Portland is known for many things: a respectable soccer team*, funky donuts, and hipsters. But what about stargazing? Can those space enthusiasts among us find fun things to do after dark in the Rose City?
As the case for every city we’ve profiled in our series of city stargazing guides, it’s definitely possible to go stargazing in Portland – and there are even better options if you have a car and are willing to get 1-2 hours out of town. Read on to learn about your options for stargazing in Portland and the surrounding region.
(*STG Founder Valerie is a Seattle Sounders fan, but one can’t deny the Timbers’ talent!)
The Best Spots for Stargazing in Portland
Portland is probably one of the hardest cities we’ve created stargazing guides for, in terms of your ability to go stargazing within the city. This is partly due to the geography of the Portland area, and of course due to light pollution – an issue which plagues stargazers in every city.
We’ve put together a list of stargazing places in and near Portland, so check out the map below then read on to learn about each place and why it’s a great spot for stargazing.
There’s only one stargazing spot within Portland itself; even the Rose City Astronomers hold most of their events outside of Portland.
Mt. Tabor is a massive cinder cone that can be found in a neighborhood with the same name. By hiking to the top of it, you can get a decent view of the sky at night. It’s a great place to go hiking in the day and stargazing in the evening.
SE 60th Ave., Portland, OR 97204, portlandoregon.gov
Stargazing Spots Within One Hour of Portland
As mentioned, you can easily reach better stargazing spots if you’re willing to drive up to 60 minutes out of downtown Portland. Each of these places is popular for stargazing, by both amateurs and the Rose City Astronomers group.
Stub Stewart State Park
The Stub Stewart State Park is a park that’s popular for hiking, horseback riding, and camping. It also gets quite dark here at night, making it an excellent spot for stargazing. For this reason, the Rose City Astronomers frequently hold star parties at this location.
L.L. Stub Stewart State Park, Buxton, OR 97109, oregonstateparks.org
Rooster Rock Park
Rooster Rock Park contains two different disc golf courses and a clothing-optional beach on its east side. This is another park that’s well-removed from the city lights of Portland. It is another favorite spot for the RCA to host star parties.
Corbett, OR 97019, oregonstateparks.org
Editor’s note: Parts of the Larch Mountain Day Use Area are currently closed. Be sure to check trail conditions before planning your stargazing trip.
Larch Mountain is an extinct volcano that stands almost 4000 feet above sea level. As with Mt. Tabor, you can get a good view of the night sky by hiking to its summit. However, be aware that there many trees in the area that can potentially block your view.
Larch Mountain, OR 97014, fs.usda.gov
Bald Peak is the highest point in the Chehalem Mountain range. Along with offering a fantastic view of the surrounding area, it also provides a very good view of the stars at night. Unlike the previous spots on this list, you can drive to the top. This makes it a good spot for those who don’t feel like hiking.
Bald Peak, OR 97123, traveloregon.com
Scappoose is a small town that’s only half an hour away from Portland. It combines the best aspects of a small town and a more modern city. Its smaller population also means there’s not as much light pollution, making the surrounding area a great place to go stargazing.
Scappoose, OR 97056, ci.scappoose.or.us
Stargazing Spots Within Two Hours of Portland
As is the case for most cities in our Stargazing Guides series, if you are willing to spend two hours driving out of Portland, you’ll be well rewarded with dark skies and lots of opportunities to see the stars. These places are some of the most recommended, but you can also head out to the Pacific coast or further inland toward central Oregon to find other stargazing spots.
Timberline Lodge is a mountain lodge that can be found 60 miles east of Portland and is famous for its appearance in The Shining. It stands almost 6000 feet above sea level and is far removed from any potential light pollution. This makes it a great spot for stargazing, and star parties are sometimes held here.
27500 E. Timberline Rd., Government Camp, OR 97028, timberlinelodge.com
Trout Lake can be found just across the border in Washington state. It’s a small town surrounded by mountains, so you won’t have to worry too much about light pollution. You can also rent cabins beside the lake itself, so you can spend the whole night stargazing if you’d like.
Trout Lake, WA 98650, troutlakewashington.com
Lost Lake is a beautiful place that’s well-known for fishing, swimming, boating, and camping. It also gets nice and dark at night, and the presence of Mt. Hood does a good job of blocking light pollution. Stargazing events are occasionally held in this area.
Lost Lake, OR 97014, lostlakeresort.org
This is a private airstrip that can be found 8 miles away from the town of Maupin. The nights get very dark in this area, and it is a frequent spot for the RCA to hold their star parties. Please be aware that this is private property and should only be visited during scheduled events.
Maupin, OR 97037, rosecityastronomers.net
Trillium Lake is another campground that can provide some great stargazing opportunities. It’s only 40 miles away from Portland and is 3600 feet above sea level. Along with stargazing, it’s also a good place for hiking, fishing, biking, and swimming during the day.
Trillium Lake, OR 97028, recreation.gov
Johnston Ridge Observatory
The Johnston Ridge Observatory is a site that’s dedicated to the 1980 explosion of Mt. Saint Helens. It also holds stargazing events on a fairly regular basis. When you come to these events, you’ll have access to a very powerful telescope and experts who can assist you with any questions you might have.
24000 Spirit Lake Hwy., Toutle, WA 98649, fs.usda.gov
How Good is the Stargazing in Portland?
Portland’s natural climate is not ideal for stargazing, to say the least. The skies are notoriously cloudy and grey, which makes it hard to get a clear view of the stars at night. This, along with the city’s night pollution, makes Portland a very difficult place to go stargazing.
That said, the further you go from the city, the more likely you are to find good stargazing spots. The various campgrounds on this list are all good places to observe the stars, especially those which are frequented by the RCA.
Best Times of Year to Go Stargazing in Portland
In order to find some really good stargazing opportunities in Portland, you’re going to have to work around its cloudy and rainy seasons. These occur during the winter months, which is when the city experiences the most rain.
For this reason, it’s best to go stargazing during the summer; the months of May through August are great for stargazing in Portland. Of course, this provides a challenge in itself since the days are longer. Still, stargazing in the summer will give you your best chance of getting a clear view of the sky.
Can You See the Milky Way in Portland?
Sadly, you’re not going to be able to see the Milky Way in Portland. Conditions in the city make stargazing difficult in the first place, and seeing our galaxy simply isn’t going to happen.
Finding the Milky Way outside of Portland can be challenging as well. There aren’t any certified Dark Sky Parks near the city. However, it’s not impossible if the conditions are right. Catching a glimpse of the Milky Way can be done in many of the areas in the “within two hours” section of this list.