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PDX Runs: Rocky Butte

Rocky Butte Portland Oregon Top View Runner

Here’s a bit of local running trivia to impress your friends: The park at the summit of Rocky Butte in northeast Portland is named for Joseph Wood Hill who established Hill Military Academy in Portland in 1901. One notable student of the academy was none other than legendary Oregon coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman.

You can wow your friends with that bit of knowledge, and amazing 360-degree views of Portland, the Cascades, and the Columbia River Gorge when you take them on a run up to the top of Rocky Butte. That is, if they’re game for some serious climbing.

This run combines some tough hill work—up and over Rocky Butte—with quiet back streets of the Rose City Park neighborhood in NE Portland. No specific route is prescribed, just a starting point with suggestions for the two subsequent loops (about 7 miles total).

Begin your run from the parking lot at Glenhaven Park, just north of Madison High School at NE 82nd Ave. and Siskiyou St. For a nice three mile warm-up, head west along NE Sacramento to NE 72nd, which cuts down through the Rose City Park golf course. A big clockwise loop will take you west (to 62nd, on Tillamook) around the golf course and park and back up to a short (one-half mile) trail along its northern edge. You may also elect to run back along the ridgetop on Sacramento for a nice view of Mt. Tabor.

Returning to Glenhaven Park, cross 82nd and meander your way to one of two points to begin the ascent of Rocky Butte: the northern end, from 92nd and Fremont, or the southern end, from 92nd and Rocky Butte Road. Ascending from the north isn’t quite as steep or as long (1.1 miles versus 1.3), but a climb of 500 feet makes either one quite a challenge. A soft shoulder for much of the run helps to reduce the pounding on the descent.

Rocky Butte is popular with cyclists wanting to improve their climbing skills, and runners should pay attention: A sustained hill like this one done regularly will result in a noticeable increase in strength and endurance, as well as a quicker recovery between workouts. Running long hills teaches your body “resource management” in maintaining a steady, forward-progress pace while not blowing up. Plus, you’ll gain a new perspective on what constitutes a “hill,” which has both physical and psychological benefits for future training and racing.

Besides, the view from the top makes all the hard work worthwhile, even when it’s cloudy! 

[Click here for more information on the geology, history, and current uses of Rocky Butte.]