By Bryan Aptekar
All photos © by Bryan Aptekar
Do you feel it? You must have noticed the whiff of fall in the air. The briskness of the breeze, the quick drop of the temperatures at night, and the hint of color around town. And of course, for those of you with your own deciduous trees to care for, the need to get the rake ready for the season.
I think fall is my favorite season in Oregon, with the colors, the smells, and the drop in temperatures. Our parks in Portland offer a place to enjoy the best of fall colors for everyone – from a rigorous hike or a stroll, to playing in a pile of leaves with the little ones. Working at Portland Parks and Recreation has its perks – one of them being to get top notch advice from world class horticulturalists. What follows are suggestions from myself and some of my colleagues about just some of the many places to enjoy the show that our urban canopy puts on for us. Many of these sites are also hosting Parke Diem work parties, so links to those efforts are included.
1.) Starting our tour of fall splendor downtown, lets first stop at Chapman and Lownsdale Squares, also known as the plaza blocks, which were Portland’s first parks. They feature several large old elm and gingko trees, both of which turn a brilliant yellow in the fall. The gingkoes in these parks bear fruit, a small cherry-like yellow berry. While some cultures find the seeds inside these both tasty and medicinal, the fleshy part of the fruit has a pretty strong smell, similar to what one might step in at a dog off-leash area. So, watch where you step.
2.) Also downtown one can enjoy strolling through the South Park Blocks. These parks feature a large number of old elms, among other species, that provide some great fall colors. Check out the landscape beds across from the Portland Art Museum to see the great work of our staff and the Friends of the South Park Blocks. Or join them for a volunteer Parke Diem project.
3.) There’s a good reason that the Pittock family perched their mansion in the west hills. The views from the Pittock Mansion are simply stunning, and this is a great place to enjoy fall colors. Up close, you can enjoy a variety of maples and other showy fall plants on the grounds of the mansion. Then wander out to the overlook and see the riot of color that blankets the landscape across the valley all the way to Mt. Hood. Parke Diem project information.
4.) One other west side place that has to be visited for a dose of fall color is the Hoyt Arboretum in Washington Park. This tree museum has literally 2000 species of trees from around the world, so there are many places to enjoy fall here. Our curator recommends the Japanese larch grove along Fisher Lane, for a walk or a drive. These are deciduous conifers, so they lose their needles each season, but not before turning yellow then orange. There are many trails that feature various tree families, each with their own delights to discover. For more information, visit the (free) Visitor Center, run by the Hoyt Arboretum Friends. There are two Parke Diem projects at Hoyt, one on Friday, and another on Saturday.
5.) Moving across the river to the east side, one could start at Laurelhurst Park, built in the Olmsted tradition of meandering paths through large trees. A visit to the south side is where you can find the black tupulo trees, famous for their brilliant fall display, ranging from purples to scarlet reds. Check out the fall colors reflected on the pond, or follow your nose to find the fragrant smells of the fall-blooming sweet osmanthus, or fragrant olive, an evergreen shrub found on the north side of the park. Parke Diem project information.
6.) Irving Park in NE Portland has lots to discover for the whole family. The splash pad will be off at the end of September, but the playground, off-leash area, tennis and basketball courts, ballfields, and many paths take you on a nice stroll through a variety of oaks, maples and other trees that should give a good show. Look for the golden yellows of the Norway maples.
7.) Traveling further north, a must visit spot is the Columbia Children’s Arboretum. This site is a favorite with our environmental education staff as a place to celebrate fall color with the little ones. So, grab the kids (or let loose your inner child) and come kick up the leaves, have a picnic, and enjoy some fresh picked apples from the trees that harken back to this park’s orchard days. Parke Diem project information.
8.) Still further north, Pier Park offers a range of recreational opportunities from ball fields and picnicking, to a skatepark and Portland Parks & Recreation’s only disc golf course. It’s near station # 4 that you’ll find a whiff of cotton candy or burnt sugar smell as you walk by the katsura trees that have a showy apricot color when they change colors. Try crushing the leaves for a stronger scent. Parke Diem project information.
9.) You can also find (and smell) the katsura trees at the Leach Botanical Garden, as well as many other showy fall colors. Look for vine maples, ginkgoes (without the berries!), and other great specimens around the Manor House and on the trails. Here too you can learn and shop at a (free) Visitor Center, managed by our nonprofit partner. Stop by to learn about their educational programs for people of all ages and hear about the exciting Upper Garden Development Plan. Parke Diem project information.
10.) For a more global view, consider heading up to Rocky Butte, a natural area, the summit of which is called Joseph Wood Hill Park. Whether you hike or bike up, to get your blood pumping, or you drive up, the reward will be the same. The views from the summit of Rocky Butte offer a great perspective across the landscape, particularly north and east across the Columbia River. Parke Diem project information.