The Best Outdoor Activities in Portland

The Best Outdoor Activities in Portland

The Pacific Northwest is stunning. If you have been here (especially on a sunny day), you know how true that statement is. However, the PNW is even more magical in summer and fall (sure, winter and spring are lovely too but that is when the rains come). Regardless of the season, there are plenty of outdoor activities that Portland, Oregon has to offer.

One of the most special things about Portland is its location. Portland is near the coast, the mountains, the desert, and is by a lot of waterfalls. It is nestled in the Willamette Valley and is surrounded by picturesque landscapes, with the Cascade Mountain Range to the east and the Coast Range to the west. The Willamette River flows through the valley and is a tributary of the Columbia River. Both rivers surround Portland and offer opportunities for recreational activities like boating, fishing, and hiking. 

The Setting

In Oregon, people call the beach “the coast.” Portland is approximately 70 miles from the nearest coastal town which is Seaside, Oregon. There are several adorable coastal towns that are a quick trip from Portland and easy to visit. The drive to the coast typically takes around one and a half to two hours, depending on traffic and your specific starting location in Portland. This proximity makes a day trip to the ocean quite doable. You can stroll the sand and watch the sunset on the Pacific Coast. 

Mountains

The closest mountain is Mount Hood. Mount Hood is about 60 miles east of Portland. On a clear day you can see Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens (in Washington), and from some places even Mount Adams (also in Washington) is visible. The drive from Portland to Mount Hood generally takes around one and a half to two hours. Mount Hood is a year-round outdoor playground. In the winter, it’s a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding. It has several ski resorts on its slopes, including Timberline Lodge and Mt. Hood Meadows. In the summer, the mountain offers hiking, mountain biking, camping, and mountaineering.

High Desert

The surprise to some is that parts of Oregon receive less than ten inches of rain a year and are known as the high desert. The nearest desert area to Portland, Oregon is the desert region of Central Oregon, which includes places like Bend, Oregon and the surrounding areas. The distance from Portland to Bend is approximately 160-180 miles. The drive from Portland to Bend typically takes around three and a half to four hours. This is a trip that needs more than a day to travel and explore. 

Waterfalls

Multnomah Falls is located in the Columbia River Gorge, which is about 30 miles east of Portland. The drive from Portland to Multnomah Falls is typically around 30 to 45 minutes. There are several other waterfalls around the famous Multnomah Falls including Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Wahkeena Falls, and Horsetail Falls. The Columbia River Gorge is a popular destination for outdoor activities like hiking, windsurfing, and sightseeing.

Now that we have established the location of Portland within the state, let’s explore outdoor activities in Portland.

Outdoor Activities in Portland 

Forest Park

Portland is surrounded by lush forests and beautiful trails. One popular hiking spot in town is Forest Park and the Wildwood Trail (yes, like the Wildwood Chronicles books). Forest Park is an urban forest and offers numerous trails for hiking and trail running.

Washington Park

Washington Park: Established in 1909, the park covers 410 acres. It is beloved,  and most of the attractions offer lots of outside time.

International Rose Test Garden: Portland is called the “City of Roses” for a reason. The Rose Garden has over 10,000 roses, and hosts a Rose Festival in June. The garden is known for testing new rose varieties and is best in the summer, however it is beautiful all the time. 

Portland Japanese Garden: Speaking of beautiful, the Japanese Garden is phenomenal. The garden really frames each season. There are a few distinct garden styles showcased. 

Oregon Zoo: The Oregon Zoo is such a special place. It is consistently being refreshed and updated. The zoo also focuses on conservation efforts and education, striving to raise awareness about the importance of protecting wildlife and their habitats. 

World Forestry Center: Oregon is all about trees. The World Forestry Center’s mission is to “envision a society that values and takes action to support the economic, ecological, and social.benefits of forests.” Stop by when you walk around Washington Park. 

Hoyt Arboretum: This living museum of trees and plants showcases an extensive collection of trees from around the world. It offers miles of hiking trails and educational programs. This is a great place to hike and enjoy the outdoors. 

Vietnam Veterans of Oregon Memorial: Located at the edge of the arboretum, the memorial includes several symbolic components. A bosque of pear trees at the entrance symbolizes life and sacredness, and water elements in the Garden of Solace signify life, purity, and hope.

Pittock Mansion: The historic Pittock Mansion, once the home of a prominent Portland family, is now a museum offering insight into the city’s history and culture. It offers panoramic views of Portland and has vast grounds that to explore. 

Tom McCall Waterfront Park 

Tom McCall Waterfront Park is a public park located in downtown Portland. The park stretches along the west bank of the Willamette River and covers a significant portion of the city’s waterfront. Its namesake is Tom McCall, a former Oregon governor and journalist known for his environmental and urban planning efforts.

This park includes walking and biking paths, open lawns, and picnic areas, and is home to a number of events and festivals (like the Rose Festival) that are held there throughout the year. The park is also known for its beautiful views of the river, the city skyline, and the Tilikum Crossing Bridge (a pedestrian bridge). Portland is also known as “Bridge City” or the “City of Bridges.” Yes, another nickname. 

The Waterfront also houses the Saturday Market. It is one of the oldest and largest continuously operated outdoor arts and crafts markets in the United States. It has been in operation since 1974. The market typically operates on weekends, including both Saturdays and Sundays, from March through December.

From the Tom McCall Waterfront Park you can rent kayaks from places like Portland Kayak Company. There are lots of places in the Portland metro area where you can rent kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddleboards (SUPs). Check out Next Adventure for rentals for water play and for snow sports. 

If you want to see the waterfront or Portland from the water, the Portland Spirit is available for tours. The Portland Spirit is known for providing a unique way to experience the scenic beauty of the Portland area while enjoying food, entertainment, and various onboard amenities. The company also has other boats that explore the Willamette and the Columbia Rivers. 

Sauvie Island

Just a short drive from Tom McCall Waterfront Park is Sauvie Island, a large island located at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. Sauvie Island is known for agriculture, but it is so much more. Sauvie Island offers opportunities for bird watching, picnicking, and berry picking. Cyclists love to ride around the island. 

In the fall it is hard to get access to the island because everyone wants to go to the pumpkin patches and all the fun fall events. There are also sandy beaches along the Columbia River. It is an awesome place to swim, go inner tubing, or boating in the summer. 

Mount Tabor

Mt. Tabor is an extinct volcanic cinder cone and a city park located in SE Portland. It’s one of the city’s well-known landmarks and offers a variety of recreational and natural features. Mt. Tabor is great for hiking and catching the city view from a different perspective. Mt. Tabor is also known for its PDX Adult Soapbox Derby

Powell Butte

Powell Butte is a prominent natural area and park located on the outskirts of the east side of Portland. It is a volcanic cinder cone and an extinct volcano that provides beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. Powell Butte is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, and it offers a variety of recreational opportunities including hiking and horse riding. 

Conclusion

Because of the unique geography of the city, which is surrounded by coastal towns, mountains, desert, and cascading waterfalls, Portland offers a diverse range of activities for every season. There are countless outdoor activities in Portland that will help you immerse yourself in the beauty of the natural world. 

Interested in learning more about planning a visit to Portland? Check out the Ultimate Portland Food Guide next.

18 thoughts on “The Best Outdoor Activities in Portland

  1. Portland is such a beautiful place to visit. It is on our family’s bucket list of adventures. I loved reading this resource.

  2. Whew, I love the Tom McCall waterfront park. I love how well the edges of the flowers have been trimmed and those flowers are so beautiful, as well. I hear good things about Portland (save for what was in Ozark)!

  3. I’ve heard a ton about Portland but never actually been!!! Next year for sure, it is stunning…A couple of weeks there would be perfect…

  4. WOW sounds like a trip is needed to Portland for real. Gosh is it beautiful and those mountains…wow! Loving this post!

  5. What a treasure trove of adventure ideas! I’m always looking for ways to connect with nature; these suggestions are spot-on.

  6. It is so wonderful to have so much varied landscape in Portland. I would love to see waterfalls and mountains. Oregon sounds like a great state.

  7. We are visiting family in Seattle this summer, and are thinking about going to Portland for a few days. These are some great spots to put on our list.

  8. Portland looks so beautiful! I would love to go, it has a bit of everything in terms of nature! I visited Portland, Maine for the first time this year and enjoyed it.

  9. I definitely think this would be an excellent place to stay. I want to visit this place someday. Thanks for sharing those pics!

  10. Portland looks like a fantastic place to visit any time of the year! The snowy pictures are truly amazing – it’s so wet and rainy where I live in England.

  11. I definitely want to get to the West Coast to visit Northern California, Oregon and WA state. It is so beautiful, there and I appreciate your tips above and am pinning this post to my travel Pinterest Board 😉 Thank you for sharing!

  12. I’ve wanted to visit Portland for so long! Bookmarking your post for when I finally make it a reality as you’ve mentioned so many great things to do 🙂

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