In a city as green as Portland, it’s only fitting that some of the top things to do are outdoor spots that appeal to home gardeners and hikers alike.
There are more than 200 parks and gardens within city limits, from forests to marshlands, trails to skateboarding rails. Home to the sprawling urban wilderness of Forest Park along with the world’s smallest dedicated park, Mills End Park, Portland offers visitors a breath of fresh air wherever they are.
This former parking lot in the Downtown neighborhood was converted into a public square in 2009. Located just a block from Pioneer Courthouse Square, Director Park features a café, ample outdoor seating and a fountain, and plays host to occasional events in the summer.
At 24 inches (61 centimeters) in diameter, Mills End is the world’s smallest dedicated park. Located in the median of Southwest Naito Parkway at Taylor Street, its story began when a journalist for the Oregon Journal, Dick Fagan, got tired of looking at the ugly pothole below his office window. He decided to plant ﬂowers in the hole and name it Mill Ends Park. To generate interest in this tiny green space, Fagan centered many newspaper stories around the capers of a ﬁctitious park resident, a leprechaun named Patrick O’Toole.
Located in the heart of downtown Portland Pioneer Courthouse Square is affectionately known as the city’s “living room.” Once a grim parking structure, the square is now a thriving urban park and the single most-visited site in Oregon, attracting more than 9.5 million visitors annually. The square’s on-site resources include TriMet’s bus and light rail ticket office. The square is also one of Portland’s leading outdoor venues, hosting 300 events each year, from large-scale concerts to cultural festivals.
Once the site of a freeway, Tom McCall Waterfront Park is a downtown riverfront park popular for jogging, in-line skating and cooling off in Salmon Street Springs, a fountain whose water patterns change with the city’s mood. The park bears the name of former Oregon Governor Tom McCall, a staunch advocate of recycling, environmental preservation and urban planning. This 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) stretch of green along the Willamette River is home to many annual events, including the Portland Rose Festival, the Oregon Brewers Festival and the Waterfront Blues Festival. The Japanese American Historical Plaza is located at the north end of the park.
On summer days Jamison Square becomes a no-holds-barred kids’ park featuring a gentle fountain and generous space for wading. Adults will appreciate the convenience of the Pearl District park’s location on the Portland Streetcar line and the impressive public art — modern “totem poles” designed by Kenny Scharf.
Tanner Springs Park is a living example of Portland’s eco-consciousness: a thriving wetland in the heart of the urban Pearl District neighborhood.
Located northwest of downtown, this 8-mile-long (13-kilometer) “forest in the city” covers 5,156 acres (2,086 hectares). In addition to providing a respite from urban life, Forest Park supports more than 112 bird and 62 mammal species and acts as a natural air purifier. Forest Park’s 70 miles (113 kilometers) of trails are popular with runners, equestrians, hikers and cyclists alike. Dogs on leashes are allowed. The 30-mile (48-kilometer) Wildwood Trail connects Forest Park, the Audubon Society Sanctuary, Pittock Mansion and Washington Park.
Nearly 2,000 species of trees and shrubs are showcased on 185 acres of hilly terrain within Washington Park. An interpretive center offers restrooms, maps and brochures and a gift shop. The 21 trails of Hoyt Arboretum cover 12 miles; two miles of trail are suitable for wheelchairs, baby strollers and visitors who appreciate firm footing. See a map of the trails.
Located atop the hills west of downtown, 410-acre Washington Park offers up a zoo, two museums, a spectacular rose garden, one of the most authentic Japanese gardens in the world and more, all bordered by Forest Park –its grounds include the at 5,100 acres, one of the country’s premier urban wildernesses. Washington Park is one of the oldest, best-loved and most well-used parks in Portland.
Located 15 minutes south of downtown, Tryon Creek Park and Natural Area is Portland’s only state park and features miles of trails under a mixed forest canopy. The 645-acre park’s namesake Tryon Creek is home to a run of steelhead trout. In addition to 3.5 miles of horse trails and a 3-mile paved bicycle path, the park has 8 miles of hiking trails, including the .35-mile, fully accessible Trillium Trail, with paved pathways, drinking fountains, resting benches and viewing decks. The Nature Center provides interpretive displays and restrooms. Dogs are allowed on leashes.
Peninsula Park & Rose Garden
Discover outdoor fun for the whole family — plus thousands of blooms — at Oregon’s oldest public rose garden.
Portland Japanese Garden
A haven of meticulously maintained, tranquil beauty, proclaimed one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan, the Portland Japanese Garden offers meandering streams, intimate walkways and an unsurpassed view of Mount Hood.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
This year-round wonder taking up an entire city block houses an authentic Ming Dynasty style garden built by Suzhou artisans. Lan Su Chinese Garden offers a peaceful escape in Portland's historic Chinatown district.
Portland International Rose Test Garden
The oldest official continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States, the Portland International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park features more than 10,000 roses, great views of the skyline and the Cascades.
A peaceful oasis in the midst of the city, The Grotto is set among 62 acres of botanical gardens. As an internationally renowned Catholic sanctuary, The Grotto offers a place of quiet reflection for all people. More than 100 beautiful statues and shrines are nestled among flower-lined pathways winding under towering firs. Peaceful ponds, spectacular cliffside vistas and award-winning architecture offer inspiration for all who visit this natural gallery in the woods. Gardens and gift shop are open daily; group tours and daily Mass are also offered.
Open year-round; hours vary. There is no charge to see the lower-level gardens and structures. To access the upper gardens, each visitor must purchase an elevator token.
The nine-acre Leach Botanical Gardens boasts more than 2,000 species, hybrids and cultivars, including Northwest native plants, as well as viburnums, camellias and azaleas of the southeastern United States.
The garden has an interpretive center, restrooms, trails and wildlife viewing areas. Limited wheelchair accessibility; pets not allowed; closed Mondays and some holidays.
The 140-acre (56.7-hectare) Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge is a wetland just east of the Willamette River in Sellwood and a birdwatchers’ paradise. Many species are attracted to the marshes of Portland’s first wildlife refuge, including the city’s official bird, the great blue heron.
Mount Tabor makes Portland one of only three cities in the continental United States to contain an extinct volcano within its boundaries (the others are Bend, Ore., and Jackson, Miss.). Established in 1909 Mount Tabor Park was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Three municipal reservoirs are at the heart of the 196-acre (79.3-hectare) park, which also features trails popular with both bicyclists and pedestrians. The cinder cone’s 630-foot (192-meter) elevation affords views of downtown Portland and Mount Hood.
Put on some comfortable shoes and start walking — you’ll be surprised how easy Portland makes it.
Sauvie Island, the Manhattan-size isle is one of the largest river islands in the country just north of Portland, is where families can find an entire day’s worth of adventures with swimming, hiking, birding and local farms.
When summertime heats up in Portland, cooling off is as easy as heading to one of the city's many riverfront beaches or docks for a refreshing dip or getting the gear for water sports such as kayaking, or SUP.
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