5 Car-Free Family Excursions

carless adventures

From transit rides to bike rides, from crossing the Willamette to crossing paths with Ramona Quimby. There are plenty of opportunities for getting out and about with the kids while leaving your car at home. Here Marne Duke of Metro lays out five family-friendly adventures. 


Spring is a great time to slow down and break free of the daily routine of loading up the car and heading into traffic. There are so many opportunities to walk, bike or take transit to where you need to go in our region. With a little planning, and perhaps a bit more time, getting out without the car can make getting there the best part of the trip. Walking, biking and taking transit is a chance to slow down, see new things, be active and spend time with your family without the distractions of being behind the wheel.

Here are five fun excursions to get you out with your kids – and without the car.

  1. 4T Trail, Tram, Trolley, and Train. The ultimate Portland transportation experience – Portland’s 4T adventure – is sure to have something for everyone in the family. Begin with a hike from the Oregon Zoo (accessible by the MAX Blue and Red Lines) on the Marquam Trail to the city’s highest point, Council Crest Park. Then it’s a downhill stroll to the campus of Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) where you can catch a free and thrilling ride down the Portland Aerial Tram to the South Waterfront District. There, hop on the Portland Streetcar (trolley) and enjoy the ride into downtown Portland, where you can return to the start via a MAX light rail train. The walking portion of this loop, from zoo to tram, is 3.95 to 4.5 miles, depending on the route you take. A detailed guide to the excursion can be found in Metro’s Walk Their guide is available online here. Plan your transit trip with TriMet’s Trip Planner.
  2. Tilikum by night. For the first time in 40 years Portland has a new bridge, and it’s not for cars! At more than 1,700 feet in length, the Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People, is the first bridge of its kind in the U.S. The bridge carries MAX Orange Line trains, buses, streetcars, and people riding bikes and walking. With two 180 foot tall cable towers, the bridge looks more like a ship ready to sail the Willamette River than a bridge, and at night the cables and piers light up with a show of colors that fluctuate in response to a stream flow monitor in the Willamette River, echoing the river movement below. The bridge is also reminder of our history; “Tilikum” is Chinook Wawa, an international language used by first Oregonians, and later spoken by explorers, fur traders, settlers and the first few generations of Portlanders. (In fact, it’s still spoken today!) Tilikum means “people,” “tribe” and “relatives,” and has come to describe friendly people and friends.
  3. Beverly Cleary Walk. Take your young readers to see Beverly Cleary’s North Portland neighborhood that brought the always-entertaining Ramona Quimby to life. Celebrate Oregon’s beloved author and famous characters from her novels with the self-guided walking tour Walking With Ramona (Map), published by The Library Foundation. The tour begins at the Hollywood Neighborhood Library and continues through nearby neighborhoods, exploring the places where the events in her books “really happened.” Visit the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden, a special gift to the City of Portland from Friends of Henry & Ramona. Cast in bronze by Portland artist Lee Hunt, the life-sized bronze statues of Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Henry’s dog Ribsy welcome young and old to Grant Park.
  4. Go by Bike. Getting there by bike is a part of who we are in Portland. Spring is a time to dust off the handlebars, oil the chains and pedal to your next destination – with kids in tow.  Metro and the Portland Bureau of Transportation produce a regional Family Bike Guide to help parents learn more about getting around by bike with the whole family. From riding while pregnant to traveling with school-age kids, the guide is filled with instructions, tips and descriptions of ways to safely and comfortably travel by bike throughout the region. Once you have your bikes in order, the next step is to find your route. Metro’s Bike There map can help you find the safest, most comfortable and most direct routes. Bike There can guide you to low traffic neighborhood greenways and buffered bike lanes more suitable for biking with kids. Another great resource for neighborhood riding is your local Safe Routes to School program. Portland Public Schools and the Portland Bureau of Transportation provide recommended routes to neighborhood schools that are available online. Every month, from May to September, there is a chance to experience streets in Portland car-free at Portland Sunday Parkways. Great for new riders and kids, Sunday Parkways will be held in five Portland neighborhoods in 2016 and give miles of traffic-free roadway to people walking and biking. There are parks, entertainment, kids’ activities and food carts along the way to refuel and explore.
  5. Metro Parks and Trails. Getting out doesn’t have to mean getting somewhere. Discover the many Metro Parks and Trails around the region that give you and your family the opportunity to wander, to not go anywhere, to just meander and see where the day – and trail- takes you. With over 17,000 acres and 300 miles of trails, you can find whatever adventure you’re looking for, whether you’re in the mood for a short hike, a chance to spy wildlife, a round of FootGolf, a boat ride, or a picnic. You’ll share the landscape with salmon swimming in restored streams, birds streaking across the sky and giant old oak trees towering overhead. Many parks have special activities for kids, from toddlers to teens, and offer a host of programs that are sure to excite you and your about nature. Check out the Metro Parks event page or the PDX Parent Calendar page for special tours and activities, or make your own adventure.

Thanks again to Metro for contributing this article! A bit about Metro: Whether your roots in the region run generations deep or you moved to Oregon last week, you have your own reasons for loving this place – and Metro wants to keep it that way. Metro works with communities to help shape the future of the greater Portland region and provide the tools, services and places that make life better today.

Ali Wilkinson
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Ali Wilkinson

Online Editor at PDX Parent
Ali Wilkinson is the Online Editor for PDX Parent, and is one of the founders of PDX Kids Calendar. She loves exploring Portland with her three small children, especially when the explorations lead outdoors, to music or to ice cream. You can read more from Ali at www.runknitlove.com.
Ali Wilkinson
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