Holidays + Seasons Portland

A Local’s Guide to Portland in Winter: Things to Do to ENJOY the Season!

November 15, 2021

Last Updated:

It starts to feel like winter in Portland around the middle of November. While winter doesn’t officially start until late December, our short window for fall colors abruptly ends with a few big storms. From a cold and snow perspective, Portland has mild winters. We don’t get tons of snow like some areas of the Pacific Northwest.

But Portland winters can still feel like such a slog! It’s cold, it’s wet, it gets dark at 4:30pm. Welcome to winter in Portland! So as usual, I like to make a list to cheer myself up and plan for seasonal adventures to pass the time, and not just survive winter, but hopefully enjoy it as well. So here’s my list of things to do in Portland in winter – events, winter activities, and bit more about what to expect from the weather and snow in Portland! Jump Ahead:

31 Things to Do in Winter in Portland, Oregon!

1. Find a new winter hike in Portland

There are tons of great hikes right here in Portland to explore during winter, and skip the drive! Forest Park, Hoyt Arboretum, Washington Park, Council Crest, Pittock Mansion, and Japanese Gardens are all great options.

2. Hunker down over your favorite Portland brunch

Kimura toast bar portland breakfast spot
Kimura Toast Bar on N Williams

Winter is a great time to check off all those brunch places you’ve been wanting to try. Here are my favorite places to hunker down over a hearty Portland breakfast.

3. Go to the soaking pool at Edgefield or Kennedy School

Winter is the best time for a hot soak at McMenamin’s Edgefield or Kennedy School. Cold weather and hot water! Pro tip: wear a brimmed hat if it’s raining!

4. Go snowshoeing near Mt Hood

Trillium lake snowshoeing

Since we don’t get much snow in the city, your best bet is to head to the mountains to find the snow! There are lots of great snowshoeing options near Mt Hood. Trillium Lake being one of the best for the impressive views of Mt Hood!

5. Update your winter gear

One way to embrace the cold is to make sure you are ready for it! And Portland has no shortage of outdoor stores! From bigger brands like Patagonia, REI etc, to locally based – Next Adventure, EVO, Columbia, Poler, Showers Pass and more! Need ideas? Here are my favorite gifts for outdoorsy people.

6. Go to a Blazers game

The Portland Trailblazers schedule runs from late October to early April. And you can usually find pretty cheap tickets for less popular home games at Moda Center. Which is still a super fun outing.

7. Find your new favorite winter cocktail

Ordering cocktails just feel like a cozy winter activity. Hot toddy, please! (The Observatory in Montavilla is still my favorite hot toddy in Portland!)

8. Go sledding near Mt Hood

ski bowl tubing at mt hood

There are lots of great options for sledding and tubing near Mt Hood – SkiBowl, Summit, Snow Bunny, Cooper Spur are all great spots.

9. Try a new Portland coffee shop

Lattes and mochas were meant for winter, aren’t they? One of favorite in-town winter activities is going to a new (or old favorite) coffee shop and then wandering the neighborhood. A December favorite is Coava Coffee on Grand to visit the giant Christmas tree.

10. Cut down your own Christmas tree

One of my favorite winter activities is cutting down our own Christmas tree in the Mt Hood National Forest with our $5 Forest service permit.

11. Try a new winter sport

I know not all of a us are winter sports enthusiasts. But one way to embrace winter is to try something new and taking a winter sports lesson is a great way to do that. Learning to cross country ski is on my “winter bucket list“. Maybe skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or fat tire biking in the snow is on yours!

12. Celebrating winter solstice with a fire pit

Kick off the winter season of winter solstice around a fire pit. Whether that’s a backyard or your favorite patio hangout.

13. Go on a wintery waterfall hike

Latourell Falls Hike in February

I love winter hikes near Portland, like waterfall hikes in the Gorge. Some of my favorites are Latourell and Wahclella Falls.

14. Go to the Winter Light Festival

The Winter Light Festival is one of my favorite February events. Whether you walk or bike, it’s a fun evening to explore the art creations and lights in different areas around the city.

15. Book browsing and buying at Powell’s

One of the things I love about the flagship Powell’s store is standing for ages at the wall of best sellers and Powell Picks!

16. Go to a new Portland brewery

Cold and rain brewery visits are a great way to pass the winter time. And in normal (non-COVID) years the Zwickelmania event is in February! New Portland breweries to try: Moon Room from Ecliptic in the old Basecamp Brewing space, Level Beer has a new spot called Level 3 on Sandy, and Function PDX on NW 23rd features a new Oregon brewery popup each month!

17. Take an Oregon coast day trip

Oregon coast in winter

Winter storm watching at the Oregon coast is an annual winter favorite. Take an Oregon coast day trip – North and Central coast are quick drives from Portland or rent an Airbnb for the weekend. Just be cautious around king tides which happen about once a month in winter. You can also catch the seasonal migration of grey whales southbound from mid-December to mid-January, from high spots on the 3 Capes Loop or Central Coast spots like Depoe Bay.

18. Book a winter mountain cabin getaway

Speaking of getaways, booking an Airbnb in the mountains is super fun winter vacation. Things book up pretty quickly once it gets cold, so best to plan ahead. And your best bet at snow is booking later in winter when the mountain areas have had a chance to build up some snow pack base.

19. Celebrate Chinese New Year at Lan Su Chinese Garden

Every year Lan Su Chinese Garden in Old Town celebrates Chinese New Year with their lantern viewing festival. It’s a great chance to see the beauty of the garden all lit up, and the teahouse.

20. Go ice skating at Lloyd Center

Poor Lloyd Center. It’s had such a long history in Portland and now an uncertain future. But it’s still one of the places you can go ice skating in Portland!

21. Try the world’s best hot chocolate at Timberline Lodge

A snowy visit to Timberline Lodge is a fun winter activity, all on it’s own. But while you’re there, you may as well try, in my opinion, the best hot chocolate!

22. Go skiing or snowboarding at Mt Hood Meadows, Timberline or SkiBowl

We’re lucky to be so close to the mountain! And that means easier access to winter sports. And night skiing is also a great option for weeknight adventures.

23. Go see a movie at a local theater in Portland

Cheap movies are local past time. We have no shortage of budget theaters in Portland – McMenamins, Laurelhurst or Living Room Theater. And winter is a great time to see a movie – with cajon tots or pizza and a beer!

24. Go fat tire biking in the snow

fat tire biking snow Oregon
Christmas tree hunting by fat bike

I’m really hoping for some Portland snow this winter so I can take my fat tire bike out in the snow. Or at least take it to the snow. Last year, was my first time trying a fat bike. A friend describes fat bikes as “smile machines” and I couldn’t agree more!

25. Winter walks and bike rides around the waterfront

Although winter can be windy in Portland, as long as you’re bundled up, it can be a great time to take a winter walk or bike ride around the waterfront, Eastbank Esplanade, Tilikum Crossing bridge etc

26. Eat donuts

Winter just calls for ordering some hot donuts, fresh off the line. Pip’s donuts takeout and their seasonal flavors being my favorite.

27. Stay at a cabin lookout tower

One of my favorite Portland winter trip memories, is staying at the Clear Lake Lookout tower in Mt Hood National Forest one wintery January. These towers are super hard to book, as people snap them up as soon as they’re available. But sometimes you can find last minute cancelations in winter!

28. Try winter warmer ales

Seasonal winter beers start making an appearance in mid-November around Portland. From Hopworks’ Abominable Winter Ale to Level Beer’s Neon Snow Suit, to the ever-legendary The Abyss from Deschutes Brewing. So get collecting your favorite winter warmers – or make a beer advent calendar of local brews!

29. Buy some Vitamin D

Ok this one isn’t just for Portlanders! Almost half of adults in the US are deficient in Vitamin D. So if you don’t take a Vitamin D supplement in summer, it’s worth giving it a try for the winter seasons, when it’s difficult to get much natural sunlight!

30. Plan a trip to somewhere warm!

Ah yes, the secret to getting through Portland winters is also having an escape plan. Hello, Hawaii! Or Mexico, California, or even a closer spot like Bend in Central Oregon which gets a ridiculous amount of sunshine each year.

31. Start planning for spring!

Yep, one of the nice things to do winter is spend time planning for the next season. :P Toward the end of winter, I think we’re all ready for more color in our lives from blossoms and sunshine and all our favorite things about spring in Portland.

Winter Events in Portland

Winter is officially December 21 through March 20, 2022. However, we usually think of winter as the months December through February, don’t we! Most of the “Christmas season” is still technically fall, but it seems wintery, so call it what you will. Here are our favorite Portland winter events. As always, for a full list of events in Portland, check out Travel Portland’s list. Here are the big ones and my favorites.

Portland is not an event-heavy winter destination, but there are usually some things to keep busy.

Portland in December

>>More about Portland in December – events, weather, and things to do.

Portland in January

  • Old Timey Music Festival

>>More about Portland in January – events, weather, and things to do.

Portland in February

  • Zwickelmania
  • Winter Light Festival
  • Chinese New Year

>>More about Portland in February – events, weather, and things to do.

Winter in Portland Wildwood Trail hike

Winter Weather in Portland

Portland winter weather usually starts by November with the rain, wind, and chilly air. The average winter low temperatures are 37 – 41° with average daily highs in the 45 – 55° F range. There are many days you can still get away with a fleece jacket layered with a puffy vest. But depending on how much time you spend outside, and the year, a warmer winter coat is nice to have. And a game changer for me this year… flannel-lined jeans. Oh. yeah.

Does it rain all winter in Portland?

No, winter in Portland has 50/50 chance of rain on any given day. But yes, the winter season is Portland’s second rainiest season, after fall. Surprisingly, the spring season has just about half the amount of rainfall of winter! But when you look at average days of rainfall, winter averages 14 days of rain per month for a total of about 5″ of rain per month.

Does it snow in Portland?

Yes! Late January and February are your best bets for snow in Portland. While we usually just get a dusting of snow at some point. The historical average is 1.3″ of snow in January and 1″ in February, with .8″ in December. But some years we get more than others. The last significant snow “events” in Portland were January 2017 and February 2021. And when it does snow in Portland, the city comes to an almost stand-still as the city of Portland crews work to plow and salt the roads. And Portlanders flock to their closest neighborhood hill for sledding and snow play. This is time locals bring out all their snow gear and cross country ski through downtown, fat tire bike around neighborhood parks, and snowboard down anything resembling a modest slope. A for effort Portland!

snow in portland - sledding
A rare Portland snow storm.

In 2017, we had a pretty epic snowfall with almost 1 foot of snow within 24 hours! The snow stuck around the city for a week and brought everything to a complete standstill. There was so much snow that I even went snowboarding down a huge hill in my neighborhood! And in February 2021 we got another dose of massive snow, with a legit snow storm! Fingers crossed for this winter!?

Winter in Oregon

How do you survive Portland winters?

As a PNW native, winter has always just been a season that you endure to get through to the rest of the year. I like to think that having rainy wet winters helps us really appreciate a changing of the seasons and summer. But for newcomers to Portland, the constant cold and drizzle can be quite a shock. If you’re hailing from a sunshine state or just need some extra help in this wild COVID ride, here are some tips:

  • A sunlamp can really help brighten your mornings and help with sleep and your circadian rhythm. They’re not just for SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
  • Vitamin D supplements are also recommended for most adults in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • Moving your body everyday – even low-impact walking and yoga can give you a mood boost.
  • Take advantage of sunny moments, it fades quick.
  • Make sure you have proper winter gear (raincoat, low walkable rainboots, puffy jacket to layer etc.).
  • Talking to a counselor or therapist can help with seasonal sadness! There are also a lot of new online counseling apps which can be a good option.

Lastly, in visiting Scandinavia last year, I loved learning about the Norwegian term “friluftsliv“. Which translates to open-air living and enjoying the outdoors in all seasons. And with Scandinavia having more rain, more snow, colder temperatures and less daylight, I think there might be a thing or two we can learn from them. :) Happy winter!

What’s your favorite way to get through Portland winters?

Portland in winter guide
Will it snow in Portland this winter?

Updated for 2021.

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