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Traveling to Portland? Trek the 4T Trail

train in Portland
Photo by Slava Keyzman

On a quick school break, my boyfriend took me and some friends home to Oregon. We drew pictures in black sand on the coast, toured the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and clambered around Fort Stevens like we were kids. But one of our most fun day trips was to the heart of Portland on the 4T Trail.

The 4T Trail is a nine-mile (14.5 km) loop through Portland, Oregon, taking advantage of the city’s four methods of public transportation—trail, tram, trolley, and train. This route hits the best Portland has to offer, all the way from its highest elevation at Council Crest Park to its lowest at the Washington Park train station. Not only is this the lowest point in Portland, but it’s also the deepest subway station in the United States at 260 feet (29 m) underground, though you wouldn’t know it from the 30-second elevator ride down.

The connecting points between the four Ts are located at the Oregon Zoo, at OHSU, in South Waterfront, and in downtown Portland. Signs mark the entire loop, and you can start anywhere you like. However, if you start with the forested trail at Washington Park and head toward the tram, you can avoid hiking uphill. My friends and I chose to hike last, and we were already pretty tired by the time we hit that steep trail. If I were to go back, I’d definitely begin by taking the trail downhill! Make sure to bring good shoes, since it’s often muddy, as well as a water bottle.

Photo by KaLisa Veer

Some visitors travel the opposite direction to save money on the tram (a cable car): going up only costs a few dollars per person, but going down is free. Whichever starting point and direction you choose, plan your route beforehand to know how much money you’ll need for parking and each leg of the trip. Also, check the schedules for each T. The tram in particular is open at limited times, and you don’t want to miss it! The tram rises 500 feet (152 m) in elevation, providing you with fantastic overhead views of the city. On a clear day, you might even see Mount Hood.

Once you reach the downtown area by trolley (streetcar), it’s a short detour to Voodoo Doughnut in the Old Town area. While this 24-hour shop with funky flavors now has locations in several states, the Old Town shop is the original. You can also visit Powell’s City of Books on W Burnside St, the largest independent bookstore in the world. It’s all too easy to lose track of time in this four-story, city-block-size building! And there are plenty of museums, restaurants, and food carts nearby (I got myself a tasty gyro when lunchtime came around). You can take your time exploring before taking the train back to Washington Park.

If you’re considering a quick trip to Portland, the 4T Trail is the perfect way to get to know this quirky city. And if you want to take a piece of it back with you, you can contact Don Baack, one of the creators of the trail, to get a sew-on patch for your travel pack.