When is the best time to visit the Portland Japanese Garden?

When is the best time to visit the Portland Japanese Garden?

The Portland Japanese Garden is touted as the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan. And its beauty and serenity make it one of Portland’s top attractions.

I first visited the Portland Japanese Garden years ago as a high school student. And the experience imprinted a memory that has stayed with me through out the years.

Life carried me away from the PNW for a period of time. But when I returned, I still remembered these gardens. And when I visited them again as an adult, I found that they were every bit as stunning as I recalled.

Now to be sure, these gardens are splendid every time of the year. I’ve strolled these paths time and time again since returning to the PNW, and never grow tired of the experience.

However, I’ve learned that there are a few specific times of the year when these gardens are particularly breathtaking. Just keep scrolling and I’ll share with you what I’ve discovered to be the best time to visit the Portland Japanese Garden.

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A Traditional Japanese Garden

But first, a quick overview. You’ll find the Portland Japanese Garden located in Washington Park, just across from the tennis courts and the International Rose Test Garden.

The Portland Japanese Garden officially opened in 1967. It covers 12 acres of lush, peaceful garden, including 8 different traditional Japanese garden styles. A few of the garden styles you’ll find here are a Flat Garden, Sand and Stone Garden, Natural Garden, Strolling Pond Garden, and a Tea Garden.

A short walk leads from the ticket office, uphill through the Entry Garden. However, if you have mobility issues, there is a shuttle you can take to bypass this small trek.

At the top of the hill is the Cultural Village, the Umami Cafe, and a gift shop. The Cultural Village offers various performances and demonstrations that highlight and educate about Japanese culture.

And just before you enter the main gate, adjacent the Cultural Village, a terrace features a rotating, and ever-changing display of bonsai. Past the main gate, through out the gardens, you’ll find various pagodas and calming water elements, including a waterfall, a pond, a creek, and sōzu (a type of Japanese water fountain).

Near the Strolling Pond Garden, the Zigzag Bridge crosses over a pond filled with colorful koi fish. And at the Pavilion Gallery, from the opposite side of the Flat Garden, you’ll find an amazing view of Portland, with Mt. Hood in the distance.

When you first arrive, take a lap through the garden to get a good feel for it. But before you leave, take one more lap, this time a little slower. Savor the stillness around you before you return to the bustle of the city.

When is the best time to visit the Portland Japanese Garden?

The best times to visit the Portland Japanese Garden tend to coincide with the changing of the seasons. These include the cherry blossoms in early spring, the fall foliage in autumn, and the iris bloom in early summer.

Spring Cherry Blossoms

One of the most popular times to visit the Portland Japanese Garden is in the early spring, from mid March to early April. This is when the Sakura, or cherry blossoms, make their debut.

In 2022, Portland, Oregon, was actually ranked alongside Japan as one of the top destinations in the world to see the cherry blossoms. And the Japanese Gardens are easily one of the best places in Portland for cherry blossoms.

Here you’ll find an 80-year-old weeping cherry tree graces the Flat Garden. And Yoshino Cherry trees decorate the Strolling Pond Garden, as well as the Umami Cafe.

The cherry blossom has come to hold a deep and honored symbolism of the Japanese people. It also represents the fragility of life, as well as the hope and renewal of spring.

Certainly after a long, gray winter, seeing these soft pink blossoms seemed to energize me. I found a new bounce to my step that I hadn’t realized had gone missing in the previous months.

After my springtime visit, it was clear to understand why this season gets so much attention. Seeing the transformative beauty of the cherry blossoms as the gardens transition from winter to spring is an experience you won’t want to miss.

Fall Foliage

Another one of the best times to visit the Portland Japanese Gardens is in the autumn when the leaves change color, typically in late October. In fact, this is one of the best places in Portland to view the fall colors.

At peak fall foliage, the Portland Japanese Gardens burst with a vibrant display of crimson, amber, rust and gold. It’s as if Mother Nature is gifting us a final flash of warmth to keep us cozy through the cold months ahead.

Today, photographers come from all corners of the earth to admire this vivid show. However, most are there to snap a photo of one specific tree in particular. Nicknamed “The Tree,” this Japanese Maple was originally made famous by photographer Peter Lik.

The Tree then gained further notoriety when it was featured in a 2012 edition of National Geographic Magazine. This photo was taken by Fred An, Portland native and amateur photographer, one of the winners of the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest.

The Tree looks rather unassuming at first glance. And if you don’t what you’re looking for, you’re likely to pass it by. But come fall, you’ll know The Tree by the crowd of photographers lined up in front of it, in the Strolling Pond Garden.

If you’re hoping to snap a photo of The Tree for yourself, be prepared to wait 30-60 minutes in line to catch that iconic view from underneath. If you’re just visiting the gardens to enjoy the fall foliage though, don’t fret.

As stunning as this one tree is, the entire garden is aflame in its autumn attire. The crowd of photographers is typically limited to one small area, leaving the rest of the garden to be savored in peace by other visitors.

Summer Blooms

Visiting the Japanese Gardens for the summer bloom is slightly underrated in my opinion, and is actually one of my personal favorite times to visit. Of course, generally speaking, summer is peak season for many outdoor Portland attractions, including the Japanese Gardens, simply for the fact that it’s not raining!

Yet somehow, this season just doesn’t get as much hype as the cherry blossoms or the fall foliage. But come late June, the irises reach their peak bloom, as if heralding the advent of summer.

Now these are not the great bearded irises that many of us are familiar with. Instead, they are a more delicate Asian variety, commonly known as the Japanese Iris.

As you make your way across the Zigzag Bridge over the koi pond, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a sea of slender, waist-high green spires, topped by light purple irises. These intricate blooms lie flat, opening themselves up gently to the heavens above.

As you take a deep breath in, a soft, floral scent fills your senses, while the sun overhead warms your face. And you feel as if you’ve stumbled into a midsummer’s dream you don’t want to walk out of.

This is the memory that has stayed with me for so many years. This is why I recommend late June as one of the best times to visit the Portland Japanese Garden. And if you make it for the iris bloom, I hope your experience is every bit as memorable as mine was.

But how do I know if the cherry blossoms or irises are blooming?

Timing your visit with nature can prove to be difficult at times, though. Peak blossoms or foliage will vary from year to year, based on temperatures, rainfall, and other factors. Luckily however, the Portland Japanese Garden is prepared for this.

I highly recommend following the Portland Japanese Garden on Instagram or visiting their website before planning your visit. They give frequent, detailed updates on blossoms and foliage on both platforms, helping you get the most out of your visit.

How much time do you need at the Portland Japanese Garden?

You’ll want to plan to spend one to two hours in the Portland Japanese Garden. A one-hour visit should allow just enough time for a leisurely stroll, time to take photos, as well as time for a second lap around if you like.

A few factors to consider are if you want to stop at the Cultural Village, or the Umami Cafe to eat, if you’re visiting at peak times, or if you’re hoping to photograph popular spots, like The Tree in the fall. In these cases, you may want to plan to spend closer to two hours in the gardens.

Hours and Admission

The gardens are open Wednesdays through Mondays, from 10 am to 6 pm. Note that they are closed on Tuesdays, and for a few major holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.

Admission is $22 per adult, with discounts available for seniors, students, and youth. And then children 5 years of age and under enter for free.

Is a Portland Japanese Garden membership worth it?

If you plan to visit the gardens for all three peak events (cherry blossoms, fall foliage, and summer blooms), it’s worth considering a membership.

Memberships start at $70 for an individual, so three visits, and you’ve nearly paid for the membership. And if you’re planning on multiple visits with your partner or a friend, the dual membership is an even greater value, as it more than pays for itself in three visits.

Plus, members receive added benefits, such as extended members-only hours and events. During peak seasons, the smaller crowds during members-only hours makes the membership well worth it!

Parking at the Portland Japanese Gardens

Note that parking can be extremely limited, especially during these peak seasonal events, during the summer, and on weekends. If you’ve purchased timed tickets, be sure to show up with an extra 15 minutes at very least to find parking.

Luckily, Washington Park does provide a free shuttle to help mitigate the parking issue. So if you can’t find parking nearby, don’t fret. Just find the closest spot you can, and take the shuttle to the entrance of the Japanese Gardens.

Is the Portland Japanese Garden accessible?

Several areas of the Portland Japanese Garden are wheelchair accessible, but not the entire garden. The Flat Garden is most accessible, with a smooth paved path. And the Cultural Village, Umami Cafe, gift shop, and Pavilion Gallery are all accessible.

Other areas have varying degrees of accessibility. For example, the Tea Garden and the Strolling Pond Garden have gravel paths. And some of the paths connecting different sections, although paved, can be a bit steep.

However, the Natural Garden is least accessible, as it includes a series of stairs and cobblestone. This map details the types of paths, and can help you safely navigate throughout the garden.

A shuttle is available near the ticket office and the parking lot at the base of the hill, to assist visitors past the steep path through the Entry Garden. Although wheelchairs are not available to rent here, the shuttle does accommodate wheelchairs.

Are dogs allowed in the Portland Japanese Garden?

Generally speaking, pets are not allowed within the Portland Japanese Garden. However, service dogs are allowed.

Final thoughts on the best time to visit the Portland Japanese Garden

There are a few choice, best times to visit the Portland Japanese Garden. To get the most out of your trip, plan to visit in late March to early April for the cherry blossoms, late June for the iris bloom, or late October to witness the fall colors.

These three peak times make for an unforgettable experience that will leave you counting down the days for the next season. However, the garden truly is stunning year round, whether adorned in autumn splendor or the newness of spring, and everything else in between.

It’s well worth the visit any time of the year you can. And the Portland Japanese Garden should definitely be included in your Portland, Oregon itinerary!

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