Spring is almost here, which means one thing for the Portland waterfront… cherry blossoms! The best time to see the blossoms is after they bloom but before a heavy rain storm knocks all the blossoms off the trees, which is usually just a couple weeks each spring. Depending on the year, cherry blossom season runs from early to mid-March through early April. It’s fun to go back through pictures from previous years and see when peak bloom was. So here are the best spots to find cherry blossoms in Portland, Oregon in spring.
Best Places to See Cherry Blossoms in Portland, Oregon
- Waterfront Park
- Hoyt Arboretum / Wildwood Trail
- Pittock Mansion
- University of Portland campus
- Laurelhurst Park
- Mt Tabor
- Portland Neighborhoods
1. Cherry Blossoms at Waterfront Park
When: Early to mid-March to early April (depending on the year)
Where: Waterfront Park Japanese American Historical Plaza, Portland, OR 97209
The top viewing spot for cherry blossoms in Portland is the Japanese American Historical Plaza located on the north end of Tom McCall Waterfront Park. We just call it Waterfront park, but it is a large area. The spot for cherry blossoms is the narrow strip of land between Naito Parkway and the river, and between the Steel Bridge and the Burnside bridge. It’s popular for a reason! With so many pink blossomed trees, green grass and the river and city as backdrop, this is the place to be! The grid layout rows of trees also makes for really amazing pictures. So be prepared for it to be busy, with photoshoots (maternity shoots, engagements, and family portraits) happening and everybody out “doing it for the ‘Gram” ;)
Sakura is Japanese for cherry blossoms. and hanami means “flower viewing”, and ume is plum blossoms which are probably the most often bloom confused with cherry blossoms. Call them what you want, blossom viewing is pretty magical in the spring. In Japan, hanami is often associated with having a picnic or party under the blossoms.
Tip: It gets so crowded down here on a nice day and weekends. Try to go early in the day and on weekdays.
2. Hoyt Arboretum & Wildwood Trail
Where: Hoyt Arboretum 4000 SW Fairview Blvd, Portland, OR 97221
Hoyt Arboretum, (located within Washington Park), and Forest Park all blend together NW of downtown near the West Hills. While they are separate parks, Wildwood Trail runs through it all and it’s all rather connected. Naturally, an arboretum is a great place to find all kinds of trees, including cherry trees. At Hoyt Arboretum, you’ll find the cherry trees on the Wildwood Trail near the east water tank, between the Magnolia Trail and Hawthorne Trail.
The Magnolia blooms (on Magnolia trail) are also in full bloom in April. Check out the handy Seasonal Highlights guide Hoyt has for what’s popping each month in the arboretum! It’s pretty cool to see what other spring blooms there are, like the pink and white flowers of Dogwood trees in May.
Note: The Japanese Gardens are also in Washington Park. And while they do have some amazing fall foliage and spring blooms, the cherry blossoms here just aren’t off the charts like some other locations around town, since it’s not a ton of trees, but the location and architecture of the Japanese Garden is what makes this a good spot. Especially if you’re visiting Portland, spring or fall is one of the best times to check out the Japanese Gardens. In non-COVID times there is also a shuttle that runs in Washington park that goes from the Japanese garden and Rose garden up to Hoyt Arboretum.
3. Pittock Mansion
When: late March – early April
Where: Pittock Mansion 3229 NW Pittock Dr, Portland, OR 97210
While Pittock doesn’t have a huge collection of cherry trees, the blossoms here can be pretty dramatic given the backdrop of Pittock Mansion and the views of the city below and Mt Hood in the distance.
Note: You can also make a hike of it by parking at Hoyt Arboretum and taking the Wildwood Trail across the Barbara Walker Crossing pedestrian bridge over Burnside (closed as of Jan 13 mudslide!) for a 3 mile round trip. Or parking on the other side of Wildwood Trail at Upper Macleay (popular parking spot for the Witches Castle Hike) on NW Cornell for also about 3 mile round trip hike.
4. University of Portland campus
When: (campus currently closed to non-students!) mid-March to early-April
Where: Academic Quad at UP 5000 N Willamette Blvd, Portland, OR 97203
North Portland’s University of Portland campus in the University Park neighborhood has beautiful cherry trees surrounding their academic quad.
Note: In normal non-COVID times, you can walk or bike through the campus. They are currently closed to non-students/staff because of COVID-19.
5. Laurelhurst Park
When: mid-March to early April
Where: Laurelhurst Park 3700 SE Oak St, Portland, OR 97214
The southeast part of Laurelhurst park (and the Laurelhurst neighborhood in general) is still one of my favorite spots for cherry blossoms and spring blooms. I used to live in this neighborhood so maybe I’m a little partial to it still. But it’s such a nice low-key spot to walk, run, or bring a blanket and picnic away from the hustle and bustle of downtown cherry blossom season. So grab at latte at Crema on 28th/Ankeny and enjoy some nature.
6. Mt Tabor
When: mid-March to early April
Where: Mt Tabor Park SE 60th Ave & Salmon St, Portland, OR 97215
Another low key cherry blossom spot is Mt Tabor. While no secret, Mt Tabor is a much larger area to explore than the downtown blossoms! You’ll find cherry trees near the Upper Reservoir, accessed from Salmon St. Similar to Laurelhurst park and other neighborhood parks, this is the kind of place you can actually practice some hanami (cherry blossom viewing party).
7. Portland Neighborhoods!
While this last one is not very specific, in March and April, you can hit up almost any neighborhood and find beautiful blossoms! So drive or bike and walk a new to you neighborhood.
- Hawthorne district
- NW 21st to 23rd area of NW Portland
- Laurelhurst neighborhood
Plum Blossoms vs Cherry Blossoms
One of the things I realized a few years ago was that I was calling many blossoming trees “cherry blossoms”. So last year, I set out to learn more about the different blossoms. Here’s what I found out.
- First, most flowering trees that we are calling cherry blossoms are part of the Prunus tree family. According to Portland Nursery (my favorite Portland gardening shop), this includes over 400 trees and shrubs – cherries, plums, almonds, peaches, and nectarines.
- Color and Blooming Time: Plum blossoms are usually the first to bloom in spring and have brighter pink flowers (but not all!). Cherry blossoms bloom a little later than plum blossoms and are usually lighter in color – white or light pink depending on the type of cherry tree.
- Petals: Cherry blossoms have a little slit on the outer edge of each petal. Plum flowers don’t.
- Smell: Plum blossoms usually smell much stronger and flowery than cherry blossoms.
- Tree bark: Cherry trees have horizontal lines on the bark of the tree.
- Leaves: Cherry tree leaves are green plums are usually purple brown.
And not included in the list above of cherry blossom spots in Portland, but Council Crest park in SW has a ton of plum trees in spring and views of Mt Hood.
How to Photograph Cherry Blossoms
I am not a photography expert, so I was looking for tips and tutorials for shooting cherry blossoms. Currently, I use my iPhone for all my photography needs, but I have this Canon one on my list (a cheaper version than the 5D Mark III! Here are the tips I learned:
- Timing: Go early in the day – both for skipping the crowds and more neutral light.
- Lighting: while softer evening light is good for blossoms, it also depends on where you are. Particularly the blossoms at the waterfront are shaded by the city in evening and feel dark quickly during afternoon and golden hour light. Depending on the weather, morning is actually a good time to photograph cherry blossoms at waterfront park.
- Lighting and sky: while a bright blue sky can look neat in far away shots, for close ups and portraits it’s better to focus on closer in branches and not the sky or your pictures will turn out really dark. Look up into the tree for different lighting. I liked these tips from Nikon for lighting and perspective.
- Use Instagram Places search: just like with hiking during COVID times, I like to use the Instagram Places search feature to see what the latest pictures people have posted. It can give you a good idea of how things currently look, and what times of day and areas are really busy. You might even get some ideas for style or framing and perspective!
- Zoom in and out: I’ve been practicing getting in really close for detail of a couple blooms. And also zooming way out to get the perspective of seeing all the trees in bloom.
I hope you enjoy these tips and ideas for where to find cherry blossoms in Portland this spring!