The Ultimate Guide To Portland’s Wonders: Parks, Hiking Trails, and Adventure Activities

by | Jun 25, 2024

Columbia Slough Kayaking

Whether you’re a first-time visitor to Portland, Oregon or a long-time local, if you’re looking to immerse yourself in some natural beauty while here, you’ve got a treasure trove staring right at you, just waiting to be opened. With its lush parks, rivers, and hiking and biking trails, this Pacific Northwest city is full of endless opportunities for outdoor recreational activities. 

And the best part? These tresures are just minutes from the eco-friendly and vegan-friendly Portland Eco House, the perfect home base for your adventures.

Eastside Esplanade Portland Biking

Must-See Parks and Gardens

Tom McCall Waterfront Park & Eastside Esplanade

Believe it or not, up until the early 1970s, there was a wide highway dividing Portland’s downtown from the west side of the Willamette River. Thanks to Oregon Governor Tom McCall, a passionate environmentalist, that wide swath of concrete was replaced with a long grassy, tree-lined park. And stretching down from that promenade to the Riverplace Marina and the pedestrian/biking-only Tillkium Bridge are the South Hawthorne Waterfront Park and South Waterfront Park. The Eastside Esplanade, constructed in the ’90s as a companion to Tom McCall Waterfront Park, offers a scenic route along the river’s east bank.

Connected by five bike- and pedestrian-friendly bridges, these parks combined contain over six miles for strolling, hiking, running, roller-skating, cycling, or just taking in the river views. In the summer months you’ll find people diving and swimming from docks and beaches on both sides. Dreams of further expanding this area to create more green space are ongoing, and it’s an exciting part of the city’s future.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park

Washington Park

Just a short drive, bike or bus to the southwest quadrant of town from the Portland Eco House, Washington Park is one of the crown jewels of Portland’s park system. It’s home to the International Rose Test Garden, with over 10,000 rose bushes and stunning views of the city. It’s also home the Portland Japanese Garden, which you don’t want to miss — a 12-acre oasis featuring eight distinct garden styles, a tea house, and breathtaking vistas.

If you’re into trees, Hoyt Arboretum is within the park, as well, a lovely sanctuary with over 2,000 species of trees and 12 miles of trails.

washington park amphitheater

Lan Su Chinese Garden

This authentic Ming Dynasty-style garden is an oasis of tranquility in the heart of the city. Just a short drive from the Portland Eco House, the Lan Su Chinese Garden features koi-filled ponds, graceful bridges, and a traditional tea house. It’s the perfect spot to relax and take in some serenity.

Lan Su Garden

Peninsula Park & Rose Garden

At Peninsula Park, you’ll find Oregon’s oldest public rose garden, boasting over 8,900 plantings. The park also has a historic bandstand and fountain, perfect for a leisurely afternoon. Located only a one-mile, tree-lined walk from the Portland Eco House, it’s a beautiful spot to enjoy a picnic or a stroll among the blooms.

Peninsula Park Rose Garden

Laurelhurst Park

This 31-acre rolling park offers a scenic escape with its huge trees, a spring-fed duck pond and walking paths. On warm days you’ll see lots of people out picnicking, strumming guitars, reading, sunning, playing pickle ball, and practicing yoga. This park is a gem in Southeast Portland and often hosts community events, such as summer concerts.

Laurelhurst Park

Mt. Tabor Park

One of the few city parks in the U.S. built on an extinct volcano, Mt. Tabor Park features numerous trails, a dog park, playgrounds, and reservoirs. The climb to the summit is well worth it for the peaceful atmosphere and panoramic views of downtown Portland.

Mt Tabor Reservoir

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge

Encompassing 141 acres in the Sellwood neighborhood near the east bank of the Willamette River, Oaks Bottom is a haven for re-charging your soul batteries as well as viewing migratory birds. The preserved area contains a seasonal lake, wetlands, grassy areas, and mixed woodlands through which a hiking trail follows along two-thirds of the lakeshore.

The Springwater Corridor, a hiking and biking path, runs through the park’s edge. The park also features a notable great blue heron mural on the Portland Memorial Mausoleum.

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge

Mocks Crest/Skidmore Bluffs

For a perfect picnic spot with breathtaking views, head to Skidmore Bluffs. Overlooking the Willamette River, it’s a fantastic place to watch the sunset behind Forest Park and the West Hills. Reached by foot or bike, it’s a lesser-known peaceful escape right within the city.

Mock's Crest Park Skidmore Bluffs copy

Cathedral City Park

At the huge stanchions  of the iconic St. Johns Bridge, Cathedral City Park offers scenic views, picnic areas, and a boat ramp. The park’s gothic arches and beautiful setting make it a popular spot for photography and outdoor gatherings, such as the free jazz festival held every August. It also has a sandy beach and dock from which to swim or launch your kayak or paddleboard.

Cathedral Park

Getting the Heart Pumping

 

If you’ve gotten a bit out of balance with contemplation and not enough outdoor physical exercise, Portland has you covered with lots of opportunities for hiking, biking, and watersports.

Hiking

Forest Park

Right within the city limits, Forest Park is the largest urban wilderness park in the U.S., offering over 80 miles of trails for vigorous hiking.

The  30-mile Wildwood Trail is a highlight, connecting Washington Park from its very southern edge up to Pittock Mansion where you can take in outstanding views of the city and Cascade mountains on clear days. From there it passes several intersecting trails and occasional other glimpses of city views, as it winds through lush Douglas Fir forests and fern-lined canyons deep inside the Tualatin Mountain range. It’s a haven for hikers, runners, and wildlife watchers.

On your hike, you may come across the Witch’s Castle, the moss-covered stone ruins of a former restroom built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, now a popular spot for photos and picnics.

Forest Park Hiking

Powell Butte Nature Park

Spanning 612 acres, this park on the far outer southeast verge of Portland is an extinct cinder cone enjoyed for its expansive meadows, rivers, mixed forests, and great views of Mount Hood and the surrounding Cascade Range. It ranks among the best parks in Portland for biking, hiking, and enjoying the diverse wildlife that inhabits the area.

Powell Butte Park

Tryon Creek State Natural Area

Just a short drive south of downtown, Tryon Creek is a lush 645-acre forested preserve enfolding within it over 8 miles of hiking trails as part of the local 40-Mile Loop greenway system. It’s a wonderful spot for bird watching and enjoying the tranquility of a Pacific Northwest forest. The 0.35-mile Trillium Trail is wheelchair accessible with benches and viewing decks.

Tryon Creek Park

Sauvie Island

On the outer edge of town, yet still an official city neighborhood, lies the rural Sauvie Island, the southeastern shore of which is where the Willamette River merges into the Columbia River as it flows on its way north and then northwest to the ocean.

Comprised predominantly of farms, nature preserves, water, and beaches, the island’s flat expanses provide views of the forested Tualatin Mountain range to the west and Mount St Helens, Mount Adams and Mount Hood to the east.

Within the island’s interior, the 2.5-mile Oak Island Nature trail loops north and south on a peninsula along Sturgeon Lake. Starting at the end of Reeder Road, which runs along all the beaches, a 6-mile hike in and back leads to the very northern tip of the island where for over a century the Warrior Rock Lighthouse has warned boats away from rocks and reefs.

Warrior Rock Lighthouse Hike Sauvie Island

Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway Trail

The Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway Trail is a scenic and tranquil multi-use trail located in Vancouver, Washington, just a short drive from the Portland Eco House. Spanning approximately 8 miles, this greenway offers a diverse range of landscapes, including wetlands, forests, and open meadows, making it a perfect escape for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers.

Starting at Stewart Glen Park, the trail meanders along the picturesque Burnt Bridge Creek, providing ample opportunities for bird watching and wildlife spotting. The well-maintained path is ideal for hiking, biking, jogging, and even casual strolls. Along the way, you’ll find several access points to neighborhood parks, picnic areas, and rest spots, making it a great option for families and groups.

One of the highlights of the trail is the opportunity to explore various ecosystems within a relatively short distance, offering a unique blend of urban and natural environments. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful morning walk, a vigorous bike ride, or a place to unwind amidst nature, the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway Trail provides a refreshing outdoor experience.

With its accessibility, natural beauty, and variety of activities, the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway Trail is a must-visit for those staying at the eco-friendly Portland Eco House. It’s a perfect addition to your Portland adventure itinerary, offering a serene escape just minutes away from the bustling city.

Burnt Bridge Creek Trail

Biking

 

With 350 miles of bikeways, Portland has more than 14 times the average U.S. city’s paths to explore by peddling. Taking the routes suggested here, you’ll be adventuring on some of the best biking trails in Portland.

Several bike-style options, including e-bikes, are available by the hour or by the day at Everybody’s Bike Rentals. Guests of the Portland Eco House, just three blocks away, get a 10 percent discount on rentals there.

Neighborhood Greenways

Comprising over 100 miles of neighborhood streets throughout every part of the city, Portland’s Neighborhood Greenways, with their low traffic and reduced speed limits, are optimal for cycling . They connect various neighborhoods, parks, schools, and business districts, making it easy to explore the inner lifeblood of Portland.

Portland Bike Parkways

Waterfront Park and Eastside Esplanade

This popular route offers scenic views along the Willamette River, perfect for a leisurely ride or a quick commute. The connected paths stretch over six miles and include several bike-friendly bridges.

Eastside Esplanade Cycling

Kelly Point Park

This mostly flat 16-mile loop takes you north and west on separate paved paths along the Columbia Slough as well as along neighborhood streets to the forested and sandy-beached point of Portland where the Willamette and Columbia Rivers converge.

Leif Erickson Drive

This beloved and historic 11-mile gravel road is nestled within the vast expanse of Forest Park and restricted to bikes and pedestrians. Running from the northwest edge of the city deep into the lush heart of the park, it’s a favorite among hikers, runners, and bikers.

Starting at the trailhead at the end of NW Thurman Street, the road is wide and well-maintained as it winds at a moderate incline through dense Douglas fir and maple forests, providing a serene escape from the urban environment. Along the way, you’ll encounter mile markers and numerous small side trails that lead to deeper explorations of Forest Park.

One of the key attractions of Leif Erickson Drive is its historical significance. Originally built as a roadway in the early 20th century, it was later converted to recreational use only, preserving its rustic charm. The trail provides some opportunities for wildlife spotting, including deer, birds, and occasionally, coyotes.

Whether you’re looking for a vigorous workout, a leisurely walk, or a scenic bike ride, this trail is a must-visit destination for anyone staying at the eco-friendly Portland Eco House.

Leif Erickson Drive Forest Park 02

Skyline Blvd

Connected at either end to Forest Park and tracing along its boundaries, this favorite route among more experienced cyclists offers challenging hills and views of the valley west of Portland as you breeze through a blur of blue sky and green trees.

Sauvie Island

Cycling is popular on Sauvie Island’s main roads that loop through the interior and along its perimeter. Cyclists can either ride in from Portland on Saint Helens Highway or they can take their bikes on their cars and start their rides from the parking lot at the foot of the bridge once crossing over.

Banks-Vernonia Trail

This 21-mile trail about 20 minutes west of Portland links the towns of Banks and Vernonia, passing through beautiful forests and fields and over trestled bridges. It’s a great escape for those seeking a longer ride.

Start from the trailhead in Banks and ride north 22 miles on the mostly level paved trail to the town of Vernonia, where you can stop and have lunch at one of its several eateries.

Banks Vernonia Trail Biking

Springwater Corridor

The Springwater Corridor is another 21-mile paved trail that runs on an old rail bed, this one being along which trains once transported Portland residents to their summer cottages in the towns of Gresham and Estacada. Now converted into a hiking and biking trail, it offers a scenic ride through the city and out into the countryside.

The trail is reached by bike from the Eastside Esplanade downtown, and it follows along the Willamette River and passes the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge before turning southeast all the way to the town of Boring.

Springwater Corridor Biking

Urban Loop Ride

Another option available is to take a 50-mile urban loop ride on Portland’s east side. When you’re on the Springwater Corridor trail, turn onto the bike lane that follows along I-205, and ride north all the way to the paved path that runs between Marine Drive and the Columbia River. Once getting to NE 33rd Avenue, head south back towards downtown.

Trolley Trail to Oregon City

This historic trail connects Portland to Oregon City for cyclists as it runs through a mix of urban and natural settings along the old Portland Traction Company streetcar line.

Portland to Old Columbia Gorge Highway to Cascade Locks

A really fun and exciting all-day adventure will have you riding east from the Troutdale Village right on to the entry to the Columbia Gorge.

You can drive your bike to Troutdale, or you can get there via a combination of biking and light rail. Once you’re there, follow the main street east, and you’re on the old highway. This will have you crossing over the Sandy River, after which you’ll hang a right, going south for a while before the road hairpins and continues on up and east into the rural areas of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area.

Along the way you’ll be able to stop for spectacular views of the Gorge at the Women’s Forum and the Vista House at Crown Point. From there the highway continues on towards Oregon’s string of waterfalls, with the Multnomah Falls the amazingly tallest of them all and a hugely popular tourist spot.

From the falls, the old highway continues on until the point where cars are no longer allowed, only pedestrians and cyclists. You can take this all the way to Hood River and Mosier and beyond to The Dalles. Or you can go only until you get to Cascade Locks and stop for a meal and drinks at one of the restaurants/pubs in town there. Or stop at the falls and turn back to the Portland Eco House to cap off a great day.

 

Swimming

You may be surprised to learn that people actually swim in the Willamette River in downtown Portland. There are other places to swim in the city and just outside it, as well, not far from the Portland Eco House.

Kevin J. Duckworth Memorial Dock

This dock is situated on the Willamette River downtown, just south of the Steel Bridge and is most easily accessible by bike. It’s a popular spot for swimming and offers great views of the river and cityscape.

Kevin Duckworthy Dock Swimming Willamette River

Poet’s Beach

Located on the west side of the Willamette River downtown, just south of the Hawthorne Bridge in South Waterfront Park, Poet’s Beach offers a sandy shoreline perfect for swimming and sunbathing. Reached by a winding downward path lined with flowers and shrubs, the area is a well-maintained spot to enjoy a rare urban swimming experience.

Poet's Beach Swimming Portland

Sellwood Riverfront Park

Just north of the Sellwood Bridge, the beach here is long and sandy. You can sun and dive into the river from the dock or mosey downstream and stake out a spot on the beach, catching wide-open views of downtown Portland in the distance.

Sellwood Park Swimming

Sauvie Island

On Sauvie Island you can sun and bathe anywhere on its eastern shore’s miles-long sandy beaches, one of which, Collins Beach, is clothing optional, for those who prefer to go au naturel.

Sauvie Island Beach Swimming

Broughton Beach Park

Situated on the Columbia River, Broughton Beach Park offers a sandy beach ideal for swimming, picnicking, and relaxing. The park’s expansive layout provides plenty of space for visitors to enjoy the water.

Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park

This is not a place where an immigrant from Paris serves alcoholic beverages, but a huge county park in Vancouver, Washington on the opposite side of the Columbia River from Sauvie Island.

Cargo ships and barges going to and from the Port of Vancouver make their ways or park for hours, but the beach is miles long and the sun lingers on it all the way until sundown, (unlike on Sauvie Island, where the shade of the trees darken the beaches as early as 5pm), making it ideal for swimming and lazing an entire afternoon and early evening in nature.

Frenchman's Bar Swimming

Paddle-boarding and Kayaking

If you’d like to try your hand at paddle-boarding or kayaking in Portland rivers, opportunties abound. Popular spots include the Willamette River for urban paddles and Sauvie Island and Scappoose Bay for calm waters and abundant wildlife. You can rent kayaks and boards to explore these waters more leisurely.

Vancouver Lake Paddle Boarding

Willamette Park in Portland

Located along the scenic Willamette River in the Southwest part of Portland, this 26-acre park is a great launch for kayaking and paddle-boarding and enjoying the open water close to downtown. The park’s large, grassy areas are perfect for picnicking after a fun time paddling.

Kayak rentals are available at Portland Kayak Company on Macadam Avenue, right by the entrance to the park.

Kayaking Willamette River Portland

Bernert Landing (aka “Willamette Park in West Linn”)

Located on the Willamette River safely upstream from Willamette Falls, the second-largest waterfalls in the country, this park is an ideal launch for kayaking and paddle-boarding. The river here is super wide and the current slow, making it easy for kayakers in particular to paddle a long distance upriver and explore some amazing natural areas.

In particular, the Willamette Narrows is a collection of small rocky islands that are fun to paddle around. Osprey circle overhead, and great blue herons, beaver, mink and river otter can sometimes be spotted. At various little sandy beaches along the river you can pull up your kayak to picnic and swim.

On summer weekends, you can rent kayaks from outfitters who set up shop by the launch.

Kayaking West Linn Willamette River

Sauvie Island

Kayaking is popular on the Multnomah Channel side of the island. While boat traffic is present on the Columbia River side from sailboats, power boats, barges, and container ships, pleasurable kayaking closer to shore is easily had. Calm-water interior island kayaking is available on the Cunningham Slough and from the boat launch on Sturgeon Lake.

Scappoose Bay

Located north of the tip of Sauvie Island, Scappoose Bay offers a serene escape perfect for kayaking enthusiasts. Kayakers can explore the waters of the Scappoose Bay Marine Park, where the confluence of the Scappoose Creek and the Multnomah Channel provides calm, scenic paddling routes.

Kayak Rentals are available at Next Adventure Scappoose Bay Paddle Sports Center located right at the marina.

After a day on the water, visitors can relax in a picnic area in one of the city’s charming parks, such as Veterans Park and Heritage Park.

Scappoose’s welcoming community and its abundant natural beauty make it a delightful destination for anyone looking to explore the wonders of the Pacific Northwest by kayak.

Kayaking Scappoose Bay

Columbia Slough

On the north and northeast of town, as part of the Columbia River system, lies the Columbia Slough, a network of wetlands navigable by boat, canoe or kayak. These are slow, leaf-dappled waters where snowy egrets, blue herons and other wildlife congregate.

Columbia Slough Kayaking

Vancouver Lake

Lying in Vancouver, Washington, just across the Columbia River from Portland, this natural lake is a popular destination for water-based recreation and outdoor activities. The lake offers calm waters ideal for kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding, making it a favorite spot for both beginners and experienced paddlers.

Vancouver Lake Regional Park surrounds the lake, providing picnic areas, volleyball courts, and playgrounds, making it a perfect spot for family outings. The park also features several miles of trails for hiking and biking, offering scenic views of the lake and its surrounding wetlands. Vancouver Lake is a serene and picturesque spot for enjoying the great outdoors and connecting with nature.

 

Kayaking Vancouver Lake

Where to Stay: Portland Eco House

Make the most of your outdoor explorations with a stay at the Portland Eco House, an earth-friendly and vegan-friendly lodging in Portland in the Alberta Arts District.

Choose from stylishly appointed rooms, a private patio cottage, or a cozy patio suite, all featuring organic bedding and eco-conscious amenities. It is one of the best eco-friendly accommodations in Portland.

With its convenient location and commitment to sustainability, the Portland Eco House offers the perfect Portland vacation rentals near parks for discovering the natural wonders that make Portland so special. Wake up refreshed and ready to immerse yourself in the city’s stunning parks and gardens, or head out for an adventurous hike or paddle.

After a day of exploring, you can light up the gas fire pit and relax in the lovely patio, knowing your stay supports sustainable lodging.

From hiking trails in its deeply forested parks to the serene paddleboarding spots on the Willamette River, Portland offers an incredible variety of outdoor activities for all skill levels. So pack your hiking shoes or swimwear, grab your paddle, and get ready to explore.

With the Portland Eco House as your basecamp, you can enjoy the best of the city’s natural beauty while minimizing your environmental impact. Happy adventuring!

Portland Eco House Patio

The Patio Cottage was clean and cheerful, and equipped with everything I needed during my stay. Scott was responsive and communicative and the neighborhood was super convenient—lots of excellent restaurants, bars, and coffee shops within walking distance. I really enjoyed my stay and look forward to coming back next time I’m in town.

C. C.

Portland Eco House Guest, June 2024

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