Pumpkin Regattas and Zombie Races in Portland: 8 Must-Do Seasonal Events

The West Goast Giant Pumpkin Regatta is an annual even in which paddlers race hollowed-out pumpkins at Tualatin Lake of the Commons.
The West Goast Giant Pumpkin Regatta is an annual even in which paddlers race hollowed-out pumpkins at Tualatin Lake of the Commons. Cory Hanson
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Summer may be firmly in the rearview mirror, but the shoulder season in Portland still means plenty to celebrate for outdoor lovers. While temperatures might be a bit more brisk in the morning, plenty of runs and walks (not to mention a few dragon boat events and, yes, a pumpkin regatta) add a little warmth to the fall and winter months.

Make plans to stay active and engaged over the next few months with this guide to seasonal events. Some, like the Columbia Gorge Marathon and Half Marathon, are aimed at hardcore athletes to remain in peak condition through the winter. Others, meanwhile, are more playful and fun—imagine channeling your inner zombie and chasing runners.

Whatever your style, you're sure to find an appealing way to help burn off the calories from Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinner, or holiday snacks.

1. West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta

The gourds-turned-boats make for hilarious spectating.
The gourds-turned-boats make for hilarious spectating. Cory Hanson

Portland-area residents love getting on the water. Stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, canoes, and even dragon boats are common sights along the Willamette River. But Tualatin takes that affection one step further with its annual West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta , happening this Saturday.

Each year, several paddlers (chosen in an early October lottery), many dressed up in costume, hop into a giant pumpkin and race across Tualatin Lake of the Commons. Past costumes include super heroes, surfers, the Tooth Fairy, and more.

While it's too late to sign up to paddle a pumpkin, the regatta is nevertheless free and open to the public—and a blast to watch. Other attractions include the Regatta Run (a 5k walk or run held in conjunction with the event), live music, entertainment, a pumpkin pie-eating contest, pumpkin bowling, and an inflatable obstacle course.

2. Columbia Gorge Marathon and Half Marathon

The Columbia Gorge Marathon turns around at the Rowena Crest Viewpoint, which hosts beautiful wildflowers every spring, summer, and fall.
The Columbia Gorge Marathon turns around at the Rowena Crest Viewpoint, which hosts beautiful wildflowers every spring, summer, and fall. stokes rx

The other runs, walks, and paddles on this list made it here for their devotion to holiday cheer and festive warmth. The Columbia Gorge Marathon and Half Marathon , however, is among the most scenic, beautiful running events in the United States. (Not just that, but it's coming up on Oct. 25.)

The run certainly challenges participants with windy conditions and innumerable hills, both hallmarks of the Columbia River Gorge. But it also rewards runners with breathtaking gorge views, several waterfalls, small-town charm in Mosier, scenic vistas at the Rowena Crest Viewpoint, and colorful fall foliage throughout the course.

The finish line party on the banks of the Columbia River in Hood River rewards runners (and, for $7, their spectators) with hot soup, rolls from a local baker, chips and salsa from local vendors, fruit from the Hood River Valley, and Sierra Nevada beer.

Following the event, runners could do a whole lot worse than to head across the Columbia River for pizza and a pint at Backwoods Brewing Company or the Big River Grill in Stevenson, a destination restaurant in Skamania County for more than 20 years.

3. Run2Survive Zombie Fest

Zombie races (note: this one is in Pittsburgh) have taken the country by storm.
Zombie races (note: this one is in Pittsburgh) have taken the country by storm. Rhett Landry

Thanks to the likes of The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later , zombies have been making a creepy comeback in American pop culture as of late. Numerous zombie-themed walks and runs have started around the country in recent years; one of the best zombie races in Portland is the  Run2Survive Zombie Fest , taking place on Halloween near the Columbia River in Fairview.

A highlight is a spooky 5k in which participants choose to be survivors or zombies. All "survivors" get two flags attached to a belt for the 5k course, and all "zombies" are tasked with tearing those off (and, in the process, "killing" the survivors). The fun includes an on-site makeup artist to apply zombie makeup, music, dancing, drinks, and a costume contest for the best zombie.

4. Holiday Half Marathon and 5k

The Holiday Half Marathon and 5k is one of the myriad events and attractions that makes Portland such a festive place during the holiday season. The famed white stag sign, complete with Rudolph's light-up nose, is another holiday icon around Portland.
The Holiday Half Marathon and 5k is one of the myriad events and attractions that makes Portland such a festive place during the holiday season. The famed white stag sign, complete with Rudolph's light-up nose, is another holiday icon around Portland. Mike Krzeszak

The Holiday Half Marathon and 5k  on December 13 holds a special place in the hearts of Portland runners for its combination stunning scenery and festive atmosphere.

Both runs start with a steep ascent up to Willamette Boulevard in North Portland before leveling out for much of the route. The half marathon includes a small dip in the St. Johns neighborhood, and both end with a gratifying, well-deserved descent back to Adidas America, the company's North American headquarters. Half marathon runners are treated to views of the Willamette River, downtown, and the West Hills from the bluffs, idyllic campus scenery at the University of Portland, and the grandeur of the St. Johns Bridge. (Read more about the area and the views it affords in our North Portland Loop cycling guide.)

But the festivities surrounding the race are what makes it such a fun tradition among Portland athletes. Runners tend to dress up in holiday-themed costumes, carolers (including Girl Scouts, youth groups, and school choir classes) serenade runners along the way, and the finish line party includes adult beverages like eggnog and seasonal craft beer from Deschutes Brewery, as well as soup, hot chocolate, oatmeal, eggnog, and more.

5. Turkeython

Turkeython attracts both serious runners looking to score PRs on easy 5k and 10k courses, as well as more causal runners who get into the holiday spirit.
Turkeython attracts both serious runners looking to score PRs on easy 5k and 10k courses, as well as more causal runners who get into the holiday spirit. Turkeython

What better way to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner than with a 5k run/walk or 10k run?  Turkeython , now in its fifth year, gives runners the chance to work up an appetite with a course that traverses parts of Tigard, Lake Oswego, and Tualatin.

The course starts and ends at Bridgeport Village; in between, it snakes through the the quiet, suburban neighborhoods surrounding the mall. (Note: The 10k route is two laps through the 5k course. A 10k relay option is available to pairs of runners, with one person running each lap of the course.)

A costume contest kicks off the festivities (expect plenty of pilgrims and turkeys), a fruit bar is available beforehand, and runners can treat themselves to hot chocolate afterward. In a thoughtful nod to the meaning of the day, runners are also given second bibs, where they can write down something for which they're thankful.

6. Dragon Boat Holiday Paddles

Ray Terrill

Portland-area dragon boat paddlers celebrate the holiday season with a pair of lighthearted "practices." The first takes place on Thanksgiving morning; paddlers from all teams are encouraged to sign up for early-morning, one-hour paddles to burn off the calories they'll consume later in the day. Far from a normal, rigorous practices that are the hallmark of most dragon boat teams, the event stops at several points so paddlers can share their favorite Thanksgiving recipes and memories. An added bonus: Each paddler receives a raffle ticket for door-prize drawings that take place throughout the event.

Closer to Christmas (December 8 or 10, though a specific date is still TBD), paddlers from all teams are invited in a fun holiday celebration on the water. Paddlers are encouraged to dress in holiday costumes and attire, dragon boats are outfitted with strings of colorful lights, and paddlers sing carols throughout the one-hour "practice." Completing the event's festive vibe: It takes place the same night as Portland's Christmas Ships outing, giving paddlers an up-close look at the decorated parade of motorized ships and boats.

Note: The Thanksgiving Day and holiday paddles are open to members of teams that are part of DragonSports USA. If you're not on a team, keep in mind that many teams recruit throughout the winter; and consider joining a dragon boat team for both a serious workout and lots of fun.

7. Winter Wonderland of Lights Run Race

The annual Winter Wonderland of Lights Run Race lets participants run through what organizers call the largest lights display west of the Mississippi River.
The annual Winter Wonderland of Lights Run Race lets participants run through what organizers call the largest lights display west of the Mississippi River. Winter Wonderland

The Winter Wonderland lights display has long been a holiday tradition for families from throughout the region. Every winter, the Portland International Raceway hosts more than 250 light displays and animated scenes reflecting the season's holiday cheer, giving families the chance to drive the racetrack and gawk at Christmas trees, candy canes, reindeer, and other elaborate scenes.

But a few events turn the racetrack over to revelers on bike or foot, including the annual Winter Wonderland of Lights Run Race. The event, taking place on Nov. 28, lets runners take one, two, or three loops around the track (each loop is about two miles) over the course of two hours, all while taking in the grandiose scenes and displays.

8. Jingle Bell Run/Walk

Runners are encouraged to dress up in holiday costumes at the Jingle Bell Run/Walk.
Runners are encouraged to dress up in holiday costumes at the Jingle Bell Run/Walk. Arthritis Foundation

The Jingle Bell Run/Walk , which raises money for the Arthritis Foundation, puts the "fun" in "fundraiser."

Ugly sweater and holiday costume contests kick off the festivities, and the run/walk course snakes through downtown Portland, Old Town/Chinatown, and the edge of the Pearl District before turning around at the Broadway Bridge. Elves and a costumed Rudolph are on hand to cheer on participants, and as if that weren't festive enough, all registration fees include a set of jingle bells.

 

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