Portland’s Best Parks
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Toddler Slides and Bridge at Laurelhurst ParkPlaystructure at Sellwood ParkWell, the votes are in from our readers concerning your favorite Portland park.  It’s not a surprise to tell you that Laurelhurst and Sellwood both top the list.  Yes, these are beautiful destination parks, and we practically live at Sellwood park during the summer, especially with the incredible outdoor pool.  Aesthetically, these parks are both hard to beat.  However, I’d like to share a few of my personal picks in 10 categories that may not be on your parental radar.

Best OverallMemorial Park, Wilsonville, Oregon

Coming down the big volcano at Memorial Park Wilsonville, OregonI hate to tell you this (and it is my opinion), but Portland’s best park is not actually in Portland.  Confused?  This site includes surrounding communities, and you might be shocked to learn that the best park in Portland is actually a short 15 – 30 minute drive to Wilsonville, Oregon.  If driving is not your thing, I’ve also biked out near the park, and it’s a pretty decent route. You can map your ride here.

Memorial Park - Water ParkSure, this park is a bit sterile and shiny new, and depending on your criteria, this could go so many different ways.  However, Memorial Park offers so much to do with plenty of elbow room for all users – its spot on the top is an obvious choice for me.  There is a skate park, huge athletic fields, a fishing dock, plenty of hiking paths/trails, paved bike paths, and some of the most interesting and unique playstructures you’ll ever see at a park.  On top of all that, the spray/water park in the front of the park is on-par with Jamison fountain, if not better, especially for toddlers.

Best PlaystructureDynamic Spider Web at the Portland Waldorf School

If you’re not familiar with the Rose Garden Children’s Park playstructure, you should take a trip there as soon as possible.  It’s incredible!  However, it cannot compete with the dynamic spider web at the Portland Waldorf school in Milwaukie.  This amazing, rope-climbing-web has a slight bounce to it, and adults find it just as fun as the kids.

Best small, out-of-the-way park: Waluga Park East

Toddler Area at Waluga ParkIf you want a bit of hiking with your playstructure, check out Springbrook Park/Uplands Elementary School.  This is a very nice facility, and just off the beaten path enough to be pretty low key.   Waluga Park East is such a quiet little park with a decent playstructure just for toddlers – one visit made quite an impression.   You won’t be able to hit the pool, catch fish, or run through a spraying jet of water, but you will have a peaceful visit.

Best park for biking with kidsWillamette Park

Bike Park in Willamette ParkThere are many choices here…certainly Champoeg State Park is an excellent option, but I’m not sure it qualifies, because it is a state park.  If you want to include state parks, I would go with Champoeg, because it has such a great biking path ending at an ice cream shop!  Of course, there is Salmon Creek Park in Vancouver, WA offering one of the the smoothest bike paths in the area.

Despite the many options, Willamette Park shines above all the rest for biking.  It has a nice loop where you can watch your kids ride from a central point.  If they get bored with that, they can always hop on the Greenway trail heading north along the river, which will eventually end up near the Aerial Tram.  Plenty of options at Willamette Park.

Best park for avoiding pesticides: Sewallcrest Park, southeast Portland

Very nice playground at Sewallcrest parkAhhhh pesticide free parks – just imagine rolling around in the grass, or heading into the brush after the stray ball, knowing all the while that your kids won’t get coated with a nice fresh coat of dangerous pesticides.  Currently there are limited options for avoiding chemicals, but my personal favorite is Sewallcrest Park, which probably should have been a runner-up for favorite small, out-of-the-way park.  When you visit, you will see one of the last remaining relics of “old-school-slides.”  It’s definitely worth a visit just to feast your eyes on the “…giant curly slide.”

Best fishing park for first timersPromontory Park

If you don’t mind a bit of a drive, Promontory Park is your best bet for beginning anglers.  It’s a quiet pond where you’ll fish from the shore.  If you forget the worms, no problem!  There is a general store right around the corner, and they have everything you’ll need to get going.  Too boring, you’re right on the Clackamas River, so the older kids can catch the big one while on the same outing.

There are plenty of other good spots for beginners (Klineline Pond at Salmon Creek Park and Commonwealth Lake are two off the top of my head), but a beginning angler wants one thing – to catch his/her first fish!  If you fish at Promontory, you’re practically guaranteed a fish.  You’ll certainly get plenty of bites on the line, which provides plenty of excitement for your first outing.

Park with the best outdoor grills/picnic benches George Rogers Park

Beautiful picnic areas at George Rogers ParkOutdoor grills – do you remember these relics of the park system?  Growing up in Michigan, I have fond memories of taking a loop-float on a local river while my dad lit up the charcoal grill.  We could smell the hot dogs cooking from miles away – it seemed.  In Portland, very few parks have these free standing grills, especially one on which you would want to cook food!

Fortunately, we are including surrounding cities in our “best of” issue, because George Rogers Park in Lake Oswego has the best outdoor grills I’ve ever seen at a park…EVER!  Plus, it’s a fine park in its own right.  This is a great park for an afternoon or early evening BBQ.

Best park for your dogMt. Tabor

Hiking Trail at Mt. Tabor ParkOkay, I’ll admit it…I don’t have a dog, but we used to have a dog, and Mt. Tabor was the place to be!  I still see many dog owners congregating together above one of the open-water reservoirs.  Of course, this gives your dog plenty of opportunity to socialize with other dogs, and I believe that’s what makes a great dog park.  With that criteria, you may also want to take a look at Wilshire Park in NE Portland – close to New Seasons Market (Concordia).

If socialization is not your primary motive, but rather, running or hiking infinite distances, you’ll want to check-out Forest Park.

Best place for young mountain bikersLeif Erikson in Forest Park

Leif Erikson Drive in Forest ParkI lived in Durango, Colorado for 6 years and rode some of the best single track in the country.  To me, Forest Park is a lame mountain biking destination that is not worth the trouble of hauling my bike up there.  However, if you want to introduce mountain biking to your kids, Leif Erikson is an excellent option.  Of course, there are some crazy downhill rides on firelanes, which will interest older kids.  If your kids are older and can handle single track on varying terrain, head up to Powell Butte.  Again, it’s not that great, but it will thrill young, confident riders.

Best park for hiking with kidsHoyt Arboretum

Japanese Garden trail is to the leftWe’ve hiked for years at Hoyt Arboretum, and we still keep going back for more.  Because it has so many options for loop hikes, it makes it the perfect destination for young hikers.  If your kids get bored with hiking, there are many options within walking distance including the Oregon Zoo, Children’s Museum, and World Forestry Center.

Tualatin Hills Nature Park comes in a close second for me.  It too has some excellent options for shorter hikes, plus you can get there on the Max!

Technorati Tags: Portland, best parks, hiking, kids, adventures, explore

Other Posts of Interest...

Lair Hill Park on April 20th, 2008

Ibach Park - Tualatin on June 21st, 2009

Peninsula Park on June 22nd, 2008


  1. Thanks for the great info! We just moved here last fall and I’m learning a lot about the area thanks to the many “mommy-bloggers” that abound. I definitely have more to explore thanks to your recommendations. Tryon Creek State Park is another place to hike with kids (honorable mention?) – though some of the hills can be pretty steep for the littlest ones – so I can see why it may not make the list.

  2. Hi Tonya,

    Welcome to Portland! 🙂 I’m sure you’re having a great time exploring all the wonderful resources available to Portland parents.

    RE: Tryon Creek – yep, it’s definitely one of our favorite hiking spots, and it would have been in the mix; however, it’s technically a State Park, and I purposefully left those out for now.

    I agree that the trails there can be a bit hilly (e.g., Red Fox Hills), but there are a few options that are not as physically challenging (e.g., Old Main Trail).

    Thanks for the comments! Also, I want to make sure you noticed that I’m giving away 10 free passes to Pump-it-Up or Pump-it-Up Junior. If you’re interested, please use the “Contact Us” link, and let me know you want a pass, and where I should mail it. Thanks!

  3. Given that it is going to be a scourching hot weekend, I’m finding this post quite timely…. I had not heard of Memorial Park, but we will be hitting that one for sure. Great article. 🙂

  4. Thanks Melissa! Yes, the heat is on! Look for some shady spots at Memorial Park to the east of the “Volcano” playstructures. Also, there is a covered picnic area by the skate park.

    If it’s just too hot, you can always head over to Bullwinkle’s Family Fun Center, or go bowling at Wilsonville Lanes, which are both within a mile of Memorial Park. Have fun!

  5. Thanks for such a great list! There were several parks on there that I was not aware of that we’ll have to check out now!

  6. Thank you for the great article on the parks. I am always looking for new parks for my two boys to play at. We are going to have to check out memorial park in Wilsonville since there is such a variety of activities. The water will be especially great and more convinient since we always have a hard time finding parking at Jamieson Park.

  7. Thanks for the comment Liesl. Jamison Park can be such a scene sometimes. I think you’ll find Memorial Park a bit more relaxed. It’s a bit harder to find shade, since the trees they’ve planted there have yet to grow that big. Please let me know what you think after your visit. Vince

  8. This is a great list. I moved to Portland nearly two years ago and have only visited half of these sites. I was running out of ideas, but this article really helps. We visit Jamison about once a week but it does get fairly crowded at times. Looking forward to trying Memorial Park and grilling in Lake Oswego! Thanks!

  9. Thanks for the note Angie. Portland has so many great parks – it’s so easy to keep going to the same nearby parks. Like I said, I was rather shocked by how nice the parks are in the surrounding suburbs.

    After you check them out, please send me your comments. I’d like to hear what you think of them after you visit.

  10. Thanks for the parks recommended. I always find it strange how Woodstock get’s left off the map so often…but we really love our nice green park with new swings, lots of cool stuff like merry go round, teeter totters, etc…

  11. Thanks for the comment about Woodstock Park. I haven’t been up that way in quite some time. I’ll have to come and check it out soon.

  12. Thanks for the comment Manny! These are some of the best, but some of the best are not necessarily the most popular. You may want to check-out Johnson Creek Park, if your kids are interested in playing in a stream bed.

  13. although i never heard of some of these parks, i think its a great idea. Now, next time i decide to go, i can just look up which ones are the most popular.

  14. what i would like is to find a park that still has free outdoor bbq grills. anyone know?

  15. Hi , thanks bunch for the article! We have been wanting to go with the WHOLE family (all 9 of us!) to a nice park where we can cook up some hot dogs and have a nice day with the kids of all ages. I hope that George Rogers Park is all your article says it is!! Kids are all getting their stuff ready for a long picnic tomorrow and they are really looking forward to getting in the water since it's going to be so scorching hot tomorrow. Hope we can find some free grills….wish us luck, can't wait!
    Thanks…Talavera Family <B

    • On a hot day like today, especially if you're interested in getting in the water, you might want to try Dabney State Park, which is right near Troutdale. I haven't done an article about it, but it's right on the Sandy River and has a bunch of grills as well. You might want to check it out. It will be INCREDIBLY crowded, but if you go early, you might have some peace for a little bit. 🙂

      Hopefully, you'll report back on George Rogers' if you go.

  16. thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. we DID go to a park, but it was in Silverton! 🙂 Thanks for all the info though, we will be planning many park weekends to come!


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