Moving near Portland, Oregon? Check out these 7 County Options.
We updated this article in 2023 to add an eighth county.
When looking for a new home near a city center like Portland, Oregon, how much do you consider the county where the property is located when making your decision? Counties have important features and facets that can impact the quality of life, and their boundaries are not always clear. County policies and practices trickle down to suburban cities and towns, then to individual neighborhoods. Portland is located in Multnomah County, but Multnomah reaches beyond the confines of the city’s boundaries.
Portland’s tri-county area consists of Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties, Oregon’s three most populated, with 1,826,725 total residents, according to Census.gov‘s 2021 report. Multnomah County makes up 803,377 of that number, with Washington County at 600,811 and Clackamas County at 422,537.
We explored the tri-county area and other Oregon counties within a 75-mile radius. Keep reading to see what we discovered.
But first, let’s look at why counties matter and how you can find essential information about each.
Why do Counties Matter?
When people decide to move to a new locale, they’re usually concerned with picking the right neighborhood. But learning more about the county you’ll be living in is just as important. Why? Because counties can own, operate, and invest in many necessities for quality of life, like roads, hospitals, bridges, parks, airports, utilities, police departments, jails, and courts. A county can hold a lot of sway over a community’s support systems. Property and business taxes can also vary significantly from county to county.
Here are some ways to learn more about Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas Counties.
Oregon County Tools and Resources
To help make your exploration of Oregon counties surrounding Portland easier, we found these handy tools to give you answers to some of your questions.
County Property Tax Rates
Remember that counties can have a multitude of zones used to calculate property taxes, depending on each area’s desirability. Property taxes can also have bonds attached to them, making exact comparisons difficult. A big-picture view of the tri-county area tells us that Clackamas County generally has lower property taxes, with Washington County next, and Multnomah County being the highest.
If property tax is high on your list of concerns, check out these free Clackamas, Washington, and Multnomah Counties guides and calculators.
County Locator Map
Knowing the county location of the property you’re interested in is a good thing to know sooner than later. The last thing you want is to have your heart set on a home only to discover that it falls in a county with policies and tax rates you want to avoid.
To help with this, PDX Maps has this handy County Boundaries Map. Simply enter the address of the property in the search bar in the upper right-hand corner of the map. When you know the appropriate county, you can then visit their website to learn about what the county is involved in locally, its latest news, and more.
Your Real Estate Agent
Overlapping county jurisdictions in a large metro like Portland can create confusion around rules and regulations, as well as quality of life factors. We’re happy to share our knowledge about Portland and surrounding cities and counties so you can make a well-informed decision about where you want to call home.
1. Multnomah County
Multnomah County consists of all of Portland proper and also extends far to the east, nearly all the way to Mt. Hood. Other cities, towns, and municipalities located within Multnomah County lines are Gresham, Fairview, Troutdale, Wood Village, and Maywood Park.
Multnomah County has the distinction of being home to Downtown Portland, Portland International Airport, and large sections of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.
Here’s a closer look at what Multnomah County has to offer.
The Trimet transit system consists of the MAX Light Rail system and the bus system. The MAX provides transportation between Portland’s City Center, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Clackamas, Gresham, Milwaukie, north/northeast Portland, and Portland International Airport. Trains run every fifteen minutes or less, with most lines running from 4:00 am to midnight, seven days a week. The bus system transports people within the city and to more far-flung surrounding towns like Estacada and Forest Grove, with some lines running up to 20 hours daily. Portland’s Streetcar system is separate from Trimet and operates from early morning to late at night, running north to south on Portland’s west side, while the A and B loops cross the river to the city’s close-in northeast and southeast quadrants.
Food Culture: Highlight
Portland has earned itself the ranking of one of the top ten best foodie cities in the U.S., and it’s no surprise, given the Rose City’s penchant for quality food, whether at high-end, award-winning restaurants, farmers markets, or food carts.
Portland is a sizable city and comprises much of the county, which translates to Multnomah County having higher crime rates than other nearby counties. We’ve seen a rise in crime here over recent years, but this doesn’t mean the city is unsafe. Neighborhoods in Portland’s West Hills continue to see lower crime rates, as do those in parts of southwest Portland and pockets in the southeast—like Eastmoreland and Laurelhurst, northeast Portland—like Beaumont-Wilshire and Sabin, and north Portland—like University Park and Cathedral Park.
2. Hood River County
While Hood River County borders Multnomah County, this is actually one of the farthest counties from Portland on our list, coming in at 75 miles. This is primarily due to the shape of Multnomah County, which has a “pan handle” on the eastern edge. Hood River County is home to the communities of Cascade Locks, Hood River, Mt. Hood, Rockford, Parkdale, Oak Grove, and Odell.
Hood River County is known as the “Windsurfing Capital of the World, thanks to the pristine stretch of the Columbia River that’s perfect for windsurfing and kiteboarding. If you’re a fan of the great outdoors, Hood River County is a great place to live.
Let’s take a closer look at everything Hood River County has to offer, and you’ll understand why this hidden gem just outside of Portland is wsell worth a second look.
River Access: Highlight
Hood River County is where the Columbia River Gorge and the Cascade Range meet, combining into gorgeous scenery and a natural paradise perfect for the adventurous individual. If you’re a fan of windsurfing, kiteboarding, or boating in general, being this close to the Columbia River is a real boon. Plus, with the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and Koberg Beach State Recreation Site both within driving distance of this County, you’ll never run out of gorgeous water features to explore.
Hiking Trails: Highlight
As mentioned earlier, Hood River County is right against the Cascade Range, meaning there’s no shortage of hiking in and around this area. In fact, the City of Hood River has an up-to-date page outlining some of the local trails perfect for beginner hikers, as well as historic routes to explore. If you’re looking for a more intense hike, the Cascade Range is right out your front door (metaphorically of course), so you’re able to head into the mountains whenever the spirit moves you.
If you’re looking for a county close to Portland, OR, Hood River County is right on the outside of a reasonable commute. Depending on which town you decide to live in, you could be looking at an hour-and-a-half drive into Portland.
While that’s not the worst drive for a day trip, if you were hoping to work in Portland, it’s more time than the average commuter wants to spend in the car. Though, to be fair, it does have some of the best scenery you’ll see on your daily commute.
3. Washington County
Just to the west of Multnomah County lies Washington County, home to the following communities: Hillsboro, Tigard, Beaverton, Forest Grove, Sherwood, Aloha, Cornelius, North Plains, Banks, King City, Cedar Hills, Metzger, Durham, Raleigh Hills, Laurelwood, West Slope, Westhaven-Sylvan, Garden Home-Whitford, Dilley, Timber, and Mulloy.
While the county doesn’t have its own mass transit system, many of the towns and cities within its boundaries are well-served by Multnomah County’s Trimet system and Clackamas County’s SMART (South Metro Area Regional Transit) system. Washington County is currently working to create even more systems to fill in gaps in outlying communities, those in residential areas to connect with employers and already-existing mass transit options, and door-to-door transit options.
Based on data from Census.gov, Washington County remains Oregon’s most diverse. The county’s population passed the 600,000 mark in 2020, and as of July 2021, 600,811 people call Washington County home. The non-Hispanic white population dropped from 69.7% to 60.8%, with the Hispanic and Asian populations growing from 15.7% to 17.9% and 8.6% to 11.4%, respectively.
Top Job Opportunities at World-Renowned Companies: Highlight
Washington County is home to the global Nike headquarters and multiple Intel Campuses. Other highly recognized employers include Columbia Sportswear, Kaiser Permanente, Epson, Adobe, and more.
4. Clackamas County
Just south of Multnomah County is Clackamas County, serving the following towns and cities: Clackamas, Oregon City, Happy Valley, Milwaukie, Canby, Sandy, Estacada, Gladstone, West Linn, Molalla, Damascus, Boring, Oak Grove, Beaver Creek, Government Camp, Molino, Mt. Hood Village, Stafford, Barlow, Oatfield, Johnson City, and Jennings Lodge.
Mt. Hood / Government Camp: Highlight
Clackamas County is blessed with the presence of majestic Mt. Hood, where you’ll find ski resorts, vacation cabin rentals, shopping, and dining, all a short drive from Portland’s amenities. In nearby Government Camp you’ll find more skiing and vacation rentals, as well as a variety of year-round outdoor activities.
Public Schools and Downtown Areas: Highlight
Located within Clackamas County boundaries, Lake Oswego and West Linn have some of the country’s highest-rated public schools. For award-winning shopping and dining, the quaint downtown districts in both Oregon City and Lake Oswego have much to offer.
Real Estate and Property Taxes: Lowlight
Living in such a beautiful place with access to so many life-enhancing amenities can mean higher prices when it comes to real estate and property taxes. Clackamas County is no exception. According to rockethomes.com, Clackamas County’s median sold price was $589,967, rising to $601,253 in 2023, close to the same prices as Portland city center.
5. Columbia County
With a population of 53,074, Columbia County is sixty miles from Downtown Portland, with its borders partially consisting of 62 miles of Columbia River shoreline. The county serves the towns of Scappoose, St. Helens, Rainier, Columbia City, Clatskanie, Vernonia, Warren, Deer Island, Prescott, and Birkenfield.
Outdoor Activities and Marine Parks: Highlight
Thanks to Columbia County’s close proximity to water, residents here enjoy easy access to popular boating and fishing grounds, as well as windsurfing. The county is also home to the only two marine parks in Oregon. J.J. Collins Memorial Marine Park is a 23-acre island located on the Multnomah Channel, only accessible by boat. The island offers a 1.5-mile nature trail, camping, and outstanding birding. Sand Island is on the Columbia River and covers 32 acres, with lots of camping and kayaking. A former mill pond, Vernonia Lake was converted into a city park—another sought-after natural feature of the county—taking up 45 acres and providing residents and visitors with prime camping, fishing, and birdwatching.
Sauvie Island: Highlight
Columbia and Multnomah Counties share the much-coveted Sauvie Island, a land of farms, lakes, beaches, and wildlife. Throughout the year, you’ll find people reveling in nature’s bounty on the island with hiking, swimming, sunbathing, boating, camping, and gathering luscious produce from one of the many U-pick farms.
Fluctuating Revenue Sources: Highlight / Lowlight
Columbia County has four main industries that bring revenue to the area: agriculture, lumber, fishing, and tourism. Uncontrollable outside influences, like the weather, can affect each revenue stream, as can pandemics. The latter deeply affected Columbia County’s tourism revenue in 2020 and 2021, and the former can hold sway over agriculture. However, due to above-average precipitation in 2022, wheat crops in the area are flourishing. The lumber industry in the county is also currently going strong—at least for now.
6. Yamhill County
Yamhill County has a population of 108,239 and is comprised of several small towns—Yamhill, McMinnville, Carlton, Newberg, Sheriden, Dayton, Dundee, Amity, and Lafayette—nestled in lush rolling hills of Yamhill Valley wine country.
An Overabundance of Wineries and Vineyards: Highlight
If you love wine, you might love living in Yamhill County. And if you set out to visit all the county’s wineries and vineyards within a year’s time, you’d have to quit your day job. Within its 718 square mile area, you’ll find 80 wineries and over 200 vineyards. This translates to Yamhill County being the largest concentration of wine producers and winegrowers compared to all other counties in Oregon.
Excess of Small-Town Charm with a Side of Adventure: Highlight
Yamhill County is blessed with several towns with thriving downtown areas that offer quality dining establishments serving a variety of delicious cuisine and of course, wine. McMinnville, Dundee, Carlton, and Dayton are all excellent spots to spend a Sunday and enjoy the unique vibe of each of these lovely communities. Then there’s Newberg, voted #4 by USA Today’s 10 Best Small Town Food Scene for 2022 and known as the Gateway to Oregon’s Wine Country. When you’ve had your fill of shopping, food, and wine, decide which adventure you’ll do first: more wine tasting—but by helicopter or horseback, a hot air balloon ride, or an afternoon with the family at Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.
Mass Transit: Highlight
One thing that can ease the stresses of life is to be able to get where you need to go, whether it’s for work, shopping, or socializing. Yamhill County recently celebrated ten years of mass transit success, and while their system doesn’t run all the way to Portland, it does allow you to make a connection in Hillsboro to hop on a Trimet bus. Yamhill County Transit also runs to McMinnville, West Salem, Grand Ronde, and Tigard. They also offer para-transit services for those with ADA eligibility.
7. Tillamook County
Tillamook County has 27,748 residents spread across the towns of Tillamook, Pacific City, Garibaldi, Rockaway Beach, Bay City, Manzanita, Nehalem, Oceanside, Netarts, Wheeler, Cape Meares, Neskowin, Cloverdale, Hebo, and Beaver. While many of these towns are small and out-of-the-way, some reach to the coast and offer a sublime experience of beautiful beaches, protected parks, and thick, lush forests. In fact, 44% of Tillamook County is owned by the State of Oregon in Siuslaw National Forest. The county is also home to four wildlife refuges: Cape Meares, Nestucca Bay, Oregon Islands, and Three Arch Rocks.
Health and Wellness are Top Priorities: Highlight
Tillamook County Wellness (TCW) is a coalition led by local friends, families, and organizations working in cooperation to improve community health. Partnering with local health systems, businesses, and organizations, TCW provides the county with education and activities that inform and encourage the healthiest of lifestyles.
Tsunami Threat: Lowlight
Life on the Oregon coast is pretty serene. Until you notice all the “Tsunami Warning” signs posted along the beaches. While the threat of the “Big One,” the earthquake that could disrupt the entire west coast, has been talked about for years, the reality is that with any degree of quake, tsunamis are possible. Some would rather not think about it and assume that it will happen far enough into the future they won’t be affected. For others, visiting the coast occasionally is better than putting down roots.
Award-Winning Cheese and… What’s That Smell?: Highlight/Lowlight
Tillamook County is home to the revered Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA), maker of Tillamook dairy products and routine winner of many awards from the American Cheese Society and other groups. But of course, to get all that delicious cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and all the other products TCCA produces each year and sells nationwide, you need cows. And Tillamook County has a lot of them.
If you haven’t been to Tillamook before, you’ll know you’re getting close by the pungent smell in the air. What is it? Manure. There’s the natural cattle byproduct, as well as liquid manure that’s frequently used in the county as fertilizer, so there’s no getting away from it. And the problem isn’t just about the ever-present, unpleasant smell that permeates everything; it’s also about the health hazard caused by manure-produced methane and nitrous oxide emissions. While steps are being taken to address the issue, it’s hard to tell how long it will take, if ever, to disappear.
Of course, if you want the coast life experience and you don’t want to deal with the stench of Tillamook, you can always head north up the coast to Garibaldi, Rockaway Beach, or Manzanita, south to Pacific City or Neskowin, or further inland to Cloverdale, Hebo, or Beaver.
8. Polk County
Covering 744 square miles and housing 89,164 residents, Polk County is the land of plenty. Towns served by Polk County are Dallas, Independence, Monmouth, Rickreall, Falls City, Grand Ronde, Eola, and McCoy.
High Quality of Life in Natural Abundance: Highlight
It’s hard to know where to begin with all the perks Polk County has to offer. In addition to a massive amount of outdoor activities, family-friendly fun, and museums and galleries, Polk County is home to verdant land brimming with vineyards, farms, and nurseries.
Oldest, Most Affordable University and the Counties Biggest Employer: Highlight
Western Oregon University (WOU) was founded in 1856, making it the oldest higher-learning institution in Oregon. And it’s also the most affordable. Not only does WOU provide students with a well-rounded education, but it’s also situated in a pretty idyllic location. And it’s an Emerging Hispanic Serving Institution, the first four-year public university in Oregon to have this designation.
Real Estate Prices: Highlight
It’s rare these days to point out real estate prices as a highlight anywhere. But in comparison to surrounding areas in Oregon, Polk County’s are pretty reasonable. Realtor.com reports that the recent median sold price in the county was $437.5K. Even with the rate rising to $471,921 in 2023, real estate prices remain reasonable. Not too shabby when you consider all the perks of living here.
The Best County is Washington County?
It all depends on what you’re looking for. For us, it was a bit of a toss-up between Washington County and Polk County, but when you take into account the easy access to city amenities, diversity awareness, and job opportunities, not to mention easy access to both nature and the freeway, Washington County is pretty hard to beat.
If you’re looking for a top real estate team to help guide you to the best home for yourself or your family, give us a call today or chat with the bot on this site. We’d love to connect!August 4, 2023