Free and Cheap Family Activities in Portland

Families can enjoy time together in the City of Roses with budget-friendly activities parents and children will both appreciate.

Tourists looking to entertain the children for a few hours and locals looking for a fun family afternoon have many options in Portland, Oregon. The city offers many no- to low-cost options – all easily accessible by public transportation – for activities both children and adults will enjoy.

Washington Park’s Acres of Fun

Easily reached from downtown hotels, the 130 acre Washington Park hosts a zoo, children’s museum, Japanese garden, arboretum, and Forestry center. Also located within the park is the oldest public rose test garden in the United States, founded in 1917. The Rose Garden, and the children’s park at its center, are free for families to stroll and play.

The playground, built in 1995, is fully integrated and wheelchair accessible. Children of all ages and abilities can scramble through a connected maze of catwalks, bridges, slides, climbing structures, swings, and sandpits. When children tire of the playground, wander the park to view the collection of public art, including the Chiming Fountain and the Oregon Holocaust Memorial.

A Tram Ride Up a Mountain

While ascending the aerial tram from the South Waterfront neighborhood to the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital, children can view Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, and the Willamette River outside the window. The tram, accessed next to OHSU’s Center for Health and Healing building at 3303 SW Bond Avenue, costs $4.00 round-trip but is free for children under 6.

The ride is short – 3 minutes each way – so parents may want to extend the fun by visiting some of the attractions at the top of Marquam Hill. One option is to view the sculpture garden on Kohler Pavilion’s 7th floor. Another option is to take a short walk to the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, which has a covered playground behind Starbucks on the lobby level. However, the playground is for the hospital’s patients and visitors, so families need to respect its intended purpose.

Hike an Urban Wilderness Trail

According to the Portland Parks and Recreation Department, Forest Park is the “largest, forested natural area within city limits in the United States.” The Forest Park Conservancy maintains its 5100 acres and provides tips and very simple trail maps on their website. More detailed trail maps can be purchased at REI stores in the region. The Conservancy also offers guided hikes and other programs for children, at a cost of $10 per person.

Stroll Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park

Waterfront Park along the Naito Parkway between SW Harrison and NW Glisan streets is a great place to ride a bike, walk or picnic on the lawn. The wide paved walkway takes pedestrians and bike riders alike to various public art installations, a memorial to the Battleship Oregon, and boating docks. The Salmon Street Springs fountain is a popular place for children to frolic on warm days.

Some visitors may even be lucky enough to see the Hawthorne Bridge in action. The oldest bridge in Portland, and one of the oldest vertical-lift bridge still operating in the United States, the drawbridge raises and lowers to allow big ships, cars, cyclists, and pedestrians safe passage.

Portland is a wonderfully walkable city that offers much to the tourist and local alike. Any family with a few hours to spend can enjoy a lovely outing without much advance planning or expense.

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