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8 Portland Parks to See on Vacation
For those looking to explore Portland, these parks have it all.
Mount Tabor Park is a favorite spot for views, nature and exercise on Portland’s east side.(Getty Images)
From the world’s smallest to one of the country's largest, Portland, Oregon, has more than 140 city parks to meet your needs, whether for relaxation or recreation. U.S. News spoke with local experts to identify Portland’s top parks to visit. Here's what they recommend.
Mill Ends Park
Word gets around about Portland’s Forest Park, one of the nation’s largest urban forests, with miles and miles of hiking trails, old-growth forests and spectacular views. But have you heard of Mill Ends Park? It was recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world's smallest park and is so tiny it would be overlooked unless you’re looking for it.
[Read: The Best Hotels in Portland.]
Andy L. Welsh, front office manager at Hotel deLuxe, says, “You don’t go there to have a picnic, certainly, but it’s fun to see it. That is just the Portland way. We’ve got a little bit of everything, from big and beautiful to little and funky.”
Washington Park’s location overlooking the city befits its role as the city’s crown jewel park. Its 400-plus acres are home to more than a few must-see Portland attractions, including the Portland Japanese Garden, International Rose Test Garden, Oregon Zoo and Portland Children’s Museum.
“I would say that's probably the best park,” says Alex Dawes, general manager at the Embassy Suites Portland – Downtown, adding that its views of downtown Portland and Mount Hood are particularly noteworthy.
The Japanese Garden, which recently completed an expansion and renovation project, is a must-see for Portland visitors and locals. Welsh says, “It is not the one people are always going to know about. It is a four-seasons-type of adventure. I love it up there, especially with the new build that they have done. The views of the Portland area are great, as well as the garden itself.”
Mount Tabor Park
Mount Tabor Park, located in the heart of Portland’s east side, is a local favorite.
“It's an active, but dormant, volcano on the city's east side, about 6 miles from downtown," says Marcus Hibdon, director of communications and public relations at Travel Portland. "In Portland, that means it's about a 15-minute Uber ride. You get beautiful views from the top of it. You'll see Portland families hang out up there at all times of the day. It's really one of the cherished areas of the city.”
It's also the setting for the annual soapbox derby. Dawes says, “It draws in quite a large crowd of people to cheer them on, and they often have water guns that they're firing at the crowd as they go screaming past. That's definitely a fun park.”
Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Tom McCall Waterfront Park extends along the Willamette River as it passes through downtown Portland. The park includes a paved path along the water, suitable for walking, running, biking or just people-watching. Several of the city’s iconic bridges connect the park to the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade, turning that short jog into a longer run.
The park is also home to the Portland Saturday Market, several memorials and annual festivals such as the Waterfront Blues Festival, Oregon Brewers Festival and the Portland Pride Waterfront Festival and Parade.
“Going into Tom McCall Waterfront Park is always, depending on what's going on, a nice, lovely experience – even if there's nothing going on,” says Jordin Heath, front office manager at The Heathman Hotel. “You're walking along the river. It’s quite nice and relaxing.”
Downtown Portland features several small parks perfect for taking a break from visiting museums or shopping for that perfect Portland keepsake. The North Park Blocks and South Park Blocks, which have been developed over the decades since Portland’s early years, have remained local favorites.
“I really like the Park Blocks, either the North or the South Park Blocks,” Heath says. “It's a nice green space in the middle of the city to walk and relax. It's a little bit quieter, and a little bit less traffic. If I am walking through downtown, I'll try to incorporate walking through the Park Blocks.”
[Read: The 6 Best Museums in Portland.]
The kid- and family-friendly Westmoreland Park in southeast Portland was recently rebuilt to encourage unstructured play “away from apps and TV screens,” according to the city. The park is the city’s first permanent nature-based play area. At the park, there are logs and boulders to climb on, a sand and water area to play in, and natural objects (such as tree branches) to build forts with and for other imaginative play.
Council Crest Park
Council Crest Park is one of the highest points in Portland and offers views of the city and neighboring communities. From the viewpoint, you can get a glimpse of Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson and Mount Rainier. You can drive to the park, or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can hike to it via the 4T.
Another postcard-perfect park is in the St. Johns neighborhood in north Portland. Cathedral Park sits under the iconic St. Johns Bridge with its supporting arches that look like they belong in a cathedral. In the summer, you can attend concerts in the park’s natural amphitheater or launch your kayak from the beach.
“The setting under the St. Johns Bridge and across the river from Forest Park is amazing,” says Lucas Lee, general manager at Hotel Rose - A Staypineapple Hotel. “And you can go swimming there, too.”
To experience more of what Portland has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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