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Urban Hiking Portland: Rocky Butte

Part of The Grotto

Part of The Grotto

Just south of the gates of The Grotto, a famed spiritual sanctuary nestled into the cliffs of Portland’s Rocky Butte is a trail which offers good access to rock climbing areas as well as to the open upper reaches of the butte popular with view mongers and cruise masters.

Cool formerly ivied tree group

Cool formerly ivied tree group

As a scrawny teenager and twenty-something rock climber, I spent many days on both the natural cliffs and the manmade rockwork on top of the butte.

Cliffs through the trees

Cliffs through the trees

Revisiting the area gave me has a curious feeling, especially when combined with remnants of indiscreet partying and graffiti, nouveau riche view homes  installed in the last couple decades, and tourist hordes seeking the best views on Portland’s east side.  The park loop on top is a classic place to cruise.  Until recently, I’d never considered hiking all up the butte, until I discovered a trail which proceeds all the way up to the higher road.

Looking down from atop a chunk of cliff--near the pedestrian tunnel

Looking down from atop a chunk of cliff–near the pedestrian tunnel

Once I’d hiked past the base of all the climbing walls (there is a lot more rock than I remembered), the trail switchbacked sharply and climbed to the road above the cliffs, near Multnomah Bible College.   There is a cute little rockwork underpass, which is rendered moot by the ability to reach the road fifty feet beyond.

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Curving uphill beyond the Bible College

From there the journey to the top is all road walking, but there is very little traffic, so I didn’t mind.  I also got a very nice blackberry at one stopping point.

Sunlight illuminates the forest

Sunlight illuminates the forest

Combination of view: powerlines, freeway, sweetpea, Mount Hood

Combination of view: powerlines, freeway, sweetpea, Mount Hood

There are truly great views on top of Rocky Butte, ranging from Portland’s West Hills to the mighty Columbia River, Mounts St Helens and Hood, and more.  Lovers were picnicking and smooching along the edge of the wall in Joseph Wood Hill Park up there, while one group of young men hooted and hollered as they climbed the stairs to the fortress-like viewpoint that is the centerpiece of the park.

For whom the park is named...

For whom the park is named…

O'er the ramparts at the  top of the Butte: much evidence of fireworks

O’er the ramparts at the top of the Butte: much evidence of fireworks

Pleasant afternoon at the park

Pleasant afternoon at the park

This walk is not going to be on any anybody’s bucket list, but it was still pleasant to take a literal walk along memory lane, trying to recall which walls I’d climbed (Blackberry Jam,  Bird of Paradise, The Toothpick).  With hundreds of feet of elevation gain over a mile and half or so, burning calories is mandatory.

Need more?  Scramble around on the low angle walls at the park on top, or wander around the tangential paths below the cliffs to get a closer look at climbing routes.   There are worse ways to spend an hour on a sunny afternoon, and if you are still needing more, pay to go into The Grotto, ride their cool elevator, and enjoy their serene grounds.

Young couple feeling the romance of a Mount Hood view

Young couple feeling the romance of a Mount Hood view