Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden started as an idea of a rhododendron garden. Sam Jackson, a Portland local who owned the Oregon Journal, donated 27 acres for the garden on a site near Terwilliger Boulevard. But the land turned out to be too steep and rocky. The garden was moved to a site once known as Shakespearean Island, due to its history as an outdoor stage for Reed College students performing the works of the bard. Though less steep than the former site, Shakespearean Island was overgrown, dense with brush and blackberries that were cleaned up by volunteers. Crystal Springs held its first rhododendron show in 1956 and became an official garden in 1964.
Today, the garden is lush and sprawling, with more than 2,500 rhododendrons and other plants. Spurting fountains and meandering trails diversify the many ways to see the flowers. To some in Portland, the garden remains a secret—overshadowed by the city’s famous International Rose Test Garden, which was constructed during World War I to save and cultivate different kinds of European roses. Surrounded by the waters of Crystal Lake, the garden also serves as a waterfowl refuge. Ducks and geese frolic in the lake, and red-winged blackbirds and scrub jays perch in the trees.
Twice a year, the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden hosts free flower shows. At the Rhododendron & Daffodil Show in April and the Mother’s Day Show in May—peak blooming time for rhododendrons—local gardeners pit their flowers against each other in a showcase.
Know Before You Go
The rhododendrons typically bloom from late February through July. For maximum splendor, visit in late April to early May. But the park is open year-round allowing regular access to the perennial plants and views of the Crystal Springs Lake. It is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. from April 1 to September 30, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. from October 1 to March 31. Admission is free from October 1 through February 28; after, it is $5. The park entrance, parking, certain trails, and restrooms are wheelchair accessible.
The garden is a popular spot for weddings and photoshoots in the summer, which can section off parts of the park. To check if there’s an event that could affect your visit, check the official rhododendron wedding calendar.