Home to both a sprawling urban wilderness — Forest Park — and the world’s smallest dedicated park, Mill Ends, Portland offers visitors a breath of fresh air. There are more than 200 parks and gardens within city limits, from forests to marshlands, trails to skateboarding rails.
Downtown Portland’s newest park, this former parking lot 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. Director Park is also home to the Portland Visitor Center, an important stop for anyone seeking assistance during their trip to the city.
Mills End Park
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.
Pioneer Courthouse Square
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 the Travel Portland Visitor Information Center and 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. The Portland Farmers Market operates in the Square every Monday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., June-October.
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.
Jamison Square opened in 2002, making it older than its average attendee on summer days when it 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.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
A year-round wonder, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is an authentically built Ming Dynasty style garden. Covered walkways, bridges, open colonnades, pavilions and a richly planted landscape frame Zither Lake, creating views that are never twice the same. This urban oasis of tranquil beauty and harmony, built by Suzhou artisans, will inspire and engage all who visit. Public tours and audio tours are available, and a teahouse serving light snacks and traditional teas is located within the garden.
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.
International Rose Test Garden
Portland is home to the oldest official continuously operated public rose test gardens in the United States. Located just minutes from downtown Portland in Washington Park, the International Rose Test Garden features more than 10,000 rose bushes, spectacular views of the city and an on-site gift shop. Local tip: During summer, visit in the early evening when it’s cooler and less crowded. Free tours are offered daily at 1 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Looking for more roses? Peninsula Park & Rose Garden in North Portland has 6,500 rose plantings, and Ladd’s Circle Park & Rose Gardens, in a historic Southeast Portland neighborhood, feature 3,000 roses.
Tryon Creek State Park
Located 15 minutes south of downtown, Tryon Creek State Park 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.
Portland Japanese Garden
Tucked into the scenic west hills of Portland, above Washington Park, the Portland Japanese Garden is a haven of tranquil beauty which has been proclaimed one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan. Encompassing 5.5 acres and five separate garden styles, the garden includes an authentic Japanese Tea House, meandering streams, intimate walkways, and an unsurpassed view of Mount Hood. Guided tours are included with cost of admission.
Located atop the hills west of downtown, Washington Park is one of the oldest, best-loved and most well-used parks in Portland. Its grounds include the International Rose Test Garden, the Japanese Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, the Oregon Zoo, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Holocaust Memorial, the World Forestry Center and the Portland Children’s Museum.
Beyond big trees and picnic tables, Washington Park offers a zoo, two museums, gardens and more.
The Audubon Society of Portland Nature Sanctuary is a great starting place for hiking Forest Park and (of course) bird-watching.
With 70 miles of trails within Portland city limits, 5,156-acre Forest Park is a popular escape for runners, equestrians and hikers alike.
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
Seven acres of grounds at the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden boast an outstanding collection of rare species and hybrid rhododendrons, azaleas, deciduous and coniferous trees. Formal landscapes and more natural areas along the springs provide plenty of birding, especially during spring and winter months when huge flocks of waterfowl and gulls congregate on the artificial pond. Restrooms and wheelchair-accessible paved trails are available.
Open daily; admission ($4) charged only Wednesday-Sunday from March through Labor Day.
Round out your floral explorations of the Rose City with a visit to Southeast Portland’s lush Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.
Open reservoirs, hiking trails and an extinct volcano await at this Southeast Portland park.
This serene woodland sanctuary in Northeast Portland features 62 acres of botanical gardens.
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.
Leach Botanical Garden
The nine-acre Leach Botanical Garden 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.
Mt. Tabor Park
Mt. 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, Mt. 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.
Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge
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.