Portland, Oregon boasts enough awe-inspiring parks to make other cities green with envy. There’s a garden scented by 10,000 roses, a park built atop an ancient volcano, a jewel box of a garden hidden away in Chinatown, and a lush forest that holds the title of the largest urban park in the country, to name a few. Here are the top 10 ways to get outside and enjoy the City of Roses.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
Step inside the walls of this gorgeous garden and bustling, grungy Chinatown instantaneously fades away. The sweet sanctuary was built in classical Ming Dynasty style by artisans from the Chinese city of Suzhou. Stroll along the tranquil garden paths and admire the flowering trees, lily pad-covered lake, sweet bridges, pavilions and colonnades. Go to enjoy nature in perfect harmony, but stay for the summer jazz series, tai chi lessons, and talks on topics from feng shui to the history of the Silk Road.
Portland’s best-known park is also its biggest: Forest Park is the largest urban park in the United States with 5,200 acres of woodland and more than 70 miles of trails. And all this wilderness is just a few minutes’ drive from downtown. Whether you’re looking for an easy stroll with the kids or want to tackle the 30-mile Wildwood Trail that takes you by abandoned stone houses and the gorgeous Pittock Mansion, you can find it here. The park is also home to more than 100 species of birds and 60-some mammals, so keep your eyes peeled for wildlife as you explore.
Inside massive Forest Park is Washington Park, which has a treasure trove of diverse destinations including the Oregon Zoo, Hoyt Arboretum, World Forestry Center, Children's Museum, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It’s also home to the International Rose Test Garden, a gorgeous park that boasts 10,000 rose bushes and over 650 rose varieties, which helped earn the city the nickname of “City of Roses.” Also not to be missed is the serene Japanese Garden, which the former Ambassador of Japan described as “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan.” Both gardens overlook downtown and have sweeping views of Mt. Hood and other Cascade Range mountains.
One of Portland’s most beloved parks, dreamy Laurelhurst Park sits amid the upscale neighborhood of the same name in the southeast part of the city. Dating back to 1909, it was the first city park ever named to the National Register of Historic Places. There’s a picturesque pond, courts for tennis and basketball, an off-leash dog area, plenty of picnic areas, and a playground. Go to get your game on, spread a blanket down to soak up the sun, or break a sweat jogging around the pond and running the stairs.
The South Park Blocks
Known as the “Park Blocks” to locals, this string of 11 grassy blocks in the heart of downtown were Portland’s first parks, set aside for public use in 1852. The green corridor is a great launch pad for exploring the city. Stroll the blocks and you’ll go by the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon Historical Center, Portland State University, and the fantastic Saturday farmers market on P.S.U.’s campus.
Mt. Tabor Park
See that green hump on the horizon in southeast Portland? That’s Mount Tabor, and it’s a volcano. But don’t worry, the volcanic cinder cone (part of the Plio-Pleistocene era Boring Lava Field) has been dormant for over 300,000 years. Today, it’s one of Portland’s most popular, versatile parks, offering 190 acres of running trails, tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts, an off-leash dog park, playgrounds, and picnic areas. It also boasts one of the best views of downtown Portland and the West Hills. If you’re in town during August, don’t miss the Adult Soap Box Derby, where thousands of rowdy fans show up to cheer on brave “adults” as they propel themselves downhill in themed soapboxes of their own design, fueled only by beer and adrenaline.
Out of all the bridges spanning Portland’s Willamette River (which is 12, to be exact), the St. Johns Bridge is often lauded as the most beautiful. Built in 1931, the Gothic-style bridge’s towering 400-foot spires inspired the name of Cathedral Park, which is tucked just beneath it. It’s also believed to be the site where Lewis and Clark camped in 1806. Come to gaze up at the elegant bridge, or for concerts, community events, and festivals like the free Cathedral Park Jazz Festival every July.
Tom McCall Waterfront Park
This 1.5-mile stretch of green that runs along the Willamette River next to downtown is a constant hub of activity. Runners, bikers, bridge aficionados, families out for a stroll, visitors walking off their Voodoo Doughnuts, and locals on their lunch breaks constantly parade up and down the park. It also hosts several big annual events, including the Oregon Brewers Festival, the Portland Rose Festival, and the Waterfront Blues Festival.
Tanner Springs Park
Hit up the shops, restaurants, and cocktail bars in the Pearl District, then walk towards this modern at NW 10th Avenue and Marshall. The land was once a lake and wetlands, but as the population of Portland grew in the late 19th century, Tanner Springs was diverted into the Willamette River, and the lake was filled. The park as you see it today sits 20 feet above the former lake’s surface, but echoes its original wetland habitat with modern pathways zigzagging across a pond sustainably fed by stormwater runoff.
This park in North Portland at the intersection of North Fremont and Interstate is perched high on a hill looking out at the Willamette River. There are 10 acres of facilities, including designated areas for baseball, track, basketball, soccer, softball, volleyball, and a playground. On nice evenings, locals go at golden hour to watch the sun set on Portland while they picnic.