To maximize my short visit to Portland, Oregon, I chose to take the 4-T trail to give myself an overview of the city. With segments via train, trail, tram, and trolley, it looked like a great way to experience a lot of the city in a few hours with little cost. And, with a little better planning, it would have been. It turned out to be a decent outing, but probably would have been better if I had known a little more about the trail. If you’re planning to take the trail (which I would still recommend for visitors to Portland), keep in mind these things.
Things I wish I’d known before starting Portland’s 4-T trail
It will begin with a subway ride
As recommended by Travel Portland, I began by catching a light rail train from Pioneer Square. I very nearly caught a train in the opposite direction, but my memories of navigating subway systems in Washington, D.C. and other cities returned in time for me to make sense of the map and catch the right train. The train worked its way through the city and I was soon wondering why I was riding a subway for entertainment instead of transportation. My days of working in D.C. made me despise the metro system, yet here I was. Nonetheless, my trip was not unpleasant, and I soon found myself getting off the train near the Oregon Zoo.
The route isn’t as easy to follow as you may expect
I then found myself starting off in the wrong direction once again. I had expected something more like Boston’s Freedom Trail, which has a red line on the ground making it remarkably easy to follow. Instead, I ended up referencing the online instructions on my phone and an informational sign (once I found it). After re-reading the trail description, I crossed a highway overpass and followed signs for the trail, which soon lead me to walk along an on-ramp for the highway. At this point the trail was more like the shoulder of a road than a trail and I continued questioning my navigation skills. I was relieved when I saw a clearer trail going into the woods.
It is a nature trail, not a city trail
After a week of hiking in Washington’s national parks, I anticipated this hike to be a change of pace. Expecting paved paths and sidewalks, I left my hiking shoes behind and wore my nicer tennis shoes. This was a poor choice, as the trail part of the journey travels through woods and parks much more than city streets. I also quickly realized that using the bug spray would have been a smart choice.
The tram closes at 5pm on Saturdays
While approaching Council Crest Park, something in my brain clicked and I realized it was Saturday. I had looked up the tram hours earlier in the day, but somehow had convinced myself that it was a weekday. I suppose a week of traveling had thrown off my mental calendar. I confirmed the hours for Saturday and realized I wouldn’t be taking the tram, as it was already after 5. For this mistake, I really have no one to blame but myself. I was more than a little disappointed, as I was looking forward to the tram quite a bit, and I was frustrated for myself for the avoidable mistake. While my mood at this point was not good, I will say that Council Crest Park was a nice spot to take a few minutes to regroup and decide how to proceed. I ultimately decided to complete the trail segment and then catch an Uber ride to the trolley stop. Proceeding along the trail was easier said than done, but after wondering around a bit more, I found the trail again. However, while Travel Portland’s description mentions two possible trail options, I only ever noticed one. I trekked along this one and made it to the hospital of Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU). Since the tram was now closed, my route diverged from the plan here. I requested a car to pick me up and take me to the trolley station. After all, “taxi” starts with a “T” too, right?
The trolley portion offers the best people-watching
The trolley portion of the journey was uneventful, but provided opportunities for people-watching. Perhaps due in part to the fact that the route went through Portland State University, the trolley car was filled with interesting characters. In addition, I enjoyed seeing a segment of downtown Portland. The ride served as a nice ending to the 4-T Trail, especially since I had been a little bitter about the tram/taxi segment.
Overall, my experience on Portland’s 4-T Trail was not the best, but it certainly could have been a worthwhile excursion with a little better planning. If you keep the above tips in mind, I’m confident you can have a better experience than I did!