Into the Unknown at Kelly Butte


This RECESS on The Intertwine sponsored by KEEN.

Kelly Butte is a forested hill at an elevation of 181 feet, and is a top location for bird watching in the city. It lies near the intersection of SE Powell Boulevard and the I-205 freeway. This often overlooked bluff is easily visible from downtown Portland and all over the east side.

We suppose very few know about Kelly Butte Natural Area; we have visited this "lost hill" several times but seldom meet very many people. For this very reason, we always have slightly strange feeling when we go there for a short, day hike. Our hikes here are usually around 1-2 miles. We walk very slowly and try to explore anything interesting we see. Our little girl just tested her brand new galoshes there, and was allowed to cross monstrous muddy puddles with a wide smile on her face. I use these hikes to test my camera's settings and take pictures of fractals in nature.

The best way to find the entrance gate is to turn off Division St. onto SE 103rd Ave. The street will turn into a narrow road winding up the butte. You'll come to an old gate with a sign listing the park hours. Just start walking uphill to begin exploring Kelly Butte. This natural area does not have well groomed trails, but that should not stop you from just enjoying the moment. This is the best entrance to the park, so you should plan to leave the same way you came in.

On the west side of the butte, you can find the remains of a very large water tank, which is being dissembled right now. It will be replaced by a much larger underground water reservoir in the years to come. I am inspired to visit all the usual places like Forest Park, Mt Tabor, Tryon Creek Park, but it is kind of magic to discover that which is not yet fully explored.

Over or under?
Secret stairs.
Taking over.


Submitted by Aaron (not verified) on

Thanks for this write-up, which helped me find the place and finally visit it. Went up there for the first time today and it was certainly a disquieting experience. Tons of trash, evidence of camps, odd 'no trespassing' signs posted high up on several trees... Spray paint on trees... Lots of potential here, and history as well, but I can't say I enjoyed myself. On the good side, lots of bird life, and some good views (though not too accessible).

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