Portland's Top Five Fall Foliage Walks

Where to see autumnal color at its best this fall

By Kate Bryant November 11, 2012

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Almost leafless tree at the Lone Fir Cemetery, November 2012

Image: Kate Bryant

Trees have played back-up to flowers all summer. Now the scenery is shifting from green treetops to brilliant reds, oranges and yellows and the leaves are dropping onto the ground, bringing trees back into view.

In addition to bright fall color, keep an eye out for the native licorice fern overhead in the bark of the bigleaf maples. Licorice fern dries up and disappears during the summer dry period and sprouts afresh every October! Don't forget to look down, too, to admire the carpet of leaves on the ground and to notice the return of the beautiful green mosses covering the ground, rocks and stumps.

Here's where to best admire the transition to autumn in Portland over the next couple of weeks:

Lone Fir Cemetery 

2115 SE Morrison St. Portland OR 97214 /503-797-1709

Lone Fir is Portland's oldest cemetery, and is brimming with beautiful trees including sugar maples, big-leaf maples, beech, chestnut, carpets of leaves, mossy graves, and plenty of paths for wandering. Circumambulate the whole cemetery in 20 minutes - or spend an hour or two strolling all the paths, the historic rose garden, the military statues and the beautiful graves. More photos can be seen here.

Portland Japanese Garden 

611 Southwest Kingston Avenue  Portland, OR 97205 / 503-223-1321

Widely praised, Portland's Japanese Garden is beautiful in every season but autumn is perhaps the most dramatic and colorful. See Japanese maples, Enkianthus, and many other Asian trees and shrubs in fiery autumn color, set off against the subtle shades of our native conifer and bigleaf maple woodland setting. Gaze out across the city to see leaves changing color and dropping in neighborhoods all over the city. It is a shame to walk the garden in less than an hour and easy to spend two or more wandering the paths and pausing long enough to appreciate the tranquil atmosphere.

Elk Rock Garden

11800 SW Military Lane, Portland OR 97219 / 503-636-5613

Maples, magnolias, oaks and any number of other deciduous trees are dropping leaves fast and furious. Some trees drop foliage early (like most ash); others late (like hornbeams, chestnut, oak and Styrax). Check in at the booth, make a little donation or buy a plant, and stroll the paths and lawns until you catch a view of the mighty Willamette, far below. Expect to spend at least an hour wandering - easily three if you walk up the madrone trails to look down over the river.

Hoyt Arboretum

4000 Southwest Fairview Boulevard, Portland, OR 97221-2706 / 503-865-8733

Hoyt Arboretum ranges over 187 ridge-top acres and some 12 miles of trails. It contains a collections of trees, many of which go through autumn transformations including birches, maples, oaks, magnolias, witch hazels and more. It may take years to really explore Hoyt, but there's plenty to see in a one- or two-hour walk through the nearer trails. Or spend a few hours and venture further down your favorite trails.

Forest Park 

NW 29th Ave & Upshur St to Newberry Rd, Portland OR 97219 / 503-823-PLAY (7529)

Forest Park contains over 5,000 acres, criss-crossed by trails running up, down and around, including the 30-mile Wildwood trail. The park is populated by hundreds of species of wildlife, as well as a wide range of deciduous and coniferous trees and shrubs and - of course - a wide range of native plants. Remember to look down (you'll see native banana slugs aplenty after rains) and to look up to spot luscious native licorice ferns and mosses dripping from overhead boughs of bigleaf maple. Pick any trail and you'll be rewarded with the subtle colors of our native deciduous trees: variations on yellow from the bigleaf maple, as well as yellows, reds and purples from the vine maple, yellow salmonberry, thimbleberry and devil's cane, and a beautiful tapestry of understory plants turning from green to gold and orange. A Forest Park hike can take anything from half an hour for a traipse up the trail at Mccleay Park to a full-day's hike into the deepest forest. Learn more about Forest Park's best trails here.

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