Urban parks tend to get short shrift when compared to their wilder brethren, as if points for authenticity are somehow awarded to only the grand, far flung and unpopulated places. Forest Park as a whole, and the Maple Trail in particular, are wonderful examples of why this thinking is shortsighted. The 70 miles of trails that work around this 5,100-acre reserve are every bit as lush, vibrant and scenic as the remote places we all aim for, and they are just 10-20 minutes from downtown Portland. Will you hear the train yard below? Of course. But you will also be standing among grand old Douglas firs, western hemlocks, red alders and maples, brushing through sword ferns, moving through drainages, and crossing creeks. This urban verdancy may not be completely wild, but it isn’t tame either, and it is certainly worth a trip.
The Maple Trail is a popular hike that is most easily accessed in the middle via Saltzman Road. Saltzman Road is actually one of several gated roads running through the park that keep it accessible for bikes as well (though the Maple Trail is off limits to bikes). From the intersection of the Maple Trail and Saltzman Road, go north on the lower portion of the trail to join Leif Erikson Drive. Loop back on this road and look for its junction with Saltzman, where you’ll find a picnic table and a great view of the St. Johns Bridge. Continue on Saltzman to return to the original trail junction. If the 2 miles you’ve hiked are sufficient, head back down the road to return. If you are up for more, follow the upper segment of the trail for a 4.3-mile loop that takes you up a more moderate elevation gain, crossing Leif Erikson Drive and gaining still more elevation until the Maple Trail intersects the Wildwood Trail. Head west on the Wildwood Trail for a short time, following signs toward the reunion with the Maple Trail, and return. Alternately, take the trail to Leif Erikson Drive and walk north on the road until you get to a fire lane that will make your return to the Maple Trail mid-point a little shorter and faster.
As is the case with many of the trails and roads in Forest Park, you can shape this hike as you move, accounting for time and weather. This particular route can be modified with shortcut trails like the Quarry Trail on the lower portion or the Koenig Trail on the upper section. You could also elect to avoid the roads almost entirely by connecting to the Wildwood Trail.