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NW Life | local | History | Oregon Field Guide Summer Series

Portland's Hidden Treasures: Staircases


Portland is home to many well-known landmarks. Its bridges, rivers and roses attract tourists and locals alike. But there’s another landmark in Portland that you won’t find on any map: its public stairways.

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Winding among old neighborhoods, city parks, and even under freeways, Portland has more than 200 sets of stairs. Some, like the grand Washington Park stairs or the steps up the side of Mount Tabor, are used often. But others, like the steep stairs connecting the old Linnton neighborhood off of Highway 30, are hidden from view unless you know where to look.  

Laura Foster, who wrote a book about Portland’s many stairways, likes that most of them are hard to find. 

“Everything is made so clear in life,” she says. “It’s kinda fun to have some mystery.” 

Researching her book, Foster uncovered a lot of Portland history. The terraces in the Westover neighborhood, for example, were made by a water cannon more commonly used for gold mining. And the Washington Park stairs were originally meant for a residential neighborhood, but the land is so unstable that a park was built around the stairs instead. 

Portland’s hidden staircases are in just about every corner of the city. The next time you spot one, Laura Foster recommends seeing where it leads.  

“They’re sort of like this instant zipline up the hill,” she says. “Often neighborhoods look quite different at the bottom and top of staircases.” 

Want to climb Portland’s 207 hidden staircases? Check out “The Portland Stairs Book” by Laura Foster.

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