The Best Places to Get Outside Near Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon is known for its art culture, food scene, and gorgeous city parks, but it’s also known for being one of the best outdoorsy big cities in the United States. The city of Portland is located in northwestern Oregon, right on the Columbia River. This puts it right on the state line, across from Washington, and due to its location, many of its residents rave about how accessible outdoor recreation is from the city.

With so many different landscapes just a short drive away from Portland, getting outdoors here is the easy part—choosing where to go is harder when you have so many options. These are the best places to get outdoors near Portland, Oregon any time of year.

Photo by Brigitte Werner

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

If you’re in Portland or visiting soon, you’ve likely heard people talk about “The Gorge.” They’re referring to the Columbia River Gorge, which stretches along the Columbia River. This gorge is home to steep walls made of basalt rock from the neighboring volcanoes. The Columbia River runs through it, acting as the border between Oregon and Washington for about 300 miles. The Columbia River Gorge is home to 71 hanging waterfalls—the largest concentration of free falling waterfalls in the country.

This is one of the best locations to visit for outdoor recreation outside of Portland. Here, you’ll find hiking trails, water sports, rock climbing, sightseeing, and more as you drive through the Gorge. In the area referred to as the Waterfall Corridor, you’ll be able to see famous waterfalls such as Multnomah Falls—Oregon’s tallest waterfall. Other, more underrated waterfalls include Horsetail Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Latourell Falls. One of the best waterfall hikes is Eagle Creek, which is used for hiking and backpacking, depending on how far you hike.

Waterfalls aren’t the only amazing thing about the Gorge, though. Go kite surfing near Hood River, hike to a viewpoint at Angels Rest, or cross the river to Washington for even more adventures. The hike up Dog Mountain on the Washington side is stunning, and make sure you check out Beacon Rock, which you can either hike or climb up.

The Best Places to Get Outside Near Portland, Oregon
Photo by Daniela Morescalchi

Oregon Coast

To the west of Portland, Oregon lies the Coast Range, a small mountain range that separates the city from the stunning Oregon Coast. The Oregon Coast is known for its large rock formations and sea stacks, which protrude from the water. You’ll also find lots of tidepools, old-growth trees, and potentially, wildlife like whales, bald eagles, and Roosevelt elk. 100% of Oregon’s coastline is public land, and it holds the nicknames “People’s Coast” and “Public Coast” because of this jurisdiction. You can view the Oregon Coast as one giant state park, as it is simply a connection of many different parks from Washington to California.

One of the best places to start an Oregon Coast day trip out of Portland is Cannon Beach. This iconic beach town is known for the famous Haystack Rock, a rock formation visible off the shore. The beach here is dog friendly and is a great way to enjoy the moody coast any time of year. From here, drive up north to Ecola State Park. This park is home to one of the best views of the northern Oregon Coast, lots of hiking trails, and even a campground if you’re trying to get away from it all for a weekend.

Other nearby spots that you can add to a day trip are: Arcadia Beach, Hug Point, and Short Sand Beach. All of these destinations are just south of Cannon Beach. Here, you can go tide pooling, hiking, or even surfing.

Outdoor destinations near Portland, Oregon
Photo by moxieprof via Pixabay

Mount Hood National Forest

Mount Hood is easily the most iconic landmark associated with the Portland area. You can see it from the city, and getting to the mountain is as easy as an hour-and-a-half drive south.

Mount Hood stands at 11,239 feet tall. It is Oregon’s tallest mountain and is home to 12 glaciers and permanent snowfields. The Mount Hood National Forest contains four separate designated wilderness areas, making this the home for adventure sports outside of Portland.

This area is popular for hiking trails, from day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips. The Pacific Crest Trail even crosses through here near Timberline Lodge. In the summer, head out to Trillium Lake for a chill paddleboard or kayak day. In the winter, go skiing or snowboarding on Mount Hood. Timberline Lodge, located at about 6,000 feet, is home to one of the longest ski seasons in the country. Snow here sticks around well into summer.

Mount Hood and the surrounding areas are known for backpacking trails, lakes, wildflowers, and waterfalls. In the summer, relax by Trillium Lake or rent a paddleboard or kayak. Take a short hike to Tamanawas Falls. Experienced backpackers can enjoy the Timberline Trail, which circumnavigates the mountain. In the winter, enjoy skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. Trillium Lake is also one of the area’s most popular snowshoe trails.

At the end of summer, experience Mount Hood and the Oregon Coast during the annual Hood to Coast relay race. During this event, teams of runners race from Mount Hood to Cannon Beach.

From the mountains to the coast, there is so much to explore just outside of the hustle and bustle of Portland, Oregon. Locals often say that Portland is two hours from everything there is to do outdoors, and they couldn’t be more right. 

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