Cathedral Park is one of the most popular Portland elopement locations, and it’s easy to see why. The park showcases the iconic St John’s Bridge from every angle, with a perfect elopement ceremony location directly beneath it.
This couple had an intimate New Year’s Eve elopement on an overcast day. They kept their ceremony short and sweet, and spent the rest of the time taking photos around the park. The theme and decor was classic and minimal; allowing the bridge to shine. I loved this beautiful, minimalist approach to a wedding, simplifying everything and keeping only the necessities.
Cathedral Park Location
Cathedral Park is located in St. Johns, in North Portland. The park occupies 21 acres of land directly underneath the St John’s Bridge, along the banks of the Willamette River. The main entrance is on N Edison Street and Pittsburg Avenue. It’s a 15 minute drive from downtown Portland, and 30 minute drive from Portland International Airport. The surrounding St. Johns neighborhood has many shops, bars, restaurants, and hotels, all within walking distance to the park. It’s also a short distance from hiking trails across the river in Forest Park.
Cathedral Park History
Cathedral Park is named after the gothic style arches of the St John’s Bridge. The bridge first opened in 1931 and was designed by David B Steinman (source). It is currently the tallest bridge in Portland, and it was the longest suspension bridge west of the Mississippi at the time of its construction. It’s currently the only suspension bridge in the Willamette Valley, and is one of the three public highway suspension bridges in Oregon (source).
Cathedral Park itself is believed to be one of the 14 Lewis and Clark landing sites in the Portland area (source). The land was a popular hunting and fishing spot for the native Kalapuya and Clackamas people (source). You can learn more about the native peoples who lived in Portland by reading this University of Portland article here.
The park itself was finished in 1980, 50 years after the bridge was constructed. Before then, the site resembled a forgotten junkyard. Howard Galbraith, who was considered “honorary” mayor of St John’s, helped raise funds to create the park in the 1970s. It took eight years of fundraising, and $7.5 million dollars, but it was finally opened on May 30, 1980 (source).
Cathedral Park Amenities
Most people hold their elopements at the main entrance to Cathedral Park, directly under the gothic arches. The 21 acre park offers a variety of other amenities and locations, including:
-Boat dock and boat ramp
-Paved accessible paths
-Off-leash dog areas
Reasons to elope at Cathedral Park
-Cathedral Park is beautiful. The arches are visually stunning, and the trees, river, and nearby west hills create a gorgeous backdrop.
-The location is conveniently located in Portland. It’s only a short drive from downtown or the airport.
-The park is wheelchair accessible. There are paved paths and accessible restrooms.
-It’s affordable. Permits cost $621.50 to reserve the stairs and deck at Cathedral Park for up to 100 people. Note that if you are NOT inviting guests, and are having a standing elopement ceremony with only the couple, officiant, and 2 witnesses, you do not need a permit.
-It’s beautiful year-round. Because the park is located directly under the bridge, it has some rain protection, making it a great location in any season.
When to elope at Cathedral Park
The best lighting at Cathedral Park is usually in the late afternoons or evenings, when the sun shines over the west hills and backlights the stairs and deck. Mornings are less crowded, but the eastern sunlight will fall directly onto the stairs and deck, creating a harsher, direct light look.
The best time of year to elope at Cathedral Park is mid fall. The park is full of deciduous trees that turn beautiful colors in late October and early November. The weather is cooler and the park is slightly less busy than in the summer.
To learn more about the trees and plants at Cathedral Park, check out this website with virtual tours of the grounds.
How to elope at Cathedral Park
Cathedral Park is managed by Portland Parks and Recreation. If you plan on having guests or any type of setup, you will need a permit. If you are eloping with only an officiant and two witnesses, you do not need a permit. The permit allows you to officially reserve the space from the public for the day.
Best Cathedral Park photo locations
-The arch view. This is the iconic view from the stairs or the deck, directly under the St. John’s bridge.
-The north meadow near the boat ramp. This meadow has the best views of the full bridge from the side.
-The south meadow near the boat docks.
-The waterfront beach - you can take photos right next to the water, or on the dock.
-On the actual bridge itself. You can walk up onto the sidewalk of the bridge for epic views! It take about 10-15 minutes to walk up to the bridge since it’s so tall.
Things to know before eloping at Cathedral Park
Cathedral Park is beautiful, and therefore extremely popular. This is one of the most famous Portland locations, so expect it to be busy. On this particular wedding day, there were three different couples taking Cathedral Park wedding photos during the one hour I was there - and this was in the winter on a cold day. In the summer and fall, I’ve seen as many as 12 different photoshoots happening around the park on a nice day.
The best way to assure your privacy is to reserve the stairs and deck at Cathedral Park with a permit. If you don’t book the stairs with a permit, please expect that they may already be taken, or plan to wait your turn as multiple photographers use the spot.
More Cathedral Park wedding photos
Here are some more photos from other Cathedral Park weddings that I’ve done in the past. And if you enjoyed these photos, please feel free to contact me if you have questions, or reach out if you are planning your own Portland elopement!