The Five Best State Parks near Portland

Within easy driving distance from Portland, these state parks make for great day trips!

Hopper Editors - Oct. 26, 2017

Portland sits in the north of Oregon, close to the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers and a short drive from the state’s Pacific coastline. Water is the key element forming the natural landscape near the city, and picturesque state parks cover the beaches, cliffs and coastal forests of Oregon’s shoreline. Inland, walking trails weave past spectacular waterfalls and through green riverside meadows. All these provide peaceful respite from the bustle of the big city, as well as insights into the region’s long human history.

5. Walk across 600-feet of tumbling water at Multnomah Falls State Park

Shrouded in shadows and greenery, the Multnomah Falls are a hidden wonder only 30 minutes from the center of Portland. The waterfall plummets more than 600 feet over two levels, forming two deep pools on its passage down the rock face, which according to local folklore were created for a beautiful young princess who desired a secluded place to bathe. There’s a parking lot just off from Interstate 84, and a trail runs from here to the Benson Bridge, which crosses the cascade at a height of 32 meters. Continue along the trail and walkers reach a platform suspended above the top of the waterfall, affording wide views over the Columbia River Gorge.

4. Hike beneath a cool green canopy in Tillamook State Forest

Battalions of Douglas Fir trees roll across the lower slopes of the Northern Oregon Coast Range, the floor beneath their feet carpeted with mushrooms and ferns and cut through with walking and biking trails. This is Tillamook State Forest, which spreads a lush green landscape between Portland and the Pacific Coast. Once an immensely productive logging area, Tillamook was decimated in 1933 by a ferocious forest fire, and saved by a vast reforestation effort through the ‘50s and ‘60s. Visitors can learn about this interesting history, along with the natural world that flourishes today, at the Tillamook Forest Center, located in the heart of the forest.

3. Relax on the soft sand of Sunset Beach State Park

A sandy crescent beach enclosed by jagged cliffs standing sentinel above the wide blue Pacific, Sunset Bay Beach is an idyllic escape from the city, a peaceful place to sit and listen to ocean’s rhythmic breathing. The ebbing tide leaves dotted pools for children and curious adults to poke around in, and there are day-time picnic facilities and a year-round campsite within a short stroll of the sand. Weaving away along the shoreline in both directions are hiking trails, leading through coastal forests and rugged clifftops to other beautiful points on Oregon’s coastline.

2. Explore nature and history at Fort Stevens State Park

Fort Stevens functioned for eight decades as the primary defence installation at the mouth of the Columbia River, guarding over Oregon’s exposed Pacific coastline between the American Civil War and the end of WW2. Today it has been incorporated into the picturesque landscape of Fort Stevens State Park, an entrancing alloy of history and nature, encompassing a gorgeous sandy shoreline, freshwater lakes, shipwrecks, sublime viewpoints, beautiful sunsets, and various hiking, biking and horse riding trails. There’s also a military interpretative museum covering the period between the Civil War and WW2, and a Clatsop Indian long house commemorating a much older history.

1. Breath the fresh temperate air of Molalla River State Park

Situated 30 miles south of Portland, this fertile patchwork of meadows, woodland and waterways centers on the confluence of three rivers, Pudding, Molalla and Willamette. There are plentiful opportunities for walking through the fresh temperate landscape, as well as for fishing, boating, and riding the ferries that glide up and down the tree-lined rivers. The extensive floodplains provide a vital habitat for the area’s wildlife, and it’s an excellent place to encounter deer, small mammals and various reptiles and amphibians. It’s also a top birding destination, with large populations of waterfowl and wading birds alongside a significant blue heron rookery.

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