Guide to Washington Park in Portland
Though I lived in Portland, Oregon for seven years, I rarely write about it. My feelings about the city changed dramatically from the time I moved there in 2010, to when I left in 2017; Portland transformed a lot during that time, & has continued to ~ & not always for the better. But, on a recent trip back, I was reminded of all the reasons I fell in love with Portland to begin with: fantastic restaurants, beautiful forest landscape, & a quirky, dynamic feel rarely found in “big” cities. Luckily, Washington Park encompasses the best that Portland has to offer, even still. In this “Guide to Washington Park in Portland,” I’ll take you inside one of my favorite corners of this ever-changing city…
Most Portland guides tend to ignore the overwhelming elephant in the room: namely, the city’s massive homeless problem & corresponding safety concerns. Yes, homelessness is a HUGE problem in Portland.
Washington Park though, remains a rather protected pocket of the city, due in part to its hilltop location, & because many of its attractions require Entry Fees (i.e. the Zoo, Japanese Gardens). The homeless tend to concentrate right downtown, near the Park Blocks, on Burnside, & unfortunately, along the freeways.
Map of Washington Park
Overview of Washington Park Attractions
Best Things to Do with Kids at Washington Park
- The Oregon Zoo: Founded in 1888, this is the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi! Set on 64 acres, the zoo holds more than 1,800 animals: including lions, cheetahs, sloths, giraffes, elephants, & polar bears. This is the state’s most popular attraction, welcoming more than 1.6 million visitors each year: reserve your tickets in advance. Hours: 9:30AM-5:30PM DAILY. Admission Fee: $24.
- World Forestry Center: Set in a beautiful wood-filled, Pacific Northwest-themed building, this place is perfect for both kids & adults: hands-on exhibits show visitors the benefits of sustainability & forestry. Hours: Temporarily Closed.
- Washington Park Playground: Located next to the Rose Garden, this is Portland’s largest play structure/playground: with ramps & slides galore, plus a sand pit to frolic in. Perfect for kids under 6; older kids may yawn a little here. Hours: 5AM-10PM DAILY. FREE.
- Archery Range at Washington Park: For older kids only! Practice your archery skills surrounded by forest; bring your own equipment here, no appointments are necessary ~ just drop-in. No cross-bows allowed. Park in the gravel lot adjacent to the archery field; parking is free here. Hours: 7AM-10PM DAILY. FREE.
Most Beautiful Places in Washington Park
- International Rose Test Garden: This is my favorite corner of Washington Park: it’s simply lovely. Over 10,000 roses are planted here, & it’s best-viewed from late May thru October, when the roses are in full-bloom. Its primary purpose is as a testing ground for new rose varieties; this tradition began around the time of World War I. The Rose Garden is also dog-friendly, so bring the pups here ~ & a leash! Hours: 5AM-10PM DAILY. FREE.
- Portland Japanese Garden: If you’re traveling to Portland solo, or live in the city & are looking for a peaceful place to retreat: head to the Japanese Garden. Whereas the Rose Garden is extroverted & showy, the Japanese Garden is introverted & quiet ~ with shady, winding paths, tranquil ponds, a Tea Garden, & plenty of opportunity for introspection. Hours: 10AM-5:30PM DAILY. Admission Price: $18.95.
- Pittock Mansion: The historic Pittock Mansion isn’t technically in Washington Park ~ but it’s right next-door in Forest Park. There’s no prettier place to witness the sunrise: you’ll see it making its morning ascent right over Mount Hood. Built in the early 1900’s, this is also a place to take in the early, pioneering history of Portland. Hours: Wednesday-Monday, 10AM-4PM; Tuesday, 12-4PM. Admission Price: $12.
Best Places in Washington Park for Dogs & Hiking
- Hoyt Arboretum: I used to meet friends & bring my dog, Dylan, to Hoyt Arboretum ~ it’s the perfect jumping-off point for hiking in Washington Park: they’ve got over 190 acres of forestland to explore, & over 12 miles of hiking trails. Their “Redwood Trail” is a popular route that can be accessed from the Visitor’s Center; for longer hikes, head over to the “Wildwood Trail,” which connects to Forest Park & the Rose Garden. Hours: 5AM-10PM DAILY. FREE.
- Forest Park: Forest Park is located right next to Washington Park, & it’s one of the largest parks in any U.S. city: at 5,200 shady acres. Its multitude of trails are used primarily as a home for runners & walkers, & leashed dogs are welcome here. The Wildwood Trail connects Forest Park to Washington Park: this popular trail is 30 miles long, & is a major pedestrian thoroughfare. Hours: 5AM-10PM DAILY. FREE. Dog-Friendly.
Photos of Washington Park in Portland
For a list of my favorite pet-friendly hotels in Portland, read this article.
A place near Portland with a similar contemplative, peaceful vibe is gorgeous Sauvie Island. Find all the best things to do on the island here…
My favorite Portland hotel that’s not only highly-chic, but is walkable to Washington Park, is the Hollywood-inspired Hotel Deluxe. It’s set in a protected little area called Goose Hollow, & is very pet-friendly!
FAQ About Washington Park
Q: Where do we park in Washington Park?
A: If you’re visiting the Oregon Zoo or the World Forestry Center, they have their own parking lots, which charge $2/hour or $8/day. There’s also a parking lot by the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, at Hoyt Arboretum, on either side of the Portland Japanese Garden, & a gravel one near the Archery Range. If all these are full, try your hand at street parking near the Multnomah Athletic Club (MAC), & then take a walk uphill to reach the park. You can also reach Washington Park by taking public transport: both the Red & Blue MAX Lines stop at Washington Park.
Q: Is Washington Park safe?
A: Overall, I would say yes: this is definitely one of the safest pockets in Portland. Popular spots such as the Zoo & Rose Garden are safe in the fact that there are so many people around; you’ll never be alone in either place. If you don’t feel comfortable walking alone on the trails around Hoyt Arboretum: meet a friend or two, or bring your dog(s). And, as mentioned previously, the homeless tend to stay right downtown, close to services; I’ve never seen large congregations of them anywhere in Washington Park.
Q: What activities in Washington Park are free?
A: The only places that charge an Entrance Fee in the park are the Zoo, the Japanese Garden, & the World Forestry Center. Other than that: everything is free! Visiting the Rose Garden is free, as is Hoyt Arboretum & its surrounding trails; walking in Forest Park & along the Wildwood Trail is always free. The Archery Range & kid’s playground are of course free, as are visiting the Oregon Holocaust Memorial & the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Q: Where can I bring my dog(s) in Washington Park?
A: You can bring your dog to the Rose Garden, to Hoyt Arboretum & its trails, & on all the hiking/walking trails that surround & connect various attractions within the park. For obvious reasons, you cannot bring your dog(s) to the Zoo, & only service animals are welcome at the Portland Japanese Garden.
Best Things to Do in Washington Park
That concludes this overview of Washington Park ~ if you have any questions about the park or the city in general, please ask in the comments below. And if you’re looking for another great spring activity, check out the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival in Woodburn, located about 45 minutes south of Portland.
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Fantastic article on Washington Park! This is the overview we were looking for. We’re traveling to Portland this June with two small kids – wondering, can you please expand on the areas of Portland you would avoid if you wanted to minimize any encounters with the homeless? Thank you, Ralph
Hi Ralph, thanks for your comment! So the areas of Portland that I would try to avoid are: the Park Blocks (by PSU & Arlene Schnitzer area), along the waterfront (particularly under the bridges), Chinatown, the area around Safeway downtown (there are a lot of services for homeless in that area), & along Burnside Street. Areas like NW 23rd & NW 21st, some parts of the Pearl, & many popular streets on the East Side (Alberta, Hawthorne, & Belmont) tend to have less of a homeless problem. As I mentioned in the article, Washington Park is a great spot to bring children & tends to be quite safe! Enjoy your trip to Portland : )