Autumn in Portland. It just might be my favorite time of year. I can snuggle under all my blankets at night and still enjoy the sun during the day. Well, most days. In Portland, the rains return in September, but we still get beautiful days regularly. I also love cinnamon and spice. I love apple pie, pumpkin everything, butternut squash soup and all the autumn bounty. And the fall colors! Is anything more glorious? Even on my normal commute I regularly spot a flaming tree and it brings me joy.
Autumn is a time of reflection. The natural world is preparing to bear the gray rains of winter. It’s a time of death, yet that death brings rest and renewal and preparation for a new spring.
After a busy summer with lots of social activities, my soul needs me to go on a long drive through golden leaves, taking time to reflect on the past few months.
Whether you have a few moments or a whole afternoon, here are some places to enjoy the riot of color and sense of reflection and coziness.
There are some great free parks in the Portland area that burst into color in the autumn months. If you live in the greater Portland area, chances are one of these places will be nearby when you are out and about on errands. Take 15 minutes or an hour out of your day to stop, breathe, reflect, enjoy.
The Park blocks (SW Park Avenue between Salmon and Jefferson) are a beautiful oasis any time of the year, but if you happen to hit them during the right week in October, you will find this strip of city park lined with golden boughs and the path thick with crunchy leaves. Find a bench, sip a hot drink, soak in the beauty.
~Photo courtesy of Kami Couch
Cathedral Park stunning any time of the year. In October, flaming leaves against the backdrop of the St. John’s Bridge make for a photographer’s paradise. You can find more of my favorite things about Cathedral Park here.
High the hills overlooking downtown, Hoyt Arboretum is a place of conservation for endangered species and native Oregon trees and plants. The reserve hosts about 12 miles of hiking trails, some easy and ADA accessible, some requiring ability to climb up and down hills. It’s a great place to find peace and beauty any time of the year, and with so many deciduous trees, autumn is a particularly great time to visit.
Drives and Hikes
Mt. Hood Area
I love taking long drives in the fall. Each bend in the road boasts a new shade of gold or burgundy. Even a misty, rainy day has its charms.
Highway 26 between Portland and Government camp is stunning late September through October. On a good year, the Big Leaf maples turn golden while close to the forest floor and hanging over the road embankments, the Vine Maples turn fiery red. Many times, you will see dark green firs, maples and different stages of green, yellow and brown, and splashes of red all layered together along the road. If you are lucky, you will catch a glimpse of snow tipped Mt. Hood, presiding over all.
For a short jaunt into the woods off of Highway 26, turn onto Kiwanis Camp Road and follow it to the end to enjoy a short walk to Little ZigZag Falls. Another easy hike is the Salmon River Trail, described here.
Note: You need a NW Forest pass to park at trailheads in the Mt. Hood National Forest May 1 through October 15 and a Sno-Park permit after November 1st. This means, however, that parking and hiking October 16 – 31st (peak fall color season) is FREE!
With more more time and athletic ability try the Mirror Lake hike or Ramona Falls Loop hike. Mirror Lake is popular for a reason and parking can be difficult on the weekend. This hike offers an incredible reward for a relatively small amount of effort; you will get great views of Mt. Hood on a clear day, a beautiful lake while the undergrowth explodes into color in late September and October. Ramona Falls requires fording the Sandy River on foot or scrambling over a log jam. The falls are feathery and fairy like, and depending on the year, the undergrowth can be stunning
Oregon Coast Highways
The highways over the Oregon coast range offer a good sample of color in the fall. As in the Mt. Hood foothills, you will see Big Leaf and Vine maples in contrasting yellows and reds juxtaposed among stands of Douglas Fir. My personal experience is that the colors are often not as numerous or bright in the coast range due to the the amount of rain that these mountains get. In the photo below, however, you can see that Highway 18 to Lincoln City was framed in gold at the end of October last year.
The Wilson River Trail off of Highway 6 can be a great place to catch fall colors in the coast range. There are several different sections you can hike. Find good descriptions here.
Silver Falls State Park
Highway 214 between Silverton and Silver Falls State Park has stretches of maples lining the road and vistas overlooking farm fields. You can find many spots of color just wandering around the town of Silverton as well. The park itself is a wonderful place to hike in the fall. There are many trail options for any level of difficulty. The falls and surrounding woods are beautiful in the rain, the mist, the snow, the sun and any time of the year. You do need a parking pass here year round.
Did I miss any of your favorite spots? Leave a comment and tell us where you love to go to enjoy the fall colors.