Updated: Sep 28th, 2021
Portland Oregon may be warmest and sunniest in the summer, but what’s a trip to rip city without a little rain and fog? Having been to Portland in both summer and fall months (late September – November), and having stayed for as long as 3 weeks at a time, I can attest that the city has something special to offer during the fall. So below I’ll share my top 6 reasons for visiting Portland Oregon in the fall. Maybe by the end of this I’ll have convinced you that fall is the only time you’ll want to visit PDX!
1. Fall Foliage is in Full Effect
The Columbia River Gorge is one of the best places to spot fall colors on the U.S. west coast. Up until this year, I’d been living in San Francisco where the weather hovers at around 65°F year-round and the leaves stayed green year-round. So visiting a place like the Columbia River Gorge was all the more precious because I got to see the leaves in all kinds of colors – red, orange, yellow, and brown…
Moreover, Portland gets the most rain from October through May. Imagine how beautiful all 90 waterfalls at the Columbia Gorge will be after a day of rain. You might be thinking – Yuck, rain! Honestly I was too…and somedays it was really rainy when we visited, but the rain adds a romantic atmosphere that makes Portland, well, Portland.
Visiting the Columbia River Gorge
1. Do a Hike or Two
The most popular hike at the Columbia River Gorge is probably the Multnomah Falls Trail. The hike is 2.4 miles long and features a 620-ft waterfall. The cool thing about this hike is that the first thing you see when you start the hike is the waterfall. So you don’t even have to do any walking to get a good view.
Since I had done the Multnomah Falls Trail a few summers ago, I decided to look up a new hike and found the Bridal Veil Falls Trail. Bridal Veil Falls Trail also features a beautiful waterfall but is much shorter – just 0.5 miles in length. What I loved about this trail is that there’s also a lookout that provided stunning views of the Columbia River.
I found the trail via AllTrails, my favorite app for researching places to hike. Simply type in your location or the national park you’re visiting into the app’s search bar, and the app will show you all nearby trails. You can search trails based on their difficult level, amount of traffic and ratings. The amount of traffic is such a good feature f you want to keep a safe distance from others during COVID.
Wanderer Tip: There are many hikes you can do at the Columbia River Gorge. However you don’t need to hike the most popular trails to see beautiful waterfalls at all!
2. Drive to the Washington Side of the Columbia River Gorge
Fun fact! The Columbia River Gorge sits on the state line between Washington and Oregon. Driving on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge through Mt. Hood National Forest will give you close-up views of waterfalls and forest greens. Driving on the Washington side, on the other hand, will give you a more distant view of the Oregon scenery, which is stunning in a totally different way.
So if you’re already visiting the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon side, drive a little further and check out the Washington side too. I mean, how cool is it to be in two states at once in the same afternoon?
If you decide to do this drive, I recommend stopping by Thunder Island Brewing Co. before driving across the Bridge of Gods. The brewing company has beautiful windows that look out onto the part of the river where the two states meet. While you’re there, try their burger (you won’t regret it) and test your ability to distinguish different types of beer by ordering a flight.
For a more detailed guide on leaf peeping in Oregon, take a look at this nifty guide by Travel Oregon. For the best fall foliage viewing experience, make sure you visit when the leaves are in their peak colors!
2. Coffee Roasters Will be Waiting with Hot Brews
To be fair, you can sample from Portland’s vast selection of coffee roasters any time of the year. But fall brings with it many good things in the coffee world: the perfect weather conditions for a hot cup of jo, fall flavors (think cardamon, pumpkin, maple..), and the perfect fall foliage to go with your instagram pic.
My Top Spots for Coffee in Portland:
- Proud Mary – Proud Mary is an Australian cafe and restaurant and the coffee and the food here are seriously DIVINE! If you’re in the mood for something fancy, get one of the Geisha pour overs. As an avid coffee drinker, I was surprised by how good coffee could taste. I swear they put flowers in that thing! If you do get one of the Geisha pour overs, also know that the heavenly tasting coffee does come with a steeper price tag.
- Ovation Coffee & Tea – Ovation serves Moroccan coffees and teas. We saw a lot of good reviews for the Pistachio Latte so we ordered that and it was delicious. I had no idea coffee and milk could pair so well with pistachio, and I loved how the drink was nutty but not overwhelmingly so.
- Nossa Familia – Unless you’ve been to Nossa Familia Coffee, you’ve probably never had honey in your coffee. Try the Bee Sting Latte and you’ll want to add honey to all your coffee orders in the future. Some other things on their menu included the Mocha Fogo, Espresso Con Panna, and Japanese-style iced coffee. I’m looking forward to going back and trying out the rest of their menu.
The coffee in Portland Oregon was so delicious, I thought the selection was just as good as the coffee options back home in San Francisco.
3. More Bang For Your Buck During Black Friday
Oregon is one of five states in the U.S. that has no sales tax. You heard me right – NO SALES TAX! That means you get a slight discount on everything you purchase in Portland (and that includes online orders you ship to Portland). If you shop during the fall on Black Friday, then the discounts will be EVEN BETTER. So where should you shop?
You’ll find many of the popular stores in downtown Portland near the Pioneer Courthouse Square, including Nordstrom, Sephora, Nike etc. Popular Japanese retailer Muji has just one store on the west coast, and it’s in Portland. Pay a visit to Muji for quality stationery and home goods.
Woodburn Premium Outlets
We had no idea until we went, but apparently Woodburn Premium Outlets it has the ONLY Nike outlet in all of Oregon! Aside from the Nike employee store, this is probably the best place to get good Nike deals.
If you’re reading this and getting anxiety about holiday shopping and can’t make it to Oregon in time, perhaps start with my Holiday Gift Guide for the Travel Lover.
4. Fall in Oregon Means Seasonal Donut Flavors Galore
If none of the previous reasons were convincing enough, I hope this one convinces you that Fall is indeed the best time to visit Portland Oregon. Plus, if you look forward to PSLs from Starbucks every September, Portland’s donuts will make you look forward to their seasonal varieties as soon as you’ve tasted one.
A few of the popular donut spots include Blue Star, Pip’s and Voodoo. Word on the street is that the locals prefer Blue Star the most, but there’s something for everyone so try all of them to decide for yourself.
Some flavors offered at these popular donut shops include: Blueberry Bourbon Basil, Apple Crumble, and Dashing Pumpkin. I’m getting hungry just typing these up…
5. You Get to Experience the City Like Bella from Twilight
The popular romance series Twilight is based in Portland. If you’ve read the books or watched the movie, you probably think of Portland as a small misty town. To experience the city in its truest form, visit during its rainy season. Maybe even relive your favorite moments in the series by visiting a few of these 13 places where filming took place.
6. Save Money on Flights and Run into Less Tourists
This is technically two great reasons packed into one, but the idea is the same. If you visit during a less popular time, you’ll run into less tourists and have more opportunity to take great pictures. Plus you’ll likely save money on flights as the demand for them will be lower. Check out my post on how to save money while traveling for more tips.
Visiting Portland in the fall just to see the Columbia River Gorge is reason enough for me to do it. Oh, and the shopping too. But I hope you’ll find one of the reasons above enticing enough to book your next trip to Portland for the fall. If you do, let me know how it is in the comments below! I’d love to hear about your experience.
For more fall inspiration, here are 6 ways to get into the fall spirit.