by Carrie Uffindell
From an ancient High Desert lava bed to a quirky kite museum on the coast, the Northwest is filled with fun activities and adventures for the whole family. Read on to learn more about our favorite off-the-beaten path destinations that will thrill, fascinate and entertain children of all ages.
It’s easy to love Portland’s casual vibe and big city attractions. I know my family does. At the 159-acre Washington Park, you’ll encounter over 2,000 animals at the Oregon Zoo, learn about our world’s forests through interactive displays at the World Forestry Center, play at the Portland Children’s Museum, visit the International Rose Test Garden and more. OMSI offers 219,000 square feet of hands-on science-centric exhibits and play areas. Hop aboard Willamette Jetboat Excursions for a pulse-pounding ride along the Willamette River. See historic steam locomotives, tour a c. 1950s train car and enjoy a train-themed scavenger hunt at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. For vintage carnival rides and retro arcade fun, head to Oaks Amusement Park, which has been thrilling families since 1905. Or root, root for the home team at a Timbers 2 soccer game and/or a Portland Pickles baseball game.
Long Beach Peninsula, Washington
Briny ocean water and powder-soft sand – it’s little wonder that families flock to the beach in the Northwest. Jutting out from Washington’s southwestern coast, the 28-mile long and 1.5-mile wide Long Beach Peninsula is one of the longest public beaches in the world. The towns of Long Beach and Seaview are popular spots for hitting the sand and are pepped with eclectic shops, Go Carts, bike rentals, arcade games and award-winning cuisine. Build your own kite at the World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame; stroll 0.5-mile oceanfront Long Beach Boardwalk, a raised wooden platform built over the dunes; hike the paved Discovery Trail, which runs over eight miles from Long Beach’s grassy dunes to the wetlands of Ilwaco; learn about the region’s berry-growing history at the Cranberry Museum; and transport yourself back in time while self-touring the sleepy c. 1880 village of Oysterville and nearby Oysterville Sea Farms, the last remaining oyster station in the town.
Lava Lands, Central Oregon
Jagged lava beds, lava cast forests and lava tubes at Lava Lands and its environs – all are part of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument in the Deschutes National Forest. A good first stop is Lava Lands Visitor Center, located at the base of Lava Butte, for interactive displays, topographic maps and educational films about the area. Behind the center is the Trail of Molten Land, a one-mile loop that meanders through the millennia-old lava flow. For panoramic views of the surrounding lava fields, drive or hike to the top of the butte. Two miles south is Oregon’s longest lava tube, Lava River Cave, where well-maintained trails and sturdy stairways help you traverse a dark subterranean world of ancient sand gardens, rock-filled valleys and volcanic stalactites. Another seven miles south is a one-mile paved trail winding through Lava Cast Forest, a mature ponderosa pine forest that was engulfed by basalt lava flows 6,000 years ago.
Mount Rainier National Park and its Gateway Communities, Washington
Along with wildflower-strewn meadows, pristine waterfalls, alpine lakes and year-round glaciers, 236,381-acre Mount Rainier National Park and its surrounding gateway communities offer fun and adventure for all ages. At Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville, you’ll encounter 200 North American animals in a 725-acre scenic landscape as well as one of the largest natural playgrounds in the state. Hop aboard the Mt. Rainier Railroad in Elbe for a vintage steam train excursion through wooded foothills. For the best bird’s eye view, the Mt. Rainier Gondola at Crystal Mountain Resort whisks you up 2,456 vertical feet. The Grove of the Patriarchs offers easy 1.5-mile hike amidst ancient Douglas firs, western hemlocks and western red cedars. In winter, check out the festive White Pass Winter Carnival or the Oak Creek Elk Feeding Area. Note: Some of these activities are seasonal, so be sure to check hours and dates before you go.
The Dalles and the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
What do sunny plateaus, Oregon’s oldest bookstore and a 13-foot Columbian mammoth replica have in common? You’ll find them all in The Dalles, an historic trading post turned outdoor recreation-loving city that sits along the Columbia River, one of our favorite Northwest scenic drives. For a scenic hike with wide-angle views, visit the 231-acre Tom McCall Preserve at Rowena, situated on a grassy, windswept plateau overlooking the Gorge. The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum is an impressive 48,200 square foot timber-and-glass facility that explores native wildlife, including the Columbia mammoth, and local history, with lots of exhibits where children can touch, play and dress up. Walk or ride along the Riverfront Trail, a ten-mile-long paved path that hugs the southern bank of the river. In downtown The Dalles is Oregon’s oldest bookstore, Klindt’s Booksellers and Stationers, where you and the kids can browse the store’s excellent selection of children’s, middle reader and young adult fiction.
Birch Bay, Washington
Curving around a warm water bay, this small, vibrant community is located 100 miles north of Seattle. Swim, beachcomb, bird-watch, camp, hike and experience free interpretive performances in the outdoor theater at the 194-acre Birch Bay State Park. For water fun without the sand, Birch Bay Waterslides features eight exhilarating slides and ramps as well as a hot tub for soaking and a kiddie pool with three smaller slides. Paddle and Pedal Adventures has a wide range of rentals so you can explore the area by electric scooter, bicycle, vintage surrey and more. The friendly folks at Moondance Sea Kayak Adventures offers full or half-day kayaking trips led by experienced guides. For an easy 1.5-mile hike through wooded wetlands, visit the 54-acre Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve, where you’ll spy wildlife, alder trees, Sitka spruce, salmonberry bushes and wide-angle views of the San Juan Islands. Kids will love riding the Historic Plover ferry, which runs between Semiahmoo Spit to Blaine Harbor.