Lower Macleay Park Trailhead

Trail Review #2 – Lower Macleay Park Trailhead + Upper Macleay Park loop 1

Time: 2 hours
Difficulty: Medium
Wilderness: Medium

The Lower Macleay Park Trailhead starts a short way from 23rd Ave in the middle of an urban neighborhood, but don’t let that fool you! This trail is a beautiful walk along Balch Creek, home to a population of cutthroat trout, with little signs of human interaction save a few tasteful wooden fences, stone walls shoring up the trail, and the Stone House. The moss is thick, the water flowing, and the pine trees towering, so much so it easily deserves to be called a miniature slice of Oregon. With how pleasant and easily accessible the trail was, it was little surprise it was bustling, even on a Wednesday afternoon. Despite this fact, we found it easy to pass runners, dog walkers, and fellow hikers due to the wide and relatively flat nature of the trail itself.

Starting in a wide-open expanse of grass under the NW Thurman Street bridge, the park is open and inviting with picnic tables, restrooms, and well maintained lawns leading up towards the beginning of the ravine. The trail doesn’t take long to disappear into the woods, far away from any sound other than Balch Creek (and the occasional “On your left!”). The running water made the air cool and fresh, and I would certainly recommend the Lower Trail as a summer hike due to it’s shaded and cool environment with ample places to stop and admire plants or take a rest.

One of our favorite parts of the trail was a point were a downed tree created a perfect bridge across the water, as evidenced by its flattened and moss-free top. Across the water were more logs that created perfect seating, and a wonderful example of a nurse log with a full grown pine draping down its sides.

Further along we encountered the Stone House, a former bathroom that despite its humble origins appears serene and pleasant against the mossy backdrop. My first encounter with Stone House was rumors of a witch’s hut in the forest circulating about the campus of Lewis & Clark College. While certainly a more romantic ideal, the reality of Stone House is one filled with more pot and teenagers than cauldrons and witches.

Upon reaching the end of where the Lower Trail follows Balch Creek we decided to follow the switchback up the side of the ravine towards the Pittock Bird Sanctuary. The trail came out to a grassy field and parking lot along NW Cornell Road where we rested, observed a pollinator garden for Oregon’s bees, and examined a map of nearby trails. To round out our visit to Macleay Park, we decided on the Upper Macleay Park Trail loop, and quickly and carefully crossed NW Cornell Road.

This half of the trail was more vertical, with winding switchbacks and ledge-like trails along the side of the hill. While enjoyable, it was filled with the sound of rush hour traffic from below that, unlike the lower trail, overwhelmed the birdsong more often than not. It was also narrower and more uneven from rain, making passing runners, hikers, and dog walkers harder to avoid without feeling somewhat cramped, and I was rather pleased when we returned to the Lower Trail on our way back to the car. While not entirely a loss, as there were some beautiful trees beginning to flower, the trail would most likely be better enjoyed on a low foot and car traffic day or further up the hillside.

In short, I would definitely recommend the Lower trail for an easy to medium walk in an accessible and extremely aesthetically pleasing location. If you fancy more of a work out, take the switchback and use the map at the top to pick your own adventure along the Upper Trail, a different loop, or straight up Wildwood Trail to Pittock Mansion. If you prefer a trail with few to no other hikers, then Macleay Park is likely not for you, as its beauty and proximity to 23rd make it a popular spot for running or walking (with or without a dog).