Portland, OR is green both in consciousness – very eco-friendly – and in abundant green spaces. But you don’t have to spend a lot of green to enjoy the Pacific Northwest city. Many outdoor things in Portland are free. And though it rains a lot, carry an umbrella and raincoat. You don’t want to bust your budget (or eco bona fides) taking an Uber because you were caught in the rain.
There are miles of trails near downtown Portland, all free. Hike the Columbia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls. And take advantage of free events around downtown Portland that appeal to families and children of all ages. Here are the best free things to do in Portland with kids.
Read More: 22 Best Things to Do in Oregon
Fun Free Things to Do in Portland
1. Everything’s coming up roses
The Portland International Rose Test Garden explains why Portland has the nickname Rose City. Roses peak during June, but there are so many varieties you can see them in bloom from late spring to early fall.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The Portland Japanese Garden, a 10-minute walk from the Rose Garden, charges admission. And the Oregon Zoo, at the other end of Washington Park, also charges admission.
2. See the Forest
The Hoyt Arboretum has free admission and in summer, the free Pop-Up Nature! program, on Thursdays. The family friendly Pop-Up Nature! program has a different theme each week. Any time you can hike the wooded trails or borrow a Discovery Pack for a self guided tour through Hoyt Arboretum.
3. For the birds
The family-friendly Portland Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary in Forest Park has four miles of wooded hiking trails, open from dawn until dusk. The interpretive center, with exhibits and places to watch birds, is open from 10 am – 5 pm, is also free. Note: do not bring your dog here.
4. First Thursdays
On the First Thursday of every month, Portland galleries in Old Town, the Pearl District and downtown stay open late. Street performers and sidewalk artists enliven the scene.
5. Last Thursday Art Walk on Alberta
This monthly street fair attracts local artists and musicians on Northeast Alberta Street. Held June through August, it is particularly family-friendly. The street is closed to traffic from 15th Avenue to 30th Avenue.
6. First Fridays
The Central Eastside district, across the Willamette River from downtown Portland, highlights its artists at this monthly event. Unlike the art walk above, this event is held year-round.
7. Ride the Rails
The Oregon Rail Heritage Center features three vintage steam locomotives. The museum is open Thursdays to Sundays from 1 to 5 pm with free admission and free parking.
For the holidays, those steam locomotives actually run. The Holiday Express, which requires a paid ticket, lets you ride in vintage rail cars along the Willamette River. There are also open-air train rides, March through October, which also require paid tickets.
8. Portland Saturday Market
Held in Tom McCall Waterfront Park March through December, the Portland Saturday Market is the largest arts and crafts fair in the U.S. The goal here, of course, is to get you to buy things, but it’s fun to just wander around and look. Since you’re in downtown Portland, there’s a serious food scene here, too
9. Portland Farmers Market
An even bigger food scene is at the Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University, also held on Saturdays. This year-round market has over 140 vendors and farmers. There are other farmers markets around Portland, but this is the biggest and the only one that goes all year.
10. Columbia Gorge Hiking
There is some serious hiking here, with easier trails for those less fit or traveling with little kids. Some parking lots at Columbia River Gorge charge for parking. There is free parking at Multnomah Falls Lodge. From there, you can hike to Multnomah Falls, the most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest. This is definitely one of the top things to do in Oregon with kids.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Bring a raincoat, since you can get wet at the falls. But really, it’s the Pacific Northwest and you should ALWAYS have a raincoat with you.
11. Urban Waterfall
The Keller Fountain in downtown Portland is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. You can wade into the fountain, and even swim in deeper parts, but the waterfall may be rough for young kids.
12. Urban Forest
Forest Park in Northwest Portland has miles of hiking, walking and biking trails. And you can bring a dog here on leash. Look for Witch’s Castle, the remains of a WPA stone building from 1936. Also look for birds and other wildlife.
13. Urban Volcano -with cherry blossoms
Ok, you won’t know if from all the greenery in Mount Tabor Park, but this was actually a volcano. Now, Mt. Tabor is THE place to see cherry blossoms in Portland. There is also a large accessible playground.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Due to storm damage, the Mount Tabor Visitor Center and restrooms are currently closed.
14. Street Art
Hop on a bike or put on good walking shoes to see murals and other street art around Portland. The best areas to explore are the Alberta Arts District by foot and the Central Eastside Industrial District on two wheels.
Best Free Things to Do in Portland Oregon in Summer
15. Movies in the Park
This annual summer event has over 40 free screenings hosted at green spaces around Portland. Enjoy live music before the movie and free popcorn.
16. Washington Park Summer Festival
The Washington Park Summer Festival includes music, opera and movies, all free. Washington Park has a big playground. An interactive water park is open April – October.
17. Noon Tunes
Pioneer Courthouse Square, also known as Portland’s living room, has a free lunchtime concert series every Tuesday and Thursday in July and August. Bring your lunch or try one of the food carts. Of course there are food carts. Pioneer Courthouse Square, in the center of downtown Portland, occupies a full city block.
18. Summer Free for All Concerts in the Park
Portland Parks and Recreation’s Summer Free for All program has concerts at different parks every day throughout July and August. In addition to live music, there are pop-up activities for children. And food trucks. Always, food trucks.
19. Portland Rose Festival
The Portland Rose Festival at Tom McCall Waterfront Park includes some ticketed events, but there are also free fireworks, a Dragon Boat Race, a nighttime Starlight Parade, and a Junior Parade, just for kids. Held in late May / early June.
20. Summer Arts on Main
Every July and August, Portland’5 Center for the Arts has a Wednesday concert series from 11 am to 1 pm, with live music and other performances, plus children’s art activities. On Wednesday evenings, enjoy concerts as part of Music on Main.
Free and Educational
21. Oregon Holocaust Memorial
Tour the Oregon Holocaust Memorial. Guided tours, which last about an hour, are free. Donations are suggested. though. Note that the Oregon Jewish Museum does charge admission.
22. Powell’s City of Books
Powell’s City of Books, the largest independent bookstore not only in the USA but in the world, takes up an entire city block. There is a huge selection of children’s books, and a free storytime every Saturday morning.
23. Portland Art Museum
Portland Art Museum is free on the first Thursday of each month from 10 am -8 pm. The Portland Art Museum is also always free for kids 17 and younger.
Free Day Trips Outside Portland
24. Tillamook Creamery
Tillamook Creamery offers free self-guided Creamery tours with cheese and ice cream samples. There is a farm exhibit where you can ‘millk’ a cow or ‘drive’ a bus. Visit during the week to see the actual cheese production.
25. Tryon Creek State Natural Area
Tryon Creek charges you to park. But then you can spend the day hiking, biking or looking for wildlife. The nature center has free programming for kids ages 2 to 6.
Check below to see some of the accommodations available to book near these attractions in Portland, Oregon: