If you’re looking for peaceful places in Portland, you might not think of The Grotto. That’s because it’s best known for the time when it’s least peaceful.
Every winter, throngs of people flock there to see the Christmas Festival of Lights and attend a Christmas-themes service in the main chapel. It’s lovely and colorful, and also crowded and nuts.
For a lovely, colorful, non-crowded experience, go back at some other time of year, plunk down $4 to take the elevator up the cliff, and roam the fantastic Upper Level Gardens.
As soon as you step out of the elevator, you’ll see this is a different place from the more touristy scene below. Here are 62 acres of greenery, with paths leading you past shrines surrounded by tall trees, ponds, and flowering shrubs. Every month of the year brings different blooms: flowering plum in March, trillium in April, rhododendron and azalea in May, impatiens and daisies in summer.
Of particular note are the Meditation Chapel, which has a view of the Columbia River; the Peace Garden with its waterways and ponds; and the new labyrinth, built in 2010 in a wooded corner at the far end of the gardens. But the suggested experience here is to just wander around.
It’s funny to think of so much activity below — the gift shops, the chapel, the coffee shop, the Christmas crowds — while there’s so much green, quiet peace up above.
The Grotto is at 8840 NE Skidmore St. in Portland. Phone: 503-254-7371. Lower level is free, upper is $4 for the elevator ride. Hours are basically 9 to 5 daily, with some seasonal variation. Public Transit: TriMet #72 to NE Sandy and 82nd or #12 to NE Sandy and The Grotto Entrance.