Williamette River

Portland Aerial Tram

The first time I visited Portland, I arrived at the aerial tram on a statutory holiday. That meant the tram was not running. I even purposely took the streetcar all the way from downtown to ride the aerial tram. So after being disappointed on my first visit to the tram, I was not about to be disappointed this time.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to the tram. We were heading east along Hawthorne Boulevard and drove right across the Hawthorne Bridge. Sounds simple. However, the Hawthorne Bridge is a drawbridge. Lucky us. We had to wait 10 minutes as a tugboat approached from downstream and had to make its way up the Williamette River.

waiting on the Hawthorne Bridge

So after this little delay, we drove over to the Portland Aerial Tram. If you are driving from downtown, it’s best to follow the signs that say South Waterfront. One good sign that you are going in the right direction is that you will be following the streetcar tracks. Keep following the tracks and you will come across the lower station for the aerial tram.

We found a lot of on-street paid parking in the area. I paid too much thinking I needed a lot of time to explore, but an hour is more than enough. So don’t overpay. Also, when you collect your ticket/receipt, remember to stick it to the window closest to the sidewalk, not on your dashboard. I remember I had to do this with my parking tickets in downtown Seattle as well.

We followed the signs to the tram. The signs are not in great abundance, but you should easily see the tram line hanging high in the sky. Just go to where the line meets the ground. Or if you are taking the streetcar, just get off at the very last stop and you will be right there at the lower tram station.

If you are interested, you can also walk around the South Waterfront neighbourhood. It’s a large steel and glass tower neighbourhood. On the ground, it isn’t all that animated. Perhaps because it’s a new neighbourhood that is separated from most of Portland by Interstate 5. However, the Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU) building that is directly beside the tram station is fairly busy on the inside.

A round trip on the aerial tram is $4 per person. Tickets are dispensed at a ticket vending machine. I thought we would be able to keep the ticket after boarding, but the attendant collected all the tickets. So take a photo of your ticket if you want a little memento of your ride. Or you could pay $4 to keep a ticket for yourself, if you really wanted to.

Currently, as you ascend the hill, you quickly see the construction of a pedestrian overpass. I overhear a local explaining to a friend that the overpass is meant to connect the new South Waterfront neighbourhood with the neighbourhood on the other side of I-5. It also gives residents on the other side of I-5 a chance to visit the waterfront without having to drive over.

There are only two cars that operate on this short tram ride. As we made our way up the hill, we passed the other one that was making its way down. With the two trams, service is roughly every 10 minutes. An advisory on the website says service slows to a tram every 15 minutes when winds are high.

high above I-5 in the Portland Aerial Tram

One thing I noticed as we rode the tram is the lack of towers. There’s the two termini on either end and one tower near the lower station. However, it’s completely free hanging from the one tower to the top. That’s a pretty far way to string these giant cables.

Also, these aerial trams are very different from other aerial gondola I’ve ridden. I’m used to seeing the small gondolas that carry a few people at a time. Those are the gondolas common at major ski resorts, like Whistler. This gondola can easily carry two dozen people and a few bikes.

At the very top of Marquam Hill, is the upper tram tower plus the campus of OHSU. We had disembarked at the top and wanted to walk around to see what was there. We quickly noticed that we were in a hospital. A nice hospital, too. Doctors, nurses, and other staff were busy zipping about. Patients were patiently waiting for their appointments. I assume this is a private university given how upscale everything felt. I could be wrong, though. I just felt that there was money here. Wifey quickly quipped, “Who ever willingly goes to a hospital as part of their vacation.”

After using the restrooms, we went back to the tram station. The tram station offers a great view of the city. If it were a clearer day, we could see the mountains further off. Today was very cloudy and rainy at times, so we were just happy to be able to see the city.

So we made our way back down on the tram. There are no attendants to collect tickets on the way down. Payment is only ever made on the way up. Apparently, staff and students of OHSU ride for free. Nice perk.

On the way down, I had a clear shot north of downtown Portland. So make sure to keep to the left of the tram if you want a clear view of downtown on the way down. I would stay on the right side if I were heading up. Again, it was a very cloudy day and the grey skies obscured any and all mountains.

Back at the bottom at South Waterfront. A streetcar had just arrived and the driver was taking a break. Good time for more transit photography. However, we wouldn’t be taking the streetcar this time around. It was back to our car and off to downtown.

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Portland Saturday Market and Williamette River Waterfront

We lucked out on some great weather in Portland.  The Friday we drove down was a mixed bag of clouds, rain, and wind.  The next few days, however, were gorgeous short-sleeve type weather.  Spring had finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest.

Skidmore - Old Town Street Signs

Skidmore - Old Town Street Signs

We hopped onto the MAX for free this morning and headed down to the Portland Saturday Market.  We got off at the Skidmore Fountain stop at SW 1st Ave and SW Ankeny St underneath the Burnside Bridge.  I had read about this popular local market online.  It runs from the end of February to Christmas Eve.  It’s in a really rough part of town.  There were a few abandoned buildings in the area and plenty of homeless and beggars milling about.  One group of them was set up in front of a building right beside the MAX stop.  It was a little scary to have to walk past them to move between different parts of the market. Hopefully, I was just paranoid.

Skidmore Fountain

Skidmore Fountain

There is one part of the market that is on one side of SW First Ave.  It’s the smaller part and had mostly food.  Across the street by the Skidmore Fountain was another part of the market with lots of crafts and artisans.  It definitely had a unique flavour and lots of local content.  The tents stretched between SW First Ave all the way to SW Naito Parkway.  Closer to Naito Parkway were more food stalls.  We regretted buying food on the other side of First Ave because there was a lot more selection at this part of the market, including something called Elephant Ears.  It’s a local Portland treat which I suspect looks and tastes like our Canadian Beaver Tails.

Elephant Ears of Portland

Elephant Ears of Portland

We continued to walk around and see more of the different displays and took some more photos.  There were even a couple of buskers plying their trade.  It was cute to see some kids become part of the act.  There is also a third section of the market that is directly under the Burnside Bridge.

Portland Saturday Market tents

Portland Saturday Market tents

Busker with kids playing along

Busker with kids playing along

Not too far from the Market is the Tom McCall Waterfront Park.  This park used to be part of the freeway system in Portland. Since they’ve torn down the freeway and reclaimed the waterfront, this park has been a popular destination for Portlanders.  On a beautiful day like the one we had, you could see a lot of Portland enjoying the sunshine.  There were photographers, joggers, and cyclists everywhere we looked.

View of Old Town from Waterfront

View of Old Town from Waterfront

Cyclists along the waterfront

Cyclists along the waterfront

It was a gorgeous days and all the cherry blossoms in the park added wonderfully to the spring time atmosphere.  Back in Vancouver, most of the cherry blossoms had not bloomed, but Portlands were blooming in full force this day.  We were in the Japanese-American Memorial area of the park.  Because cherry blossoms, or sakura, are a symbol of spring in Japan, that is likely why there were so many cherry blossom trees in this area.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

You could also see the other side of the Williamette River from the park.  Unfortunately, the other side of the river bank is dominated by the elevated highway that runs north-south.  There was a huge concrete landscape on the other side.  However, you could make out some of Portland’s nicer structures like the Oregon Convention Center and the Steel Bridge.  The Steel Bridge is a lift bridge that accommodates the Amtrak train and MAX LRT.

Oregon Convention Center behind the highway

Oregon Convention Center behind the highway

Rose Garden stadium behind the Steel Bridge

Rose Garden stadium behind the Steel Bridge

The Saturday Market was a treat to see and walk through, although I didn’t find anything I would purchase.  If I had more room in my stomach, I may have tried the Elephant Ears or something else from one of the food stalls near SW Naito Parkway.  The Waterfront was pretty, but we only experienced one section.  If we had more time, we could have rented bikes and rode up and down the Waterfront Park.