Autumn in Portland - Nicholas Steven

October 29th, 2018

Happy Autumn! Even though fall is nearly over and making way for winter, there is still time to get out there and take in the scenery (or plan for next year!). And okay, the title of this blog post might be slightly misleading, as some of the places I share here are not Portland proper, but, only a short drive away! With that said, I find that half of the fun in going out for a hike or photoshoot in the autumn is finding neat little spots along the way, sometimes even prettier than the destination itself. Of course there are also plenty of spots around the city that are worthy of being in my personal "must visit fall collection". So whether you are a new hiker, photographer, or just want to get out, here is my beginners guide to experiencing autumn in and around Portland Oregon.

Explosive fall color in the Columbia River Gorge

Silver Falls Sate Park

With a plethora of waterfalls and dense forest covered in vine maples and red alder, Silver Falls State Park, the largest state park in Oregon, is a must for seasonal color chasers, waterfall enthusiasts, and landscape lovers. The rich foliage here bursts with autumn colors, and the park has something for everyone - easy access view points and short family friendly walks, to a 7.5 mile hike that takes you down a canyon, behind waterfalls, and to a beautiful creek below that eloquently weaves through the forest floor. 

If you have the time and energy, the trail of ten falls loop hike is an absolute must. At 8.5 miles and 1300 ft of elevation gain, you will encounter all that this magical place has to offer, including no less than ten waterfalls.

Drive time from Portland: approx. 90 minutes

Parking: $5 cash/credit card

Best time to go: Mid/late October, early November. Early morning (park opens at 8am during autumn season), where you can catch that sweet morning light!

Note: While dogs are welcome in the park, they are not allowed on many of the trails here, including the canyon trail, maple ridge trail, and other connecting trails. Please remember to stay on the trails, do not go beyond posted boundary signage, and help keep Oregon green by leaving no trace.

Laurelhurst Park

Laurelhurst is a 30 acre city park in southeast Portland. With picnic areas, a playground, an off-leash dog area, and tons of wide paved walkways through the forested setting, Laurelhurst is a great park in every season. In autumn, it transforms into a colorful oasis of foliage. This is a simple and easy place to go for a walk, and is a fantastic location for portrait photography too! After the park, explore the Laurelhurst neighborhood - rich with foliage and classic Portland homes, cafes, and shops. 

Peak autumn colors reflecting over the pond at Laurelhurst Park

Cathedral Park

St Johns Bridge, Cathedral Park, on a foggy autumn morning

On the banks of the Willamette River in North Portland, Cathedral Park welcomes visitors with sweeping views of the St. Johns Bridge. In the fall, this park transforms into a leafy heaven and colorful wonderland of autumn goodness. Plenty of paved walkways, grassy areas, picnic tables, and numerous views make this an incredibly popular photo destination (it is a rarity to come here and not see at least one photoshoot occurring). In the field below, there are tremendous views of the St. Johns Bridge, which becomes perfectly framed by explosively colorful autumn trees no matter which direction you are facing. Walk the staircase to the top, and you will be treated with iconic views of the symmetrical arches below the bridge. 

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden

If you are looking for some peace and quiet, take a stroll through the grounds at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in southeast Portland. While this park is abundantly popular in the spring and summer months, it becomes an oasis of solitude during the fall months. People flock here to see the rhododendron blooms, but during autumn, it is an equally magical foliage mega land. 

Footbridge leading to Crystal Springs

While not as pristine as the more famous Japanese Gardens, you will find plenty of meandering paths to explore, small waterfalls, a variety of plants and trees, a plethora of benches to relax in scenic spots, ponds filled with ducks and other wildlife, and no shortage of leaves. Also unlike the Japanese Gardens, there is no entrance fee, and little to no crowds to battle. It should be noted, however, that the Portland Japanese Gardens, although not on this list, are amazing and definitely worthy of an autumn visit! 

Leafy scenes at Crystal Springs

Tranquil scenery at Crystal Springs

Multnomah Falls

Benson Bridge

Benson Bridge and Multnomah Falls

Although it suffered some fire damage and the trails above the falls remain closed, at 620 feet, Multnomah Falls is the crown jewel of the Columbia River Gorge for good reason, and is a must see destination for those who have never experienced it. With incredibly easy access, restrooms, a coffee stand, and even a lodge with a restaurant, this autumn scenery is perfect for all walks of life. It does get extremely crowded here, and as such is advised to visit on a weekday morning. After visiting the falls, continue east for a scenic drive up interstate 84, stopping at various parks and viewpoints of the Columbia River Gorge.

Hood River

Head east on interstate 84 to the wonderful little town of Hood River, and spend a day taking in all things autumn. From wine tasting, to breweries, dining, and an assortment of small businesses offering local handmade goods, Hood River offers both natural beauty and a hip small town feel worthy of a mini road trip. Take a drive on the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway and soak in the epic views, stopping at more orchards and farms that one can handle in a day. Draper Girls Country Farm is a good starting point, offering a variety of seasonal produce and fall treats, plus legendary epic views of Mt. Hood. Head back into town and stop at Panorama Point County Park, with no shortage of autumn foliage and one of the best photo ops of Mt. Hood and Hood River. Don't skip on the downtown water front! Delicious wood fired pizza at Solstice awaits. Or simply cozy up by an outdoor fire pit and enjoy a microbrew from pFriem Family Brewers. 

Goats at Draper Girls Country Farm, Apple Picking, Golden foliage at Pear Orchard, and majestic views of Mt. Hood, Hood River Oregon

Forest Park and The Pittock Mansion

If you want to stay inside the city but feel like you have been transported out of it, head to the West Hills of Portland and explore Forest Park, a 5200 acre urban forest. With an assortment of trail systems, it would be easy to hike around here all day long. To keep things simple, head to Lower Macleay Park and experience the beautiful 5.4 mile hike up to Pittock Mansion. Here you will wind through a dense lush forest with trails covered in leaves, passing numerous babbling creeks and streams along the way. Once at the top, you are able to walk the grounds of the Pittock Mansion (or even buy a ticket to tour the inside of the mansion). Meticulously landscaped grounds with a splash of seasonal color makes this a great spot to end your hike - and the views from the "backyard" are the best in the city (you will be able to see all of Portland, with Mt. Hood in the backdrop). If you are looking for a shorter hike, or much longer, there are many other options inside of Forest Park, all of which have their own unique features and autumn splendor. 

Mt Hood over Portland at sunset as seen from the Pittock Mansion

Mt Tabor Park

On Portland's east side, you can walk up to the top of a volcano inside city limits. Mt. Tabor Park is a classic and has something for everyone. There are multiple trail systems here that lead you through the forested park setting, often rich with foliage during the autumn months. There's also a fantastic playground for the little ones, sheltered picnic areas, and one of the best sunset spots in town. Huff and puff your way to the top to find a tremendous view of the city of Portland from the east side. Walk around the summits circular pavement to find fantastic views of Mt. Hood on the other end. And don't forget to snap some photos of the park bench that notoriously becomes covered in leaves every season! 

Sunset views, park bench in leaves, and views of Mt. Hood from Mt. Tabor Park

These are just some of the basic locations you can experience in and around Portland during autumn, and some of my personal favorites. There's always more to see along the way!

More honorable mentions:

Portland Japanese Gardens

Hoyt Arboretum

Sauvie Island

Eastbank Esplanade

Portland Saturday Market

South Park Blocks

Portland Waterfront

Thanks for following along, I hope you can all get out there and find some beautiful autumn scenery along the way! 

High quality prints of photos from this blog are available, contact me for details!

For more photography, follow me on instagram @Nicholas_Steven_

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