compensation from Brompton.

    I’ve never been to Oregon City but I’m curious now…

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. May 19, 2017 at 11:12 am

      Hah. Nobody paid me to do this ride. I rode the Brompton because I could ride to OC and take the bus/train back. Also the Brompton looks cool in photos. 🙂

      If you’ve never been to Oregon City, I recommend it. There’s a few cool bars and restaurants, old buildings, and nice views on top of Singer Hill. It’s even easy to get there if you don’t want to cycle — Orange Line to 33 bus takes you right downtown.

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      • Stephen Keller May 19, 2017 at 11:43 am

        Thanks for the report Adam.

        Keri and I rode the Trolley a few weeks ago on our St. Johns to Oregon City and back MUP loop: Esplanade, west-Springwater, Trolley, I-205 and Marine Drive. It’s about 55 miles with around 70% of it car-free. The only goofy bit of the Trolley Trail is all the stop signs for every driveway on 17th. Seems like they got those backwards.

        Stph

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        • Adam H.
          Adam H. May 19, 2017 at 11:52 am

          I opted to take SE 17th though Sellwood because it was a bit faster, though the Springwater on the Willamette trail is a great car-free option as well! Those stop signs in the 17th Av cycleway are odd though. I didn’t bother to stop for them and neither did anyone else I saw. IMO they shouldn’t even be there. Otherwise, the new trail is fantastic! Even getting around the Milwaukie Expressway entrance was easy.

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          • Holtz May 19, 2017 at 2:48 pm

            Agreed. The little stop signs are wrongheaded. Some even give right of way to locked gates. They should be turned 90 degrees to reinforce existing law requiring drivers to stop before crossing sidewalks/paths.

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  • Spiffy May 19, 2017 at 11:13 am

    looks like an enjoyable ride…

    I was expecting to see the heavy bike…

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. May 19, 2017 at 11:14 am

      That would be a long ride on a cargo bike! I usually can’t ride that bike more than five miles or so at a time.

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  • SaferStreetsPlease May 19, 2017 at 11:16 am

    Oh wow I need to try this. Anyone know of a safe connection to a campsite in the Oregon City area? I’d love to go bikepacking down there. Plus my partner loves car-free routes like this. Then again, who doesn’t?

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    • Eric May 19, 2017 at 11:59 am

      The closest campgrounds are Champoeg, Milo McIver, Barton, and Metzler. Champoeg is the nicest ride of the three, unless you ride early enough to avoid the busy summer traffic on Clackamas River Road. Both Champoeg and Milo McIver have hiker/biker spots.

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    • Ted Buehler May 19, 2017 at 2:24 pm

      Looks like Oregon City operates an RV park at the confluence of the Clackamas and Willamette Rivers.

      https://www.orcity.org/parksandrecreation/clackamette-rv-park

      No mention of tent sites or hiker biker sites, but there’s a few patches of lawn there, so maybe a call to Oregon City Parks and Rec might get a one-time exemption for people on bikes.

      Ted Buehler

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      • Shelley Batty May 22, 2017 at 8:15 am

        The Clackamette Park RV site doesn’t allow tent camping but we are working on that. Enrg Kayak and The Bike Concierge (both in OC) will be launching a fun trip on this route in June. You can Kayak from OC to Milwaukie at the start of the Trolley Trail and have a bike waiting for you to ride the trail back to OC. A fun and totally doable day for even the most casual rider or kayaker.

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  • Justin M May 19, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Looks like a really nice ride. I’ll have to try it some time this summer. Thanks for sharing!

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  • Paul H. May 19, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    The photo captioned “Beautiful river views!” was taken just a couple blocks from my house. The water has been so high that sea lions have been hunting up beyond High Rocks, upstream from the walking/riding bridge you took to cross the Clackamas out of Gladstone.

    For those who haven’t ridden the Trolley Trail, note that there are frequent stop signs its entire length. If time is of the essence, take River Rd. If the stops don’t bother you, or you’re riding with your kids, the Trolley Trail is wonderful.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. May 19, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      Yeah, riding though Clackamette Park, it was easy to see how high the river is! The path was right up against the water and even started to get partially submerged by wake when boats went by. I snapped a photo of a partially-submerged tree.

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  • Champs May 19, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    Apropos of nothing, it occurs to me that this is the Portland Traction Company bridge that nearly collapsed three years ago. Good to see it’s back!

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    • Paul H. May 19, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      Different bridge. The one that collapsed was at the southern end of Portland Ave. in Gladstone. The bridge currently in use is east of there a few hundred yards.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. May 19, 2017 at 1:43 pm

        Yep, that was the bridge that the old interurban trolleys ran over. Would have been cool if the bridge was still standing and part of the Trolley Trail. The current bridge is an old automobile bridge that was built by the predecessor to ODOT in the 20’s to carry motor traffic from 82nd Avenue.

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  • Caitlin D May 19, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    Looks like a nice ride. Thanks for posting, Adam!

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  • jburles May 19, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    Great Article and this is an awesome route from Sellwood (especially with the new 17th Ave. 2 way bike path). Also a great way to the Westlinn, Lake Oswego, Tyron Creek loop.

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    • GlowBoy May 19, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      Yes, this does make a great loop with Tryon/Lake Oz/West Linn, for riders who are up for a bit more traffic and climbing.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. May 19, 2017 at 2:55 pm

        Yep, I should note that my route is almost entirely flat. A plus for me who hates hills, but may not be your thing if you’re up for a good climb. 🙂

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  • Marshall Habermann-Guthrie May 19, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    My mother-in-law lives in OC, may have to tack this onto the end of STP.

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  • GlowBoy May 19, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    I love the Trolley Trail, and it’s been one of my favorite recreational rides ever since they cleared the main section from Oak Grove to McLoughlin a few years ago. Glad to hear they’re closing more of the gaps – sounds like it’s complete all the way through Gladstone now?

    My favorite memory of this trail was about 4 years ago when I took my kid cargo-bike camping at Champoeg Park (really!) via this trail. We even managed to cram our Madsen into the OC municipal elevator (with LESS than an inch to spare – I do NOT recommend it, but fortunately the operator was super accommodating). Much of the route was wonderful, including the hilly but quiet roads between OC and Aurora, but the TT was of course a welcome car-free stretch.

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  • Ryan May 19, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Did a casual group ride on this trail a couple months ago from Milwaukie down to the bridge and back. Was really nice! (besides the drizzly conditions, but I still enjoyed it)

    Seems like a great way to get down to O.C.

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  • Ty May 19, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks for sharing! I think I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ve been looking for a new route. I don’t use Strava though. Is the route pretty easy to follow?

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. May 19, 2017 at 4:14 pm

      Yep! The route is well signed. You can also see the route map here. The thick line is the Trolley Trail. Follow the thinner dashed line the rest of the way to Oregon City.

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      • Ty May 21, 2017 at 6:48 pm

        I rode it today. 40.54 miles from my place in downtown in 3:50. I never saw the bike bridge over the Ckackamas River though. I took the McLoughlin Blvd bridge which also has a bike path over it. Separate from traffic. The trail is VERY poorly marked outside of Gladstone and there’s a ton of stop signs too. One sign for the Trolley Trail points straight when it’s really off to the left. Other places off the Trolley Trail have 2 or 3 bike route signs pointing in 2 or 3 different directions with no clear markings on which way the Trolley Trail is. I rode to Willamette Falls. All the stupid people were out today. Guys walking their unleashed dog on the trail. People standing on the trail taking up the whole trail and not moving. Beautiful ride though.

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  • rick May 19, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Check out First City Cycles by the Amtrak line!

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. May 19, 2017 at 4:10 pm

      Agreed, they are a terrific bike shop!

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  • Mike Sanders May 19, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    They seem to have done almost everything right. That two stage crossing of 99E looks intimidating, and for good reason. A tunnel or overpass there would help a lot. A few signs showing how the trail goes thru that area might help, along with one or two each way that says, “Warning: Busy streets ahead.” Maybe someday, an extension to Canby and the Canby frerry across the river can be added, along with proper connections to/from the Springwater Trail. Great start!

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  • rachel b May 20, 2017 at 12:39 am

    Nice report, Adam! The pictures kind of make it look like the Brompton took it upon itself to ride the Trolley Trail… 😉

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. May 20, 2017 at 9:51 am

      Thanks! It’s really hard to selfie with both me and the bike in the shot and not have the picture be a blurry mess. 😛

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  • Bill Sherrett May 20, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    It looks like they finally paved the section going South from Park Av., I’m going to miss the old narrow dirt trail with the tree canopy, but the 17th section makes up for it.

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  • Ken M May 20, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    This is a great ride. I just wish there was a better route to travel to Canby after you get to Oregon City.

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  • Matt B May 21, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    Thanks for this article. I rode most of this trail today and it was wonderful.

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  • Dave May 22, 2017 at 8:50 am

    I have walked and ridden most of this trail, it’s as good as Adam describes it. If you want more of similar, I would highly recommend the book “Rail-Trails Washington and Oregon” published by Wilderness Press. We are surrounded by carless or almost carless trails in our region, many even reachable by public transport and Amtrak. The Amtrak Cascade line could be the link to a number of interesting rides using this book.

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  • SilkySlim May 23, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Rode it yesterday from SE Portland, had a great afternoon. Easy to navigate, decent safety at intersections (the worst being around McLoughlin and SE 22nd, just below Milwaukie), and high quality beers and atmosphere at Oregon City brewing.

    This will only improve once that construction down near Gladstone wraps up.

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