Hikes with Kids: Balch Creek (Forest Park, Portland)


  • 3-mile loop with about 400 feet of elevation gain along Balch Creek. There is a nice little waterfall for kids to enjoy (Macleay Falls).
  • Great for littles and their folks. Kids 4 and up will have no trouble (depending on endurance)
  • Very popular with the locals, so expect company, and on nice day, lots of it!
  • Trails can connect to the Portland Audubon Society or other trails in Forest Park, in case you want to extend your hike.

You feel like you are a world away here. The Balch Creek Trail is part of the Forest Park trail system through Macleay Park and it is really lovely and lush. This trail is great for kids 4 and up to do on their own 2-legs with nice wide and level trails. Littler kids might need a little help but can “section hike” for sure!

The trail follows Balch Creek, which starts in the Portland’s West Hills (“Tualatin Mountains”) and flows along Cornell Road, and eventually into the Willamette River (which we can’t see because towards the end of the trail it goes into a culvert which delivers it to the river under the city through sewer lines).

From the parking lot, there is a short, but reasonably steep hill to walk down (and you will have to walk back up at the end).  After that, the hills don’t seem that bad and you can choose how long you want to walk. I have enjoyed a 3+ mile round trip that takes you through the ‘park’, then through a beautiful NW Portland neighborhood, under one of our many bridges, and then back up along Balch Creek (the route can be found in William Sullivan’s ‘100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southern Washington’…hands down, these are the best hiking guides for Oregon!).  

Balch Creek is home to a small population of cutt-throat trout and a huge variety of birds and other creatures, not to mention some beautiful stretches of forest and native flora like my favorite, the Oregon Iris! There is also ruins of an old stone building to check out (although I hear it has been vandalized quite a bit since we hiked there last). It was originally built by the Federal Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, was later maintained by the city as a bathroom in the park, and was later abandoned in the 1960s.

The parking lot at the trailhead  is unmarked and can be a little hard to find. If you get to the Audubon Society of Portland, turn around and turn into the very next driveway on your way back into Portland. To find the trail head, click here for directions. The Parking lot is a little small, and this has become a very popular hike, so get there early in the morning for a spot.

This is a great hike for kids, but it has become very busy with our growing population. If being around a lot of other people in nature is ok for you, this will be a great hike and you can’t beat the travel time to get there. If you prefer something a little quieter, make sure you give this one a miss or get there early in the morning before most families are out.

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