Free Outdoor Activities for Portland Families


Oregon certainly is green, but that doesn’t mean money trees grow in our backyards. Fortunately, with all of the opportunities for fun that summer offers, there are plenty that don’t cost a thing. So save a buck (or twenty) and try some of these free outdoor activities in the Portland metro area.

Free Outdoor Acitivites (2)


Interactive fountains/Splash pads

Do you know what strikes instant anxiety into my boring, old heart? The suggestion that I take my three small kids to the pool. I don’t think people without small kids appreciate how much energy it takes to simply keep them ALIVE–and now I’m supposed to watch all three of them at the same time in a chaotic pool and make sure their cute little faces are above water? NOBODY HAS THAT MANY EYEBALLS. All this to say, God bless the inventor of the interactive public fountain. That person deserves a medal. Now my kids can have some water fun without mommy turning into a frazzled scary person.

There are many, many fountains in the Portland metro area. Here is an awesome brochure that maps out an intense self-guided walking tour of downtown Portland’s interactive fountains, complete with information on each fountain. Holladay Park on the east side also has a splash pad for kids. Other metro cities with splash pads/fountains include Gresham, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Sherwood, Lake Oswego (okay, I think this one is actually a pool), Vancouver (has two), Happy Valley, West Linn, and Tualatin. I’m sure I missed some, so let me know in the comments!


I’ve already shared my love for hiking with you in a previous post listing my favorite hikes for families around Portland. But if you are looking for something more organized for your young kids, you could head over to Tryon Creek State Park’s “Story & Stroll” program on Fridays and Sundays. Portland Parks & Recreation hosts “Ladybug Walks” for preschoolers and their parents (it is actually $4, cheap but not free!). You can try out hikes at Hoyt Arboretum (trail map here) while in Washington Park. If the “great outdoors” are not your forte and would rather have something more (sub)urban and artsy, you could try Tualatin’s ArtWalk.


Sure, you’ve got your usual neighborhood haunts, but you should also check out our list of unique Portland play areas to change it up a bit.

Free Summer Meals

During the school year thousands of area kids benefit from the reduced or free lunch program through the public schools. In order to fill the need created when school ends in June, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon has teamed up with the Oregon Department of Education to provide free 2015-06-16 14.06.52summer meals to any child who wants one at a multitude of locations around the state. The program is called the Summer Food Service Program, and it’s available for all children. There is no registration, application, or proof of income required–simply show up during the scheduled meal time and receive a full healthy meal for each child aged 1-18. I’ve taken my kids to a few different locations over the years, and the workers are nice, the food is nutritious, and my kids enjoy meeting the other kids there. Please spread the word to your friends who might benefit from this program! (Also, apparently the Oregon Zoo Animal Presenters are bringing a piece of the zoo to different parts of Beaverton during the free meal program, so check that out if you live in the area.)

Free Concerts, Movies, and More

Okay, you’ve taken your kids to the fountains and hiked all over the town. Unless you were blessed with the energy of a certain pink bunny, it’s time to plant your bottom to a seat and be entertained. What’s better than a free concert or movie, hosted in your local park or public square? There are a ton of free park concerts and movies (and in a few cases, theater performances) hosted around the city, so take a picnic dinner and enjoy the eveningPioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland hosts variousmusic events, many free, including Flicks on the Bricks (free movies). Portland Parks & Rec holds both a hefty movie series and concert series that wander from park to park for each show. Tualatin Hills Park & Rec District also holds concerts. Other places with entertainment: Lake Oswego, Vancouver movies and concerts, Hillsboro, Beaverton movies and concerts, North Clackamas, West Linn movies and concerts, Tigard (at Bridgeport Village Shopping Center), Sherwood, and Tualatin movies and concerts. Portland Actors Ensemble performs free Shakespeare plays all summer long throughout the area.

Bonneville Dam and Fish Hatchery

Where do baby fish come from? Do they come from their mommy’s tummies? Oh, they have eggs? Do they have shells? Do the mommies have to sit on the nest? Answer your kids’ fish questions and more during a trip to the Bonneville Dam and Hatchery. Nine miles east of Multnomah Falls on I-84, turn left (north) at Exit 40 and follow the signs for public parking. You can take a self-guided tour of the outdoor parts of the facility, and there are quite a few educational areas and ponds of salmon and even sturgeon. (We went last year, and it was really neat!) To make a day out of it, take a picnic and walk over to the Wahclella Falls trailhead for a lovely hike, or drive over to Hood River and drive the Hood River County Fruit Loop.

Oregon Ballet Theater

Do you have a child who loves to dance? Take him or her to Oregon Ballet Theater’s event, OBT Exposed, at Pioneer Courthouse Square during the week of August 25. You can watch the professional dancers rehearse, and then your little one can participate in a kids’ class. There’s an adult class in the evening, and a special demonstration scheduled for Monday and Thursday. It’s completely free, and sounds like an amazing experience for a young (or young at heart) dancer.

A Multitude of Gardens

Do you have any budding botanists or growing gardeners in your crew? Take them to a garden that’s open to the public. Portland’s most famous would be Washington Park’s International Rose Test Gardens. The blooms are gorgeous and smell wonderful, plus it’s near other free activities, like the playground and hikes at Washington Park (although you will now have to pay for parking). Washington and Clackamas county residents, you have access to your library’s cultural passes, which will get you free admission into several different area gardens, including the Japanese Garden (also located in Washington Park), Lan Su Chinese Gardens, and perhaps the Oregon Garden in Silverton and the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. (Check out our info on Library Cultural Passes here for more information.)

Much, much more

Special thanks to my friend Sarah Hagan for all of her help with this post!
Special thanks to my friend Sarah Hagan for all of her help with this post!

There are so many more free things to do this summer, from Portland’s travelling climbing wall to Newberg’s Old Fashioned Festival.  The Oregonian has a list of unique and free summer happenings including the Red Bull Flugtag, Estacada Timber Festival, and the PDX Adult Soap Box Derby. To find more activities near you, find your town’s (or your local parks & recreation department’s) webpage and look for the events calendar. You’ll probably find hidden gems that I didn’t include here. And if all else fails, wait for a downpour and dance in the rain.

What is your favorite free outdoor activity?