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There’s an endless list of things to do in Portland, but with the need to social distance, it does narrow down the options a bit. Fortunately, the city is ideal for those who enjoy the great outdoors, with plenty of green spaces and beautiful tree-filled parks, rivers and beaches a short drive away. If you’re looking for ideas, these ideas are sure to keep you busy for a while.
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Take a Scenic Drive on the Historic Columbia River Highway
Just 30 minutes from downtown, the Historic Columbia River Highway travels alongside the magnificent Columbia River Gorge as one of the country’s most stunning scenic drives. Also known as Highway 30, the 75-mile stretch of road is also a National Historic Landmark that will reveal the soaring walls of the gorge and many impressive waterfalls. As it winds along you’ll get an ever-changing perspective of the gorge, including sweeping panoramic vistas from 900 feet above the river.
Take in Spectacular Views from Mount Tabor Park
A popular free activity in Portland, Mount Tabor Park is a forested park in the southeast area of the city. It was built atop an old volcanic cinder cone, popular among walkers, runners, cyclists, and hikers with paved roads, staircases and trails that form a network of pathways that wind through a forest of tall firs and wide-open meadows. An ideal place to get away from the urban environment and enjoy peace and tranquility without actually leaving, it offers a dazzling view of the city from above.
Take a Walk Through Forest Park
One of the largest urban forests in the country, Forest Park is an oasis in the city just 10 minutes from downtown with over 80 miles of trails, perfect for running and day hikes. For social distancing, avoid the often crowded Lower Macleay to Pittock Mansion and the Lower Maple Trail Loop. You can even visit a “castle” that was built by a murderer in the mid-19th-century and abandoned in the 1960s. Today, the moss-covered stone wall ruins known locally as the Witch’s Castle is purportedly haunted.
Go Paddleboarding on the Willamette River
The Willamette River travels right through the heart of Downtown Portland which means it’s easy to access and ideal for all sorts of water sports, including paddle boarding. If you don’t have your own gear you can rent it via Next Adventure Paddle Sports Center or Portland Kayak Company. During the pandemic, reservations are an absolute must to allow for safe distancing between groups. The farmlands and floodplains adjacent to the river provide outstanding wildlife habitat – watch for all sorts of birds along the way, including osprey, bald eagles and kingfishers scanning the water for chinook.
Embark on a Drive Thru Farm Animal Safari
While exotic animal safaris with giraffes and the like aren’t the best to patronize for many reasons, the Frog Pond Farm offers a completely different experience. While it may not be home to African wildlife, it’s still a lot of fun with plenty of farm animals like adorable pigs, llamas, goats and more that are accustomed to being around humans. It’s easy to social distance as you’ll drive around in your own car checking them out, a perfect family-friendly attraction fun for kids and adults.
Soak Up the Beauty at the Peninsula Park Rose Garden
Portland is famous for its International Rose Test Garden which tends to bring out the crowds, making social distance quite a bit more difficult. A better alternative is the Peninsula Park Rose Garden, a hidden gem tucked under tall banks of trees along a residential stretch of North Rosa Parks. It isn’t as vast or impressive as the Portland International Rose Test Garden, but it’s a lot less crowded as it’s not on tourists’ radar, offering the chance to enjoy a more tranquil stroll while smelling the thousands of gorgeous roses in bloom along the way.
Bird Watching at Hoyt Arboretum
Founded nearly a century ago in an effort to conserve endangered species in the Portland area, the Hoyt Arboretum is located just outside downtown and is home to 2,300 species of trees and shrubs, serving as habitat for many different bird species. There are 12 miles of trails and the park frequently hosts a variety of bird walks, workshops and classes to learn about the feathered creatures that can be seen here. During the pandemic, keep an eye out for virtual programs and after watching, come out and enjoy the lush trails using your newfound knowledge to spot them.
Watch the Waves on the Coast
From Portland, Oregon’s coastal beach towns are about a 1.5-hour drive away, offering the perfect chance to escape the city crowds. Fill up your gas tank and bring a picnic – once you arrive there are plenty of long stretches of sand that make it easy to find your own spot far enough from other visitors. Cannon Beach and nearby Ebola State Park, which has a picnic area on the grassy cliffs that overlook the ocean, are great options, along with the small towns of Rockaway and Manzanita. While Seaside tends to be a bit busier, it has over three miles of uninterrupted sands that provide plenty of room for all.
Marvel at Multnomah Falls
Oregon’s tallest and most photographed waterfall, Multnomah Falls, may be the most beautiful you’ve ever seen. It cascades 620 feet into a pool below, with a steady stream of water running year-round, although the highest volume is in winter and spring. Even if you’ve visited many times before, admiring it is something that really never gets old and the tranquility of listening to the water rushing is a great stress reliever. Plus, you can get away from the crowds by hiking just another mile from the bridge to the top. Not only does it provide the best perspective, but you might be able to enjoy the view all to yourself.
Go Berry Picking
Try your hand at blackberry picking throughout Portland and beyond. From around mid-July through late September, they can be seen growing along fences, roadsides and many other spots. It’s an ideal social distancing activity that can be enjoyed by the whole family – bring them home and make a pie or cobbler together or just indulge in the tasty fruit on their own. Be sure to wear a pair of tough gloves to avoid injury as the vines are extremely thorny.
Sample the Tasty, Unique Eats in Portland's Food Trucks
Portland’s famous food trucks are ideal for dining while social distancing and the city is home to a wide range of options that draw many foodies, pandemic or not, to sample them. There’s no other place in the country with as many clusters of unique food carts that cook up so many fantastic each, from Potato Champions’ comfort eats like poutine to the bowls of killer beef soup and stir fry at Stretch the Noodle to the simply-seasoned-but-expertly-cooked barbecue at Matt’s BBQ. The carts are clustered in pods around town – if you’ve worked up a big appetite, you can even become a master cart jumper.
Head to the Farmers' Market
Fresh and local is always popular here in Portland, from organic fruits and vegetables to free-range meats, eggs, and raw honey. The city is home to over 40 farmers’ markets and most have reopened with guidelines to help keep everyone safe. The Portland Saturday Market is open on both Saturdays and Sundays in the Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood, a thriving arts and crafts open-air market place. The Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University typically has some 200 rotating vendors with local, seasonal produce and live music to match every Saturday throughout the year.
Powell’s City of Books
Powell’s is the largest independent bookstore on the planet and considered one of the world’s very best. Its flagship store, Powell’s City of Books on Burnside Street, is spread across 8,000 square feet with nine rooms, three floors and 3,500 sections – in fact, it offers maps to help you find your way around. Thankfully this popular local spot is open, with rules like requiring masks and a limited number of customers allowed in at any one time. While you might have to wait in line for a bit, it’s worth it just to check out the aisles and aisles of books and enjoy the old fashioned art of thumbing through the paper pages.
Visit the Oregon Zoo
The Oregon Zoo is home to 2,200 animals from more than 260 different species, including everything from lions, tigers and polar bears to rhinos, monkeys, penguins and sea lions. The Asian elephants are always fun to watch, especially when they’re enjoying their wallows and water features like a 160,000-gallon pool. In order to allow for social distancing, tickets with specific reserved times must be purchased in advance, face masks are required and physical distancing markers are placed to help prevent guest crowds.
Enjoy Brunch at Besaw's
Portland is famous for its brunch and fortunately, there are still great options like Besaw’s, a local favorite with an outdoor patio and eclectic daily brunch options. Dine on staples and more unique offerings like Nashville-style hot chicken on a waffle while staying distanced from other patrons.