Things to Do Outdoors in and Around Portland

Here are some of the most popular active outings in the Portland area.
By: Brian Stevenson
Blanketed across the confluence of 2 majestic rivers and within an hour of both the Pacific Coast and Cascade Mountains, Portland and its lush environs have something for nearly every lover of the outdoors.

Hardcore funhogs can snowboard and run whitewater on the same day almost any time of year and still be back in the city for dinner. More contemplative types might prefer a hilly amble through Portland’s urban, but seemingly boundless Forest Park. Anglers can drop a line for wild salmon where the placid Willamette River runs beneath downtown bridges. There’s surfing at the coast, kite-boarding on the Columbia, and miles of bicycling on non-vehicular paths. Rock climbing, golf, skate parks, birding; you name it and you can find it somewhere in or close to Portland.

Here are some of the most popular active outings in the area.
1. Ski and Snowboard Mt. Hood in Winter and Summer

Photo by: Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood, Oregon

Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood, Oregon

Iconic Mt. Hood stretches high above the surrounding hills east of the city. An hour or so in a car or bus can get you to 1 of the giant volcano’s several alpine ski resorts.

Mt. Hood Meadows Resort has the edge on winter terrain. Timberline Lodge is the only place on the mountain where you can still ride lifts to ski and snowboard in the heat of summer. Mt. Hood Skibowl is the largest night skiing resort in the country. And, there are plenty of places to seek out backcountry ski terrain for those qualified to do so. Visit for more information on backcountry skiing (and other activities).
2. Kayak Downtown
See Portland’s skyline in relative solitude by kayaking the broad Willamette River through downtown. Few large vessels ply the city center waterway; most ships and barges never venture past the commercial ports downstream. Instead, you may share this section of river with a couple of colorful Dragonboats (large paddle-powered race boats with Chinese-influenced serpent designs) or an occasional sailboat. Rent kayaks from Portland Kayak Company or Alder Creek (Alder Creek rents stand up paddle boards too). In summer, Portland Kayak Company runs guided kayak tours a couple miles upstream from downtown where you might see great blue herons, bald eagles or osprey in the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.
3. Hike Forest Park

Photo by:

You don’t need to leave town for a hike through shadowy, towering stands of Douglas fir, hemlock and western red cedar trees. Portland’s nearly 5,200-acre Forest Park boasts more than 80 miles of trails, which are accessible from more than 2 dozen trailheads. Most of the trails are interconnected via the park’s 30-plus mile sinuous Wildwood Trail. Skip out of trendy NW 23rd Avenue, walk a few blocks west to the entrance of Lower Macleay Trail. Follow the shady trail up crystal clear Balch Creek. You’ll never know you’re still in the city. Another option is the Maple Trail, festooned with its namesake trees along with red alder, sword ferns, and Oregon grape.
4. Visit “The Gorge”

Photo by: Michael Matti

As the last of the metro area disappears from your rear view mirror while driving east on Interstate 84, you’ll be dwarfed on your right by the steep cliffs and promontories of the Columbia River Gorge. Take exit 22, snake up the hill to the town of Corbett, then head east (left) on the narrow Historic Columbia River Highway. The old 2-lane road provides access to short trails which pass beneath multi-storied ribbons of free falling water and to arduous daylong treks that reach sweeping vista points high above the river. If time is limited try the 2 1/2-mile loop hike to misty Latourell and Upper Latourell Falls. A few miles farther east on the road will get you to the trailhead for a hike up the scenic Wahkeena Trail to Devil’s Rest. You can marvel at expansive Gorge views from several points along the trail. Contact US Forest Service officials at the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area for information on routes and trail closures.
5. Run the White Salmon River

Photo by: River Drifters

River Drifters

The dog days of summer send people searching for fun ways to cool off. Just an hour and 20 minutes east of Portland, southern Washington State's cool, spring-fed White Salmon river provides relief in the form of snappy, adrenaline pumping rapids for rafters and kayakers. The river rushes swiftly through a narrow and tight black lava canyon. There’s just enough sun in the shady chasm to warm you up between the class III and IV rapids, which come one after another. More intrepid paddlers can opt to run the frothing 10-foot-high Husum Falls. Wet Planet and River Drifters offer commercially guided 1/2-day and full-day raft trips from April to October.
6. Bike Sauvie Island

Photo by: Tim Jewett /

Tim Jewett /

The gentle bucolic landscape of this island at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers provides tranquility for road cyclists. Families and racewear clad peddlers flock to the island on warmer days. A 12-mile long loop on the island’s south end is the most popular but you can find greater solitude on the much longer Reeder Road loop. This route follows the Columbia for quite a way. If it’s a clear day you’ll see the Cascade Mountains in the distance and you may see eagles, osprey and other wildlife. If you’re driving to the isle from Portland, take highway 30 west to the Sauvie Island Bridge. Pick up a parking permit, riding directions, and a map from Cracker Barrel Grocery just north of the bridge on the island side. You can also get parking permits and information from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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