From Tualatin Hills to Hoyt Arboretum to the Bonneville Dam, we’ve gathered some of the most colorful locations for you and your tiny nature lovers to explore. And to top it off, these gorgeous and easily accessible locations happen to be free. Keep in mind the following gardens, parks, trails and roads when you and the kids want to soak in the splendor of the season.
photo: McD22 via Flickr creative commons
Historic Columbia River Highway
One of the nation’s most memorable fall drives begins a mere 20 miles from Portland in Corbett, where the Historic Columbia River Highway commences its scenic journey eastward through the Gorge. Although this winding forest road is destination enough, don’t forget that your kids can also stretch their legs on some of the region’s most beautiful hiking trails. The gentle 2.4-mile loop around Latourell Falls is striking in all seasons, as is the 2.6-mile loop above Horsetail Falls. And the grandest of them all, Multnomah Falls, looks especially stunning when its cascade is framed by the changing fall leaves.
Getting there: From Portland, take I-84 east to Corbett. Take exit 22 and follow the Historic Columbia River Highway/Highway 30 east toward Multnomah Falls.
Elk Rock Garden
Scenically situated on the Willamette River between downtown Portland and Lake Oswego, Elk Rock Garden—also known as the Bishop’s Close—has been called the oldest, largest, intact private garden in the Pacific Northwest. Opened to the public in 1959 when it was given to the Episcopal Bishop of Oregon, Elk Rock Garden has since become a favorite among Portlanders for its quiet trails, sprays of flowers, sweeping river views and colorful maples and oaks.
Insider tip: Keep in mind that this quiet and serene garden is best appreciated by older children. And remember that there are no public restrooms on site.
Elk Rock Garden
11800 SW Military Ln.
photo: Laura T. via Yelp
Forest Park Maple Trail
With more than 80 miles of canopied trails, fire lanes and forest roads, Forest Park is an ideal destination for every foliage enthusiast. But if you and your family want to enjoy some of the brightest fall color displays, consider taking an easy, peaceful stroll along the Maple Trail, accessed at the end of lower NW Saltzman Road. Walk past the gate and turn left at the Maple Trail junction; when you reach Leif Erikson Drive in roughly 1.6 miles, you’ve found a perfect point to turn back.
Getting there: From I-405 in downtown Portland, take Route 30 north toward St. Helens. After roughly four miles, turn left on NW Saltzman Road and park at the trailhead.
Although the Portland Japanese Garden will be closed for expansion through March 2016, there remains plenty to love about Washington Park in the fall. With nearly 12 miles of trails meandering through 189 hilltop acres, the Hoyt Arboretum within the park is a living museum of trees—many of which are their most beautiful in fall. Don’t forget to stop by the visitor center, where kids can pick up a Meet-the-Trees activity map to guide them through the 2,000 species protected in the arboretum.
4000 SW Fairview Blvd.
photo: Tracy R. via Flickr creative commons
Tualatin Hills Nature Park
Between the wetlands, forests and streams, there is something for every nature lover to enjoy and learn about at Tualatin Hills Nature Park. This 222-acre wildlife preserve is the home of various species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects, while its lovely fall foliage can be appreciated on five miles of paved and soft-surface walking trails. But before you hop on the colorful Vine Maple Trail, stop inside the Tualatin Hills Nature Center to check out the nature store, rotating exhibits and educational programs led by the friendly staff.
Insider tip: Remember that this is a nature preserve, so it is kindly asked that you leave all pets at home.
Tualatin Hills Nature Park
15655 SW Millikan Way
Perhaps the most family-friendly waterfall trail of them all, the two-mile roundtrip journey to Wahclella Falls treats hikers to a flat riverfront path, 360-degree views of a gaping canyon and vibrant fall colors all along the way. Just remember to take the lower trail when the path splits after the staircase. You’ll hike the upper route on the way back, but the lower approach to Wahclella Falls is much more beautiful.
Insider Tip: This is an ideal hike for all ages, thanks to its gradual ascents and short distances.
Getting There: From Portland, take I-84 east to Exit 40 for the Bonneville Dam. Turn right at the stop sign, and make an immediate right into the Wahclella Falls Trailhead parking lot. If the lot is full, go under I-84 to park in the Bonneville Dam visitor lot.
Where do you like to view Portland’s fall colors? Let us know in the comments below!
— Maura O’Brien