Free Things to do in Portland

It’s summer, the kids are out of school, and we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Luckily, we live in a pretty amazing place, and there are still plenty of free things we can get out and do in our city.  These are all things that are currently open to the public.

Hoyt Arboretum

Hoyt Arboretum is often called Portland’s museum of living trees, and you’ll see why when you visit! It was founded in 1928 to help conserve endangered tree species, and it is 190 ridge-top acres with 12 miles of hiking trails.

Enjoy the 2,000 species of trees and shrubs in the arboretum—they come from six different continents. The arboretum is peaceful and serene no matter which season you go for a visit. Though the indoor visitor center is currently closed, the trails are open and waiting! For a challenge, try the 2-hour loop hike that includes deciduous trees, conifers, open meadows, and several elevations. There are easier hikes you can opt for, too.

Stark’s Vacuum Museum

Have you ever been to Stark’s downtown vacuum showroom? If not, the Starks’ Vacuum Museum is truly one of a kind. The museum is open any time that the shop is open, and might we suggest that if you need a new vacuum, this shop is the place to buy it? They know everything there is to know about vacuums.

The museum was renovated three years ago, and it has old vacuums and also a vacuum history timeline where you can learn about the history of the vacuum cleaner. Check out vacuums made as early as the 1800s and everything afterwards—in all, there are more than 300 vacuums in the museum. I can almost guarantee you’ll get sucked into the history of the vacuum cleaner. See what I did there?

Forest Park

Portland’s gorgeous Forest Park is one of the largest urban forests in the entire United States. It’s more than seven miles along the eastern slope of the Tualatin Mountains, and it has more than 80 miles of trails and roads. Forest Park has an unrivaled opportunity for visitors to experience a true Northwest forest, but you don’t have to drive for miles to get there. Plus, it’s nice and shady even on Portland’s hottest days, making it the perfect spot to go this summer.

Here’s a map that will help you locate some of Forest Park’s most accessible trailheads. If you want a little excitement, might I suggest the short hike to The Witch’s Castle, which is rumored to be haunted due to some interesting historical events (click that link to read more about them)? This half-mile hike starts at the Upper Macleay Parking lot and you can take the Aspen Trail to get there.

Pittock Mansion

Though entering Pittock Mansion costs money (it’s currently closed, anyway), you can enjoy the spectacular view from the home’s grounds for free. Visiting in the summer months gives you the best chance of having a clear enough sky that you can see Mount Hood looming large over the city.

At the moment, you can also take a virtual tour of Pittock Mansion, which was built in 1914 as Portland transformed from a pioneer town to a modern, industrial city. The Pittocks were one of Portland’s most influential families, and the estate has been purchased and preserved by the City of Portland. It’s a fun peek into the past!

A Neighborhood Bike Tour

Bike rides are nothing new in Portland, but with the slowdown of quarantine and fewer cars on the road, a bike ride is even more incredible than ever. Now that it’s sunny out, grab your bikes and explore your neighborhood.

Check out the city’s incredible architecture— we have bungalows, Victorians, craftsman houses, and modern homes. You can also go dog spotting—there are sure plenty of dogs on walks right now. You can even play dog BINGO, if you want.

If you’d like to venture outside of your own neighborhood, there is some fabulous architecture in the NW 23rd street area at the edge of the Portland’s west hills. Really, any of the NW 20’s avenues are full of painted beauties with stunning gardens and wide porches. A walk in this area is lovely, as well, particularly around dusk.

Mount Hood National Forest

Most trailheads at the Mount Hood National Forest have reopened, as have most of its day-use areas (camping spots are currently closed). This stunning forest is just 20 miles east of Portland, and it extends south from the Columbia River gorge across 60+ miles of mountains, streams, and lakes all the way to the Olallie Scenic Area, which is a high-lake basin under Mount Jefferson.

To plan your trip, go here to download maps to your phone. No matter what trail you pick, you’ll get gorgeous views of the wild. Here are some of the day hikes I recommend:

The Grotto

The Grotto is a national sanctuary and Roman Catholic ministry of the Order of the Friar of Servants of Mary. It’s a 62-acre shrine that’s full of peace and natural beauty, and anyone is welcome here. It’s meant to be a respite from strife and anxiety in our world, and boy, do we ever need that right now!

The Grotto has reopened for visitors, and during its daytime hours, you can visit the lower garden, Grotto, chapel, and Visitor Center for free. Only the Grotto’s Upper Gardens require an admission ticket.

I hope this gives you some ideas for things you can get out and do for free this summer, with or without your kids. If you have any favorite free things to do in the Portland area, leave me a comment below!

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