South Waterfront/Sellwood Loop – Portland, OR

My attempts to become a stronger endurance athlete have had to contend with a simultaneous progression of my development into a 205lb, Clydesdale Class male. For most things, moving my weight around has not been a problem. I find that any run under 13 miles, or any ride or hike that is not composed solely of climbs is doable. Anything much beyond results in knees that threaten to blow out of my body and a groin area that chafes to the point of bleeding. I like my mass, and it’s ability to fill out spandex, but I also like my knees.

Recently, while training for a half marathon, I had to reach a compromise with myself to ensure my ability to walk past my 40’s. I decided that for shorter, cross training days I would stick to the hilly stuff that I love, but do my longer pieces in the flatlands. The South Waterfront/Sellwood Loop quickly became the basis of my flat, knee friendly, training grounds for Portland area races.

The biggest climbs you’ll find along this route are up to the bridges. Winding along the Williamette River, this loop provides abundant views of the River and long, flat straightaways that are great for putting in mileage and intervals. Additionally, the run winds through the new South Waterfront area, Portland’s effort at high priced condo/commerical development. Not nearly as organic as the Pearl, the South Waterfront is the result of a planned effort to create high end living. Think the South Beach Miami condo scene, with more rain. This area does not yet feel like a community, and is curiously sterile in appearence, but it provides an interesting area to explore via a run.

Starting at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the loops winds over the Hawthorne Bridge and drops onto the Eastbank Esplanade, and then heads south where it connects with the Springwater Corridor. Long, paved, popular, well marked and flat, the Springwater is the best place for intervals along this route. We typically do this section of the route first, as it is seemingly never ending, and often boring in parts. However, it’s a great way to reach the Sellwood area via running shoe or bike.

After the Springwater reaches the Sellwood Bridge, the route heads west across the bridge and then turns north, along the parks and trails that form the South Waterfront area. Unlike the Springwater Corridor, this section of the route is scenic, and winds through green spaces, condo developments and the new South Waterfront developments that dominant the Portland skyline south of downtown. While not complete, the South Waterfront area contains some cool restaurants, cafes and bars to explore and freshen up after a flat, knee saving run.

Distance: 8.5 miles round trip

Directions: Starting at Tom McCall Waterfront Park (SW Columbia St and SW Naito Parkway), south of the Hawthorne Bridge, head north and on to the pedestrian section of the Hawthorne Bridge and head east. The pedestrian crossing will have a turn off on the right, which loops down to the Eastbank Esplanade. Take this and then head south on the paved path along the east bank of the Williamette.

After OMSI (the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) the path will intersect with SE Caruthers Street. Head east along the street, through an industrial section, and then turn right, on to SE 4th Street which will put you directly on to the Springwater Corridor. Take the Corridor south for 3 miles until it intersects with SE Spokane Street. Take a left and then your first right on to SE 6th Ave, which will bring you to SE Tacoma Street. Head right on to the Sellwood Bridge.

After crossing the bridge take the pedestrian sidewalk down to the path that runs below the bridge. Head north (toward downtown) along the path which will put you on to a sidwalk that parallels SW MacAdam Ave. Continue on the sidewalk for 3/5ths of a mile and take a right on SW Nevada St. Run through the park area and on to the path that runs along the bank of the Williamette.

Take the paved path north where it is broken in a few spots by parking lots, before winding into a condo development area. Continue along the path, passing condos, office buildings and restaurants. Eventually the path will turn until it parallels railroad tracks, after which it dumps you on to SW Moody Ave. This road will take you through the South Waterfront development and under the highways before intersecting with SW River Parkway. Take a right and a left on to a paved path that will bring you through the Riverplace Development, ending back back at Tom McCall Park.


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