Nature Play in the Portland area (a guest post from Michelle Mathis)


This guest blog was written by Michelle Mathis. She is a Portland-based landscape architect and owner of Learning Landscapes Design, a specialized design firm creating inspiring outdoor spaces for children.


To some of us these words back memories of trees, creek and long days outside in our youth. This early and deep connection to nature was an important building block that formed my adult values and life path. This is something I also want my daughter to experience and value. But, our 40 ‘by 100’ lot does not afford the same open acreage to explore that I was so fortunate to have out my back door as a kid. I love many of the things that urban living offers, especially in Portland. The intent behind Nature Play is to provide creative, free form play spaces that spark children’s connection to, and love of nature.

1_first photo_hands_learning landscapes

Photo: Learning Landscapes Design

The activities and play types under the ‘Nature Play’ umbrella are varied and diverse, but so are our connections to nature. This growing trend in play aims to harness some of nature’s allure and impact while offering it in a contained, safer and more available setting. Below are some local places where you can get your nature play fix this summer and fall. You can find more information and Nature Play sites on the Oregon Nature Play Initiative website.

Blue Lake Park: Metro

Blue Lake Park is a large, diverse regional park located in Fairview, Oregon. A nature
based play area was built in the park in 2012. This play area is constructed of almost all wood and stone. It includes climbing, balancing, loose parts and sand. It is a great introduction to what nature play can look and feel like.


Photo: Rod Wojtanik


Photo: Rod Wojtanik

Camille Park: Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District

Camille Park in Beaverton is in a beautiful Oak Savannah. The playground is tucked into the edge of the wild area and is a blend of nature themed playground equipment as well as all natural log climbing elements and sand play.

camille park_THPRD

Photo: Learning Landscapes Design


Photo: Learning Landscapes Design

Silver Falls State Park, North Canyon Nature Play Area: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department

This nature play area will be under construction during the summer of 2013, but will be open for fun in the fall 2013. This 1/4 mile loop trail has a series of animal themed nature play pods as well as a family picnic area.

Photo: Kevin Strandberg

Photo: Kevin Strandberg

Photo: Kevin Strandberg

Photo: Kevin Strandberg

Hyland Forest Park: Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation Department 

This nature park in Beaverton is home to an off trail play zone. Rather than a more developed park, there is a clearly signed natural area where kids can run, build and be one with the woods.


Photo: Learning Landscapes

Photo: Learning Landscapes

Photo: Learning Landscapes

Westmoreland Park Nature Play Area: Portland Parks and Recreation

The Westmoreland Park nature play area in SE Portland will be open in late 2013. The play area is themed to follow the path of Crystal Springs Creek. It includes climbing, sand and water, balancing, building and a mix of activities for all ages. Plan by: GreenWorks PC

Image: Greenworks PC

Image: Greenworks PC

Photo: Greenworks PC

Photo: Greenworks PC


Thank you, Michelle, for sharing about the variety of nature play opportunities in the Portland area. Personally, we have visited only one of these locations: Camille Park. Here are a few photos of Patrick enjoyed that nature play area:




I would like to also mention that there is a small nature play area at the south end of Spring Garden Park in SW Portland, in the Multnomah Village neighborhood. The park’s friends group plan to expand the project. Patrick at Spring Garden Park:


Patrick enjoying nature play at Spring Garden Park


Patrick enjoying nature play at Spring Garden Park

Finally, there are plans for nature play areas at Marshall Park (to replace a very old and outdated metal playground that had to be removed), Roger Tilbury Memorial Park in the Cedar Mill neighborhood, and the Portland Children’s Museum in Washington Park (at 1.3 acres!). And here’s a page from Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation about nature play opportunities in Vancouver, WA. Exciting times for parents and children who love nature and outdoor play!

This entry was posted in blue lake park, camille park, guest post, hyland forest park, marshall park, nature play, silver falls state park, spring garden park, westmoreland park. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Nature Play in the Portland area (a guest post from Michelle Mathis)

  1. Pingback: Guest Post on Nature Play

  2. I LOVE this. I did my thesis on children and nature in urban areas and talked about natural playgrounds a lot. These are some amazing examples. Thank you!

    • darwinsbulldog says:

      Thanks for the comment, Cathy! You’ve got a wonderful blog…

      • Thanks! That’s nice to hear!

        I really wish we could talk our local politicians into some “out of the box” thinking when it comes to playgrounds. Everyone is so concerned with lawsuits and safety standards these days.

  3. michelle says:

    Thanks for the chance to share a few things that have been going on in the region with nature play. Like Cathy pointed out, it is a great way to connect children and nature even in urban areas.

  4. There will also be a fairly large nature play area at Gateway Green in East Portland, when that project is developed. See

  5. darwinsbulldog says:

    Update from Greenworks about the nature play area at Silver Falls State Park:

  6. darwinsbulldog says:

    Plans for a neighborhood park in the Cully neighborhood include a nature play area:

  7. Pingback: Portland Children’s Museum seeks donations to complete Outdoor Adventure |

  8. darwinsbulldog says:

    Other parks with or soon to have nature play areas:
    Nadaka Nature Park (soon)
    Oxbow Regional Park (soon)
    Hawthorne Park (Clackamas)

  9. darwinsbulldog says:

    Franciscan Montessori Earth School’s Nature Play Earth Path:

  10. darwinsbulldog says:

    Update from Greenworks about the nature play area at Westmoreland Park, opening in Sept.:

  11. Pingback: New nature play area opens at Westmoreland Park in SE Portland; celebration on Oct. 25 |

  12. darwinsbulldog says:

    Kʰunamokwst Park will have a nature play area:

  13. Pingback: Nature play parks in and near Portland |

  14. darwinsbulldog says:

    I’ve learned that future development at the White Oak Savanna in West Linn will include a nature play area!

  15. darwinsbulldog says:

    Nature-play elements likely to be included in the redevelopment of Couch Park in NW Portland & the development of the natural area at Iron Mountain Park in Lake Oswego.

  16. darwinsbulldog says:

    The future Gateway Discovery Park in east Portland will have nature play:

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