Portland sits in the Willamette Valley and although downtown is relatively flat, it is surrounded by foothills and mountains. On clear days, you can see Mount Hood as the focal point but also St. Helens, Adams, Jefferson, and Rainier. We’re pretty lucky that we don’t even have to drive out of the city to have mountain views. Today, we’ve rounded up the best spots we’ve found in the city so far!
Keep in mind, you’re going to get more cloudy and rainy days than clear days in Portland. Whenever there is a clear day, we try to take advantage of it and make it out to one of these spots.
Pittock Mansion is a great spot to visit to get to know more about the history of Portland, but our favorite part is actually their view of the city and Mt Hood looming over. Can you imagine living in the mansion with a view like this? The mansion itself has limited hours, but the grounds around the house are free to explore and open from 6 AM to 9 PM. Just walk past the mansion to the far end of the backyard to get the best views of the city. Below is a photo facing east. This is probably my favorite spot to see both the cityscape and Hood.
2. Portland Japanese Garden, Washington Park
The Japanese Garden is another spot where you’ll find plenty of photo ops within the grounds, but you can also keep an eye out for any openings towards to east to catch views of the city and Hood. Your best views are at the eastern overlook of the Garden’s pavilion.
Local Tip: If you’re visiting in the fall (the prettiest time to visit in our opinion), call ahead to see when the leaves are changing. It typically lasts for only two weeks in October.
Clear days are like winning the lottery, but can you imagine Hood being behind the buildings?
3. International Rose Test Garden, Washington Park
Both the International Rose Test Garden and the Japanese Gardens are within Washington Park and very close to each other, so the views are quite similar. You can see the city skyline from the edge of the garden.
Local Tip: June is typically the best time to see the roses.
4. Council Crest Park
Council Crest Park is a small park with multiple lookout points. This is the highest point in the city and one of our friend’s lives down the street from here. To the east, you can see Fremont Bridge and the Rose Garden, and on clear days, you can see the 5 mountains in the distance. If you look to the west, you can see miles of greenery and trees.
5. Portland Aerial Tram
This commuter tram takes you up to the OHSU Marquam Hill Campus aka Pill Hill, where they have indoor and outdoor observation decks. It’s a commuter tram, so most of the people on it are either going to school or work. If you’re a tourist, you tend to stick out like a sore thumb. Here, you can see the city, Mt Hood, Mt St Helens, the Willamette River and the bridges along the river.
Local Tip: Lately, there’s so much new construction that it’s hard to get views without giant cranes, but it’s still worth checking out. The best light is in the evenings or late afternoon on clear days. When the tram is closed, you can still access the observations decks by car.
6. Mt. Tabor Park
Mt. Tabor Park is a huge forested park on top of an extinct volcanic cinder cone. Between the giant Douglas firs, you can see the Portland city skyline and Hood peeking out. If you want more foreground in your shot, check out the reservoirs.
Local Tip: The road up to the summit is closed to vehicles on Wednesdays. If you want a 5 min walk up the top go on other days, otherwise take the 2-mile round trip hike for your views. Also, I imagine you get more of a view when some of the trees thin out during the winter. Light on the city is best in the morning.
7. Rocky Butte Park (Joseph Wood Hill Park at Rocky Butte)
If you’re looking for 360 views without many trees blocking your view, this is your spot. You can see downtown Portland from afar, and also the airport, Fremont Bridge, Columbia River, Hood, Helens, Larch Mountain, and the tip of Mt Jefferson.
8. Eastbank Esplanade
Head to the Eastbank Esplanade to get a ground view of the city and the Willamette (btw it rhymes with dammit. If you need help remembering it “it’s Willamette, dammit”). It’s an urban park with long floating walkways, boat docks, walking & bike paths, and public art.
Local Tip: Lighting is best in the morning.
9. Downtown Pedestrian Bridges
Among all its nicknames, Portland is also known as Bridgetown or Bridge City. Hawthorne Bridge, Morrison Bridge, Burnside (also has the White Stag Portland Oregon Sign) are just a few of the bridges in downtown that you can walk across. They give you great views of the other bridges and parts of the city.
Local Tip: Tilikum Crossing is a pedestrian-only bridge and the only one in Portland. It doesn’t have the best views of the city, but it’s a landmark in itself.
MOUNTAIN VIEWS AND OTHER LANDMARKS
10. Powell Butte Nature Park
This is the furthest east of all the spots on this list, but if you make your way up to the summit, it has a great viewpoint of Mount Hood. You can also flip around to look west towards the city in the distance.
11. Tom McCall Waterfront Park
You get less of a city view from this side of the water, but you can see Steel Bridge and Hood on clear days. It’s also where multiple festivals are held and where you’ll find the popular Portland Saturday Market (mostly popular with tourists).
Local Tip: During spring, head north of Burnside Bridge to find cherry blossoms lining the park. It’s probably the best spot within PDX to see cherry blossoms.
12. St Johns Bridge at Cathedral Park
St. Johns Bridge is arguably the most picturesque bridge in Portland. It’s the northernmost bridge and the gothic cathedral architecture looks amazing from Cathedral Park. You can get on the ground level to shoot the bridge and then head up the hills and also to the bridge level to get some detailed shots of the spires.
13. The Vista House at Crown Point State Scenic Corridor
This is just shy of 25 miles (45 minutes) from Portland and gives you amazing views of the gorge.
Local Tip: The best photo of the Vista House and the Gorge IMO is from the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint.
PDX RESTAURANTS WITH THE BEST VIEWS
- Noble Rot (1111 E Burnside St, Buckman + photos)
- Portland City Grill (111 SW 5th Ave, Downtown + photos)
- Departure (525 SW Morrison St, Downtown + photos)
- Three Degrees (1510 SW Harbor Way, Downtown + photos)
- Chart House (5700 SW Terwilliger Blvd, Hillsdale + photos)
- Il Terrazzo (1622 SW Harbor Way, Downtown + photos)
- McCormick & Schmick’s Harborside at the Marina (309 SW Montgomery St, Downtown + photos)
- Salty’s On the Columbia River (3839 NE Marine Dr, near the Airport + photos)
- Aquariva (0470 SW Hamilton Ct, South Portland + photos)
- 10 Barrel Brewing Co (1411 NW Flanders St, Pearl District + photos)
PDX HOTELS WITH THE BEST VIEWS
- Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront (1401 SW Naito Pkwy, Downtown + photos)
- The Nines (525 SW Morrison St, Downtown + photos)
- Kimpton Riverplace Hotel (1510 SW Harbor Way, Downtown + photos)
- The Heathman Hotel (1001 SW Broadway, Downtown + photos)
- The Benson Hotel (309 SW Broadway, Downtown + photos)
- Hotel Lucia (400 SW Broadway, Downtown + photos)
- Embassy Suites (319 SW Pine St, Downtown + photos)
- Paramount Hotel (808 SW Taylor St, Downtown + photos)
- Hotel Rose (50 SW Morrison St, Downtown + photos)
- Hotel Eastlund (1021 NE Grand Ave, Lloyd District + photos)
MAP TO HELP YOU GET AROUND
ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR FIRST TIME VISITORS
- Keep in mind that the PNW brings a lot of cloudy days. It’s great for that classic moody shot, but not so great for views of the cityscapes and mountains. Don’t forget to check the forecast for the clearest days. Whenever we can see Mt. Hood from our living room, we try to head up to one of these viewpoints. Outside of July, they’re pretty rare.
- If you’re shooting from one of the viewpoints and want to capture the mountains with the city, bring a long lens. We always have our 70-200 with us for these photos. It will compress the foreground and background so that everything looks closer together and the mountain isn’t a tiny bump in the background.
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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust