A long, long time ago (15,000 BCE) and for about 2000 years, floods that started in what is now Montana blasted all the way through everything in their path until they hit the Columbia River Gorge. (On their way they stole a lot of rich topsoil from places like Eastern Washington, leaving them fairly barren even today.) These floods weren’t hardly fucking around; what is now Portland was then under 400 feet of water. A lonely four volcanoes poked out from that swath of de-facto ocean. Those volcanoes are now known as Mt. Tabor, Powell Butte, Kelly Butte, and Rocky Butte.
Those floods pushed a lot of rocks into the northside of the Butte, granting the mountain its current (obvious) name. In the early 20th century, Portlandersr built a prison and quarry there, which lasted for a few decades before being demolished to build the only thing more American than a jail: a freeway. (The rocky northeast side of the butte is still used for climbing, with over 150 routes.)
The views from Rocky Butte are grandiose. In addition to St. Helens, Hood and the top part of Jefferson, there are views of St. John’s Bridge, the West Hills of Portland, the airport, the Grotto, and the river. There is a radio tower and actual parapet walls.
Mt. Tabor has admittedly been one of my favorite spots in Portland for almost twenty years. Powell Butte, likewise, is a nice place to hike, what with forests down low and open expanses on top. Council Crest/Washington Park have exceedingly nice views too. I haven’t been to Kelly Butte, (never even heard of it, to be perfectly honest) but of the three I’ve seen Rocky Butte has the most most beautiful views.
While it seemed most people drove up, a handful of people biked up a rather steep incline. I didn’t see anyone one else walking, but even with steep windy curves, it never felt unsafe to ascend on foot. The path began in suburbia and then wended its way through a forest and a tunnel.
A little more climbing and then it evened out, going past some nice houses and trees just beginning to promise some glorious fall foliage.
The top was mostly empty on the sunny October afternoon I reached it. Planes left the airport and ascended directly in front of Mt. St. Helens, which seemed to content to sit and observe, head blatantly bare.
It was the kind of place you could just sit and chill for hours. As this couple did, having brought up a hammock.
The way down was very nice as well, with periodic views of Mt. Hood.
The road goes by a church/college that worships one of the vengeful skygods before eventually reaching the town again. From this side, SE 92 leads to gateway (and is quite walkable/bikeable) or you could turn and take Fremont, which is inconsequential here but becomes quite cool in 20-30 blocks.
All in all, it was probably an hour and half to climb up, hang out on top, and come back down. I’m shocked I never came up here before but relieved I have a place to hide away next time a flood from Montana blasts into town.