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A Guide to the Witch’s Castle in Portland

A Guide to the Witch’s Castle in Portland

There are a lot of popular hikes in Portland’s Forest Park, and one of them is the trail leading up to this mysterious ruined stone house in the middle of the forest. 

It’s popular for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it’s a short Portland hike right in the city and is an excellent beginner hike for children. 

Then, at the destination point, there’s The Stone House, also known as “Witch’s Castle,” and a striking narrative associated with it.

If you are a first-time visitor to this location, you might want to have a guide with you along with all the things you need to know about the place: its history, the directions to get there, tips to consider, and what to expect when you get there. 

We’ve rounded it all up for you!

Witch’s Castle: Brief History and Where to Find It

Witch’s Castle Brief History and Where to Find It

The ruined stone house known as Witch’s Castle can be found along a hiking trail in the middle of Portland’s Forest Park. The house is not only covered in moss but it’s also shrouded in mystery. 

The age-old witch’s tale is what makes the visit more interesting aside from the great hiking that comes with the trail leading to the place. So make sure to get warmth from your fireplace with this slightly chilling tale. 

1. Who is the witch of the Witch’s Castle and what’s the story behind it?

The witch of Portland’s Witch’s Castle is supposedly the wife of Danford Balch, who arrived in Oregon with his family in 1850. There, they claimed a large tract of land in what is now Forest Park. 

The land was mostly a thick forest at the time, and Balch needed help clearing enough of it to build his house. Mortimer Stump, a local, was hired to clean up the property and build a house.

Once the house was completed, Stump moved in with the Balch family (which included Balch, his wife, and nine children). Everything was going swimmingly until Stump and Balch’s eldest daughter, Anna, fell in love.

When the two lovebirds asked for Balch’s permission to marry, the father clearly did not approve. Balch warned Stump not to elope and even threatened to kill him if they did. 

Threats never worked too well at stopping young love. The young couple fled to Vancouver to elope and soon returned to Portland to collect their belongings. 

Balch was waiting for them, ready to follow through on his threat. He shot Stump dead in front of Anna as the ferry was loading.

Balch claimed it was an accident and that he had been bewitched by his wife. However, the police did not believe his story and he was arrested. 

While awaiting trial, he escaped from jail and spent six months hiding in the western hills near his farm. He was eventually re-arrested and convicted of murder. 

Balch was the first man in Oregon to be hanged at a public gallows. Balch’s wife continues to live on the property, and she is frequently referred to in the story as the “witch” thanks to Balch’s claim that she bewitched him into his crime. 

According to local legend, the spirits of Stump and Balch still haunt the property today.

2. Is the Stone House of Witch’s Castle really a house?

The Stone House of Portland Witch’s Castle was never a house. It’s not even the original structure that the Balch family built: the real Balch family house was demolished many years ago. 

The structure now, which is maintained by Portland Parks and Recreation, was built in the 1930s as a public restroom for hikers along the forest trail. 

However, in 1962, a major storm hit and severely damaged the structure. The roof eventually caved in, and the little structure was abandoned and forgotten. 

Portland Parks and Recreation now maintains that the structure is known as “The Stone House,” and all signage refers to it as such.

3. How did the Witch’s Castle get its name?

Now we come to one of the most common questions about it. Why is it named the Witch’s Castle?

The Witch’s Castle in Portland got its name in the 1980s, when local high school students rediscovered the structure. They used it for secret Friday night parties and dubbed it the “Witch’s Castle” (due to its looks and the old story about Balch’s wife), and the name has stuck ever since. 

It didn’t take long for ghost hunters to hear the story of the Witch’s Castle, the legend of the ghost of Balch and Stump, who is said to guard the Portland forest. 

People began to report seeing flickering orbs surrounding the house, as well as hearing children’s whispers and horrifying screams in the middle of the night. And as the saying goes, the rest is history.

How to Get to the Witch’s Castle in Portland

How to Get to the Witch’s Castle in Portland

It’s not that hard to get to Witch’s Castle in Portland. It’s easy to locate since it’s in Macleay Park, which is part of Forest Park and is only a 5-minute drive from the city center.

But if you want to get moving for some exercise, the hike itself can be quite challenging. Well, the Witch’s Castle Hike has three to four starting points, resulting in a range of hike lengths and elevation gains.

  1. Lower Macleay Park: Located at NW 30th and Upshur, this route is well-liked by families. Drop off people and then park in the area. To get to Witch’s Castle from here, take the smooth, flat trail for 3/4 mile.
  1. Off NW Thurman St/NW 31st area: This is a 2-mile round trip route that follows the same path as the first. You get to cross the Thurman St bridge span for some views and descend the massive staircase to the Lower Macleay Park starting point. 
  1. Upper Macleay Trail/Cornell Road: This is near the Portland Audubon Society and is a shorter hike. Simply head downhill for half a mile and follow the signs to the Stone House. The trail starts where the parking lot ends. In muddy weather, however, this route appears to be a steeper incline. You can also take Wildwood Trail in the opposite direction up to Pittock Mansion.
  1. Wildwood Trail: Take Wildwood Trail north to either Aspen Trail or Holman Lane to get to the Witch’s Castle.

Whichever direction you choose, we reckon it will take you on beautiful hikes through the forest to the Witch’s Castle. The trails are very well-kept and easy to walk on, and they are fantastic trails for hikers of all levels. 

You’ll be treated to breathtaking views of multiple cascades running through moss-covered rocks until you reach the castle. And before you know it, you’ll be at the Witch’s Castle.

Here are the following transportation options to get you to the park, first and foremost:

  • Public Buses – taking a public bus can be your ride to get to the forest park. Buses run from downtown and make multiple stops throughout the park.
  • Vehicle – If you’re driving, just enter “Upper Macleay Park” (or Lower) into your preferred GPS and follow the instructions.
  • Uber – since there is good cell coverage in this area, using ride-sharing services is an option. Just be sure to indicate Macleay Park and not “Witch’s Castle” as your drop-off location.

Things to Know about the Witch’s Castle

Things to Know about the Witch’s Castle

As you now have the idea of how to reach Witch’s Castle, you might want to equip yourself with all the things you need to know before you schedule a hike or a visit to that place. 

We compiled it all from the bigger things, like the trails that led to it, down to the smallest detail.

1. Are the trails leading to the Witch’s Castle always packed with hikers?

The trails leading to the Witch’s Castle are extremely popular. It’s actually not uncommon to see 150 or more hikers on this trail. So, be prepared for a large crowd when you arrive. 

To give you a perspective, the hike here is super busy almost all day on weekends throughout the year and on summer weekdays. 

Regular weekdays are less crowded than the rest of the year, especially in the mornings.

Although you can’t say if everyone will want to explore the stone house, hikers and families surely will.

2. When’s the best time to get to the Witch’s Castle?

The fall is the most interesting season to visit the Witch’s Castle because the leaves are changing and the forest is at its most vibrant. 

Additionally, particularly in October, you’ll typically find some humorous Halloween influences and decor here. 

When the stone house is covered in moss and rain, it also appears spookier. You are welcome to visit the location with the kids. After all, the trail to the castle is kid-friendly since there are a few places to get down and play at Balch Creek.

3. Are there convenient parking hours/lots when I hike to the Witch’s Castle?

Parking hours and opening hours are open from 5:00 AM to 10:00 PM. It’s best to arrive at the place between these times.

Additionally, the roundabout parking area in Lower Macleay Park (the most popular option to get to the Witch’s Castle) has just a few spots. While the Upper Macleay Trail (second best option) has more parking spots.

Much like in other popular areas, vehicle break-ins here are common, so you might want to double-check your car’s lock before you start your hike.

4. Is it okay if I bring my dog with me when I get to the Witch’s Castle?

Since dogs are permitted on the trail leading to the Witch’s Castle, the stone house is most likely pet-friendly. You must, however, make sure that your dog is leash-trained to avoid any trouble.

Especially when people tend to get busy with all the photoshoots here and there, you don’t want to get into trouble and keep your four-legged friend with you at all times. 

5. Do I need to know about the story behind the Witch’s Castle if I’m interested in visiting there?

Don’t go to the place without first learning everything there is to know about it. Knowing the backstory of the Witch’s Castle will make you appreciate the structure more, or even make it scarier. 

Anyway, you never know what else you might see there, but it never hurts to be aware of some important information.

Stuff to See

Stuff to See

Aside from the great hike the trails provide, one can become overly excited to see what awaits them when they finally arrive at their destination – The Witch’s Castle.

Once inside, you can truly feel everything, whether you’re scared, spooked, amazed, or stunned. But there are some things that will really catch your attention.

1. Graffiti 

The outside and inside of the Witch’s Castle are usually covered in graffiti, which is the first thing you will notice. 

However, this is not always the case, as some claim that the house appeared to have been freshly cleaned, with no evidence of graffiti on the ceiling or walls. 

Well, the city will occasionally clean it off, but that is happening less and less these days.

There is a lot of discussion about the graffiti on Witch’s Castle. Some claim it’s an art and that it adds to the house’s uniqueness. Well, given Portland’s abundance of culture and street art, it makes perfect sense. 

Of course, there are those who prefer it to remain entirely natural and graffiti-free. Regardless, the house definitely has a cool, funky vibe thanks to the graffiti.

2. Old Stone Walls

Despite damage from a storm in the 1960s, the Witch’s Castle’s old stone walls still stand. Instead of making structural repairs, the city removed the defunct roof, as well as the doors and plumbing for the bathrooms. 

The old stone walls have been overgrown with ferns, moss, and lichens, giving the structure an enchanting appearance.

3. Staircase

Outside the house is a staircase that leads to the second story and through doorways to roofless rooms. On one side of the building, a large tree trunk has fallen over the staircase, and it appears that the forest is attempting to envelop the Stone House.

You are free to go up the stairs and into the structure as much as you want. Just keep in mind that others will most likely be trying to get their own photos as well.

When you’ve finished exploring the castle, you can either return the way you came or continue onward. Pittock Mansion is less than a mile away from here.

From murder stories to bathrooms to high school keggers, the ruins that are now known as The Witch’s Castle, or as the signage says, “The Stone House,” have been a great destination for hiking in the Forest Park, or even as a popular attraction in the city of Portland. 

If you’re brave enough, you have probably been here a couple of times. But to some, even to a true Portlander, it takes great courage to even think of visiting the house. 

Either way, we are delighted to take you on a tour of one of the city’s strangest sites!

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