Downtown, amid the concrete and skyscrapers, Portland feels decidedly urban. But the truth is, it's also a green city: nestled in trees, softened by rain, fringed by volcanoes. And there's no better way to connect with all that nature, I'd argue, than by heading west of downtown, crossing 405, and wending your way up the hill through the Goose Hollow neighborhood into the cool, forested refuge of Washington Park.
The park is nature amplified. In Hoyt Arboretum are 2,000 species of trees, many exotic—the bright-green Chinese walking stick bamboo, for instance. The zoo has slender-snouted crocodiles paddling in its aviary pond, and the Washington Park light-rail station sits 260 feet underground, drilled into bedrock basalt carved by the Missoula Floods 13,000 to 15,000 years ago.
But even as Washington Park communes with the region's wild past, it is remarkably civilized. The 10,000 bushes in the park's premier attraction, the International Rose Test Garden, are pruned just so. And it's here, in the rose garden, that the Royal Rosarians, who travel the globe representing Portland, gather each June, in white gloves and cream-colored suits, to conduct their annual knighting ceremonies.
Washington Park was officially founded in 1871, but it sat largely untouched and forgotten for three decades. Then in 1903, while readying for the Lewis and Clark Exposition, Portland's municipal fathers laid the cornerstone for a Washington Park monument, a lofty granite column honoring the famed explorers. In 1905, a lion named Nero was introduced to the park's nascent zoo—only to escape, eight years later, for a 90-minute hillside romp that saw his keeper pelting him with what the Oregonian described as "harsh expletives."
Today, Washington Park encompasses 410 acres and includes an archery range, a secret garden, and a surfeit of intriguing statues and monuments. And still it keeps evolving. In 2015, Portland Japanese Garden—itself built on the site of an old zoo—kicked off an ambitious two-year expansion led by lauded architect Kengo Kuma. In late 2016, crews began a project to swap the park's antique concrete reservoir for a 12.4-million gallon underground tank, which, come 2024, will be topped by two glimmering reflecting pools.
But the fundamental draw of Washington Park will never change. The trees, the fresh air, the scent of rosebushes on a warm day in spring—these joys will always be there. And to drink them in, you just need to climb the hill. Come on, let's go.