Monday, January 23, 2012

Tryon Creek State Park

A week of near record-breaking rainfall in western Oregon made me skeptical as to whether or not I'd be able to head out into the wilderness this past weekend at all. I awoke Saturday to rain but I was determined to hike. My new camera bag is waterproof, so I thought that as long as I stayed clear of torrential downpours it would be relatively safe inside the bag.

I helped my wife get ready for work, and when she left, I poured myself another cup of coffee, sat down with my trail guides and tried to find a hike. Mt. Hood and the area around it was hit hard with snow, so I sadly had to check that off the list. The Columbia River Gorge was also hit with snow, ice, and heavy (cold!) winds. The Clackamas River area ranger suggested I wait till another weekend due to the possibility of flash-floods and other dangers when I called to inquire about taking that trail's conditions. I was left with one obvious option: look close to home within the Portland Metropolitan Area for a hike; knock off one of the hikes right here in the city.

I decided to set my sights upon Tryon Creek State Park, located in a green gully between Portland and the ritzy suburb of Lake Oswego. Tryon Creek S.P. is also, coincidentally, next door neighbors with Lewis & Clark College, so you can imagine how beautiful the campus is. Being a state park, Tryon is family friendly and filled with easy hikes. You could walk around this park all day and not once break a sweat. There is a visitor center with a gift shop and conference room, a large parking area full of Subarus with car-carriers, rangers leading bird-watching tours, wide walking paths with benches spaced out along many of the hikes, and lots and lots of trail-runners in their spandex shorts and jogging shoes. This is not the place you'll find your die-hard outdoorsy types, in other words. You're much more likely to see a senior citizen couple in cataract sunglasses slowly walking down a blacktopped trail talking about trilliums or a child or two climbing on an old tree trunk while their parents tell them over and over to "please be careful for mommy."

As for my opinion of and final thoughts on Tryon Creek S.P., please see the bottom of this post. I have mixed feelings for this place which I will share momentarily.

The highlight of my entire day can be seen in the photograph below. While walking down the Big Fir trail, I heard the thump-thump of a woodpecker, which can frequently be seen in these woods, apparently. He was perched low on a dead douglas fir right on the trail. I crept up on him slowly, so as not to scare him away. I was shocked at how close he let me get to take his picture. Here below, is that picture: a large pileated woodpecker chipping away at a mossy douglas fir.

Pileated Woodpecker in Tryon Creek S.P. (photo enhanced for clarity)

Tryon Creek S.P. has roughly 8 miles worth of hiking trails within its boundaries. Most of these hikes weave themselves into a tight knot within one square mile of the visitor center, with a few of them extending beyond. One of these trails that extends beyond, Cedar Trail, is known for being extremely muddy and slippery for most of the winter. I indeed found it to be so today. And not wanting to risk slipping and belly-flopping on top of my new camera, I decided to just explore the other trails. This ended up being a good idea for one main reason: the sporadic weather.

When I exited my vehicle eager to start hiking and photographing, it was sunny and promising. Ten minutes later it was raining. I jammed the camera in the bag and took cover under a large canopy of cedars. Minutes later, it was sunny again. The camera and I emerged from under the trees. Fifteen minutes later, rain. On and on this cycle went for about 4 hours. At one point I gave up on the weather, thinking that rain was going to continue for the rest of the day. I sadly got back in the car and exited the parking lot. I maybe made it 2 miles down the road back home when the sun came out and shined brighter than it had all day. I whipped an illegal U-turn and returned to the park, only to park my car and walk about 500 yards before the rain started up again.

This is winter in the Pacific Northwest in a nutshell.

But, despite moving in and out of tree cover to keep my new camera from getting an unwanted drink of rainwater, I was able to snap a few photos to adequately capture the hiking trails that weave and knot around each other near the visitor center. These trails include Maple Ridge, Middle Creek, Big Fir, Center, Red Fox, and Old Main.

Tryon Creek S.P. Parking Area
Tryon Creek S.P. Visitor Center
Old Main Trail - Tryon Creek S.P.
Muddy Boot Print
Maple Ridge Trail - Tryon Creek S.P.
High Bridge - Tryon Creek S.P.

A quick word on one of the best reasons to visit Tryon Creek S.P.: old-growth tree trunks.

Historically speaking, the woods that constitute Tryon Creek S.P. were logged around the end of the nineteenth century, according to my guide book. So even though what you experience in Tryon is a second-growth forest, some of the tree trunks from the massive trees that used to occupy this forest are still seen all over the park. I have to admit, this is one of the greatest reasons to come here. Many of the trunks are gnarled, Halloweeny, and have taken on a sort of macabre look after their decades of decay. Some of them are absolutely massive, like the one I photographed below. Luck for you, the viewer, a child was climbing around on the trunk, giving you an idea of just how large this old tree must have been before it was cut down. You'll find countless other old-growth trunks like this one strewn throughout the park. 

Child climbing on old-growth cedar stump - Tryon Creek S.P.
Big Fir Trail - Tryon Creek S.P.
Near High Bridge - Tryon Creek S.P.
Wet and muddy Middle Creek Trail - Tryon Creek S.P.
Tryon Creek S.P.
Posted near High Bridge - Tryon Creek S.P.
Big Fir Trail - Tryon Creek S.P.
Tryon Creek S.P.

Winter is actually supposed to be a great time to visit Tryon Creek S.P. because of the spawning of steelhead and salmon. However, due to the copious amounts of rain the area has been experiencing, the water in Tryon Creek was a muddy, mucky brown, about as transparent as a thick cup of hot chocolate. Maybe if you were to stand on one of the parks numerous bridges long enough you would've seen a silver fin poke up and out of the muddy water momentarily, or maybe a dark shadow, but needless to say this was not the weekend for fish-watching.

Big Fir Trail - Tryon Creek S.P.
Red Fox Trail - Tryon Creek S.P.
Tryon Creek S.P.
Tryon Creek
Middle Creek Trail - Tryon Creek S.P.
Douglas Fir

Red Fox Trail - Tryon Creek S.P.
Maple Ridge Trail - Tryon Creek S.P.

With the exception of the woodpecker, the day was largely anti-climactic. Part of me wishes I had just left the camera at home and just hiked all 8 miles worth of trail in the park, since the cycle of sun-rain-sun-rain kept me from getting too far from my car in the event of a downpour. I was impatient to both get outside and use the new camera. But these trails aren't going anywhere. If anything, with it being winter, they will only get prettier and prettier in the short-term once Spring and Summer brings the trillium blossoms that this park is known for. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have locked the camera in the trunk and gone out and gotten dirty. Next time weather encroaches on my weekend hike, I will do just that.

Here are my thoughts on Tryon Creek S.P.

Having started this blog with Salmon River trail in the Mt. Hood National Forest was in a way the kiss-of-death for all of these hikes within the Portland Metropolitan Area. Nothing within the city is going to compete with the forest my wife and I encountered along the Salmon River. But a forest is a forest, and a hike is a hike, and any nature is better than no nature. Regardless, while walking through Tryon Creek I couldn't help but realize how noticeably inferior it was to Salmon River. In all honesty, I would even take a hike in measly Talbert Nature Park in Clackamas (see my previous post) to Tryon Creek S.P. any day.

But that's okay, because the type of people who regularly visit Tryon Creek are probably very different than the type of people who regularly visit Salmon River and the like. You have to appreciate each for what they are. Tryon is for families, for quick walks in the park with grandma or with the kids, for trail-runners who live in Portland or go to school at Lewis & Clark, for middle school field trips, for quick nature fixes "away from" the city. Tryon is not for "hikers", per se. If you come here expecting to find a hike, you'll be bored. If you come here to get lost in nature, you'll be constantly reminded by the crowds, park benches, children, and yuppie trail-runners that you are, in fact, still in the city. 

I have read, however, that Tryon Creek S.P. is an excellent place to visit in the autumn, for the variety of colors you'll find in the forest, and in the spring for the trillium blossom. I will return to this park in the near future on both occasions and will post my findings of course using photographs. Until then, as far as the winter goes, if what you're looking for a just a quick and easy "escape" from the city, Tryon Creek will fill that need wonderfully. To be quite frank, I would even recommend Mt. Talbert Nature Park in Clackamas (see my previous post) over Tryon Creek S.P. if this is what you seek. But, if you're looking for an epic journey into the wilderness to cure your ever-growing cabin-fever, I wouldn't suggest coming here.

Tryon Creek State Park- just south of Portland, just north of Lake Oswego.


  1. We are headed there next week. We have a friend that goes there pretty regularly and she says there are a pair of owls you can see almost every time.

  2. XXXsellent woodpecker pixure! and the other pixures do a good job of capturing the essence of the place. i try to visit T S P each trip to Portland when i vizzit "the kids"