Photographic Locations in Portland

One of the most frequent questions we receive through the website is: “Where should I go to take pictures in Portland?”

In this guide, we have outlined a variety of Portland photography ideas for different areas of interest.  The focus of this guide is on relatively low-cost, publicly-available, photography spots in Portland. As this is only a summary, links are provided so that you can research each location and plan your visit accordingly.

Please be aware that some locations may not be open all year, and may have visitors fees or other visiting restrictions.  Please always be courteous and respect the property of others.

 

 

Parks, Nature, and Wildlife

"The Tree" by Lee Moore, taken at the Portland Japanese Garden

“The Tree” by Lee Moore, taken at the Portland Japanese Garden

Portland is famous for its parks, with about 16% of the city’s area dedicated to park space.  Parks tend to offer many photographic opportunities, and are both accessible and inexpensive.

Washington Park

Popular Parks

  • Cathedral Park (wikipedia) is a 23-acre park located under the St. Johns bridge, arguably one of Portland’s most architecturally impressive bridges.
  • Kelly Point Park (wikipedia) a 104-acre park with vistas featuring the intersection of the Columbia and Willamette rivers.
  • Laurelhurst Park (wikipedia) is a 31-acre neighborhood park featuring many amenities and scenic Firwood Lake.
  • Mount Tabor Park (wikipedia) is a sprawling 196 acres located on the East side of Portland, and features scenic views of the greater Portland area, as well other amenities (sports field, playgrounds, etc.). Mt. Tabor is a dormant volcanic cinder cone.
  • South Park Blocks (wikipedia) covering 12 blocks (8.8 acres) is the so-called “heart of the city’s cultural life.”  The South Park Blocks are adjacent to Portland State University, the Oregon Historical Society Museum, the Portland Art Museum, and the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
  • Tom McCall Waterfront Park (wikipedia) is a 30-acre park running up the Willamette river next to downtown Portland.  Featuring numerous events (musical festivals, running and cycling races, carnivals, etc.) throughout the year, and on weekends featuring the Saturday Market at the North end, Waterfront Park is likely Portland’s busiest park (see the Events section below).  With numerous views of the river and bridges, Waterfront Park is a great place to start exploring downtown Portland.

 Largest and Smallest Parks

  • Forest Park (wikipedia) is the largest wilderness park within city limits in the United States, covering more than 5,000 acres (2,023 ha). More than 112 bird species and 62 mammal species live in the park, and numerous hiking trails are available.
  • Mill Ends Park (wikipedia) the “world’s smallest park”, is a two-foot-diameter circle with an area of only about 0.3 m2.

Botanical Gardens

Further reading

 

 

Wildlife Refuges and Natural Areas

At the Tom McCall Preserve in the Columbia Gorge

At the Tom McCall Preserve in the Columbia Gorge

Many large natural areas and wildlife refuges are located within and near Portland.

In Portland

  • The Audubon Society of Portland (wikipedia), located close to downtown near Forest Park, provides a 150-acre nature sanctuary with 4 miles of hiking trails, birdwatching, and an interpretive center.
  • Government Island State Recreation Area (wikipedia) located in the Columbia River, is accessible by boat only. It is a popular location for angler fishing and wildlife spotting.
  • Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge (wikipedia) is a large wildlife refuge inside the Portland city limits, with 141 acres just southeast of downtown.  The refuge hosts more than 185 bird species, and has numerous hiking trails ranging from easy (Springwater paved trail & bike path) to moderate (Bluff Trail).
  • Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area (wikipedia) includes nearly 2,000 acres, but most of the area is water or marsh.  The perimeter of this area provides trails and a boat launch for non-motorized craft.
  • Tryon Creek State Natural Area (wikipedia) is a scenic 645-acre park in the Southwest Hills; home to 90 species of wildflowers, 50 species of birds, and numerous animals including deer, rabbits, coyotes, beaver, and salmon. Located just south of downtown, Tryon Creek offers many gently sloping hiking trails, a paved bicycle trail, and a nature center.

Near Portland

  • Canemah Bluff Natural Area is about 15 miles South from downtown.  This park in Oregon City provides 330 acres of natural habitat close to the Willamette River.
  • Sauvie Island Wildlife Area (wikipedia) is about 12 miles from downtown Portland, to the Northwest, and includes over 12,000 acres of habitat and locations.  Definitely download and use the guide for this area, as there is a lot of ground to cover.
  • Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge (wikipedia) lies about 15 miles Southwest from downtown.  With 1,856 acres of land and water, the refuge boasts “nearly 200 species of birds, over 50 species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles and amphibians, and a wide variety of insects, fish and plants.”
  • Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve (wikipedia) is about 20 miles West from downtown.  Jackson Bottom provides a 635-acre wetland habitat for a wide variety of birds and animals both in the nesting season and during migration.
  • Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (wikipedia) (ridgefield friends) is located in Washington, about 25 miles North of downtown.  Ridgefield provides over 5,000 acres of habitat, including forests, riparian areas, and wetlands.  Numerous birds and animals inhabit the area.
  • Mayer State Park / Tom McCall Preserve at Rowena is a 270-acre park, about 75 miles East of downtown.  The park, particularly the “Wildflower preserve” area, provides numerous vistas of the Columbia Gorge, as well as wildlife spotting.

Further reading

 

Scenic Viewpoints

Karen McClymonds’ photo “Good Morning Portland” – view of the sunrise from Pittock Mansion

There are many popular scenic viewpoints in and around the Portland area.

Scenic Viewpoints

  • Crown Point and Vista House (wikipedia) (friends of vista house) are about 15 miles East of downtown Portland, and overlook the Columbia Gorge.
  • Eastbank Esplanade (wikipedia) is a bike and pedestrian corridor on the East side of the Willamette River, offering views of the river and downtown Portland.  The lighting on downtown is best in the morning, coming from behind the photographer.
  • James Woodhill Park at Rocky Butte (wikipedia) is a 2.3 acre park featuring views of Portland and Mt. Hood.
  • Mount Tabor Park (wikipedia) is a sprawling 196 acres located on the East side of Portland, and features scenic views of the greater Portland area, as well other amenities (sports field, playgrounds, etc.). Mt. Tabor is a dormant volcanic cinder cone.
  • Multnomah Falls National Monument (wikipedia) is part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and features several waterfalls and many hiking trails.  A short hike up the falls will bring the hiker to many scenic views of the Columbia Gorge.  It remains one of Portland’s most popular destinations, and it is worth the detour to travel from Portland via the Columbia River Scenic Highway rather than the interstate.
  • Oregon Health Sciences University Ariel Tram (wikipedia) connects the two major campuses of OHSU.  From the tram, and from the indoor and outdoor observation decks at the top, sweeping views of Portland can be seen.  The tram is closed on Sunday, but the observation deck is still accessible by car.  The lighting on the city tends to be best in the afternoon and evening, coming from behind the photographer and lighting up the city and Mt. Hood.
  • Pittock Mansion (wikipedia) provides east-facing views of the city, East Portland, and Mt. Hood.  The mansion and grounds also will likely provide some photographic interest.
  • Finally, most of Portland’s bridges provide scenic views (see below).

 

 

Bridges

"Boardwalk At Sunrise" by Jon Lesch, showcasing the Fremont Bridge

“Boardwalk At Sunrise” by Jon Lesch, showing the Fremont Bridge in the background

Located at the intersection of two rivers, Portland features many impressive bridges.  Arguably, the most architecturally impressive of these bridges are the St. Johns, Fremont, and Burnside bridges.  However, this is open to the interpretation and creativity of the photographer.

Bridges

 

 

Architecture

Wells Fargo Center in Downtown Portland

Wells Fargo Center in Downtown Portland

Over 500 buildings in Portland are registered on the National Register of Historic Places.  These lists of historic places should provide numerous ideas for the architectural photographer.

Buildings

For lists of these historic buildings, please see the tables for the appropriate area of town: North | Northeast | Northwest | Southeast | Southwest 

Below are a few well-known Portland buildings, from the Wikipedia page on Portland’s Architecture:

Other Architectural Areas of Interest

Further Reading

 

 

People and Events

"Hula" by Pat Fitzgerald, taken in Pioneer Courthouse Square

“Hula” by Pat Fitzgerald, taken in Waterfront Park between the Burnside and Steel Bridges

There are many events, even through the winter, that may interest photographers, covering food, drink, music, art, and culture.  Additionally, Portlanders are generally friendly and most are happy to pose for a portrait if asked.

Popular Areas to walk, shop, and peoplewatch

Popular Events

 

 

Sports and Recreation

Collegiate women’s soccer, Whitman College at Pacific University, by Pat Fitzgerald

Collegiate women’s soccer, Whitman College at Pacific University, by Pat Fitzgerald

Portland is home to both the world headquarters of NIKE as well as the North American headquarters of adidas, and has a long history in professional sports from the Portland Trail Blazers (founded 1970) to the Portland Timbers (founded 2009).  Further, Portland is well known for its active communities in a variety of other sports, including running, cycling, and skateboarding.

College Athletics (baseball, basketball, football, golf, rowing, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field, etc.)

Auto Racing

Basketball

Baseball

Boating

Cycling

Football

Hockey

Running

Skateboarding

Soccer