Washington Park is the product of more than 140 years of evolution. It started out as 41-acre City Park and one man was in charge of the whole thing. Today, it’s 10 times as large when you include the park proper (160 acres), the Oregon Zoo (64 acres) and Hoyt Arboretum (187 acres) and is cared for by dozens of city and Metro workers. And it’s all connected by web of scenic walking trails that wind through, in and out of the park.
Located just minutes west of downtown, Washington Park is one of the most used parks in Portland. The city purchased the original 40.78 acres in 1871 from Amos N. King for $32,624. Many people questioned the purchase given that the population of Portland at the time was only 8,000 and the site was thick with brush and timber, and cougars roamed the hills. The site was inaccessible until years later when logging and the installation of a cable car made the park accessible. Early in the 1900s, sentiment began to change and Portland’s forefathers were heralded for their long-range vision.
A bronze statue of Sacajawea holding her son Jean-Baptiste is located near the east entrance to the park. In commemoration of the heroic Shoshone Indian woman who helped lead the Lewis and Clark explorers through the mountains of the west, the statue was unveiled on July 7, 1905 at the Lewis and Clark Centennial. Among those present at the event were Susan B. Anthony, Abigail Scott Duniway, and Eva Emery Dye.
About 200 yards to the north of the Sacajawea statue and hidden among the trees, the Coming of the White Man statue was completed in 1904. The bronze statue, sculpted by Hermon A. MacNeil and cast by Bureau Brothers Foundry in Los Angeles, features two Native Americans standing on a block of rough-hewn native stone. Facing eastward, they look down upon the route that ox teams trudged bringing settlers to this part of the country.
Along with the fountain, Sacajawea statue, and the Lewis and Clark memorial are are these two attractions near the east entrance to the park:
- Reservoirs The two open-air reservoirs are under construction as of July 2016. To comply with federal regulation Reservoir 3 will be covered and Reservoir 4 will be demolished.
- Holocaust Memorial The memorial is the park’s newest attraction — it was dedicated on August 29, 2004. The memorial features a stone bench adorned with wrought-iron gating, screened from the street by rhododendron bushes. The bench sits behind a circular, cobblestoned area – simulating a town square.
These are the attractions all within the area of the International Rose Garden:
- International Rose Garden With over 10,000 rose plantings, the garden attracts about a million visitors annually. Many come to the Rose Garden to marry and to have their wedding pictures taken. The Rose Garden offers a magnificent view point overlooking the city and Cascade Range.
- Rose Garden Store Portland’s very own rose-themed specialty shop. In order to qualify to be in the shop, each piece of merchandise must “look like a rose, smell like a rose, taste like a rose, have a rose on it, hold a rose in it, or be for or about growing roses.”
- Children Playground The popular, accessible play area (sand boxes, swings, jungle jims, etc.) was built in 1995 by the Portland Rotary Club. It is located just around the corner from the International Rose Garden and on the original site of the Oregon Zoo.
- Train to the Zoo The Washington Park Run goes through the forests of Washington Park to a station above the International Rose Test Garden and back to the zoo. In the early 50s, hundreds of volunteers built five miles of track and kids bought zoo-railway shares for a dollar each and copies of the book, Clickety Clack and the Bandits.
- Japanese Garden At the heart of a Japanese garden is harmony with nature. These peaceful spots in the Garden lend themselves to meditation and contemplation. The 5.5 acre Japanese Garden is composed of five distinct garden styles.
These are found all within a few blocks of each other and located at the far west side of Washington Park:
- Oregon Zoo Packy put Portland on the map in 1962 when he made international news for being the first elephant born in the Western Hemisphere in over 44 years.
- Portland Children’s Museum The mission of Portland Children’s Museum is to inspire imagination, creativity and the wonder of learning in children and adults by inviting moments of shared discovery. The Museum is now the sixth oldest children’s museum in the country, and each year the Museum welcomes more than 245,000 children from birth to age ten and their caregivers.
- Forestry Discovery Center Founded in 1964, the World Forestry Center’s mission is to educate and inform people about the world’s forests and trees, and their importance to all life, in order to promote a balanced and sustainable future.
- Vietnam Memorial The curved black granite wall lists the names of all Oregon residents who died in Vietnam or who are missing in action. The wall also chronicles three years of the conflict and concurrent local events, providing a poignant contrast.
Hoyt Arboretum borders the park. The 187-acre site with 21 trails covering 12 miles possesses the largest group of distinct species of any arboretum in the U.S. Its plant collection contains 6,000 individual trees and shrubs, representing nearly 1,100 different species from around the world.
The park also includes an archery range, soccer field, amphitheatre, tennis courts, picnic sites, and restrooms. Click here to view a map of the park.
Getting to the Park
If you’re driving the quickest way to the Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, and Children’s Play Ground is via the main entrance on the east end of the park. Another direct route is just a few blocks west of downtown off West Burnside Boulevard. Entering the park from the west end of the park (from Highway 26 or SW Fairview Boulevard) will deliver you to the Zoo, Children’s Museum, Forestry Center, and Vietnam Memorial quicker. Since the Arboretum’s has over 200 acres, it makes little difference which entrance you use when visiting this wooded area.
Public Transportation to/from Washington Park You can avoid the crowded parking lot at the Zoo by using the MAX light-rail line. The Washington Park Station is the only stop in the 3-mile-long light rail tunnels through Portland’s West Hills. The Washington Park Station at the zoo is the only stop in the 3-mile-long MAX light rail tunnel through Portland’s West Hills. At 260 feet underground, it is the deepest transit station in North America and the second-deepest in the world. The TriMet bus route 63 will also deliver you to the park.
Shuttle Bus The Explore Washington Park Free Shuttle runs every day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from May through October. The shuttle bus circles through the park. The shuttle arrives approximately every 15 minutes. It takes about 30 minutes to ride the entire loop. You can catch the Shuttle at the MAX Washington Park Station located by the Oregon Zoo, which is also served by MAX Blue Line, MAX Red Line and Bus Line 63-Washington Park.
Visitors to Portland’s Washington Park and the Oregon Zoo can pay for parking on their smartphones. The app, available for iPhone and Android products, allows visitors to pay for their parking without standing in line at a pay station. Users can add more time for their visit remotely, and receive texts or alerts to remind them when their paid parking expires.
If you decide to walk to the park, there is a path leading into the park from West Burnside (just beyond the Uptown Shopping Center), you find a set of stairs that lead you to the statue of the “Coming of the White Man.”
All of these facilities, with the exception of the Japanese Garden, Forestry Discovery Center, and the Children’s Museum are operated by either the City of Portland Parks Department or in the case of the Oregon Zoo by Metro (regional government).
Click here to view a map of the park.
The main entrance to Washington Park is off Park Place where you begin a short one-way circle route. You can exit off the circle and head out to begin exploring or you can park your vehicle/bike and walk to the three statues (see below) that are located within the circle.
Lewis and Clark Memorial Placed at the entrance to the park, the Lewis and Clark Memorial is a 34-foot, rectangular granite shaft with each side bearing a large bronze replica of the great seals of the States of Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Idaho which comprised the Northwest Territory. This was the only portion of the United States that was acquired by discovery and therefore was never under a foreign flag. President Theodore Roosevelt laid the foundation stone on May 21, 1903.
Sacagawea Just a short block beyond the Lewis and Clark Memorial is a bronze statue of Sacagawea, the heroic Shoshone Indian woman who helped lead the Lewis and Clark explorers through the mountains of the west. Mounted on a rough boulder, it was first unveiled on July 7, 1905, at the Lewis and Clark Centennial. Among those present at the unveiling were Susan B. Anthony, Abigail Scott Duniway, and Eva Emery Dye. It was cast in New York and required more than 20 tons of Oregon copper, donated by Dr. Henry Waldo Coe of Portland. In April 1906, the statue was placed in its current location in Washington Park. It was one of the first U.S. statues to feature a woman. Its inscription reads: “Erected by the women of the United States in memory of the only woman in the Lewis & Clark expedition, and in honor of the pioneer mother of Oregon.”
You may want to visit another statute of this famous women on the Lewis & Clark College campus in Portland. The sculptor for this bronze was Glenna Goodacre, whom art critics and scholars refer to as America’s sculptor. Glenna also designed the obverse side of the millennium golden dollar coin, commonly referred to as the “Sacagawea dollar.” The statute was officially unveiled in September 2003, and is titled, “Sacagawea and Jean Baptiste.” The bronze sculpture is 83 inches high and weights 876 pounds. It is permanently installed southeast of the Manor House on the campus.
Washington Park Fountain In the main circle of the park is what is simply referred to as the Washington Park fountain, although some call it the Chiming Fountain. Commissioned by the city for $400 in 1891, the cast iron fountain was created by Hans Staehli, a Swiss woodcarver and artist, who designed it after a Renaissance fountain. Originally the fountain was painted white and was topped by a cast iron figure of a boy holding a staff from which water spouted. At some point over the years, the figure disappeared. The last known record of it was in 1912 when McElroy’s band was photographed in concert nearby. In 1960, the fountain was in such disrepair that the city was ready to scrap it. Local longshoreman Francis J. Murnane, whose avocation was the preservation of historic buildings and objects, appealed to Mayor Terry Schrunk and the park bureau was authorized to begin restoration. Much of the original decoration had disappeared so replicas were created from existing pieces for $450. With the additional costs of reassembly and installation, the total came to a little over $1,772.
Reservoir 3 & 4 Portland had five open drinking water reservoirs — three at Mt. Tabor Park and two at Washington Park. Reservoir 3 and its gatehouse in Washington Park were built in 1894 as major facilities of the water system that provided Portland drinking water from the Bull Run Watershed (Mt. Hood) in 1895. The facility held 16.4 million gallons of drinking water which arrived at the reservoir through a gravity-fed system. Water from Reservoir 3 serves the low hills on the west side of the Willamette River.
The city is replacing the open-air drinking water reservoirs at Mount Tabor and Washington parks with covered storage to guard against cryptosporidium. In order to comply with federal and state mandates and ensure a healthy, resilient, and secure water system, the Portland Water Bureau and Oregon general contractor Hoffman Construction Company are moving forward with an eight-year capital improvement project to update the Washington Park reservoir site at 2403 SW Jefferson Street. The new reservoir will preserve the historic drinking water function provided by the original reservoirs at the site and be engineered to withstand ongoing landslide encroachment and potentially catastrophic effects of a major earthquake.
A reflecting pool/water feature will be constructed on top in the same general footprint as the historical Reservoir 3. Reservoir 4 will be disconnected from the public drinking water system and a lowland wildlife habitat area, bioswale, and reflecting pool will be constructed in the basin. Construction started in July 2016 and Reservoir 3 will be completed by the end of 2019.
Coming of the White Man Just 4-5 blocks east of the fountain is the statue called “Coming of the White Man.” It was given to the city by the heirs of David P. Thompson, an early Portland mayor and donor of the elk statue on SW Main Street between the Plaza Blocks. Completed in 1904, this bronze statue, sculpted by Herman A. MacNeil and cast by Bureau Brothers Foundry, features two Native Americans. Facing eastward, they look down upon the route that ox teams trudged bringing settlers to this part of the country. The older of the two is said to be Chief Multnomah of the Multnomah people.
According to the Regional Arts & Culture Council, which administers the work, the sculpture measures 8 feet 8 inches (2.64 m) × 6 feet (1.8 m) × 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) and is mounted to a stone base that measures 5 feet 6 inches (1.68 m) × 7 feet 6 inches (2.29 m) × 9 feet 6 inches (2.90 m). The base includes an inscription with the title of the work. The pedestal displays the text “Presented to the City of Portland by the Family of David F. Thompson.”
City Park, as Washington Park was originally known until 1909, was developed slowly. In the mid-1800s, the city hired Charles M. Meyers as its first park keeper. A native of Germany and a seaman, Meyers had no formal training but enthusiastically began to develop the park by using his memories of European parks as a guide. By 1900, the park had developed from a wilderness to a place of drives, walkways, formal plantings, lawns, clipped hedges, ornamental flower displays, and a zoo.
In 1903, park designer John C. Olmsted (Olmsted designed many parks throughout the USA) toured Portland and recommended changes of lasting usefulness to the park: he advised changing the name from City Park to one of more distinction, moving the main entrance to Park Place (east side of the park), separating vehicular traffic from foot traffic, and restoring some of the formally planted areas to their natural beauty with native shrubs and ground cover.
The last major addition to Washington Park was made in 1922 when the entire 160-acre County Poor Farm was transferred to the Park Bureau. The southern half of the property was developed into the 9-hole West Hills Golf Course. The remainder was designated as a municipal arboretum in 1928.
Acres to Explore
Where do you start? You can just wander, past the statues of the Coming of the White Man, Sacagawea, and the Lewis and Clark Memorial. You could spend an afternoon in the Japanese Garden, marveling at how many colors of green exist in the world.
Try the Queen’s Walk in the Rose Garden! It is a pathway lined with plaques signed by Rose Festival princesses over the years, a study of our nation, over time, as told through names. The most common name? There are four princesses named “Dorothy” – the last one in 1950. But only one Susan (1972). It took until 2006 to have a Princess Grace. Just a few years before Grace, the first Princess Priscilla was crowned.
The Rose Garden is one of Washington Park’s most-popular attractions. Back in 1915, as World War I raged in Europe, a local rose hobbyist convinced the city to set aside a patch of land as a safe haven for breeds of roses growers feared might be lost forever in the bombing.
In 2006, the World Federation of Rose Societies gave the garden its Award of Merit, an honor given to only 27 gardens worldwide. It is also one of 24 rose gardens that conducts rose trials.
The Rose Garden Store is Portland’s very own rose-themed specialty shop. In order to qualify to be in the shop, each piece of merchandise must “look like a rose, smell like a rose, taste like a rose, have a rose on it, hold a rose in it, or be for or about growing roses.” The Store opened in May of 2000, and serves as the Garden’s Visitor Information Center as well as offering a wonderful selection of rose items to our visitors. The store is operated as a non-profit museum store – proceeds from the Rose Garden Store go to help support Portland’s public Rose Gardens. Their website is informative and you can purchased merchandise online.
People (about a million visitors annually) come to the Rose Garden to visit. You can rent a section of the garden for your wedding — in early January couples can apply for a permit at the Portland Parks & Recreation Department to hold a wedding in the garden. So guys the permits go fast so don’t wait for New Year evening to propose. In the summer you will often see wedding parties in the garden along with their photographer having their pictures taken even if the actual ceremony was held elsewhere.
Self-Guided Tour of the International Rose Test Garden The Parks Department has a Self-Guided Tour of the International Rose Test Garden available at the Rose Garden store. In case you visit the garden when the store is close, you can download the document by clicking here.
Washington Park was also the site of Portland’s first zoo, which Dr. Richard B. Knight began as an animal attraction in the mid-1880s. Dr. Knight was an English-born seaman who became a pharmacist upon moving to Portland. He purchased two bears (a grizzly named Grace and a brown bear named Brownie) along with other animals from his seafaring friends and exhibited them on a vacant lot next to his downtown pharmacy.
By 1887, the popular collection had outgrown its quarters, so Dr. Knight donated the animals to the city for a zoo. The animals were moved to the area near the current reservoirs. The collection grew rapidly. By 1894 there were about 300 specimens, mostly North American species plus some monkeys, a kangaroo, and some foreign birds. The city park keeper, Charles Meyer, became the zookeeper as well. He constructed the bear pit, which is believed to have been the first sunken, barless cage anywhere in the world.
In 1925, the zoo moved to a higher location, the present site of the Japanese Garden. The zoo opened at its present location in 1959 and in the 1960s its management was given to Metro, under whom it has continued to thrive.
For five decades, the Zooliner train has rumbled through the Oregon Zoo. In 2008, the Zooliner turned 50. The sleek train is a scaled down replica of the famous mid-century Aerotrain by General Motors. It went into service in June 1958, the first train on the new Portland Zoo Railway (now known as the Washington Park and Zoo Railway).
The train and four cars were delivered in early May 1958. Hundreds of volunteers built five miles of track and kids bought zoo-railway shares for a dollar each and copies of the book, Clickety Clack and the Bandits. The zoo director at the time, Jack Marks, flew to Antarctica to bring back penguins and later to Belgium to trade four Oregon beavers for Russian bears. So someone pieced together a fundraising display where a plywood penguin bill clanged a locomotive bell with every coin deposited. It raised $2,000. The community was involved in building the Zooliner and today many volunteers keep the train running.
The Washington Park and Zoo Railway offers a scenic excursion aboard diesel- or steam-powered trains through zoo grounds and the forests of Washington Park. The railway carries more than 400,000 passengers annually. It is the last railroad in the United States that has continually offered U.S. mail service. Letters deposited on the zoo railway receive a special hand-cancellation.
The popular, accessible play area (sand boxes, swings, jungle jims, etc.) was built in 1995 by the Portland Rotary Club. It is located just around the corner from the International Rose Garden and on the original site of the Oregon Zoo. The Children’s Park itself is the result of major fundraising efforts of the Portland Rotary Club, which helped raise the $2 million it took to develop and install the colorful play features in 1995. The Portland Rotary Club has also partnered with Portland Parks & Recreation in the past on the development of the Children’s Museum.
The Rose Garden Children’s Playground in Washington Park has a welcoming committee – a pair of 7-foot tall gazelles and a lofty giraffe – that were installed in the summer of 2008. These whimsical larger-than-life topiary, created out of arborvitae trees and set in a savannah of ornamental grasses, now grace the entrance to the popular play area, compliments of the Portland Garden Club. In addition to the new topiary sculptures, the Portland Garden Club in partnership with Portland Parks & Recreation, helped design and install new planter beds at the entrance to the Children’s Park.
Hoyt Arboretum borders the park. The 187-acre site with 21 trails covering 12 miles possesses the largest group of distinct species of any arboretum in the U.S. Its plant collection contains 6,000 individual trees and shrubs, representing nearly 1,100 different species from around the world. Many of the trees are labeled with scientific name (genus, species), common name, plant family, country of origin, year planted and grid-system coordinates.
The arboretum is a favorite place for hikers and runners with its 21 trails. Walkers also find many exciting opportunities to get off the concrete and blacktop and pursue walking on more natural and yielding surfaces, such as sand, grass, gravel, snow, and mud. The Wildwood Trail in Hoyt Arboretum (also in Forest Park) boasts some of the finest mud around for a few months of the year before turning to hard-packed dirt, making for some amazing and ever-changing walking terrain.
Putting 187 acres along with 12 miles of trails on a 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet of paper causes eye strain when reading the map. To make reading the trail map easier, we scanned a large trail map (11″ by 17″) of the arboretum into two parts. Print both maps, tape the two sheets together, fold, and placed it in a plastic cover and now you have a 11″ by 17″ map. Below are the two files (PDF format) which you are welcome to download, print, and distribute.
Here are two other arboretum trail maps:
- This trial map is 8 1/2″ by 11″ and shows all 21 trails.
- This 4-mile walk through confers and flowering tree collections offers a representative view of signature trees along with signage and a observation platform that gives visitors a forest creature’s view of the redwood collection.
A spring walk on the Magnolia Trail when all the trees are in bloom is truly an experience that will stay with you for days. Beginning in April, join Hoyt Arboretum tour guides on an informative 90-minute journey through its tree and plant collections. Each tour guide brings a unique perspective to the tour, so every week is a new experience and some tours have special themes!
Tree Huggers In 2013, over 900 people gathered at Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum to break the Guinness World Record for most people hugging trees in one location. Not only did they break the record, it started growing a tree community in Portland and creating a buzz about trees and Hoyt Arboretum. The event has also brought worldwide attention to the act of hugging trees as a way to raise awareness and showcase environmental achievements. Several attempts to break the record have been reported from around the world since Portland claimed the Guinness record. Every year after 2013 Portlanders continue the tradition of The World’s Greatest Tree Hug. In 2016 they added yet another element to the event, Movies In The Park. The first movie showed was Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax at dusk.
The archery range is a large field with bales of hay located at the west end of the park and close to the Oregon Zoo. Archery used to be very fashionable sport enjoyed by both men and women as the photo dating from a 1920 Washington Park archery meet shows.
In the late summer you will find elk and deer hunters sharpening their skills as they prepare for the upcoming bow season.
Homer and His Family Visit the Park
Matt Groening’s (the creator of the Simpsons) father (Homer Groening) was a filmmaker and artist based in Portland. Homer earned a large part of his living producing promotional movies for the Johnson boat-engine company, among other clients. When he wasn’t directing “A Tour of the Plant,” Homer entertained himself by making avant-garde films such as “A Study in Wet,” which juxtaposed shots of surfers and water-skiers against electronically processed sounds of water dripping and splashing in a bathtub.
Homer cast his children in a 1969 film called The Story. It set scenes of Matt (then 10) and Lisa (his sister in real life) walking in Washington Park as Lisa tells baby Maggie about how they went out to play “because there’s nothing good to watch on TV.” The film premiered at a theater in Portland, an event Matt still recalls fondly. “I got to see my big face on the big screen.” Click here to view a video of the walk in the park. For details about the film click here.