Home to both a sprawling urban wilderness and the world’s smallest dedicated park, Portland offers visitors a breath of fresh air, where you can enjoy these nine fun, family-friendly ways to take in the region’s stunning natural beauty.
The majestic, snow-capped peak on Portland’s eastern horizon offers year-round family fun. In the winter, three ski resorts provide skiers and boarders of all ages and abilities a snowy playground of varied terrain. At Mt. Hood Meadows, the mountain’s largest resort, 85 runs range from a beginners-only “fun zone” to double-black-diamond bowls, while cross-country skiers can kick and glide 14.5 kilometers of both groomed at set tracks at the adjoining Nordic area.
Elephants at the Oregon Zoo
Founded in 1888, the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi River is located just minutes from downtown Portland and home to 2,000 animals from more than 230 species — which means you can get up close to everything from an African pygmy hedgehog to a Visayan warty pig. But the stars at this conservation zoo have to be the Asian elephants. The zoo’s herd of seven elephants includes the 10-foot-6-inch Packy, born here in 1962 (the first elephant born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years), and two newer additions: young Samudra and Lily.
Portland Children’s Museum
Children’s museums have long been a bit of a contradiction. They’re lauded as places where kids can explore, push their limits and learn — but isn’t that what the outdoors are all about, too? With Outdoor Adventure at Portland Children’s Museum, learning goes outside. This space designed to encourage exploration is more than just a place to play tag: Sculptures, landscaping, creeks and trails carve the area into distinct zones. At the campsite, kids can build their own forts out of natural materials like logs and rocks. The meadow gives youngsters the opportunity to get up close and personal with a variety of plants. And the Zoom Tree — a red cedar — is great for climbing and getting a view of all the action.
Easy access to some of the nation’s most spectacular scenery often puts hiking near the top of the agenda for many Portland visitors. Latourell Falls, the closest waterfall to the city and also one of the prettiest, sits on a looping trail less than 4 km in length. A bit farther, 40 minutes from downtown, the gentle Punchbowl Falls hike features stunning namesake falls and a popular swimming hole.
To truly appreciate the wilds of the Pacific Northwest — not to mention the joy of roasting marshmallows over a campfire — spend a memorable night under the stars. There’s no better place to play on a hot summer day than the cool, clear waters of the Sandy River at Oxbow Regional Park, an oasis for swimmers, kayakers, rafters and floaters just 32 kilometers from downtown. No tent? No problem — family-friendly yurts and deluxe cabins provide cozy overnight options.
Oregon’s pristine waters make it a paradise for fishers, boaters and adventure-seekers alike. Just 20 minutes east of Portland, the gentle Sandy River attracts a mix of inner-tubers, kayakers and rafters, but anglers come for the abundant populations of winter steelhead, trout and salmon. You can also reel in a big catch without leaving the city: The Willamette River is one of only a handful of U.S. rivers to offer salmon and steelhead fishing in a large metropolitan area.
Providence Bridge Pedal
Portland has more than 483 kilometers of bike lanes, paths and low-traffic streets designated as “bike boulevards,” making cycling one of the best ways to see the city — and not just for experienced bike-commuters. During the Providence Bridge Pedal (typically held in August), nearly 20,000 cyclists ride over iconic Portland bridges closed to traffic. For little legs, try the 23-kilometer, seven-bridge ride or the 5-kilometer Kids Pedal.