When to Go
In Portland and Seattle we like to say that summer begins on July 5th. It’s mostly true—or as true as anything can be in an age of rapid climate change. So if you are planning to spend your holidays in either city, and want to maximize your chances for sunshine and warm weather, July 5 through September 15 are the best months to visit.
The summers truly are splendid, and life in both cities moves outdoors as much as possible. The parks are verdant, the gardens are glorious, there are outdoor festivals galore, and you can sit outside comfortably all evening, until it gets chilly enough for a sweater. That’s the beauty of summer in Seattle and Portland—no matter how hot the day, the nights cool down (sometimes by 30 degrees) so that you need a blanket. And when it’s hot, it’s dry, not humid, because the hot air comes from the deserts east of the Cascades and flows down the Columbia Gorge and through the valleys to Portland and Seattle. The downside when it gets very warm and the winds stop blowing is inversion and air pollution. Ick.
Nobody but gardeners believe me when I tell them that Portland and Seattle actually have what is considered a Mediterranean climate. What this means is that it generally rains almost constantly in one form or another from mid-October through June, with plenty of clear days and periods of truly great weather along the way. From November through March, the temperature remains temperate, rarely dipping below freezing and usually hovering in the 40s. By April it starts warming up, though the precipitation persists, and by May and June temperatures rise to the mid-70s with (of late) sudden spikes into the 80s and even low 90s (all temperatures in Fahrenheit). Plants love this climate, and so do gardeners.
June is when Portland holds its famous Rose Festival, but I’ve often thought it should be called the Rain Festival because it always seems to rain during the two big parades. Why not celebrate what makes life out here so green?
But can I convince you to come earlier in the year? If you are a gardener, in love with the egregious excesses of spring, come to Seattle or Portland in late April through May. You will be dazzled by the exuberance of spring in the Northwest, as cherry trees burst into pink bloom; camellias open; rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, and dogwoods flower; and the tulip fields near Portland and Seattle rival—maybe surpass—those in Holland. Yes, the springtime weather is very changeable, and you will have rain, but you also won’t miss the floral fecundity of these two cities when spring is at its freshest and richest.
The heavenly summer weather often stretches out through September, sometimes into early October. This, too, is a fabulous time to visit because of the bounty you’ll find at the farmers markets and the cultural pleasures you’ll enjoy as the performing arts venues swing into performance mode.
As for winter—well, if you’re a skier or snowboarder, you know why winter would be a good time to come. The mountains (Mount Rainier and Mount Hood) are generally ready to chairlift skiers up their slopes by mid-November—though I hasten to add that in recent years the snow has been arriving later and staying longer.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.