What’s to Love: Featuring a killer 18-hold disc golf course, a spray feature, an outdoor skate park, and an outdoor pool, North Portland’s “Pier Park” discreetly hides away a ton of fun. This destination park offers something for the whole family. If you have yet to visit, I suggest heading up to St. Johns while this excellent weather continues.
Avoiding this park for several years and sticking to my usual haunts (e.g., Kenton Park, Arbor Lodge Park, Kelly Point Park, and Columbia Park), I recently chose to move beyond peering into the park from the road – the MANY trees providing a rather dark and ominous feel – and check it out. For some reason, I didn’t think there was that much to do at Pier Park. I was very wrong! If you enjoy disc golf, swimming, and skateboarding, it’s an absolute must.
I’ve played about five disc golf courses; the terrain, condition, and general layout of the Pier Park course make this one of the better ones. Complete with hills, right and left “dog-legs,” trees, bushes, twists, and turns, the creators laid out a beautifully designed course that meanders throughout the entire park.
You’ll “tee-off” from cement slabs with a “driver” disc, which is similar to a Frisbee and designed for distance throws. Most likely, you’ll follow-up with a mid-range disc to get closer to the basket. When close enough to get the disc in the basket, switch to a “putter” disc for more stability. Nailing a 30-foot putt feels really good!
Caveats: Location next to Columbia Blvd. can be a bit distracting at times (i.e., noise, traffic, toxic odors). See my “Family Tips” for more about the skatepark. Basically, if you’re concerned about foul language, I would avoid the skatepark during busy periods.
The disc golf course gets a bit crowded on nice weekend days/early evenings. The parks and recreation office needs to install more portable bathrooms along the course and over by the skatepark. There really isn’t a decent bathroom at this park.
With all the accolades I’ve given this (very deserving!) park, I’m a bit leery giving the thumbs up to the pretty meager playground equipment (i.e., there just isn’t that much to keep kids occupied). The toddler equipment is practically non-existent.
Distance from Portland: Pier Park is within 5 miles of downtown Portland. Here is a Google Map of the area.
Recommended Ages: Disc golf can be played by almost anyone. I would say the minimum age is around 5 years, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a toddler walking the course throwing a Frisbee now and then. The main issue is consideration for other players. Always allow faster players to “play through,” which allow them move ahead of you, if you’re playing a slow game. The water feature is not very good for toddlers – it will knock them over and spray them in the face!
My son is 5 and riding a skateboard at the park. For the most part, this has gone okay. However, you’ll need to keep a close eye on smaller kids who ride (either scooters or skateboards), because older kids really whip through the features both on bikes and skateboards. When smaller kids get in the way, you can tell the older kids get a bit miffed. It’s difficult for younger kids to anticipate potential problems with angles and skating lines. Therefore, it’s best to bring younger kids (10 and under) to the skatepark when traffic will be at a minimum (early mornings, especially during the weekdays).
Parental Stress Factor: Pretty high at the skatepark. While I try to relax and just watch my son propel up the pretty steep, concrete walls, it’s practically impossible not to jump up and run over to him every time he takes a fall. If you’re too stressed out watching your child, you may want to consider a different activity at Pier Park.
Otherwise, the park is pretty low stress. Even disc golf, as long as you let other players pass, is very low key and fun. It’s also great exercise walking the course.
Physical Difficulty: The course is not handicap-accessible, and you must be able to walk up some pretty steep hills. It can be exhausting looking for lost discs. While you don’t have to be a marathon runner, don’t expect this to be a “walk in the park.”
Family Fun Factor: Medium to High – This is a great park! Teens will enjoy the pool, disc golf and skatepark. Little kids will enjoy the bike paths and playground. Bring along plenty of outdoor sporting goods – there is plenty of space for soccer, baseball, kickball, football, and tennis.
Pet Friendly: Pets are fine on a leash, but you may want to take them to “Chimney Park,” which is just north of Pier Park (next to Columbia Blvd.). Chimney Park has a nice off-leash area for your dogs to stretch their legs and run.
Weather Considerations: There is so much tree cover in this park! It’s possible to play disc golf in a light rain. I’m sure I will continue to play disc golf and frequent this park year round. There are covered picnic shelters for rainy days.
Insider Info: To get you and your family ready to play disc golf, I recommend heading to “Next Adventure.” This shop has an outstanding selection of discs (both new and used), goals, bags, and anything else you might need to get started. The used discs cost between $5.00 – $15.00. New discs can be expensive. If you’re new to the sport and just want to do it for fun, stick to used gear. In my opinion, used discs work just as well as new ones.
The other question you’re going to ask is, “Do I really need more than one disc to play?” Who knows? Certainly the manufacturers want you to buy as many of their products as possible. However, I’ve seen people throw a “putter” just as far as a “driver.” I carry three discs (driver, mid-range, and putter), and my son carries a mid-range and putter. We seem to get along just fine with our setup. Certainly, a traditional Frisbee would work just fine. For me, switching discs provides more psychological support than technical.
If you’re not in the mood to skate or play disc golf, and it’s a hot day, head over to the water feature that will quickly get you drenched! This spray feature is over near the basketball courts and playground. The park also has a pretty nice outdoor pool with a smaller slide for kids (not a toddler slide.).
The tennis courts are in pretty bad shape, which is bad news if you’re serious about tennis. If you’re a parent wanting to smack a few balls around with a younger child, and don’t want to worry about offending other players, this court is for you! I love finding courts like this, because they are almost always vacant, which is perfect for teaching tennis to younger children.
Family Tips: While skateboarding is not for everyone, disc golf is a game that can be played by almost everyone. It really doesn’t matter if you can’t throw the disc very far – you’ll get to the goal eventually. It’s a very social game with some nice exercise along the way. I’ve met some really great folks out playing with their whole family. Kids love whipping the disc as hard as they can possibly throw it, and everyone enjoys a nice “putt” right into the basket.
My advice is to not play all 18 holes your first time. It takes longer than you’d think, and 9-holes is usually enough for younger kids. Teens will love this game, especially if you can bring along some friends their own age. Look for the “practice hole” over by the skatepark lawn.
You’ll find most folks playing disc golf friendly and helpful. However, to avoid any potential problems, please keep your family moving swiftly through the holes. If you lose a disc, let the party behind you play through. If you’re moving slowly or taking too much time, wait at the tee for the next party.
If you visit the skatepark, just be aware that you will definitely hear some foul language, smell “all kinds” of smoke, and most likely, observe some pretty rude behavior. Therefore, it’s always best to frequent the park when it’s not very busy. It’s just teens being teens. I try to ignore most of it, and my son does the same.
I asked a young teen, “Why isn’t anyone wearing pads while skateboarding?” He just looked at me like I was from another planet and said, “It’s pretty uncool and dorky.” So, if you ask your kid to wear pads, you might be met with some resistance, but too bad! Not wearing pads is just plain dumb to me. Pads help protect the wrists, elbows and knees – a helmet is an absolute requirement! You may have the uncool kid at the park, but your chances of ending up in the emergency room definitely decrease.