Portland’s park system is the envy of many cities, not only in the US but around the world. Some years ago, while I was touring the world-renowned Christchurch Rose Garden in Christchurch, New Zealand, the curator asked me where I was from. When I said “Portland, Oregon” he grinned widely. “Portland’s parks are beautiful!” he said. “And such beautiful gardens!”
Portland’s 10,000 acres of parks are particularly gorgeous in fall, when the multitude and variety of deciduous trees provide a colorful canopy as a backdrop to the various amenities of the park. Choosing five best parks out of over 200 is difficult only because of the wealth of choices. And just to make it more difficult, I’m going to eliminate the well-known choices (Forest Park, Washington Park, and Waterfront Park) from the mix to give you five that you might otherwise overlook. But they’re well worth a visit while the crisp autumn air is still blessed by a kiss of sunshine.
5. Fernhill Park – NE 37th Ave & Ainsworth St. This pretty little gem boasts gentle slopes and thick groves of ancient trees surrounding playgrounds, soccer fields and baseball diamonds. Bright yellows amidst the greens make for a delightful walk while the kids play.
4. Overlook Park - N Fremont St & Interstate Ave. This tiny little neighborhood park is aptly named for its broad sweeping view overlooking the Willamette, northwest Portland and Forest Park. At the nearby Overlook House, if you can overlook (and excuse the pun) the industrial zone directly below, there may be no better view of this broad expanse of natural area in the City. There’s limited parking, though, so it may be best to get there by MAX’s yellow line.
3. Peninsula Park and Rose Garden - 700 N Rosa Parks Way. The name gives this one away. Second only to the International Rose Test Garden for its breathtaking spread of the city’s official flower, this 16-acre park houses a vibrant community center – the City’s first and longest-lasting – as well as the full array of sports and play amenities. The Italian-villa style building sits nestled amongst a variety of colorful arbors, definitely worth the short walk from the Ainsworth stop of the MAX yellow line.
2. Laurelhurst Park – SE 39th Ave & Stark St. A tree-lined pond surrounded by a double-ring of paved and unpaved walking paths, this sprawling jewel boasts picnic sites galore, plenty of play amenities and sports fields and off-leash areas for the woofer. Even the surrounding neighborhood is worth a walk-through, forming a gallery containing some of the east side’s most beautiful homes and gardens.
1. Mt Tabor Park – SE 60th & Salmon St.
Towering above southeast Portland, this sprawling gem is really several parks in one, with everything from picnic areas with horseshoe pits to tennis and volleyball courts. But my favorite part of this park is the short hike up from the reservoir to a shady glen where one can gaze down upon a wide swath of oaks, maples, firs and chestnuts from SE Hawthorne to Belmont, all the way into downtown. Absolutely stunning at sunset. And best of all, it’s all accessible by bus – Number 14 down Hawthorne or the Number 15 down Belmont – with plenty of great lunch spots close by.