Well, 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 Overall: Memorial Park, Wilsonville, Oregon
I 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.
Sure, 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 Playstructure: Dynamic 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
If 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 kids: Willamette Park
There 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
Ahhhh 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 timers: Promontory 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
Outdoor 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 dog: Mt. Tabor
Okay, 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 bikers: Leif Erikson in Forest Park
I 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 kids: Hoyt Arboretum
We’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.
Other Posts of Interest...
Mt. Tabor Park on April 27th, 2008
Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge - Hiking Loop on November 14th, 2007
Rocky Butte - Joseph Wood Hill Park on May 6th, 2012