For some, the pandemic’s restrictions have come as an opportunity to lean in to the needs of your inner introvert. Whether that’s leaving a grocery store when it’s too crowded or sitting alone in the middle of an empty park for fun, these little gifts will be harder to give yourself as society returns to a post-vaccine pace. Even if you’re excited to attend your first post-COVID concert or counting the days to your first house party, finding time to be alone should remain on your to-do list. Fortunately, Portland is home to many great places that offer solace from humanity. Need to get away from it all? Look no further than these free and low-cost options:
I grew up a ten minute drive from the Pacific Ocean, which made the beach my go-to escape if I needed some alone time. With ocean beaches now more than an hours’ drive away, I’ve relied on a local stand-in to obtain that dramatic feeling that comes with standing at the oceans’ shore. I’ve found that at Kelley Point Park, the far North Portland city park at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers. Sure, it’s no ocean, but the sandy banks, small waves, and seagulls help set the mood. Kelley Point doesn't just offer a quasi-beach experience, but it’s home to a few lovely meadows for picnics and sun lounging. If you’re feeling adventurous, bring a bike and explore the park’s paved bike trails, or hop on the nearby Marine Drive bike trail for some Columbia River views.
8484 N Kelley Point Park Rd, Portland
Among the hustle and bustle of Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown sits Lan Su Chinese Garden, an serene oasis of native Chinese plants representing the relationship between Portland and its sister city of Suzhou, China. The walled-off garden and tea house, which occupies an entire city block, was built to be a place of meditation and reflection. This goal is captured in a poem inscribed on a garden pavilion by Suzhou poet Wen Zhengming: “Most cherished in this mundane world is a place without traffic; Truly in the midst of the city there can be mountain and forest.” To ensure this feeling is captured in Lan Su during COVID-19, the garden currently requires guests to reserve a time slot for a visit before showing up.
Cost: $12.95 per adult.
239 Northwest Everett Street, Portland
We all have our favorite Portland ex-volcanoes. For many, that’s Mount Tabor, and for good reason. But for those who find themselves often overwhelmed by Tabor’s crowds, might I suggest: Powell Butte! With numerous trails winding through dense cedar forests and airy grasslands, it’s easy to forget that Powell Butte is located in the middle of busy Southeast Portland, nestled between SE Powell and SE Foster, at SE 162nd. Visit the free city park on a clear day for stunning views of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens, which can be enjoyed from the parking lot as well as a hiking trail.
16160 SE Powell Blvd, Portland
If you’re like me, you’ve passed that sprawling, bucolic dog park on the north side of Interstate 84 as you cross the Sandy River and thought, “this is why I need to get a dog.” If this is the case, I have some excellent news for you: Dog ownership is not required to enjoy the 1,500-acre Sandy River Delta park! Sure, it’s a perfect place to let your urban pup run wild, but the park has offerings for anyone trying to temporarily disengage from humanity. The vast expanse of forest, beach, and meadows allows for horseback riding, hiking, biking, wading, fishing, birdwatching, and other solo activities. Avoid a ticket (and support the preservation of natural areas, you jerk) by paying the $5 parking fee before you start exploring.
Cost: FREE (but $5 to park)
Thousand Acres Rd, Troutdale
Arboretums are notoriously excellent places to escape from the world. Located in Washington Park, Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum boasts 12 miles of hiking trails winding across 189 acres through more than 2,000 species of trees. Hoyt truly has something for everyone: If you’re looking for an evergreen escape, take the Redwood Trail; seeking springtime blooms, saunter down the Magnolia Trail, hoping for some fall color, peep the Maple Trail. Hiking isn’t mandatory in the arboretum, I also recommend bringing a blanket and a book to sit under a tree of your choosing on a warm day.
4000 SW Fairview Blvd
If there’s one thing consistently and earnestly keeping Portland weird, it’s the Grotto. Technically called the “National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother,” the Grotto is an mostly-outdoor Catholic shrine centered around a 110-foot cliff in Northeast Portland. But just like you don’t need a dog to go to the Sandy River delta, you don’t need to be Catholic to visit the Grotto. Visitors can sit peacefully and gaze into the abyss of a giant cave-shrine (featuring a replica of the Pietà) for free, or pay $8 to ride the cliff elevator up to the manicured gardens, a collection of small shrines dedicated to different countries that practice Catholicsm, a labyrinth for guests to walk “in contemplation,” and a “meditation chapel,” that, despite looking like the headquarters of a dystopian religious cult, is actually a peaceful space with great views of Washington. If you’re seeking solitude with a side of wacky, pick the Grotto.
Cost: FREE (but $8 to ride the cliff elevator)
8840 NE Skidmore St, Portland
If cemeteries give you the willies, I urge you to take a chance on Lone Fir, the majestic historic cemetery in Southeast Portland. According to its caretaker, Metro Regional Government, the cemetery’s 700 beautiful flowering and evergreen trees (including the original lone fir—look for the plaque) make it Portland’s second-largest arboretum. Like any old cemetery, Lone Fir is full of stories. Whether it’s the the story of James and Elizabeth Stephens, the adorable pioneer couple chiseled in rock in the cemetery’s northwest corner, or the story of Block 14, the gravely southwest patch that holds the unmarked graves of more than 1,000 Chinese immigrants and former patients of the Hawthorne Asylum (the state’s first psychiatric hospital), a wander through Lone Fir Cemetery can turn into an ad-hoc history lesson. You’ll find familiar Portland names on the headstones—Pettygrove, Pittock, Cully, Tibbets, Hawthorne—and find sun-dappled benches for deep breaths and contemplation.
649 SE 26th Ave, Portland