Coat? Check. Beanie? Check. Pumpkin-spiced whatever? Sure. It's officially fall, which means, as that old Bob Dylan lyric goes: the leaves, they are a changin'. That's how it goes right? (Maybe the original draft.)
Portland and the surrounding area boast autumnal beauty, from the city's oldest cemetery, to the spectacular Japanese Garden, to Silver Falls State Park. Here's where to get your quarterly dose of dying leaves.
Lone Fir Cemetery
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. Perfect for fall fun or an evening stroll in preparation for spooky season.
A beach, a bridge, and bountiful views, Cathedral Park offers it all and more. One of the 14 Lewis and Clark landing sites, the park now plays host to a bevy of concerts, festivals, and community events. It’s also not unusual to see families, newly engaged couples, and heart-hungry Instagram influencers posing underneath the magnificent arches of the St. John’s Bridge, especially during the fall. Pro tip: hit up the Ridge Trail Trailhead on NW Bridge Avenue just west of Catherdral Park for a picturesque view of St. John’s gothic architecture framed within a golden red-orange canopy of leaves.
Elk Rock Garden
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.
Portland Japanese Garden
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. Take your time wandering the paths and pausing long enough to appreciate the tranquil atmosphere.
Pick any trail inside Forest Park 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.
Columbia Children’s Arboretum
Amid north Portland’s industrial concrete expanse the Columbia Children’s Arboretum’s is a quiet haven for tree lovers, and is surrounded by willows, birches, Douglas firs, red osier dogwoods, black cottonwoods, maple trees, and more. For a quick, easy, and beautiful walk, take the Columbia Children’s Arboretum Loop Hike. Eventually you’ll hit a tall row of maples and American gums, which offer great fall displays this time of year. Bring a book, some snacks, and park yourself at the picnic area. This is you time.
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.
Outside of Portland
Silver Falls State Park
Falling water plus falling red-yellow-orange leaves make for a wonderful fall outing, which you’ll find at Silver Falls State Park, about 20 miles southeast of Salem. Take the Trail of Ten Falls or explore the park’s 35 miles of trails for all the fall foliage your heart can handle. It goes without saying: bring your camera.
The high desert Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon is one of the best places to go for spectacular fall displays in the state. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty tricky, as harsh winds often blow away turning leaves fairly quickly. It’s helpful to call the Burns BLM office for advice on the best time to check out the aspens on the Steens, but a safe bet seems to be during late September.
Very popular, very difficult, and very rewarding, the Hamilton Mountain Loop on the Washington side of the gorge boasts three gorgeous waterfalls and, during the fall, rows of yellow maples bordered by towering green Douglas Firs. From the summit of the mountain hikers are treated to amazing fall-filled views of Table Mountain, Bonneville Dam, and Mount Adams.