Our Picks: The Top 10 Best Parks In Portland Oregon 2022

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Written By John @ The Portlandist

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Green spaces, it’s all the rage today from urban planning to industrial zones, everyone wants a park near them. This is a good thing as we develop land around us for commercial uses and industrial projects, but a bland and ordinary green lawn is nothing when compared to a park that has a bit of backing to it, a sense of city design and a sense of where it is situated within its community. You can’t just designate an acre of undeveloped land and call it a park. You have to play ahead for the use by the people of the community and the future of the city.

In a concrete wasteland such as New York City, Dallas, Texas, or even Dallas, Texas, you can get away with planting a few trees and calling it a park. But here in Portland, Oregon, we are constantly surrounded by the majesty of natural green spaces that when you open a city park, you had better be prepared to offer something more than a simple undeveloped parcel of land. Portland is surrounded by natural green forests and old growth trees in forests that are often older than the country itself. Portland expects more from out city planners than a simple flower and tree garden.

Here we explore the best parks in Portland, and there are plenty to choose from. Knowing the surroundings of the Pacific Northwest, the city planners of Portland excelled in making splendorous green spaces for those that can’t get out of the city and reflect the surrounding depth of the forests nearby. 

Right within out city we can explore parks that give us everything from child friendly splash parks to the wildly adventurous mountain bike paths. All of these parks are worthy of exploration, some for the timid, some for the adventurous, but all of them could be ranked among the best parks in Portland.

The Best Parks in Portland Oregon

Below is our picks for the top 10 best Parks in Portland Oregon. To snap directly to a specific location, please click the corresponding link in the list below.

  1. South Park Blocks
  2. The Fields Park
  3. Macleay Park
  4. Washington Park
  5. Council Crest Park
  6. Peninsula Park
  7. Mt. Tabor Park
  8. Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge
  9. Cathedral Park
  10. Forest Park

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10. South Park Blocks

South Park Blocks

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You may know any of these twelve small parks by names such as “Peace Plaza” or Shemanski Park” but each of these one block green spaces lined up through the heart of South Portland’s cultural district are collectively known as the “South Park Blocks” and are the oldest and the best parks in Portland if you’re looking for a sense of the city’s rich and diverse history.

The many art installations that dot the parks are covered in shade from the early elm and poplar trees that have been planted so long ago. Recent societal changes have brought light to the city planners to dedicate more space to the growing diversity of Portlanders while they also plan to preserve and replace those magnificent old growth trees.

A delightful green space in the heart of the city, South Park Blocks serves as a common meeting place among the busy workers and the casual tourists alike giving rise to public dialogs and the expression of differing opinions, this centrally located park still serves as that common space where we all come together.

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9.The Fields Park

The Fields Park

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One of the newer but still one of the best parks in Portland is The Fields Park. Established not all that long ago in 2010 and completed in 2013, The Fields Park serves as a BEECN, or one of the central locations for emergency assistance if there is a catastrophe and all communications are down, such as after a major earthquake. 

This is the perfect spot for it too because this large three acre park is at the north end of the popular mix-use Pearl District which means it’s an equally essential park for businesses and residents alike.

At the south end of the park closer to Overton Street there is a wonderful children’s playground where the kids will climb, swing and play while you can join in or sit and enjoy a cup of coffee from the many coffee shops surrounding the park. The Yard is the oval clearing in the center of the park and home to many events, but it’s the north corner at Quimby that draws many residents of the Pearl District.

The Fields Off-Leash Dog Park is a great way to exercise your four legged friends and socialize them with other dogs. There are two areas, one for large dogs, and another for smaller breeds. Between playthings for children, dogs, and adults, The Fields Park is one of the best parks in Portland.

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8.Macleay Park

Macleay Park

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For this entry we kind of split the difference and listed Macleay Park as one of the best parks in Portland, but no small part of that decision was its close proximity to the Pittock Mansion Grounds which actually serve as a park in and of themselves. As Pittock Mansion is free but still private property, we listed Macleay Park for this entry. Between these two parks, this green space serves as one of Portland’s greatest park areas.

In the western segment of the park you’ll find the Pittock Bird Sanctuary and the Portland Audubon, one of the more beautiful nature hikes you’ll find in the greater Portland area. If you’re a fan of movie sets, up in the Northeast corner of the park is the Cullen House, where many scenes from the popular “Twilight” movies was filmed. In the central area of the park is the abandoned stone house dubbed “The Witch Castle”, a nice foliage covered trail with nature sights as well as the iconic graffiti covered stone structure legend says harbors the ghosts of past crimes but is more likely to house modern late night party goers.

Up the Wildwood Trail is the Historic Pittock Mansion, a destination unto itself and the original reason we investigated this area for Portland Parks. Once we discovered the rest of Macleay Park in addition to this historic house, this was easily listed as one of the best parks in Portland.

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7.Washington Park

Washington park

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Leaving downtown Portland and headed west on Sunset Highway you may think you are leaving the city behind but nothing could be further from the truth. Washington Park, in all it’s natural glory represents the true heart of Portland, of Oregon, of the entire Pacific Northwest and is easily one of the best parks in Portland.

458 acres of land set aside for Portland’s greatest park, Washington Park contains a multitude of amenities for the residents of the area and a regular tourist draw for those coming into the city to see what Portland can offer. The Portland Zoo is contained within Washington Park, one of the few places you can see California Condors being rehabilitated and released into the wild. The International Rose Test Garden is also one of the “must see” attractions within Washington Park. Not only for the beauty and naturally scented location, but also for the important works of breeding hardy and weather/disease resistant rose variants. There is an archery range, a children’s museum, the fantastic Hoyt Arboretum, fabulous Japanese Gardens, fifteen miles of hiking trails and a plethora of other nature seeking attractions. Once you come to Washington Park, you’ll understand why it is commonly referred to as the best park in all of Portland.

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6. Council Crest Park

Council Crest Park

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Come with us to Council Crest Park in southwest Portland and let’s go mountain sightseeing. At one of the highest points in the Portland area, the crest of Council Crest is 1072 feet above sea level and was once known as “Talbot’s Mountain” and as “Glass Hill”. This elevation makes for a great vantage point to take in the five distinct peaks in the distance, Mountains Rainier, Hood, Jefferson, Adams, and St. Helens. In the shorter range, this vantage point also allows for a breathtaking view of the city laid out below you, Portland by nightfall is one of the more spectacular sights anyone will ever behold.

Sunrise and sunset an an elevated location such as Council Crest Park is always a well deserved moment of awe. Grab your friends and family, pack some food into a wicker picnic basket and make a day out of it. You’ll see why many couples reserve the park for their wedding vows location, why so many people like to come up here for the view and the inspiration. It doesn’t take a screen full of electronics to get your spirit sparked up, sometimes it’s something as simple and as beautiful as one of the best parks in Portland offering views like you’ll get nowhere else.

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5. Peninsula Park

Peninsula park

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Who’s up for some quarter mile horse racing? Well, you’d have to back in time more than a hundred years to when Peninsula Park was first created in this wonderful green space between the south Piedmont and north Humboldt neighborhoods. The horse races are long gone but many of the beautiful accents of this ancient park remain, modernized but preserved to maintain that old world look and feel.

Peninsula Park is the original location of the official Portland designation as the “City of Roses” and the European garden style of rose park will fill your senses into overload when these 5000 roses are in full bloom in the peak summer months. Sixteen aces of rose gardens, restful gazebos, community pool, tennis courts, soccer fields, baseball parks, and public art, Peninsula Park is easily one of the best parks in Portland. If you’re worried about enjoying the peaceful nature of the park while you have small children looking for more immediate summer relief, be sure to bring the bathing suits. In addition to the public pool, there is a children’s splash playground where a child can run around and slash to their heart’s content as you take in the beauty of the roses, the beauty of the park or simply recognize the beauty of a child’s laughter.

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4. Mt. Tabor Park

Mt. Tabor Park

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Come spend your day on a volcano. Yeah, we’re not kidding, Mt Tabor was once a volcano but is consider inactive and extinguished, but that doesn’t have to ruin the excitement of hiking and exploring such a rocky and hilly terrain in the heart of the city. Just because it’s extinguished, that doesn’t make the thrilling adventures Mt Tabor has to offer any less exciting and to be fair, this is one of our favorites and easily one of the best parks in Portland.

Whether you are biking up hill, hiking up and down the remnants of the caldera, or just here to enjoy the reservoir and the surrounding sights of Portland, Mt Tabor has more to offer than simply a hilly location in the city. This is the spot chosen for the PDX Adult Soapbox Derby. In 1997, Mt. Tabor Park became the defacto spot for the beer-inspired builds of soap-box derby cars careening down the steep and twisted urban volcano roads as locals cheered them on and encouraged the debauchery of good clean Portland fun. It’s not all booze and speed, for most of the year, Mt. Tabor Park serves as a wonderful hiking trail spot for those looking for some elevation changes while remaining within the city.

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3.Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge

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In the south portion of our beloved city is the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. On the eastern shore where the Willamette River momentarily splits around Ross and Hardtack Island, there is a large 163 acre wildlife refuge set aside to encapsulate the pristine beauty of Portland’s natural beauty and protect the indigenous species through regulations and rules pertaining to what can and more importantly can not be built in the area. These regulations have kept industrial pollutants from the area but also made the area inviting to non-industrial endeavors such as amusement parks!

Seriously, when is the last time you went roller skating? That circular wooden rink with the pop music and concession stand. It’s part of everyone’s youth and here at Oaks Park Roller Skating Rink, we can relive that feeling! There is also the Oaks Park Amusement Park with a popular midway of games, two dozen thrill rides including the energetic roller coasters to the somewhat more calm go-Karts. This river side park is worthy of a visit. But even if you’re not in the mood for a theme park, the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge serves as a fantastic nature trail site where you’re likely to see diverse species from the Western Redback Salamander to the majestic Bald Eagle.

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2.Cathedral Park

Cathedral Park

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If the St. John’s Bridge ever gets upgraded and replaced to something more modern and blandly concrete we wonder of this park would change its name. Cathedral Park is that little patch of greenery under the St. John’s Bridge as you take Philadelphia Avenue across to the Willamette to Forest Park. Though Cathedral Park may have been an abandoned parcel of land beneath a bridge, the park was erected in the early 1980’s and the naming convention stands true as the archways of the St. John’s Bridge certainly evokes the feeling of a grand Cathedral, especially when you can experience this appearance when the sun hits it just right.

Once a neglected wasteland under a bridge, Cathedral Park has transformed into one of the best parks in Portland as it now boasts of a simple walking and running trail, a boat ramp, and for the past four decades has hosted the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival at the permanent stage facilities on the park grounds. Whether you’re here to be-bop with the latest jazz musicians, set up for a fantastic spot of celebratory photography such as engagement or birthday photos, or just here to enjoy a quiet day of fishing, the facilities at Cathedral Park will accommodate your every need all while staying close by your neighborhood.

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1. Forest Park

Forest Park

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If you only see one park in all of Portland, you have to make the trek to see Mills End, the greatest park in all the world consisting of a single sapling in the middle of an intersection and reputedly the home to leprechauns so it is festively decorated for St Patrick’s Day much like a green version of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. We jest, as this is the smallest park in the world according to Guinness Records, and the park we are actually focusing on, Forest Park, is one of the largest urban parks in the country.

Just a ten minute drive from downtown Portland you can find yourself surrounded by seventy miles of hiking and biking trails as diverse as a child’s walk to a trail that is rated for the more experienced hikers. Butting up against Washington Park and Macleay Park, this eight mile stretch of greenery is unique due to its appearance as untouched nature while actually being cultivated from scratch in the 1920’s. Log isolate running trails, sophisticated biking trails, and plenty of green space for explorers of all levels of experiments, Forest park is not only the largest, but by far one of the best parks in Portland.

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Our Final Thoughts: The Best Parks in Portland Oregon

It is true that you can take any lackluster park in Portland and stick it in any city around the country and it would be the belle of the ball. There are hundreds of parks in our beautiful city and each of these deserve a star by their own right,. However, for those more discerning park-goers, we have cultivated this list of the ten best parks in Portland, and while we believe these to be the greatest, you may find your tastes vary somewhat and you think another park is more deserving of being on this list.

That’s the beauty of these lists, it’s a touchstone to get all of us talking about the bounty we have here in Portland of fantastic parks right here within out city limits. If we expanded out, we’d have even more trouble narrowing it down to a list of simply ten. In our domain of natural greenery and saturated nature locations, we’re spoiled with great city parks because a simple green lawn just won’t do for us. We can drive a few minutes out of town and be surrounded by the true wilderness. The city of Portland had created some of the greatest parks here in our area and we are happy to have access to some of the best parks in Portland, and the entire country beyond!

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