Our guide to Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, a 168-acre wildlife preserve in Portland’s close-in Sellwood neighborhood, replete with wetland, meadow, forest, and 185 species of birds.
One of the things we love most about Portland, Oregon is the proximity of multiple natural wonderlands to the city core. Most wildlife refuges are far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. But not in Portland.
Just a few miles from downtown Portland, in the heart of the southeast Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood, is a 168-acre wildlife preserve replete with wetland, meadow, and forest. and it’s one of your best spots in Portland to view a huge variety of native and migratory birds.
The main trail through the refuge is called Bluff Trail. It runs from Sellwood Park to a small parking lot off SE Milwaukie Ave.
Don’t bother trying to park in the north parking lot. With only 10 designated spaces, it’s almost always full. Instead, park in the Sellwood Park parking lot at the southern end of the refuge. (NOTE: Below map is turned on its side.)
Follow the JEH Trail out of the lot, and stay right to find the Bluff Trail, leading away from the Willamette River.
The scenic trail is an easy walk beneath cottonwoods, cedars, maples and white alders—a welcome habitat for 185 species of birds that grace the refuge year-round.
Portland bird watchers frequent the refuge to see ruddy ducks, purple martins, and white-crowned sparrows, a dazzling panoply among the wind-blown grasses and overarching trees.
Walkways and bridges are well maintained, leading walkers down from the scenic view above the refuge into the wetland, and then to the most memorable landmark in the refuge, the Portland Memorial Mausoleum Mural (PMMM), with a 45,000-square-foot mural–one of the largest in the country.
From the west side of the Willamette River, heading south on SW Macadam Avenue, turn left onto the Sellwood Bridge and then turn left again onto SE 7th Avenue.
Sellwood Park is on your left. Park at the north end of the parking lot. A few feet from the parking lot, follow the JEH Trail, and turn right to connect to the Bluff Trail that winds down to the bottoms.
Distance: About 2 miles from larger parking lot (south) to smaller parking lot (north), or about 4 miles round trip. Terrain: Undulating with stretches of flatland and moderately steep inclines/declines at entrance and exit. Difficulty: Good workout for a fast walker (because of the hilly terrain), moderately easy for a slow walker. Season: Year-round.
Springwater Corridor Loop
The Bluff Trail continues north to the smaller parking lot, but to complete the loop, head left (south toward Oaks Amusement Park) at the fork to connect to the paved Springwater Corridor, a popular bike and running trail that loops 40 miles around the city. Walkers are scarce on this busy trail, so for safety, stay on the extreme right side of the paved pathway.
The Springwater corridor abuts the western edge of the refuge, with a great view of the PMMM. Turn right off the corridor as it hits Oaks Park, and duck through the tunnel to reenter the refuge. Take the dirt path back to the JEH Trail and Sellwood Park parking lot.
Sellwood Boulevard-Oaks Bottom Loop
Tadpole Pond lies along a cutoff trail between the Bluff Trail and the Springwater Corridor. You’ll spot Pacific chorus frogs, northern red-legged frogs and salamanders along the small interpretive loop around a roped-off pond. It is surrounded by riverine woods of black cottonwood and Oregon ash.
A small interpretive loop leads around the pond, where three species of salamanders and three kinds of frog, including the invasive bullfrog breed. Bird feeders on this loop attract small perching birds. Spring is the best time to visit the pond. It is often dry in the summer.
Willamette River Floodplain Area
At the intersection with the Springwater Corridor, cross the corridor to the Willamette River Floodplain–a lesser-known part of Oaks Bottom along the river. The trail runs parallel to the bike path for about a half mile, with a small riverside clearing and views of the Willamette River.
Portland Memorial Mausoleum Mural
Along the Bluff Trail, you’ll encounter the Portland Memorial Mausoleum Mural high above you on the bluff. This stunning mural was created as an expansion of the existing Great Blue Heron Mural on the lower west-facing wall of the Mausoleum. The largest mural in the United States, the expanded mural covers eight surfaces, totaling approximately 43,485 square feet.
Oaks Amusement Park
While you’re viewing Oaks Bottom, you’ll see an amusement park with a large Ferris wheel in the distance. Oaks Amusement Park is Portland’s 111-year-old amusement park.
It can be accessed from a branch of the JEH Trail or from the Springwater Corridor. In spring and summer, families with kids take over the rides in the park, especially on warm nights on the Willamette River.
- Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, Portland | Inspirock
- Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge | Portland Oregon Parks & Recreation
- Oaks Bottom Loop Hike | Oregon Hikers
- An Easy Hike Through Oaks Bottom, Portland’s Urban Wildlife Refuge | Oregon Live
- Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, Oregon Birding | Birding Buddies
- Portland’s Migratory Birds | Portland Online
- Huge Mural Will Join Heron Overlooking Portland’s Oaks Bottom | Oregon Live
- Oaks Bottom Bird List | Audubon Portland
- Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge Hiking Loop | PDX Family Adventures
- Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge: Hiking | RootsRated
- Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge Trail | All Trails
- Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge Map | Portland Online
- Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge | Google Maps
Copyright 2018 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.