Portland Aerial Tram


“WOW! I want to be in front!” Ethan said as he rushed on to the tram car, putting his hands on the bubble-like window in the front of the tram.

The Portland Aerial Tram not only features stunning views of Oregon, but operators also offer kids tram stickers, which is the highlight of the trip for little ones.

Now, before I will go much further, I understand that some of you out there have a fear of heights. Or at the very least think of those disaster movies where the tram lines break and Spider-Man has to come and rescue the passengers. As one of those nervous-nellies, I have to say, the views from the tram make you forget that you are hanging 500-feet above southwest Portland.

Of course the day that I rode the tram from the South Waterfront District up to Oregon Health and Science University it was windy and rainy. Because if you have a fear of heights, what better way to enjoy yourself than ride on a tram hanging from wires in the wind? But amazingly the tram didn’t swing that much at all. Yes, when we reached one of the towers there is a bit of swing of the car, but it subsided quickly.

What I ended up paying more attention to on my ride up and back, was just how far you can see, even with a cloud cover. I was amazed at looking toward downtown and seeing all the traffic and cars below. On the way back, looking out over the new lightrail bridge that was under construction was another way to spend the time while you ride. 

Much like a ferry, you pay at the bottom of the tram and then get the round trip ticket. While the tram was built, in part, to alleviate some of the traffic and parking issues on the OHSU hill, it has become one of the more popular tourist destinations in the city, with each day many families and tourists riding up to its perch at the Portland medical school and hospital. 

From the observation deck at the top of the trip, the views are stunning and you can watch the trams go up and down the line – if you aren’t afraid of being close to the edge of the deck. While there are solid guardrails, it’s still a long way down.

From the tram you can also see the shipyard next door to the OHSU campus in the South Waterfront, and watching workers build boats is very interesting, especially from an angle you normally wouldn’t get to see – from above. There is much to look at and photograph when you ride the tram.

For those of you into facts and figures, the tram travels at about 20 miles per hour and it takes about three minutes to get to your destination. The distance between the two stations is 3,300 linear feet, and it is part of the city of Portland public transportation system.  It was designed by Angelil/Graham/Pfenniger/Scholl based in Zurich, Switzerland and Los Angeles, and the cabins were made in Switzerland.

Each tram has an operator riding in it, and the entire system is monitored by computers and has many backup systems. In addition it exceeds United States seismic standards.

What I like most about the tram, is that in the South Waterfront there is plenty of parking, so you can park your car, take a tram ride and look out over the city. When you get back down, then you can catch the Portland Streetcar into the downtown core and catch light rail to many places around the city. The public transportation system called Tri-Met is very good in Portland and the tram is a great place to start your Portland adventures.
About Portland Aerial Tram: The tram cabins travel 3,300 linear feet between the South Waterfront terminal next to OHSU’s Center for Health and Healing and the upper terminal at Kohler Pavilion.   

What to bring: A camera is a must if you want to capture Mount Adams, Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens and the cityscape when you are riding up the cables.

Tip: Don’t let a cloudy day stop you from enjoying this great experience. A quick search online will show you some of the amazing photos people have taken when there is fog along the Willamette River, or even the city lights. Take the trip and see, because each on is unique.

Season:  The tram is open year-round.
Getting there:  You can park and ride the tram at the South Waterfront District at 3303 S.W. Bond Ave, Portland.  

By Patrick Johnson
For Oregon.com