The lowdown on Portland’s beautiful Waterfront Loop. What to expect while you’re walking, running or biking it.
For about seven years I was a producer at a television station in downtown Portland. For a variety of reasons I’m happy to have moved on from that position, but one of the things I miss most is being downtown everyday. I love downtown. I love the bustle, the bikes and the mix of people. And one of my favorite things to do on my dinner break (I worked swing shift) was run the waterfront loop.
The standard loop is about 2.5 miles between the Hawthorne and Steel Bridge, but you could easily add a little distance by crossing the Tilikum or Broadway bridges instead. For me, 2.5 miles is usually plenty. I did a run/walk around the loop recently and it took me about 40 minutes, I think you can do it in about an hour if you walk.
Most locals have done this loop, but if you are visiting, please give it a try. I even put it on my “25 Awesome Things To Do in Portland” list. Many people are inclined to stay on the Westside of the river, but you are really missing the best parts if you skip the Eastbank Esplanade. The views, trail and artwork are much better on the east side of the river. I especially love the section that takes you down onto a floating dock. It’s just so lovely to be on the water.
I hope you give it a try, but if you do there are a few things you should know:
1) You will come face to face with Portland’s homeless problem. People live in the green spaces, parks and even in boats on the river. Homelessness is an issue this city really struggles with and especially in the summer, it’s very visible the entire way around the loop.
2) During the summer there are non-stop festivals in Waterfront Park (westside of the river). Rose Festival, Oregon Brewers Festival, Pride, and The Bite are some of the big ones. These will not effect the main walkway, but it can cause congestion and cut off some accessibility.
3) Beware of cyclists. This is a multi-use trail so you will see walkers, runners, strollers, rollerbladers and cyclists. This trail is a major commuting route, so watch out during rush hour, bikes are often moving fast, don’t get hit.
4) Bridge Lifts may delay you. Unless it’s peak rush hours, the bridges may lift to let boats pass. This could be a 10-15 minute delay. There’s no way around it, you’ll just have to wait.
4) Saturday Market is on the loop! If you are visiting anytime between March and December, be sure to leave time to shop at Saturday Market. It’s an arts and crafts market that’s been in operation on weekends for the last 43 years. It’s on the loop at the west side of the Burnside Bridge.
I hope you enjoy the loop. Here is a great map from a local bike rental company. This is a great way to burn off the famous Portland doughnuts, plus it’s just a beautiful (and free) way to see the city. Happy strolling!
PORTLAND WATERFRONT LOOP
HAWTHORNE TO STEEL BRIDGE LOOP