Powell Butte is a Nature Park and East Portland’s largest natural area. The area includes a system of multi-use paved and gravel trails that were renovated in 2015 and a visitor’s vista with bathrooms and water fountains. The area is free of use and accessible to leashed pets; it also features some wheelchair-accessible trails and kid friendly hikes. The main parking area closes and gates are shut promptly depending on the season, shutting gates for safety reasons at these times throughout the seasons: Fall: 7:00 AM-8:00 PM (Labor Day until switch to Pacific Standard Time) Winter: 7:00 AM-6:00 PM (until switch to Daylight Savings Time) Spring: 7:00 AM-8:00 PM (until Memorial Day) Summer: 7:00 AM-10:00 PM (Memorial Day to Labor Day)
Powell Butte’s 600-acre park area exists on an extinct cinder cone volcano, one of four dormant cinder cones in Portland that are part of the Boring Lava Field. On clear days the 600-foot elevation of Powell Butte makes for photographic views of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and can even include views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Jefferson!
While there are eight additional trailheads to enter the park off of different residential side streets, it is easiest to begin at the main visitor’s vista that includes restrooms and a large parking lot. From the vista, there is a paved access trail to the summit and access to all the trails in the park. The trails can be connected to loop the outer border of the entire area or meander through the different seasonal areas, with the exception of the southeast corner of the park area. Hikers will walk through grasslands, seasonal wetlands, forests, and oak savanna, while potentially seeing ground squirrels, gray foxes, black-tailed mule deer, and ring necked pheasants. At night one can hear coyotes and bats as well.
For a short 3.3-mile loop, begin in the main Powell Butte Trailhead parking lot and head west until you find the Goldfinch Trail. At the intersection with the Old Holgate Trail, head west into the forest along the Meadowland Trail. At the next intersection the Elderberry Trail will keep you hiking westward until the junction with the Cedar Grove Trail in a creek valley. Turn right on Cedar Grove until the signed intersection with Black Deer Trail. Follow Black Deer until heading uphill on the Pioneer Orchard Trail. Take this trail before starting on the Orchard Loop Trail; at this intersection you can take a left to enjoy the scenic Powell Butte Summit Orchard with views of the surrounding mountains. Heading east on Orchard Loop will take you to Wildhorse Trail, which will take you through an easy descent back to the parking lot.
For shorter hikes, there are out-and-back options from the vista. Or, there are ways to extend different loops through many side trails and varying paths throughout the park. A trail map is available here: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/article/541773.
Powell Butte is an extinct cinder cone volcano that is part of the Boring Lava Field. Volcanic activity from 2.4 to 2.6 million years ago created the lava field from dispersed lava flows. All existing Boring Volcanic centers are currently extinct, and eruption is unlikely.
Before European Settlers the Powell Butte area was part of a territory inhabited by Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, whose territory was over 20 million acres from the Columbia to the Klamath River, and between the crest of the Coast Range to the crest of the Cascade Range.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the large meadow area had been replaced by an orchard planted by the first settlers. In 1925 Portland bought the land from George Wilson, intending to use the land for water reservoirs. The land was leased for farming until 1948. By the mid-1970s, the Water Bureau approved a development plan that included four underground reservoirs. By 2014 two underground reservoirs had been constructed, serving a central role in the Water Bureau’s distribution system.
In 1987, Portland officially established Powell Butte as a nature park and it has been open to the public since 1990. In 2015 the trails were renovated into their current form.