Date Hiked: 09-24-2016
Mileage: 3.5 mi; 1.5 hr
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 2 groups
Barely rising above 9,000 feet, the Portland trail is the lowest in Ouray, and a good one for newcomers trying to acclimate to the altitude.
Driving into and out of Ouray, the Amphitheater forms the town’s remarkable eastern wall. During a heavy period of volcanism, Ouray and the surrounding mountains were saturated with pounds of ash and lava, which pooled in the valleys, filling crevices and leveled the area. Later, as the earth cooled, two glaciers set on a crash course towards each other collided beneath the Amphitheater, grinding and carving at the rubble of a mass landslide though to have given the landform its distinct face. The Portland trail circles the deep bowl-shaped cirque left behind.
The trail can be reached by a number of access points, but the easiest is probably from the small parking lot at the far southeast end of the Amphitheater Campground. From there, a short .2 mile stretch brings you to a crossroads between the Lower Cascade Falls trail and the Portland trail. Starting the loop counterclockwise, turn right onto the Portland Trail, where the route follows a wide ridge above a drainage before dropping towards its normally dry basin. Just on the other side, turn left at the next fork, half a mile from the trailhead. If the campground is closed, the trail to the right leads to another trailhead off of the Portland Mine Road.
As the trail strains higher into the basin, easy switchbacks aim towards a ridge above Portland Creek. Keep an eye on the southern side of the trail for sporadic clearings in the thick curtain of pine and oak to open up with views of the Amphitheater and Hayden Mountain. When the trail reaches its high point of about 9,250 feet 2.2 miles in, a four way junction gives you a number of choices.
While the Portland Trail never actually reaches the creek, the eastern route at this junction towards the Portland Trailhead does with just .3 miles of hiking one way. The remains of the Portland Mine sit near the headwaters.
The rest of the loop follows the Portland Trail to where the Upper and Lower Cascade Falls trails converge. Take Lower Cascade Falls west back to the trailhead.
(From Ouray): Head south out of Ouray on Highway 550 and turn left onto Amphitheater Campground Road at the second switchback. Follow the road as it curves around the campsites and ends at a small parking lot after 1.1 miles.
2.1 miles; 7 min