Catching a great view has always been one of my favorite pastimes. There are very few people who don’t enjoy a magnificent view from a high vantage point, and Portland is chock full of fantastic spots to indulge. On this list, we are looking at outdoor viewpoints; there are several buildings that also have great views located around town but it can often feel weird to enter a building just to get a view. To get the maximum enjoyment, you would want to visit all of these viewpoints on an ultra-clear day when you know the mountains are “out” and the haze level is low. Not all clear days are created equal, particularly in the summer, so look for those rare days when the air seems completely invisible for miles around. See the map below for directions!
5. Portland Japanese Garden in Washington Park
Many of the most well-known photographs of Portland come from the Portland Japanese Garden, but many visitors attempt to duplicate those photos from the viewing areas around the International Rose Test Garden. Understandable, since the garden is free and the views of Mt. Hood are magnificent. The best views, however, are reserved for those who climb the hill and pay the entrance fee to visit the Japanese Garden, specifically the Sand and Stone Garden. The view is similar to that of the Rose Garden, but the city skyline is much more visible, so the classic shot of Mt. Hood towering over the downtown’s skyscrapers is significantly better.
4. OHSU Marquam Hill Campus / Portland Aerial Tram
While the best views at OHSU’s Marquam Hill Campus technically involve walking though a building (or riding the Portland Aerial Tram), they are outdoor views. The tram platforms, as well as some of the building’s other outdoor balconies, provide unique views of downtown from the south, as well as the city’s southern neighborhoods and, of course, Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens. Riding the tram adds even more variety, as you get to cruise over old neighborhoods and catch a variety of angles of Portland’s skycrapers.
3. Mt. Tabor Park
Located in the center of the city, it’s hard to beat Mt. Tabor’s location for getting great views of the entire Portland metro area. While not as tall as other viewpoints, and having more views blocked by trees, Mt. Tabor still offers a 360-degree view that takes in the entire city skyline backed by the West Hills, all of East Portland and, of course, the obligatory mountain views (although these are particularly hard to come by due to the growth of the park’s Douglas Firs). The view west down the length of Hawthorne Ave. is especially nice, and perfectly placed benches allow you to enjoy the view in comfort.
2. Rocky Butte Park
Almost certainly the least-visited site on the list, and one of Portland’s overlooked gems, Rocky Butte Park is largely a result of the WPA program, which paid laborers to build an amazing road and elaborate stonework park atop a tall butte in far eastern Portland. After years of decline, volunteers have worked to restore the park to its former glory, and the drive up the butte alone is worth the trip (one section of the road actually runs through a tunnel under itself). The views from the top are truly 360-degrees, without any trees to block a clear line of sight in any direction. While downtown is several miles away, it can be seen on a clear day, along with the Fremont Bridge and a few other larger landmarks. The airport and the Columbia River dominate the view north, as does Mt. St. Helens. Towards the east the entrance to the Columbia Gorge, along with Larch Mountain, Mt. Hood and even the tip of Mt. Jefferson are all visible on a clear day. You could spend all day with a telescope picking out landmarks from around the city.
1. Pittock Mansion
My choice for the best viewpoint in the city is somewhat unique in that the view is generally an afterthought in most write-ups about the Pittock Mansion. As Portland’s most grand historic residence, the mansion itself is ostensibly the attraction. The setting, however, really steals the show, and the views of the city and mountains are unmatched. Due to the mansions location further west and north than other views from the West Hills (Council Crest, OHSU, Terwilliger Blvd.), you are able to see most of downtown laid out in the foreground, with all of East Portland and the Boring Lava Field in view. This leads up to the Cascade foothills and the Cascades themselves, including perfect views of Mt. Hood towering over the city landscape. While this view alone would probably take my prize, you also get additional views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Ranier, as well as one more that reveals more of the southern part of the city. In short, if you only have time to take in one viewpoint during your trip to Portland, this one will give you the most bang for your buck.
Want to read more about places to go in Portland? Try Ten of Portland’s Top Architectural Landmarks