Not a Bad View

If you drive north on Interstate 205 in Portland, just past the exits to take Interstate 84 west into downtown or east to Hood River and beyond, there is a large hill to the left side of the freeway. Microwave towers top the hill, as well as a few houses.

I grew up on the East side of Portland, so whenever we headed out to the Columbia River Gorge or up towards Seattle, we always passed this hill, but I had never been up to the top of it. Perhaps at some point I was told by my tired mother or grandmother after a long drive there wasn't any reason to go up there. Maybe I was even told no roads were up there.

Whyever it was, I don't drive that way anymore. Living in southwest Portland, if I go north it's via Interstate 5 and don't go out to the Gorge very much at all. A few months back I was clicking through some local blogs and found this piece on PDXploration about a place called Rocky Butte. I was intrigued by the pictures, but even more so when I realized this was the place I had long wondered about as a child. I had no idea it had a name, a park, or that you could go up there and see what was there.

So I resolved at some point we'd check it out, if for nothing else than to get some nice pictures. Saturday we decided to do just that.

Apparently the butte itself is a cinder cone long extinct. It's topped by Joseph Wood Hill Park. Mt. Tabor and Powell Butte are also cinder cones, judged by geologists to all have been created about the same time, about 2.7 million years ago. They have supposedly been extinct for 300,000 years.

I will warn you, it's not the easiest place to find. It's off of NE 92nd, and from the map I thought I could take I-84 to the 82nd Ave exit, turn right on Halsey, then left on 92nd, and then right on Rocky Butte Road. That worked out well until I drove underneath Halsey on 82nd. Oops. That fact Halsey was an overpass didn't come through on the map. This was only a minor glitch - we continued to the first light on 82nd north of I-84, turned right, went over some speed bumps and past a park to 92nd, turned left, and were exactly where we needed to be.

There is one road up and the same road down, as best we could tell. It's a slow drive, but not that long, full of speedbumps, 180s, and tight corners. The houses - which must have outstanding views - aren't the newest nor really much of anything to look at; most of them look like they were built before it took real money to buy the land. Today they are probably million dollar homes for the view, but on flat ground would be about $250k-$300k in the current market. Some are tired, perhaps with better days in their past. However, if you want a piece of land there is some for sale, for those of you who want to build your home on the side of a cliff.

At the top of the drive, the peak of the butte I suppose you would call it, there sits a very impressive structure. Cars park on the side of the loop at the top of the butte - there are no actual parking spots - and then people walk up to the park. The walls of the park are high and remind one of a castle. The park is named for Joseph Wood Hill, who started a military institute in Portland in 1901. I believe this park was built in 1935, making 2010 it's 75th anniversary.

After climbing up to the park - either via a sloped track for a vehicle to service the microwave tower in its center or the imposing stairs - the top is flat and very impressive. The grass is green and a cinder trail goes around the entire edge of the park. Massive stone railings with built-in benches and columns topped with lights provide a very medieval feel.

Pretty clean and fairly empty.

The star here, though, is the view. I don't know if there is anywhere else you can stand in one place and see Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and various other points from a single spot. Supposedly you can do this at a spot in Washington Park, but I think that's outdated - perhaps you could 50 years ago, but the trees have grown since then. Saturday was a clear day, but despite indications from a guide in the park I couldn't see Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Rainier, or any of the other mountains listed. Smog? Who knows.

Mt. Hood

Mt. St. Helens, with I-205 in the foreground. Traffic was, um, not good.

It's a cozy little place. It's out of the way, so it wasn't busy despite the beautiful weather. Misaki was the only dog in the park, which she enjoyed, and no one bothered us. There were bicyclists who had made it up the hill resting, some hikers, and some people who had brought up a picnic lunch.

Misaki loved the view too.

I remarked to Wifey this might be kind of a cool place to come up to at night. The park is open until midnight and as I mentioned, there are lights. She shuddered and shook her head. After looking around a bit closer I noticed plenty of support for her reaction.

Plenty of lighting...but what would it illuminate?

On one of the stone benches I noticed the ashes of a fire. Who knows what that was for. There were empty beer cans, some other trash, and cigarette butts all over the place. And other things that may not have been cigarette butts.

Misaki does not approve of your trash!

I'm not saying this park is dangerous at night - I have no idea - but I'm willing to bet there are people there after dark who probably don't want to be disturbed for various reasons. Yeah, probably not going back after dark.

It's a decent enough park though, and on a nice, clear day you can see for quite a ways and get some great pictures. Check it out - during the day.


  1. Sad that you can't enjoy the park at night. Growing up in Ohio, I never really considered whether it was safe to visit a park at night - it just was something you could do! Here in San Francisco tho - wow. Not gonna happen. Our neighborhood part is fine, though there is one area where people spend the night and Zuko is good about warning us away from there if someone is there. Still - sad that you have to think about these things. :-(

  2. So true. Funny story. Fourth of July - Misaki hates fireworks - we took her out for a walk about midnight since she hadn't, um, used the facilities in ours because she wouldn't go outside. We took her to the local park and there was a kid skateboarding. She did not like him at all. She broadened her shoulders and grrred at him, and made her cute little yips - oops, sorry, I mean menacing. He wasn't even near us, and during the day she wouldn't have looked twice at him. She's quite the little 25 pound protector. :)