Hiking Oregon Portland Trip report Willamette Valley

Tualatin River Wildlife Refuge, Cooper Mountain, and Graham Oaks – 05/13/2023

While Spring has largely been a no-show so far this year, Summer decided to make an early appearance with a weekend forecast for temperatures topping 90 degrees. We’ve been lucky to hit 60 so we’ve had no time to adjust to that kind of heat. In the past when temperatures have soared, we’ve opted to adjust our planned hike to minimize the impact. That wasn’t necessary this time though as our planned outing was to take three short hikes, each less than an hour North of Salem.

We started our morning by re-visiting the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. We’d stopped here in March of 2019 (post) but could only hike the River Trail at that time of the year. The longer Wetland Trail loop is closed from October 1st through April 30th so we’d scheduled this May visit to check out the loop. We started from the Roy Rogers Trailhead where we found a nice patch of wildflowers to greet us.
IMG_7765The refuge is open from dawn to dusk. We arrived at a quarter to six to get an early start and avoid being out during the hottest parts of the day.


IMG_7771The patch of wildflowers.

IMG_7773A checker-mallow surrounded by golden paintbrush.

DSCN3325Plectritis amid the golden paintbrush.

We decided to go counterclockwise and forked right across Chicken Creek on a bridge.
IMG_7776We had a pretty good view of Mt. Hood.

The Wetland Trail follows a service road around the refuge. We began seeing wildlife almost immediately with a family of geese and a pair of deer hanging out on some private property adjacent to the refuge.



It was approximately 1.5-miles from the Roy Rogers Trailhead to the Refuge Headquarters and Wildlife Center. It was slow going as we kept stopping to watch the wildlife.


DSCN3369Greater yellowlegs

DSCN3372Mourning dove

DSCN3375Great blue heron

DSCN3380An egret and some ducks

DSCN3394More families of geese

IMG_7789Swallows flying above the Wetland Trail.

Northern shoveler, Scaups, and a buffleheadNorthern shoveler, scaups (leaning toward greater), and a bufflehead.


DSCN3424Northern shoveler

Ruddy duckRuddy duck


DSCN3434Spotted sandpiper

DSCN3439Purple martins


DSCN3456Cinnamon teals

DSCN3446Nutria, one of several of these non-native rodents that we saw.

DSCN3415Nap time (or just a late sleeper).


DSCN3458Song sparrow

DSCN3468Common yellowthroat

IMG_7798Wildlife Center

We took in the view from the overlook next to the Wildlife Center before continuing on with the loop.

DSCN3476Great blue heron watching from a little island.


We followed the Wetland Trail until we came to the River Overlook where we cut over to the River Trail (the trails are less than a yard apart in this area) to check in on the Tualatin River.

DSCN3483Anna’s hummingbird

DSCN3484The same Anna’s hummingbird. When catching light their head/throat is bright pink but appear black when not.

IMG_7810River Overlook

IMG_7812Tualatin River


From the overlook we stuck to the River Trail following it through a short section of forest before rejoining the Wetland Trail.
IMG_7813The Wetland and River Trails running parallel.

DSCN3489Spotted towhee



IMG_7819Pacific waterleaf

IMG_7821Violets and fringecup along the River Trail.

IMG_7823Bleeding heart

IMG_7820We skipped the spur trail to the Ridgetop Overlook since we’d done that on our previous visit.

IMG_7828Chicken Creek

IMG_7829The River Trail meets the Wetland Trail across from the Weland Observation Platform.

We didn’t observe much from the platform on this visit. We continued on with our loop back on the Wetland Trail.

DSCN3506Great white egrets

IMG_7838There were some impressively tall trees along this portion of the loop.

The trail made a 90-degree turn just before another branch of Chicken Creek and headed in a near straight line back toward the Roy Rogers Trailhead.

DSCN3518Another egret

IMG_7842More egrets across Chicken Creek.

DSCN3527Red-winged blackbird

DSCN3530Savannah sparrow


DSCN3537A parsley

While our loop was only 3.6-miles it was packed full of sights, a great start to our morning. From the refuge we made the roughly 10-minute drive to our next stop at the Cooper Mountain Nature Park, yet another park managed by Oregon Metro. The park hosts a little over three miles of trails which start at a nice little playground.

20230513_081204Our planned route was to go right on the Little Prairie Loop to the Cooper Mountain Loop and then stay right on that loop (with a detour to hike the Larkspur Loop) to Blacktail Way. We’d then take Blacktail Way back to the Little Prairie Loop and turn right again to finish that loop and return to the trailhead.

IMG_7856The view from Cooper Mountain Nature Park.

The trail system heads downhill from the trailhead so keep in mind that all hikes here end with on an uphill.

IMG_7849Metro is currently running an odd little trial with very short “photo loops”. Mowed paths just off the main trails for photography. We took the first loop just to check it out and they were not kidding when they said the surface may be uneven.

IMG_7861One of two trial photo loops.

The idea is to limit the negative effects of off trail hiking. It’s an interesting idea but it would be easier if people could follow simple rules. We quickly found ourselves back on the Little Prairie Loop and forking right.

IMG_7864The second trial loop. You can see how short this one is by the signboard just downhill marking its other end.

IMG_7865There were several interpretive signs and benches along the trails.

DSCN3543White-crowned sparrow

DSCN3544Anna’s hummingbird

IMG_7874Star flower

IMG_7878As usual Metro had the trail junctions well marked with little maps on top of the posts. This is the Cooper Mountain Loop junction with the lower end of the Outback Trail.



20230513_083618Tough-leaved iris



IMG_7896Looking back uphill to some wildflowers.


DSCN3555Tomcat clover

DSCN3559Spotted towhee

IMG_7904Bench along a pond filling an old quarry.

IMG_7905The pond. Red-legged frogs apparently breed here. We didn’t see any frogs but there was a mallard hanging out in the brush.

IMG_7907Iris on the hillside above the quarry.

IMG_7911The Larkspur Loop continuing straight from the Cooper Mountain Loop which turns uphill at the junction.

An endangered species of larkspur, pale larkspur (Delphinium leucophaeum), typically blooms in the park in late Spring into June. With everything running late this year we didn’t spot any yet this year as we completed the 0.7-mile lollipop loop.
IMG_7914Prior to the loop the Larkspur Loop dips to cross a creek in the trees.

IMG_7915The little creek.

IMG_7918View from the Larkspur Loop.

IMG_7919While watching for the larkspur I noticed these giant blue-eyed Mary.

We returned to the Cooper Mountain Loop which made a steep climb to its junction with Blacktail Way.

IMG_7921Blacktail Way to the right.

IMG_7922Map at the junction.

Blacktail Way climbed more gradually on its way to the Little Prairie Loop.
IMG_7926The “earphone” next to the bench here was neat. There was also one at the trailhead and they really allowed you to isolate the sounds of the woods.

IMG_7927The Little Prairie Loop.

We turned right onto the loop and then quickly detoured to the Little Prairie Overlook.

IMG_7931The pale larkspur also grows in this area but again we were too early.

IMG_7933These were the only woodland-stars we spotted.

After checking out Little Prairie we finished the loop and returned to our car. This stop came to 3.1 miles with 300′ of elevation gain.

From Cooper Mountain we drove 18 miles south to our final stop of the day at Graham Oaks Nature Park. Another one of Metro’s parks Graham Oaks also hosts approximately three miles of trails. Unlike many of the other Metro parks we’ve visited recently this one allows bikes and dogs (on leash) albeit limited to the Tonquin Trail.


Our planned route here was another counterclockwise loop starting on the Tonquin Trail. We would follow that trail to the hiker only Oak Woodland Walk and then turn onto Coyote Way then take the Legacy Creek Trail returning to Coyote Way just before its end at the Tonquin Trail. Then we would simply follow the Tonquin Trail back to the trailhead.

Despite this being our third stop, the early start had gotten us here shortly after 10am, it was already over 70 degrees when we set off on the Tonquin Trail. Luckily for us there was an occasional breeze that helped cool things off a bit.
IMG_7941Heading toward Acron Plaza on the Tonquin Trail.

IMG_7944Interpretive sign at Acorn Plaza.

There were large amounts of large camas blooming along the trail along with yellow buttercups and some patches of lupine.
IMG_7948Lupine and buttercups


IMG_7953Meadow checker-mallow

We detoured to Elder Plaza at a trail marker.

IMG_7956The “elder” oak is between 150-200 years old.



DSCN3570We watched this American Kestral hover on a near vertical line for what felt like quite a while. It eventually dove and attempted to catch something in the grass. We couldn’t tell if it had been successful.

We continued down the Tonquin Trail and made a second detour to visit the Wetland Overlook.



IMG_7969Mylitta crescent

We made a third detour when we reached a 4-way junction with the Oak Woodland Walk and Arrowhead Creek Trails. We turned right onto the Arrowhead Creek Trail to see what the creek might look like since we could see a little footbridge from the junction.

IMG_7972Footbridge over Arrowhead Creek.

There wasn’t really any water flowing in the creek bed and we turned around after crossing and returned to the 4-way junction where we crossed the Tonquin Trail onto the Oak Woodland Walk.


IMG_7977The Lycaenidae family of butterflies remains a mystery to me. This appears to be an Eastern Tailed Blue based on the ventral spots.

IMG_7981Snow in the Cascade foothills. If you look really closely behind the bigger snow patch to the far-right, you can just barely make out Mt. Jefferson.

We turned onto Coyote Way and quickly spotted several species of birds.

DSCN3572Northern flicker

DSCN3580This scrub jay would not come out from behind the oak leaves.

Coyote Way eventually entered some trees and crossed a boardwalk.

IMG_7986There was a lot of candy flower beneath the trees.


We turned onto the Legacy Creek Trail and found ourselves under a much denser canopy of trees. This extra shade made this feel like the coolest section of trail we’d been on all day which was welcome because it was now over 80 degrees in the Sun.


IMG_7990Mushrooms along the Legacy Creek Trail.

IMG_7992Violets, candy flower and the invasive herb robert (pink).

We left the trees and quickly arrived back at Coyote Way where we took a right followed by another right on the Tonquin Trail after 200′.
IMG_7996Coming up to Coyote Way.

IMG_7999Back on the Tonquin Trail and heading for the trailhead.

This was our shortest stop of the day coming in at just 2.7 miles. For the day we logged 9.4 miles with approximately 400′ of cumulative elevation gain, primarily from our stop at Cooper Mountain. These were all enjoyable stops and each provided a different experience. Happy Trails!

Tualatin River Refuge
Cooper Mountain
Graham Oaks