My Five Favorite Parks in Portland, OR

By: Adam Edwards + Save to a List

When you cant get out of the city these parks and natural areas will make you feel like you have.

Having natural urban resources to play and exercise in is important to me. Living in Portland I am fortunate enough to have easy access to a variety of outdoor recreation resources outside of the city. Portland also boasts an extensive park and trail system within the metro area as well as being home to one of the largest parks int he country, Forest Park.

Because of the amount of parks and trails it’s hard to just narrow it down so I’ll pick my 5 favorite parks to run or hike in without leaving the metro area. I will give them a score based on ease of access, how much of the trail system can be used for running or hiking, and my personal enjoyment of the area of views. In this article the term 'Accessibility'  refers to reaching the park via car, bike or pedestrian power. The following parks have specific accommodations to create low barriers to access for individuals spanning all levels of physical ability-Tyron Creek, Mt. Tabor, Forest Park.

Portland Oregon and all the parks mentioned are located in the Willamette Valley which are historically the lands of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. 

Tryon Creek State Park

The only state park in Oregon that resides in a major metro area Tryon Creek is about 15 minutes from downtown Portland. A combination of hiking trails, boardwalk (mind they can be slippery) and bridges take you through the 650 acres of protected wetland and forest. I love this park because while they boast 8 miles of hiking trails over and through the wetland area it protects, the also provide a lot of educational resources for both recreationalist and local school programs. The park also has a 0.3 mile barrier free trail that was created to be accessible for people of all ability levels. Here's an example of a great run at Tryon Creek.

Accessibility - 5
Runnable mileage - 3
Overall enjoyment - 4
Total score -12 out of 15

Rocky Butte 

The 20 acres natural area is tucked into Portlands northeast neighborhoods. One of the city's extinct cinder cones, the site was acquired in the late 80’s and hosts the Joseph Woodhill Park at the top of the butte. A short 3.2 mile out and back trail takes you to this surprisingly flat vista that is a great spot for a socially distanced picnic. If you're just looking for an amazing sight, it offers sweeping views of the cascade range like Mt. Hood, Mt. St Helens, and Mt. Adams. You’ll want to try it out in the day time as the park is open from 5am to midnight and sometimes things get a bit hectic later in the evening. If you're headed out early, be sure to enjoy the sunrise from Rocky Butte

Accessibility - 4
Runnable mileage - 1
Overall enjoyment - 3
Total score - 8 out of 15

Mt. Tabor

One of my top top parks in Portland! 176 acre Mt Tabor is a neighboring cinder cone to Rocky and Powell Butte. A former farm property from the beginnings of Portland, the park has taken shape over the decades from agriculture to water supply. There are several wate rreserovirs that serve as defacto "trsacks" and numerous trails to choose from for you run or walk. A paved road to the top is open to all users, from pedestrians to skateboarders, and makes this park a great place to enjoy multiple activities and easy to access. The park is located in a residential neighborhood in southeast Portland. Upon reaching the top, whatever your route, you are rewarded with a view staring down Hawthorne Boulevard and can see to the west hills which abut downtown Portland. To the east you are treated to views of Mt. Hood in the distance, Douglas Fir forests, and east Portland.

Accessibility - 5
Runnable mileage - 4
Overall enjoyment - 5
Total score - 14 out of 15

Forest Park

The crown jewel of Portland Park system at 3,200 acres forest park is one of the largest urban forests in the US. It has more than 80 miles of trail, forest roads and fire lanes. Nestled in the Tualatin Mountains, the ridgeline abutting downtown Portland, the park serves as backdrop to the city when you look west from the east. There are multiple access points spread along its over 30 mile length ranging from in city and super accessible trails like the Leif Erikson, a popular running and biking stretch, or steeper access points such as the Fire Lane 1 near its northern end. It is popular destination as you can take a bus, ride a bike or scooter to many trailheads with ease. It also boasts a 33 mile continuous trail called the Wildwood Trail which can be broken up into sections and done piece by piece or pushed through in a single day.

Accessibility - 5
Runnable mileage - 5
Overall enjoyment - 5
Total score - 15 out of 15

Powell Butte

Boasting 603 acres of usable land, Powell Butte is another of the regions cinder cones. The site was designated a nature park in 1987 and hosts two underground water reservoirs for the city water supply. The park has miles of trails that support everything from a quick day hike to horseback riding.  As the butte forms near the headwaters of Johnson creek there are many possibilities to see local flora and fauna like foxes, deer, pheasants and even coyotes.


Accessibility - 4
Runnable mileage - 4
Overall enjoyment - 4
Total score - 12 out of 15

Having such close access to natural areas is such a privilege. Our urban green spaces are seeing a revival as the resource they were intended to be -- spaces for the populace to rest, relax, and recharge. Having access to a green space, no matter the size, is both a privilege and a benefit to the users and the providers. Getting outside even for a little bit can help improve your mental and physical health, which many of us need help with these days. Being able to make time in our days to play and pause in nature should be a priority. The beauty of these urban green spaces really shines when we realize adventure doesn't have to be all day, far away, and require an abundance of specific gear. Sometimes a short walk through a quiet glade will do.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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