Portland’s 4Ts (Trail, Tram, Trolley, Train) with Kids

I learned about Portland’s 4T’s urban adventure loop last year from my sister, who took my mom in June. You can start anywhere along the route and by the time you’re done you’ll have ridden the MAX train, hopped on the Portland streetcar (trolley), enjoyed the view from the OHSU sky tram, and hiked part of the Marquam Trail.

It sounded awesome! Something the Chaos Team would definitely be up for–but how? It’s not easy to do a four-hour adventure loop with a toddler and a baby. We take way longer than posted times for everything. And we travel like the 6 train up the East Side–stopping at every block.

But my husband’s family was coming to town and they’re up for pretty much anything, so we thought with four extra adults this could surely be accomplished. And if we had nice weather, I could continue my you-should-move-to-Portland propaganda, because the loop shows off some great views of the city and gives a full sense of Portland’s enchanted terrain.

I’m here to say the 4T’s with kids is definitely doable! You really only need one adult per child going, but more is great. And if you have kids who can handle walking 4.5 miles without being picked up, then the sky is your limit.

Tips for doing Portland’s 4T’s with young kids:

Pray for lovely weather. (And to be clear, lovely weather includes clouds, a fine mist, scattered showers–pretty much anything besides unabating rain mixed with torrential downpours and thick fog. This is Oregon, people.)

Definitely say a few prayers to the weather gods before you go, even if the forecast says sun. The morning we went was drizzly but manageable. Still, we decided to save the “trail” for the end in hopes the morning fog in the hills would let up–and it did!

Have a rain plan (I know, right now it’s lovely weather, but any day the rain will return!). Die-hard Oregonians won’t have a problem doing the whole shebang in any weather, but if conditions are too much for your crew, simply cut out the trail.

Start on the MAX train, take the street car to the aerial tram, ride it up the hill, and then retrace your steps. It will take about the same amount of time. To spice it up, you can always take a bus back. Or a pedi-cab?? Or a long board, or an electric car, or a unicycle… Be creative: Oregon is all about alternative transportation.

Pack snacks and water, but not lunch. What’s more fun than sampling a few things from the food carts next to The Galleria on 9th Ave and Alder? Or taking out-of-towners to the original Old Spaghetti Factory on Bancroft Street at the South Waterfront? Or getting all nostalgic and heading to Jake’s Famous Crawfish?

Speaking of lunch… With kids, food carts are definitely the best plan because they are low-key and have plenty of options. I would also recommend the Black Rooster Cafe (found by my brother-in-law Kris): they have a couple family tables inside that will accommodate your group. Try the salmon burger.

Regroup near a good bathroom. Pioneer Courthouse Square is a great place rest and regroup. The visitors center on the west side of the plaza has bathrooms, the step/seats are always plentiful, and if you’re in the square at noon, you can see the weather vane change and play its music.

Kids love watching the trains and buses pass by, and visitors can play I Spy to find the quintessential Portland markers: the statue of the man with the umbrella, the permanent glass umbrellas (notice a theme?), the global destinations signpost, and the “fallen” column. The Square is located between Broadway and 6th Avenue, and Morrison and Yamhill.

If it’s too rainy to rest and regroup outside, try finding some shelter in the Anne Hughes Coffee Room at Powell’s or at The Galleria.

Bring an extra back pack. If you’re like us, you won’t be able to resist a book or two at Powell’s or a bag of Chili 3000 at Penzey’s Spices. You could probably stuff your extra swag into the diaper bag or hiking back pack you brought along (you did bring it along, right?), but it’s nice to have multiple small packs so that everyone in the group can carry a little, rather than one sherpa carrying the whole load.

Ditch the stroller, and bring packs for the kids. Baby Woww was obviously in a carrier, but K-Pants usually walks or rides at this point. However, his little legs weren’t going to hold up very well over four miles.

If your crew isn’t up for the four-plus-mile hike, consider doing an out-and-back (see rain plan), but add-in a meandering stroll at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. If your group is mixed ability levels, you can even rent parasol bikes and cart some of your group around while dodging pedestrians along the Willamette.

Let us know how it goes and what thoughts and tips you would add for others!


7 responses to “Portland’s 4Ts (Trail, Tram, Trolley, Train) with Kids

  1. Love the tips! I was telling B about this back when you went and he was a little apprehensive. I will share the post in an attempt to sway him. S would love it!

  2. Pingback: Portland 4T’s Route in Pictures | momsicle

  3. I really really want to do the 4T trail with my husband and 22 month old son. You suggest to ditch the stroller… we currently don’t own a carrier that will accommodate him, and he for sure won’t walk the whole trail. Do you think it might be doable with a somewhat rugged stroller?

    • Hi Leigh! There are definitely sections of trail that are not stroller friendly–especially for a rugged stroller like a Bob. Mainly because the trail is really narrow. That said, most sections of trail criss-cross neighborhood streets, and there should be viable street options, instead. Watch out, though: sidewalks are limited or non-existent, so you need to be really cautious on the roads.

      Alternately, if you and your husband are fit–which I would imagine you are!–you can just go for the trail with the stroller, and any sections that are too narrow, you can lift the stroller through them to the next widest patch. It certainly would be awesome to have a stroller for extra storage room since it’s a long day.

      Report back on how it goes!

    • One more thing I thought of: If you have friends who want to do the 4Ts and don’t have kids, use them as additional sherpas for your child and gear. That was SUPER helpful for us, and made it so the load got shifted around. That may work if you have friends who are willing to hold your son for a stretch…. 🙂

      • Thanks for the reply. You’ve given me some options to think about! I’m going to try to set it up for a Saturday this summer. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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