Columbia Children’s Arboretum Is Northeast Portland’s Secret Garden

Visiting the park is like leaving the city without actually having to leave the city.

In a somewhat obscure pocket of Northeast Portland, wedged between the largely industrial East Columbia neighborhood, Marine Drive and a moss-lined ribbon of the Columbia Slough, you’ll find the Columbia Children’s Arboretum.

The approximately 28-acre nature park is off the beaten path for most, but residents of North and Northeast Portland consider it a secret treasure—a reasonably accessible, bona fide pastoral, fantastically tree-lined respite from the overwhelming noise of urban living. Visiting the park is like leaving the city without actually having to leave the city; a lovely atmosphere not found in more prominently located Portland parks.

In the 1960s, the principal of the now-closed Columbia School located on the property started a program called Growth through Research, Organization and Work, or GROW, where students would study basic curriculum through science-centered projects, which included creating an orchard and organic garden, a nature preserve, and an arboretum with a tree from every state in America. The orchard has since been replaced by a parking lot, but the arboretum and nature preserve remain, now with a 1-mile loop trail used primarily by residents of East Columbia to walk their dogs.