Portland is a great place to be a dog, even during the pandemic. One of the greatest things about this city is simply how much nature surrounds us—the greater metropolitan area boasts a wealth of parks and swimming holes. And sure, it rains a lot, but that’s ultimately a small price to pay.
Portland has consistently ranked high in lists of the best cities to raise or own a dog. The website dogtime.com even ranked Portland first on its list of the “10 Dog-Friendliest Cities in America,” ahead of notable dog havens such as Seattle, Boston, Tucson and Albuquerque. While that may seem like a pretty arbitrary survey, Portland’s placement on these lists is supported by hard, cold data—we have 33 officially-designated off-leash dog parks, which is more per capita than any other city in America. We are one of the only cities outside France—and certainly one of the only cities in America—where dogs are allowed inside restaurants and some bars, a fact some Portland dog owners take for granted.
Speaking anecdotally, Portland also has one of the most diverse and inclusive dog communities of any American city I’ve spent any reasonable amount of time in; people aren’t quick to judge you for owning a pitbull here, and peak hours at some of Portland’s more prominent dog parks really do feel and look like Best in Show. Here are some of my personal favorites.
NE 33rd Avenue and US Grant Place
The off-leash area at Grant Park—the greenery adjacent to Portland’s Grant High School—is sort of a secret handshake among the city’s seasoned dog owners. It’s not actually visible from the main entrance to the park on NE 33rd, and you have to trek a bit past the track, tennis courts, playground and iconic Ramona Cleary statue to get there. Grant’s off-leash area is nestled inside the center of the park, toward the less obvious east entrance and basketball courts. I’ve found it’s ideal for puppies and runners who otherwise aren’t familiar with basic “come” commands yet. Its location near the Grant football field means there’s a lot of open space, and thankfully, the street next to the east entrance to the park is pretty quiet, so if your dog does run off it at least won’t be near a busy street. Moreover, the specific breed meetups at this park attract some wonderful and unusual dogs.
Alameda Elementary School Park
2732 NE Fremont Street
The park next to Alameda Elementary School leaves a bit to be desired in the open space department, but it’s a great alternative to any of the larger, woodsier dog parks on rainy days. In general, the cement and sawdust at this park make things a lot less muddy—I have two long-haired breeds, so that’s definitely significant for me. It’s good etiquette to go after school hours or on the weekends so you don’t disturb anyone from the neighboring elementary school.
Washington High School Park
1300 SE Stark Street
Washington High School—which now houses the Portland music venue, Revolution Hall—used to be one of the creepiest buildings in town. The school officially closed in 1981 and was left in a quasi-dilapidated state for decades prior to its renovation at the start of the ‘10s. That said, the park next to Washington High School has always been tops—it’s huge, usually well-attended and incredibly flat—which is perfect because it means you never lose sight of your dog. It’s the ideal spot for frisbee and other recall games; it’s still a little spooky for jumpy, untrained or very young dogs, since the entire park is encircled by busy thoroughfares.
SE Cesar E Chavez Boulevard and Stark Street
It makes sense that Laurelhurst Park—the landmark public park of Portland’s east side—is also home to one of the greatest off-leash dog parks in the city. The off-leash areas of the park are clearly demarcated, and while it can be a bit muddy during Portland’s wetter seasons, its colorful array of breeds is matched only by the dogs at Grant. Some other minor drawbacks: bicycle paths surround the off-leash area, which means it’s pretty much necessary your dog be familiar with basic commands. Additionally, I’ve had a dog who wasn’t under command jump into the duck pond before, and it was absolutely disgusting.
Not a dog park per se—and leash laws are strictly enforced on trails where dogs are allowed, with fines of up to $200 being doled out to violators—but the gorgeous trails at Forest Park, the lush jewel behind downtown, is one of the best parts of Portland. For larger breeds like retrievers, it’s also a great exercise opportunity. Obviously, a hike at Forest Park is not ideal if you’re looking for dog socialization, but it’s sure to get the blood pumping and that night they’ll sleep for like 14 hours.