The Portland adventure guide: 9 ways to dial up the City of Roses
If your only experience with Portland, Oregon, is the joyful, awkward satire of Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen's hit IFC comedy Portlandia, you'll be surprised to know that while this city certainly has its fair share of microbrew snobs and militant vegans, the good folks who call Portland home are a highly diverse and easy-going bunch. Here, you'll find an endless roster of river activities, music and food festivals, and opportunities to hike, bike, paddle, and climb. Read on for our favorites.
1. Go off the grid at Forest Park
Forest Park lies along the eastern slope of the Tualatin Mountains, overlooking Northeast Portland and the convergence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. At 5,157 acres, the area is the country’s largest urban forest. Explore the park’s 80 miles of fire lanes, forest roads, and soft-surface trails by foot, bike, or horseback. While on the trails, watch for peregrine falcons, silver-eared bats, and northern spotted owls, among other forest creatures. If you want to get out in the woods—and get in a little workout—take Nature Trail from Forest Lane. The 2.5-mile hiking loop leads you through canyons rife with ferns and chestnut trees and past small waterfalls.
2. Take a river stroll at Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Downtown's Tom McCall Waterfront Park was once a freeway, but the city turned it into a 36-acre riverfront park in 1978. Thirty four years later, it was voted one of America's 10 best public spaces by the American Planning Association. There's always something going on here in the summer. The Waterfront Blues Festival in July features local blues players and national touring acts, such as Dave and Phil Alvin and Buddy Guy. Also in July, the Oregon Brewers Festival is a great opportunity to sample hundreds of beers within easy stumbling distance of one another. August brings the Bite of Oregon Festival, which features tasty nibbles from the city’s favorite eateries.
3. Float, paddle, swim or sail the Willamette River
Once you've enjoyed the Willamette from Tom McCall Waterfront Park, you may decide that it's time to experience the river itself. If you're around in July, explore the river en masse with the rest of the city as part of the Big Float Festival. Around 2,000 Portlanders turn out each year to float or boat from Poet's Beach to Tom McCall Waterfront Park, where they climb out of the water to enjoy a beach party with live bands, microbrews, and food trucks.
Year round, you can rent a kayak, canoe, or SUP board at Alder Creek, and leisurely paddle down the river and under the city’s many bridges. Near the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, keep an eye out for bald eagles. If you’re more of a night owl, consider a Full-Moon Paddle Tour with Portland Kayak Company.
4. Be Your Own Barista on a Coffee Tour ...
Third Wave Coffee Tours offers several three-hour tours dedicated to the precious bean. Watch microroasters in action, visit with talented baristas, and taste the beloved beverage at several cafés around the city. You can even take a running coffee tour, which covers 5 miles and concludes with the opportunity to re-fuel with a delicious cup of—yep, coffee! If you’re not much for group activities, head over to Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Salmon Street. Located in a former lumber factory, Stumptown offers free tastings every day at 3:00 p.m. Sample brews from beans imported from Ethiopia, Kenya, Guatemala, and Costa Rica as well as their own house blends, including one called the Hair Bender.
5. … and Chase it With a Willamette Valley Wine Tour
Just south of Portland is Willamette Valley wine country, which is flanked by the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Coast Range to the west. Famous for its Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley supports 507 wineries and 694 vineyards, almost half of which are sustainably farmed. Valley winemakers produce a number of varietals, including Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling. But if it’s an award-winning Pinot you’re after, Quailhurst Vineyard Estate near Sherwood has it. This boutique vineyard, which offers killer views of Mt. Hood and the Cascade range, features a 5-acre Japanese garden with four waterfalls. The estate is also a breeding and training facility for competitive dressage horses.
Want to pack a few bottles? Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members can check a case of Oregon wine for free on domestic flights from participating Oregon airports.
6. Test Your Determination on Mount Hood
Located about 50 miles southeast of Portland, Mt. Hood is the tallest peak in Oregon, rising 11,237 feet high. After Japan's Mt. Fujiyama, it's the most-climbed mountain in the world. More than 10,000 people hike through its forests and alpine meadows on their way to the peak during the April to mid-June climbing season. If you prefer a gentle mountain experience that requires far less equipment, we recommend the 3.2-mile Lost Lake Loop hike. If it's summer, keep an eye out for ripe huckleberries. If it’s winter, strap on your skis and hit a few of Mt. Hood’s 65 ski runs—34 of which are fully lit at night—or rent a pair of snowshoes at the Mountain Shop and intimately get to know a whole slew of muscles you didn't know you had.
7. Discover a city designed for cycling
If there was ever a bike-friendly city, this is it. More than six percent of Portlanders cycle to work every day. Book a food, beer, or sightseeing tour at Portland Bicycle Tours, or rent a bike and strike out on your own. Be sure to cross at least one of the eight bridges that span the Willamette River, including Hawthorne Bridge, the oldest lift bridge still in use in the U.S., and Steel Bridge, the world's only double-decker, vertical-lift bridge, where both levels move up. The top deck is used for light rail, vehicles, and pedestrians, while the lower deck carries about eight freight and passenger trains each day.
8. Tilt back a few craft beers on a brewery tour
With 65 breweries producing 5,370 beers in 134 styles, you'll need more than a few days in the city to sample them all. Be sure to visit BridgePort Brewing Company, which opened its doors in 1984 and is the oldest craft brewery in the city, and the pint-sized Hair of the Dog Brewery, one of the first breweries in the U.S. to produce high-alcohol beer (up to 12.5 % ABV).
To get the most beer for your buck, consider a brewery tour. Not surprisingly, there are too many to list here, but two stand out. The Brews & Bridges Tour is a half-day event that combines visits to up to four local breweries—including award-winning Base Camp Brewery and Burnside Brewing. If you're feeling leisurely, hop on the Pedicab Brewery Tour in the Pearl District and get pedaled to your choice of three brew pubs in the neighborhood, where you'll learn about the local brewing industry, go behind the scenes and meet with the brewmasters, and sample the wares.
9. A Park By Any Other Name: The Washington Park International Rose Test Garden
In 1915, the Portland Rose Society convinced the city government to approve a rose test garden to serve as a safe haven for European hybrid roses during WWI. Fast forward 100 years, and the 4.5-acre Washington Park International Rose Test Garden is the oldest official testing site for new varieties of roses in the U.S. (there are 23 newer testing facilities). You'll find more than 10,000 rose plants in over 600 varieties within its heady, fragrant boundaries. Stop by on a Saturday during the summer, and you may stumble upon a Shakespeare production or opera performance in the amphitheater.