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Spring in Portland: rain or shine, there's plenty to see in springtime!

Updated on August 27, 2013
The Eastbank Esplande in southeast Portland
The Eastbank Esplande in southeast Portland

Springtime in Portland

Portlanders like to joke and say the seasons are Almost Winter, winter, Still Winter, and Road Construction. While I agree with the road construction bit—it always seems to go all summer long—I think that spring is one of the most beautiful times to visit Portland, and it might be a bit chilly, but the spring blooms and lively streets will quickly make you forget your winter blues.

In the spring you’ll be treated to the first blooms, beautiful misty mornings, and bluebird afternoons. Temps can go from below freezing to tank-top weather in a matter of days, which thrills the school kids who stare happily out the window hoping for a snow day or maybe the chance to pull out their warm weather clothes on any given day. This also means you should certainly dress in layers on your visit to Portland, but if you like variety, you’ll get it.

You know you’ve met a real Portlander when they’re outside, rain or shine, and spring certainly provides some of each. Here are a few things you should check out if you’re in Portland, and if you dare, try it Portland-style—without an umbrella!

The International Rose Test Gardens
The International Rose Test Gardens

The Rose Gardens

There’s a reason it’s called the Rose City, and it’s a beautiful one. Portland is home to the International Rose Test Gardens, five acres of over 10,000 rose plants blooming throughout the late spring and into the summer. Founded in 1917, the Rose Test Garden is the oldest official public rose test garden under continuous operation. Originally founded during World War 1 to keep new rose hybrids from being destroyed by the bombing in Europe, the garden has since become a part of Portland’s heritage, giving it its nickname and playing an essential role in the development of the biggest party of the year, The Rose Festival. At the International Rose Test Garden you can see new rose hybrids currently being tested for commercial viability and capture some amazing shots of the flowers as viewed from above the downtown skyline. While you’re there you should also checkout the Miniature Rose Garden, the Shakespeare Garden, and many other sites. The buds start to pop from mid-May through late June, and most plants are in full bloom by early June, just in time for the Rose Festival Parade. The roses can last as late as mid-October with favorable weather. The gardens are 70% wheelchair accessible, great for dogs on leashes, weddings, and concerts. You’ll want to take plenty of photos because cuttings are not allowed and the roses are not for sale. https://www.rosegardenstore.org/thegardens.cfm

Saturday Market
Saturday Market | Source

The Saturday Market

This weekly event is something of a Portland legend. Whether you’re interested in the weird or the wonderful, you’ll find it here. This weekly market finds its home on the Portland Waterfront near the Burnside Bridge sprawling for several blocks in each direction. The food selections at the market offer dishes for every palate so whether you want a quick snack or full sit-down meal, you’ll find just what you’re looking for at the Saturday Market International Food Court. The market itself is brimming with arts and crafts of all types. You might find décor for your home, eclectic clothing, jaw-dropping artwork, or any number of oddities in the market stalls. You’ll also be treated to the Saturday Market entertainment and I’m not referring to just the live music played throughout the afternoon. Amateur musicians, performers, and even folk who don’t intend to entertain can be found strutting their Portland-style each Saturday at this cornucopia of culture. The Saturday Market begins each March and runs through December, from 10 to 5, and it’s on Sunday too! (11 to 4:30). http://www.portlandsaturdaymarket.com/

Some of the bounty you might enjoy from the Willamette Valley region.
Some of the bounty you might enjoy from the Willamette Valley region. | Source

The Spring Beer and Wine Festival

If you know much about Portland, you’ve probably heard the name Beervana, or some similar moniker for the city with the most breweries per capita in the world, but Portland and the surrounding areas are also known for their wineries and distilleries too. Sip on craft beer, wine, spirits and cocktails at this Portland tradition. The festival, held at the Oregon Convention Center, also features gourmet treats, a chance to meet and mingle with local brewers and chefs, and plenty of entertainment, including live bands. Get there early because the first 1,000 guests each day get in free! http://www.springbeerfest.com/

The Wildwood and Birch Trails of Forest Park one of the nations largest urban green spaces.
The Wildwood and Birch Trails of Forest Park one of the nations largest urban green spaces. | Source

Hiking

It’s hardly surprising that one of the cities known for its natural beauty is also where you’ll find plentiful hiking opportunities in and out of town. Whether you’re staying local, or up for a short drive, within 45 minutes of Portland you’ll find the spring hike that’s perfect for you. Head to the gorge for “gorgeous views” and majestic waterfalls, or stick around town and tour the trees in Portland’s neighborhoods. Here are a few favorite springtime hikes. All distances are roundtrip, unless noted.

In Portland:

  • Hoyt Arboretum (NW): An outdoor tree museum, 1.8 mi. loop with options
  • Forest Park (NW): Endless trails of towering trees, 3 to 5 mile routes
  • Marquam Hill to Council Crest: climb to the skyline to view Portland and Mt. Hood, 6.4 miles
  • Tryon Creek (SW): Windy routes over bunches of bridges and a nature center too, 4 miles
  • Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge (SE): Wetlands that birdwatchers will love, 3.6 miles
  • Mount Tabor (SE): Urban sanctuaries with gorgeous city views, 2.8 miles

Out of town:

  • Multnomah Falls (30 miles east): one of Oregon’s most famous landmarks, 2.6 miles
  • Angel’s Rest (29 miles east): Panoramic gorge views and a steep ascent, 4.8 miles
  • Beacon Rock (46 miles east in Washington): Amazing views of the gorge, short climb, 1.8 miles
  • Silver Creek Falls: (69 miles south): Spectacular waterfalls near Salem, 6.9 miles
  • Warrior Rock (12.8 miles west): Meadows and beaches on Sauvie Island, 6.6 miles

If you can’t make it to the trailhead, try an urban hike. Pack a lunch, fill your water bottle and load up your daypack for a hike around town. Average city blocks downtown are generally 20 blocks to a mile, which means you can get from the northwest 23rd area known as Nob Hill to the waterfront in less than a mile and a half. For a more natural scenic route, the East Bank Esplanade and Waterfront Park loop offers 2.66 miles of paved riverside walking. http://www.portlandhikers.org/

Looking across the lake at Crystal Springs in southeast Portland.
Looking across the lake at Crystal Springs in southeast Portland. | Source

The Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden

After a morning of antique hunting in the quaint artsy Sellwood or Woodstock neighborhoods, head to nearby Crystal Springs for a little natural beauty. The garden is home to much more than the magnificent display of color the rhododendrons and other plants offer, you’ll also see elegant foot paths, tranquil water features, and the spring-fed Crystal Springs Lake which attracts may species of birds and waterfowl. The garden is open from 6 am to 6pm in the winter and 6 am to 10 pm in the summer (April 1 through September 30). During the winter months there is no charge to visit the gardens, and during the summer months adults will only pay $4 while children under 12 are always free. http://www.portlandonline.com/parks/finder/index.cfm?PropertyID=27&action=ViewPark

Flower-covered floats at the Starlight Parade, kicking off the festival.
Flower-covered floats at the Starlight Parade, kicking off the festival. | Source

The Rose Festival

Its weeks of parades and parties flanked by dragon boat races and endless carnival rides, and everything covered in hundred of thousand of flowers—sounds like typical Portland right? The Rose Festival is the biggest, grandest, most flowery event in town, and if you happen to be around during the tail end of May through early June, you should definitely enjoy some of the festivities. The Rose City has been putting on this month long multi-part festival for over 105 years, but it’s anything but ancient. The Rose Festival Calendar overflows with events for all comers, from pageantry to 5ks or Milk Carton races, but the festivities generally go into full swing with the Starlight Parade. This nighttime parade, preceded by a competitive race, is always a favorite sight for Portlanders strolling along the waterfront. Things really get going after the ships arrive along the waterfront for Fleet Week. All throughout, children of all ages (that means adults too!) will love the carnival rides and games along Waterfront Park. Although there are a few fun activities after it, like the dragon boat races in the Willamette River, the Grand Floral Parade is like the grand finale of the Festival. This 100 year old parade features marching bands, festival royalty, performing troupes and groups of all types, and of course floats covered in thousands upon thousands of flowers. You might want to view the floats close up to see just how much work went into creating these works of art, and you can do so at the float viewing in the days following the parade. Prices and times vary from event to event, but most parades are free except for reserved seating. http://www.rosefestival.org/

Vendors line the Park Blocks for the farmers market at PSU
Vendors line the Park Blocks for the farmers market at PSU | Source

Portland Farmers Market

Foodies and veggie lovers will want to head to the Portland Farmers Market for an amazing selection of produce from local farms. This popular market has more than just fresh goodies available; there are also chef demonstrations and live entertainment. Plus if you want something to snack on besides the scrumptious fruits you’ll find available, there is a selection of food carts throughout the market. The Portland Farmers Market operates Wednesday through Saturday, beginning in March at the following locations:

  • Saturday Market at Portland State University from 8:30 to 2 March-December
  • Wednesday Market in the park blocks between SW Salmon and Main from 10 to 2 May-October
  • Thursday Market at Ecotrust from 3:30 to 7:30 June-September
  • Thursday Market at SE 20th and Salmon (between Belmont and Hawthorne) from 3:30-7:30 May-September

There’s also a Winter Market now open Saturdays, at Shemanski Park in downtown Portland, featuring farm fresh food throughout January and February. http://www.portlandfarmersmarket.org/

Rows of tulips at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival
Rows of tulips at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival | Source

Get out of town

If you have some extra time or are a local looking for a weekend daytrip, head to this must see:

The Tulip Festival

Spring is undoubtedly the best time to see flowers in the Rose City, but if you’re up for a slight detour, head to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm to see the spectacular annual Tulip Festival. The farm, located just 45 minutes from Portland in Woodburn, Oregon, features 40 acres of tulips and daffodils in a dazzling array of colors. The rainbow of endless colors will keep your camera flashing all afternoon. You can also buy cut flowers, order bulbs, or enjoy the daily schedule of entertainment and activities, if you can put your camera down. http://www.woodenshoe.com/

Tour Pittock Mansion in the West Hills above downtown
Tour Pittock Mansion in the West Hills above downtown | Source

Rainy Day Options

If you can’t fair the foul weather, because it’s Portland—it just might rain, there are always sights to be seen indoors. Here are a few favorites:

  • The Portland Art Museum
  • OMSI (The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry)
  • McMenamins Historical Properties
  • Pioneer Place Mall
  • Breweries: Rogue Ales Public House, Deschutes Brewery, and Bridgeport Brew Pub are few favorites near downtown.
  • The Oregon Historical Society
  • The Oregon Maritime Center and Museum
  • The World Forestry Museum
  • The Pittock Mansion
  • The Portland Underground, also known as the Shanghai Tunnels
  • The Oregon Jewish Museum

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