Powell Butte Nature Park is a 600 acre park atop an extinct cinder cone volcano. Along with Rocky Butte, Mt. Tabor, and Kelly Butte, Powell Butte is part of the long extinct Boring Lava Field which once enveloped the Portland area. This urban nature park is Hike #10 in
100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington . The stats for the hike as given in the book are as follows:
3.5 mile loop
Elevation gain: 400ft
Open all year
Hiker, Bikers, and Horses
The one thing I do agree with Mr. Sullivan is that the park is open all year and there are hikers, bikers, and horses. Here are my stats after finishing my attempt at this hike:
4.98 mile loop-ish
Elevation gain: 200ft elevation gain
Open all year, except for the signs asking you not to hike in the rain to avoid widening paths
Hikers, Bikers, Horses, and Dogs . . . lots and lots of dogs (but not the scary wild kind, just drooly please-be-my-friend kind)
You will notice that my hike ended up being a mile and half longer than the book indicated it would be. This was the result of the complete closure of the main trailhead and parking area due to construction. Underneath the verdant, or as this is winter, dry and stickish, meadows of atop the summit of Powell Butte is housed a 50 million gallon water tank that collects water from the Bull Run Watershed which supplies the drinking water for the city of Portland. Apparently, this water tank was lonely so they decided to put in another one to keep it company. Construction on this project will continue until March 2014 and the main trailhead listed in the book will be closed to both pedestrians and parking until then. There is a list of alternate trailheads at the gate blocking the main access. Sullivan did note that there may be some trail diversions due to ongoing construction.
Not to be deterred, I headed to one of the alternate trailheads suggested on a handy sign. I choose the nearby Center Street trailhead on the Northwest side of the butte thinking it would be the easy to reverse engineer the hike from.
Directions From Alternate Trailhead
As you enter the Center Street trailhead, veer to left and begin climbing up the 248th Street Trail. This trail will connect allow you to connect to the larger trail network on Powell Butte. The wheel-chair accessible Dogwood Trail on the right does not connect to the main trail system. Once you’re on the 248th street trail you will begin climbing up a short series of steep switchbacks for about half a mile until the 248th Street Trail joins the Old Holgate Trail. Keep left and follow the Old Holgate Trail another quarter of a mile until it connects with the gravel construction road at the edge of the meadow atop the butte (some maps refer to it as Pipeline Road).
Turn right here and follow the road along the edge of the fenced construction area until you come to a four-way trail junction. And here’s where things get confusing. My plan had been to hike the trail as mapped by Mr. Sullivan backwards since I was coming at it from a different direction. However, there has been a lot of trial reconstruction during the installation of the new water reservoir. Some trails have been rerouted and others have been decommissioned and are missing entirely. Signs are missing as well. I was using the app Map My Hike, but it’s map are not updated to reflect changes.
My plan to start on Cougar Trail and then join up with Cedar Trail for the hike. However, a look at current map shows that Cougar Trail no longer exists and Cedar Trail has been renamed. Instead, continue east at the four-way junction on the gravel Goldfinch Trail then veer off to the right on Meadowland Trail. Follow Meadowland until it meets back up with Goldfinch at a three junction with Elderberry Trail, which was formally part of the now defunct Cedar Trail (as you hike you will notice where trails have been realigned or completely removed). Singage has not been updated so you may still see signs for Cedar Trail, which means you’re headed the right direction. Keep to the left (east) at all trail junctions, joining up with Blacktailed Deer Trail (sometimes old signs still call it Cedar Trail) and then the Mt. Hood Trail. From here, you can follow the directions in the book to Orchard Summit loop, then simply walk across the meadow on Goldfinch trail and return to your car via Pipleline and Holgate.
Enough with Directions! How was the Hike?
Overall, I found Powell Butte a “mostly easy” hike. I say mostly easy because coming from the Center Street trailhead you immediately start with a half a mile of switchbacks and 200ft of elevation gain. Being a 260lb woman, that is enough to make me huff and puff. If I had bad knees, I might avoid this trailhead and try one of the others. As it was, after the initial switchbacks, I found this hike easy and enjoyable to complete.
With the construction, the meadow was certainly not very scenic, but the forest was mossy and there are some giant old growth cedars on the forest paths. The views from the Orchard Summit trail are stunning. You can see Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams in their full glory on a clear day. It’s a great place to take tourist for some great views.
As for wildlife, I didn’t see much. There was nary squirrel to be seen. Mostly, I saw young families with babies in backpacks or sport utility strollers. This another good place to hike “alone” because it is well used and populated. I imagine it will be even more busy once the new Nature Center is open.
I did have some exciting bird sightings. There was a huge pair of ravens at the summit (who would not sit still for a photo) and an American Kestrel. I could tell it Kestrel by it’s reddish tail feathers and banded wings as it hovered above the summit meadow searching for prey. . . Okay, full discloser: I could tell it was bird by the fact it was flying in the air. However, the older woman surrounded by a fleet of corgis told me one could tell it was Kestrel by it’s pretty red tail feathers and the bands, or stripes, on the underside of it’s wings. I have found it is always educational to strike up conversations with older women who go birding (and let you pet their corgis).
One other things to note, the Orchard Loop trail around the summit does indeed loop around an orchard and you are allowed to collect the fruit in the fall. Jam, anyone?
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