Portland Adventure: 4T


1 clear day: clear weather, and clear schedule

5 active kids, ready for adventure

2 determined moms, armed with snacks & hot chocolate

I’ve had this adventure on my list for quite a while, and we finally had the right combination of factors to make it happen. Clear skies? Check. Un-obligated time for several hours? Check! No injuries or illnesses? Check!

The 4-T adventure makes a multi-transit loop around downtown Portland. The “T”s stand for: Train, Trail, Tram, Trolley.

Map of Portland 4T

Here’s how we did it.

We walked to the nearest MAX light rail stop to us, but if you don’t have one close, you can drive to a transit center and park. Kids all-day passes are $2.50 each, adults are $5. My kids love riding MAX – as a commuter, I appreciate the MAX, but they think it is an adventure every time. This is the “Train” portion of the 4T system.

Eric getting comfortable on the MAX on the first "T" of our Portland 4T adventure

Eric, resting up for the adventure. Fortunately, the MAX was pretty empty!

IMG_2788-0.jpgAlong the way, we pointed out fun milestones, like going over the river, the big lit tree at Pioneer Courthouse Square, the animal sculptures in downtown, and of course the tunnel! We got off the MAX in the tunnel at the Washington Park station, also known as the zoo. Since I work at the zoo, the kids were all, “Let’s go to the zoo! Let’s go to your office! Can we see the elephants? Do you know who is working today? Are the lion cubs out? Are the caracal kittens out? Can we go look? Are the ZooLights lit??” Hard as it was, we bypassed the actual zoo to proceed to the trail!

There is construction on the perimeter of the zoo right now, where the new Education Center is being built, but the new pedestrian path that skirts it is well-signed with “4T” markers. The trail goes all the way down the sidewalk, crosses over the Hwy 26 overpass, and starts up a path into the forest on the south side of Hwy 26. Cars coming off the freeway tend to be going kind of fast, so Mary and I flanked the kids and made them RUN! across the street to the overpass.

Finding the Portland 4T trail, on the side of Hwy 26 by the zoo

IMG_2797 At the base of the "trail" portion of the 4T

To gear us up for climbing 1.2 mile-long hill, we stopped at the base there for a quick snack. Granola bars and leftover turkey helped fuel the climb.

At the base of the first part of the trail on Portland's 4T

At the base of the trail. you can see Highway 26 behind us, there!

I was worried that climbing a hill for a mile would result in a lot of complaining, but the kids did this fun thing where they race ahead of us and leave markers for us to find. It’s really cute, and they RACED up that hill so they would have time to leave markers before we caught up with them.

Kids raced ahead of us and left markers on the trail

A hastily-scratched arrow in the path, making hiking fun for kids

A hastily-scratched arrow in the path

Moms trail selfie on Portland's 4T

We took a moment for a mom selfie, since the kids were determined that we not catch up to them!

The first part of the "Trail" portion of Portland 4T

Heaven forbid we catch up to them!

Gorgeous trees on the path from Oregon Zoo to Council Crest, part of the Portland 4T

Seriously! This is why we do this. Moments like this.

This portion of the trail is about 3/4 of a mile, and ends at Patton Road.

You turn right on Patton, and proceed to the intersection, then turn left on Talbot. From there, it’s about 1/3 of a mile up to Council Crest. This was the hardest part for the kiddos – they thought once we got to Patton, we were at the top of the hill, but we still had some climbing to do. They couldn’t run ahead of us any more, because we were on a road with little shoulder. I walked in front, Mary in the back, with the kids between us. Kind of a slog up the hill for the kids to be so contained.

But finally! We made it. The sky was so blue, and the views were just awesome. We planned to rest up here and drink the hot chocolate and have more of a snack, but it was pretty windy.

kids on the hill at Council Crest on the 4T trail

Eric & Sofia raced up this grass hill, then rolled down, getting themselves covered in prickly splinters. I’m sure it was worth it, though!

Council Crest, the highest portion of Portland's 4T

We found a more sheltered spot near where the Marquam Trail (the next portion of our hike) picked up, and had our snack on a bench facing Mt. Hood. Gorgeous!

snacks for hiking

We always pack a combination of protein, veggies, salty and crunchy snacks on our hiking adventures. Today’s snack included leftover turkey, pickles, pickled kohlrabi, baby bel cheese, leftover clam dip + potato chips (yay for Thanksgiving leftovers!), apples, cuties, trail mix and granola bars. We were DETERMINED to not get sucked in to stopping for lunch somewhere! 

Anna, with Mt. Hood behind her at Council Crest on Portland's 4T

Anna, with Mt. Hood behind her at Council Crest

Kids on the Marquam Trail, the second segment of the trail on Portland's 4TThe next portion of the trail was mostly downhill, but it was 2.2 miles, with a good uphill at the end. After about a half mile through the woods, the 4T instructions on the post offered an “Urban Shortcut,” walking on roads, to cut an estimated 45 minutes off the trip. We opted for the Urban Shortcut, mainly because many of us were in need of a restroom! The trails would have been less stressful, but the road was still beautiful. We saw a lot of awesome houses, propped up on stilts, surrounded by giant trees. Lovely! I don’t know if I could be comfortable living in a house on stilts, but the trees might make up for it.

Urban Shortcut on Portland's 4T trail

Finally, we arrived at OHSU to use the restrooms find the Tram. The Portland Aerial Tram is free if you are riding from the top to the bottom. From the Tram, we saw Mt. Saint Helens, Mount Adams, and Mt. Hood.

The tram station, Kohler Plaza, at OHSU

Beautiful station and views!

Beautiful station and views!

Riding the Portland Aerial Tram

At the bottom, we caught the Portland Streetcar (the “Trolley” portion of the 4T) and rode it along 10th avenue, landing perfectly at Powell’s City of Books. We could have left the streetcar at Yamhill, and hopped on the MAX to go home, but we all wanted to stop in to our favorite book store. Instead of taking the streetcar back to the MAX then walking home, we opted instead for a 5th “T” – taxi – to get home. BTW, it appears that Green Cab is the only taxi company in Portland that has vans for that many people.

Whenever I’ve brought up the 4T to my friends who are parents, we all have the same question:  Is the 4T Trail good for kids? It’s very popular with tourists, but what about kiddos? I take my kids hiking a lot, so I felt like they could handle it. After doing it, I’d say unequivocably YES, but maybe not for young kids. We could have used a bathroom at Council Crest (maybe there’s one there and we just couldn’t find it), and the roads on the Urban Shortcut were a little stressful.

Even so, it was a fun adventure. I want to do it again staying on the Marquam Trail the whole time, instead of the Urban Shortcut. It was 100% the right call for us this time, but I’d like to do the other trail as well.


Read: Detailed instructions on navigating the 4T

Bring: Snacks if traveling with kids, and water bottles. You can refill your water bottles at OHSU if needed.

We also brought a 40-oz HydroFlask bottle full of hot chocolate, extra gloves & hats (because nobody thinks they need them when we’re actually leaving the house), lip balm, travel pack wipes, and tissues. Tissues were especially helpful since it was so cold, and the wipes are handy after eating oranges or dribbling hot chocolate down your chin.

Let me know if you’ve done the 4T, or if you plan to, and if you’ve taken kids!

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