Portland Outdoors

An Activity Guide for Oregon's Largest City
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Few cities in the United states can boast the caliber or variety of outdoor opportunities found in Portland Oregon. Tucked amid lush folds of the Willamette Valley— bounded by the snow-capped volcanoes, old-growth forests, and the Columbia River— the region has long attracted residents with a keen appreciation for the Great Outdoors.

Originally inhabited by Chinook Indians, who paddled the rivers in hand-hewn canoes and subsisted largely on salmon, the region was first visited by Europeans when Lewis and Clark came through nearly two centuries ago. The two explorers passed present-day Portland in November of 1805, and subsequently spent a miserable winter acclimating to rain at the mouth of the Columbia. They didn't, however, fail to realize the valuable potential of this region, both for timber and fur trapping, and following their return East the first waves of homesteaders followed in their footsteps.

Two such pioneers were Asa Lovejoy and William Overton, who, while canoeing the Willamette in 1843, stopped at a clearing along the river. Overcome by the beauty of the area, the men filed a claim to the 640-acre site. Overton soon moved on, selling his share to Francis W. Pettygrove. The new partners set to work clearing trees and building roads, but they couldn't agree on a name for their budding township. Lovejoy was determined to name the site after his home town of Boston, while Pettygrove was equally adamant about his native Portland, Maine. They flipped a coin to settle the argument, and Pettygrove won on two out of three tosses.

Portland continued to boom over the next century and a half, securing a position as one of America's principal timber towns. But a change has taken place over the last few decades— one in which high tech (Intel) and apparel (Nike) have eclipsed timber as the region's main business concern. In the process, a new generation of fleece-clad outdoor enthusiasts have come to typify the Portland resident far more than the lumberjacks and timber barons of old. The city is typically rated as one of the top places to live for people who love the outdoors, and the choice is an obvious one— aside from above-average rainfall there is little to detract from the spectacular sites and diverse activities all within easy access of the city.

When considering where to go in the Portland area, there is no better place to start than the city itself. Often used as a case study for enlightened urban planning, Portland prides itself on controlled growth and conscientious use of green spaces. This mandate is reflected in everything from the progressive approach to public transportation (the yellow bike program transforms junker bikes into common-use vehicles) to the abundance of parks, trails and waterfront areas.

The city straddles the Willamette and borders the Columbia— both vast rivers with networks of backwaters, islands, and arterial canals. Slightly further afield to the east lie the Cascade Mountains and Columbia River Gorge, home to the extensive conifer forests and spectacular waterfalls for which the region is famous. Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens are the two snowcapped volcanoes visible from the city, while Adams, Jefferson, and Three Sisters are well within reach for overnight excursions. To the west is the Oregon Coast, a jagged, rocky shoreline with picturesque sea stacks and quaint beach towns. And finally, set off in any direction from the city for a taste of Pacific Northwest wilderness— the area offers escapes to some of the most remote backcountry in the Lower 48.

If it's a matter of what to do with all this dramatic terrain, the answer is limited only by the season and your imagination. The diverse topography provides an endless array of hiking possibilities within the city and nearby, including coastal tromps and high alpine treks to the volcano summits. Blessed with abundant rainfall (yes, that's how boaters look at it) Portland is just a short drive from some of the more notorious whitewater destinations in the West. Many of these rivers are also prime spots for fishing, both for native trout and for abundant salmon, sturgeon and steelhead runs up the Columbia River system.

The region's rolling forests and the tangle of old logging roads makes for superb mountain biking— just as winding country roads through the mountains and along the coast are a haven for scenic driving and bike tours. The Columbia River Gorge is a world-class destination for wind-surfing, and Smith Rock, about two hours east, is a prime site for rock climbers. And when winter rolls around, superb skiing can be found— on the resorts at Mount Hood and Bachelor, and in extensive backcountry in between.

In short, Portland is a city that takes a few hours to appreciate and a lifetime to master. Whether you're visiting for a weekend, or have lived there for years, GORP's Portland Outdoors Guide is a starting point for exploring the endless possibilities in this region. What we offer is a roundup of our favorite opportunities, but don't let that limit your options. Once you've gotten your feet wet, we suggest you utilize the wealth of other resources to discover your own favorites.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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