Family Biking: Here’s how to bike to the cherry trees in Waterfront Park

Posted by on April 2nd, 2019 at 9:58 am

Visiting the cherry blossoms by bike on Sunday.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

On Sunday, my boys and I had the same idea as a lot of other Portlanders: visit the cherry blossoms in the Japanese American Historical Plaza. Then while biking home I realized Waterfront Park is incredibly family-friendly to reach by bike from the deepish southeast these days.

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Here’s why you should load up the bikes, grab the kiddos, and check it out…

The 100 Akebono cherry trees were donated by the Japanese Grain Importers Association in 1990 and make for a perfectly pink wonderland when they’re at (or near) peak bloom. Before you go, read about the Japanese American Historical Plaza on the Oregon Nikkei Endowment website. When you get there, take time to read the poetry and study the boulders in the middle of the plaza.

After our visit — which was quite educational — we got home by biking the entirety of Better Naito. My kids (11 and nine) were fine with the bi-directional bike lane separated from car traffic with simple flex-posts. For those who want an even quieter ride (or want to avoid waiting for any red lights), you can opt for the path along the river in the park. The trail can be crowded and require you weave around stationary and moving people, but it’s terrific for slow-moving bicycling.

Better Naito is fun for kids (and adults)!

Once we were beyond the park and Better Naito we took easy-to-follow paths to the Tilikum Crossing bridge. Tilikum Crossing is a bit of a climb (enough for making it worth Everesting as a matter of fact), but it’s incredibly beautiful and 100% carfree. A bonus I learned on Sunday is that something so long with no intersections and no possibility of getting lost meant my speedy kid felt confident enough to zip across the bridge and find a spot to wait while I ploddingly grunted my way up-and-over with my slower kid.

Tilikum Crossing connects to more easy-to-follow paths that cross the train tracks at Southeast 12th Avenue and connect to the SE Clinton Street greenway.

Tilikum Crossing is terrific for confident kids of different speeds.

The funny thing is, I had meant to take a different, just as (or maybe more) family-friendly route home to check out the newly-reopened Eastbank Esplanade. This route would have involved taking the Waterfront Park path north to the Steel Bridge path — which is flat and has no cars and only occasional trains on the lower level — to connect to the Eastbank Esplanade path. We would have biked the whole 1.5-mile Esplanade to about the same spot at the east side of Tilikum Crossing and the rest of the family-friendly route we took.

More destinations
Realizing how easy it is to get to the Waterfront, I’d like to do more things in the area that don’t involve too much biking on downtown streets (which aren’t very family-friendly yet). Currently my plans are to bike to Lan Su Chinese Garden, Jamison Square fountain, the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, and Union Station. What else is fun to bike to in that area?

Flowering trees near you
The Japanese American Historical Plaza cherry trees might be Portland’s best cherry trees, but there are 25,000 trees in flower across Portland and they’re all marked on Urban Forestry’s Flowering Tree Map so you can probably find cherry blossoms in a convenient location.

Have you biked to Tom McCall Waterfront Park? Where else do you like biking to around there that I might think is on a kid-friendly street?

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to feature families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in sharing their stories. And as always, feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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9 Comments
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    Chris I April 2, 2019 at 10:42 am

    The upper-reservoir at Mt. Tabor is another good spot. Less hassle to get to if you are on the east side, and great views with downtown and the water as a backdrop.

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    Mick O April 2, 2019 at 10:54 am

    Getting to the gorgeous cherry trees is one thing — I did that on Sunday — but please make sure you’ve got a plan for what to do with your bike when you get there. There are some staple-type racks along the path, but that whole area is very risky. After lamenting the fact that I didn’t think it through before heading out,. I basically stripped my own bike and threw everything in my bag just to lock it up for 15 minutes — and was paranoid the whole time. If you do want to bike there, make sure you have a plan for theft-proofing your bike once you arrive.

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    Johnny Bye Carter April 2, 2019 at 11:24 am

    “(or want to avoid waiting for any red lights)”

    Looks like you’re going south, which means there aren’t any lights. They used to tape makeshift stop signs to the flex posts but I don’t see those either. Have they really not put in any real traffic controls for north riders?

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      Johnny Bye Carter April 2, 2019 at 11:25 am

      meant “traffic controls for SOUTH riders”

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    catherine feta-cheese April 2, 2019 at 4:33 pm

    Enjoying your kid adventure posts, including this ride to Waterfront’s historically significant cherry trees.

    I wish you could have ridden to the Sellwood Gap flowering fruit trees along the railroad/Springwater from 9th to 11th, near site of historical Lewelling Brothers orchards where Ah Bing bred the fruit named after him. But they are now gone due to Portland Parks March 20-22 cutting them for extra wide 16 ft. path pavement. Those cherry trees, plums and a glorious apple tree would have been bursting into profuse flowers about now. Instead there is a muddy slope strewn with straw.

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      Chris I April 3, 2019 at 8:25 am

      So you’d rather have trees and no bike path?

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        catherine feta-cheese April 3, 2019 at 11:34 am

        Chris, in this neighborhood we simply wanted a normal width bike path for those particular 2 blocks: 10 ft. paved plus one 2 ft. gravel shoulder (preferred by many runners & walkers) with the railway fence on the other side. It could have even had areas to stop next to it. Like the Springwater on the Willamette paved path, which I ride to work in all seasons.

        We are not anti-bike “NIMBYs” who don’t want a bike path — like (presumably) you and other BikePortland readers we are hardcore bike commuters and recreational riders/walkers/runners. We love off the road paths for kids and other riders. We had been looking forward to the Sellwood Gap being completed.

        Portland Parks could have kept many of the trees with some reasonable design modifications that would have made SE 9th to 11th a perfectly nice stretch of scenic path for you, me and other riders/runners/walkers. Instead they rushed to cut everything, bulldozed a shallow slope (except for next to the electrical tower) next to the path and now will over-pave it at a 16 ft. paved width.

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          Chris I April 3, 2019 at 12:10 pm

          The entire Springwater corridor should be 16ft. There are a lot of conflicts currently due to the sub-standard width (given the high multi-modal usage). Trees can be replanted, and they grow quite quickly. Car-free infrastructure should be built to last generations.

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            catherine feta-cheese April 4, 2019 at 12:30 am

            Chris, having never had a driver’s license, I hope that generations from now all infrastructure will be car-free. And that there will still be some trees growing up through the cracks in an over-paved world. Maybe from the apple seeds we saved.

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