Train, trolley, trails, and tram, and in our case bus; the 4T Trail is a great way to spend three to four hours of an afternoon exploring Portland without using a car. The most commonly suggested route begins downtown at Pioneer Courthouse Square catching the train, or MAX light rail, to the Portland Zoo and connecting with the Marquam Trail. A forest trek leads through the Southwest Hills, eventually reaching the Oregon Health & Science University on Marquam Hill, where the Portland Aeriel Tram shuttles primarily OHSU students and employees to the South Waterfront campus. The tram ride ends right at a trolley stop, a.k.a. Portland Streetcar, which runs back downtown to complete the famous 4T loop hike.
We completed the 4T Trail on a beautiful sunny day in March, but this hike can be done year-round. With plenty of access to public transportation in Southeast Portland, we opted to also use the bus and completely avoid driving. Online research will pull up multiple variations of the 4T, but one can start virtually anywhere in Portland with Trimet services. There are tons of directions already posted so I’m going to refrain from providing more and stick with tips and highlights.
Knowing it wasn’t likely to finish the hike in less than 2.5 hours we each purchased an all-day Trimet pass for $5 ($2.50 passes only last 2.5 hours), which works for the bus, train and streetcar. Beginning on the 70 bus, we connected to the MAX Orange Line and rode over the Tilikum Crossing Bridge to the OHSU South Waterfront campus. There’s a $5 fee to ride the tram up to Marquam Hill, but it’s free to come down, so we hiked the 4T counter-clockwise by taking the streetcar to Pioneer Courthouse Square and transferring again to the MAX to get to the zoo. Technically the trolley ride could have been skipped by transferring trains, but we were committed to completing all four “T’s.”
The zoo MAX station is cool, with artistic orange and yellow walls depicting safari animals and the Portland skyline; the underground stop reminiscent of the New York♥ City subway tunnels. The elevator leads to ground level and the zoo parking lots, where a short walk connects to the Marquam Trail, the actual hiking section of the 4T. Following sign posts directing to the 4T, cross over busy Highway 26 and turn left, walking parallel with the on-ramp until the 4T winds into the forest. Definitely wear proper footwear on these trails, it’s not uncommon to encounter muddy and slippery conditions.
After about one mile of hiking the trail reaches Council Crest Park, where picnic spots are plenty and mountains are visible on clear days. From there the 4T forest trail continues nearly 3.5 more miles, traversing several switchbacks and meandering through quiet woods, and occasionally backyards, until reaching the Marquam Nature Park Shelter. We were pleasantly surprised to find an awesome public art display, the colorful Marquam Mosaic which was created for the park’s small amphitheater. The 4T nears its end as the final stretch climbs up to OHSU to find the tram.
Don’t worry, the journey is all downhill from here! After emerging from the woods the remainder of walking is on streets and sidewalks to the Kohler Pavilion, where the last T comes into play—the Portland Aeriel Tram. The tram does not operate Sundays and it sometimes closes for maintenance, so be sure to plan accordingly. On clear days the majestic Cascade Mountain Range can be viewed from the loading deck. We waited for the first tram to fill and jumped in front of the line for the next, snagging a spot by the window like tourists (because it’s COOL!). The short ride ends on the South Waterfront near both the streetcar and MAX. If you started the 4T downtown, this is where you’d hop on the streetcar. We jumped back on the MAX Orange Line and ultimately the bus to complete our first ever successful 4T loop.
Why We Dig the 4T Trail
The 4T is awesome because there are many variations of this trail, the possibilities are endless like a choose your own adventure book! This is a great activity for visitors, as you could make an entire day of the 4T and show off a good deal of Portland. We’re so fortunate to live in an urban area with tons of access to trails and woods. Please note, THIS IS A HIKE, on TRAILS, so wear proper clothing and footwear. You can literally start anywhere and most likely will not need to use a vehicle. Downtown provides tons of access to shopping, sightseeing, and most importantly eating, so perhaps kick off your hike with a classic Portland brunch. Next, stop at the zoo to see playful otters or feed giraffes, or maybe even cruise to the nearby the Japanese Garden. The summit at Council Crest is great for chilling and taking in those killer PNW mountain views. Finally, wrap up your Portland tour, hopefully in time for happy hour, or go grab dinner downtown or in one of Portlands many great neighborhoods. Overall, you can make the 4T as much or as little as you want to: go all out, or spend as little as $10 on Trimet passes like we did. The world is your oyster, go explore it!