A few years ago I had the pleasure of visiting The Grotto in Portland. I’d heard great things, but never paid the spot a visit because Portland has no shortage of great parks and green spaces.
It wasn’t until a coworker updated me on their weekend and mentioned that they visited The Grotto for peace and respite that it caught my attention. Portland is a popular place, so I’m always eager to learn about spots where solitude (or some semblance of solitude) is still possible.
Enter the Grotto in Portland. If only I had thought to visit this gem earlier, it was a treat. Intrigued, I came home and did some research on the Grotto’s history, which is the impetus for this article.
So without further ado, I’d like to share a guide to The Grotto in Portland, Oregon. Let’s jump in.
Visiting The Grotto in Portland, Oregon
What (exactly) is The Grotto in Portland?
It might be helpful to explain what The Portland Grotto is to help avoid confusion. The official name of The Grotto is National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother, but that’s a mouthful so locals just call it “The Grotto.”
Regardless of what you choose to call it, The Grotto is a Catholic outdoor shrine and sanctuary that spans 62 acres in a forest.
The Portland Grotto is a ministry of the Servite Friars (officially known as the Order of Servants of Mary), which is one of the five original Catholic orders. Even though The Grotto is associated with the Catholic faith, all are welcome to enjoy the beauty and respite of this peaceful space.
If you’re looking for more peaceful places in Portland, check out: 12 Stunning Parks in Portland (Local’s Guide)
Is there a cost for visiting the Grotto?
There’s two parts to the Portland Grotto (which I’ll cover in detail shortly), the lower portion of Grotto is FREE and upper level is paid. The cost of admission is $9.95 per adult, $8.95 for seniors 65+ and $4.95 for youth 6-11 years old.
If you’d like to explore the lower area you simply park your car and head in. Since the church and cave are in the lower level, you can visit those and mediate for free.
The upper level requires admission. Simply pop into the Visitor Center (near the Chapel of Mary) and you’ll receive a token coin to ride the elevator upon paying admission. The token is used to ride the elevator to the upper level.
If you’re keen on visiting the Portland Grotto often then you may want to consider getting an annual pass. The cost of the annual pass is $50 per individual, $75 for individual + one guest and $100 for a family of up to 6 people.
Things to Do at the Portland Grotto
As mentioned, the Grotto is a 62-acre outdoor shrine, there’s a lot of ground to cover! Full of meandering paths, beautiful forestland and a botanical garden, there’s a few key areas to explore.
Understanding the lay of the land is important before visiting the Grotto in Portland. Divided into two areas (upper level & lower levels) both sections serve a purpose. The upper level is only accessible via elevator and admission is required ($9.95 per adult, $8.95 seniors & $4.95 kids aged 6-11).
Things to Do at the Portland Grotto’s Lower Level (FREE)
- Enjoy the Grotto. This is the cave with the statue of Mary holding Jesus’ crucified body. Ample seating is provided, if you’re like to sit down and reflect for a while feel free to do so.
- Visit the Chapel of Mary: With a seating capacity of 600 people, the church offers warm vibes for all that visit (regardless of religious affiliation). You’ll see a small selection of artwork and a lot of marble.
- Walk the Stations of the Cross: A circular path leads visitors to 14 bronze sculptures known collectively as the Stations of the Cross. This is an easy path tucked into a heavily forested area of The Grotto.
Exploring the Upper Level at The Grotto (Admission Required)
Note: The upper level is only accessible via elevator and admission is required ($9.95 per adult, $8.95 seniors & $4.95 kids aged 6-11).
Visit the Meditation Hall. Sitting on a clifftop, this vantage point provides panoramic views of the Columbia River, Cascade Mountains and even Mount St. Helens (on a clear day).
Admire the international shrines. Five beautiful international shrines honor the Catholic faith in other parts of the world. The shrines are beautifully built to represent the rich cultures of these countries.
Visit St. Anne’s Church. A charming red chapel built in 1934 in honor of Anne, the mother of Mary. Peak inside to see reproductions of various Madonna paintings from across the world.
Admire the Labyrinth. A replica of the medieval labyrinth in France, which was used as a mini pilgrimage for those that couldn’t travel to the Holy Land. Today the labyrinth is used for meditation, walking from the center and out again.
Stop and smell the roses at the rose garden. Maintained by volunteers, the rose garden at the Grotto blooms from May – October. Some are fragrant, all are beautiful.
“Let this be a sanctuary of peace for all peoples of the earth and surely in this day a sanctuary is needed. Torn with differences, strife, and grief, the world needs sanctuary where the human spirit can seek peace and consolation.”Archbishop Alexander Christie Prayer at opening of the Portland Grotto
Enjoy the Peace Garden. Spanning 1.5 acres, the Peace Garden was build through a generous donation from Henry J. Casey who sought to honor the memory of his sister Marguerite. The garden features a pond, stream and many bronze plaques along the way.
History of The Grotto
The inception of the Grotto in Portland begins with an interesting story. It all started with a man named Ambrose Mayer, a Friar from Canada. When he was a young boy, his mother almost died in childbirth.
In desperation, he prayed for her to be spared and promised to create a great work for the church is his prayers were answered. His mother (and sister) survived and Ambrose gave his life to the church bt joining the Servite Order.
He was sent to the City of Roses to serve as a Servite pastor for the Archdiocese of Portland. Shortly after settling down in Portland, Mayer stumbled upon a heavily wooded area that was listed for sale by the Union Pacific Railroad Company.
Enthralled with the nature (and perhaps reminded of his promise), he made a down-payment on the land and embarked on finding proper funding to buy the $48,000 property). A national campaign took place and enough funding was raised to complete the purchase in 1923, construction on The Grotto began that year.
The first order of business was carving out a natural cathedral. A cave was carved in the 110-foot basalt cliff and a statue of Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus was installed but was later replaced by a replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà in 1946.The
Good to Know: The shrine at The Grotto was designated a National Sanctuary in 1983. Since then, more than 10 million visitors have paid their respects and marveled at the peaceful gardens. Today folks from all walks of life and faiths (and no faiths!) are welcome to enjoy this sacred place.
Let’s dive into the best things to do at the Grotto.
The Grotto is found in NE Portland within the boundary of the Madison South neighborhood. The official address is 8840 NE Skidmore St, Portland, OR 97220.
Attending Mass at the Portland Grotto
Can you attend mass while visiting The Grotto in Portland? Yes, yes you can.
Mass at the Grotto dates back to 1924. More than 3,000 people attended the first official mass on May 29, 1924. (That was before cellphones, word got around!).
Today the Grotto holds a mass every Monday – Saturday at 12pm & Sundays at 8am, 10am and 12pm. Mass is held inside the Chapel of Mary, which was built in 1955. If interested, more information can be found on the official website.
Visiting The Grotto at Christmas
Visiting the Grotto at Christmas is a popular activity. The area gets decked out during the holiday season in a dazzling display of beautiful lights that span a quarter mile. The event is called the Christmas Festival Of Lights and visitors are welcome to slowly meander through while reflecting on the reason of the season.
The Festival of Lights runs from the day after Thanksgiving until December 30. In addition to the great display of lights, you can also catch performances at the Chapel of Mary. This is a family-friendly event, hosting fun activities like puppet shows, caroling and petting zoos — all are welcome to attend.
Visiting the Grotto during Christmas admission: there’s an entrance fee to see the Christmas Festival of Lights. You can save money by purchasing tickets online in advance. General admission is $14 for adults if purchased in advance, $18 at the door. Kids aged 3-11 are $5 if purchased in advance and $8 at the door. Kids under 2 are free.
Local’s Tip: Visiting the Portland Grotto during Christmas is cheaper earlier in the season and during weekdays. Plus, you’ll get to avoid crowds and kick off the holidays earlier! If your schedule is flexible, visiting during the weekdays early December.
Looking for more fun activities in Portland during the Christmas season? Read the Complete Guide to Celebrating Christmas in Portland, Oregon
Visiting the Grotto in Portland (FAQs)
There’s a large FREE parking lot at the Grotto. During peak visiting times (Christmas celebrations, Sunday mass) the parking lot fills up quickly. Thankfully, a free shuttle runs from the Parkrose/Sumner Park-And-ride on Sandy Boulevard.
Yes, restrooms are available on both levels of the Grotto in Portland.
Yes, the Grotto is ADA accessible. The upper level is serviced by an elevator and the wide pathways are paved.
Service animals are permitted in all areas of The Grotto. Leashed dogs may enjoy the lower level of the Grotto but are not allowed on the upper levels or inside the chapel and buildings.
What to See at the Grotto in Portland | Visiting the Portland Grotto (Post Summary)
In sum, here’s a roundup of the best things to do when visiting the Portland Grotto.
Things to Do at Portland Grotto’s Lower Level
- Admire The Grotto (cave and statue)
- Visit the Chapel of Mary
- Walk the Stations of the Cross
Things to Do at Portland Grotto’s Lower Level
- Visit the Meditation Hall
- Admire the international shrines
- Visit St. Anne’s Church
- Admire the Labyrinth
- Visit the Rose Garden
- Enjoy the Peace Garden
Map of the Portland Grotto
Getting to the Grotto
Located in Northeast Portland, off Sandy Boulevard, routing yourself to the official address (8840 NE Skidmore St, Portland, OR 97220) may be the easiest way to get to the Grotto in Portland. However, if more helpful, here’s a few quick directions.
If traveling from downtown Portland, simply take I-84 East and get of at Exit 5 (82nd Ave). Take an immediate right at the light and continue down Sandy Blvd. for 1.5 miles. Turn right on Sandy Blvd and you’ll find yourself entering the parking lot.
From the north, take Exit 23A and follow signs for Sandy Blvd. If you’re visiting the Portland Grotto from the south, take I-205 North and get off at Exit 23B then follow signs towards Sandy Blvd. Continue down Sandy Blvd. until you read the Grotto.
You May Enjoy Reading: 12 Stunning Parks in Portland, Oregon (Local’s Guide)
Jane Tokito says
Thank you for such a great explanation of our sanctuary. You did an amazing job capturing the spirit of The Grotto, a place of peace where everyone is welcome. We hope you will return again and again.
Antonina Pattiz says
Jane, thank you for the kind words. The Grotto is a very special place and deserves some love. 🙂