Trail Review #1 – Hoyt Arboretum
Time: 2 hours
On Tuesday we took our inaugural hike through a stretch of the Hoyt Arboretum. An easily accessed series of 12 miles of trails, the Hoyt Arboretum was founded in 1922 and covers 187 acres while showcasing over 1,100 species of trees and shrubs from all over the world, many of which bear signs with their common and scientific names. Each trail has a bit of a “theme” to it, indicated by their name (for example the Wildwood Trail cut through the natural Oregon foliage while the Beech trail was primarily surrounded by various species of, well, Beeches). Two miles of the trail are paved and provide stable access to those in wheelchairs or with strollers, making the Arboretum a great nearby choice for those who want a little more variety to their walk than an urban hike would provide.
We began our walk on the Wildwood Trail near the witch hazel area, which is marked on the official Hoyt Arboretum map and located next to the small parking lot just north of the Oregon Zoo lots and MAX stop. In front of one of the witch hazels was a large flat display with various information about the plants, including their habitat, growth styles, flowers, seeds, and common range. After reading the display we headed off across the road and onto the Wildwood Trail. The first thing I noticed was that while this trail was very much like those in Oregon’s state parks, it’s proximity to roadways and houses means you are never very far away from a sign of human development. Overall it did not detract from our enjoyment of the trail, as it was over fifty yards to most buildings or roads (excepting several places where they intersected the trail), and we were able to enjoy the smaller traces of human presence like benches and informational markers. The Wildwood Trail certainly lived up to it’s name, however, as the foliage was clearly allowed to grow naturally and with little human intervention, providing a great habitat for wildlife.
(Picture: The trails were alive with birdsong the whole day, many of which would come within five feet of us as we passed. Signs of mammals, like this chewed log, were also abundant, and at one point I even had a berry dropped on my head by a squirrel that we interrupted mid-lunch.)
To experience a sample of the variety of Hoyt Arboretum we turned off of the Wildwood Trail at the Winter Garden and onto Beech trail. The Winter Garden was small and charming, with a number of trees that were attractively shaped even without their leaves. Overall the aesthetic was pleasing and I could easily have spent all afternoon sitting and enjoying the flowerbeds. From the Winter Garden the Beech Trail winds up a slope covered in various species of Beech towards the Visitor Center. The trees were all devoid of leaves, but had an atmosphere that was warm and airy against the lightly overcast sky. The trees surrounded the visitor center, providing enough cover near the paved sections that, in true Oregon fashion, were coated in brilliantly green moss. Once at the top of the hill we opted to circle through the small parking lot instead of going into the center and took in a wide variety of other species planted along the edge and center of the lot.
Once more along a road we sought out another informational display with a map. After a little deliberation we decided our next trail would be the Overlook Trail, which would bring us back towards the witch hazel and our parking lot. The first portion of the trail was a very attractive section around the back of the Holly Loop that gave way to a familiar segment of the Wildwood Trail (and a water cistern) before opening up into a few of the far hills with a gentle, paved switchback. The switchback was mainly open grass, but the few trees it did have were mature and great examples of their species. Overall it was a very leisurely walk towards the bottom with a gorgeous view of the hills. We passed by the Ash information panel at the very end, which provided us a moment to rest and learn a little more before heading out.
Overall Hoyt Arboretum was a relaxing walk with just enough wilderness to distinctly separate it from a large or natural-leaning urban park. The numerous placards and informational panels made the trip even more enjoyable as we were able to relax while learning at our own pace and the variety we experienced was definitely not to be easily found elsewhere. If you want an easy to access location that offers a large amount of variety and the ability to alter the length of your hike at will, the Arboretum can certainly deliver. However if an urban signs like roads or houses would ruin your enjoyment, this may not be the trail for you. Houses, smaller roads, and cars are all visible from time-to-time, and during our trip US-26 was clearly audible at a number of places. Still, it was very easy to get lost in the trail and it was not long before we stopped noticing the cars altogether in favor of absorbing as much of the birdsong and fresh sights around us. If you enjoy variety or educational hikes and are in Portland, the Hoyt Arboretum is an easily accessible and enjoyable experience that I would recommend visiting at least once.