I’m hearing the phrase “I’m bored” more and more as the summer goes on. Not that I feel obliged to provide a constant stream of entertainment for my kids, but sometimes I have to break out of the rut for my own sanity. If you know the feeling, let me help you start planning your next family day…just check out one of the activities below. Some are free, and others can get pricey, but they’re all great fun. Oh, and load up the car, because we’re taking you out of the city (and metro area) limits, where there is SO much to explore!
Great Wolf Lodge
I had no idea what the big deal was with Great Wolf Lodge, which is located a couple of hours north of Portland. I was not sold on the whole waterpark aspect of the place, which is by far the main attraction. (Yes, sometimes I feel like a curmudgeon.) But we tried it out when family was in town last month, and YOU GUYS (well, gals)! It is so much fun! The water park really is enjoyable for the entire family, and there are a lot of other activities to do outside of the pool, too. The hubby and I agreed: we’ll be back.
Many of us in the Portland area live well inside of the city, and while that’s awesome for being no more than three blocks from the nearest ethically-grown and locally roasted coffee shop, it still leaves us disconnected from the sources of our other foods. So find a farm that welcomes the public and experience how local food is produced. (I know this seems like a real-life Portlandia skit. It’s okay, I won’t tell your out-of-state relatives.) While there are many farms that are open for summer hours, things really pick up in the fall with pumpkin patches and corn mazes. I’ve personally been to Baggenstos Farms near Sherwood and Lee Farms near Tualatin, and our family loves them. Other ones include Kruger’s Farm and The Pumpkin Patch on Sauvie Island, and Plumper Pumpkins north of the Bethany area.
Hiking and the Coast
I know that including these options is like stating the obvious, but I’ve included them here anyway to 1. educate new residents, and 2. give all you who poo-poo the great outdoors a poke in the ribs. Yes, I know, the sunlight, ugh. Grab a fancy wide-brimmed hat, some SPF 50, and a cold bottle of water and check out some of these hikes, or take it a step further and try a new activity. Oregon State Parks and Recreation has an awesome program called Let’s Go, which introduces attendees to various outdoor activities like camping, birding, hiking, and paddling. If laying on the sand suits you more, depart westwardly and find yourself at a beach. My personal favorite is Cannon Beach, but I’ve also heard great things about many of the State Parks that dot the coastline. If you like the tourist scene, Seaside and Newport are great places to shop (plus Newport hosts the Oregon Coast Aquarium). Astoria doesn’t have ocean beaches, but they do have the Goonies house.
For those families who value active imaginations, the Enchanted Forest near Salem is a good bet. Admittedly, I can’t vouch for this place personally because the one day we were going to go here, a bunch of our extended family members (and us) came down with a nasty stomach bug. But if you have kids and are not confined to a bathroom, it looks like a pretty fun place, complete with rides, shopping, food, live entertainment, and the famous “Storybook Lane.” If you’ve been here, let me know what you think of this place in the comments!
Historical Areas and Interpretive Centers
If you’re looking for something more cerebral, try heading to any number of historical areas within a few hours of Portland. Pack a picnic and spend a few hours learning about the past. You could check out the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (military fort), Champoeg State Heritage Area (historical settlement), The End of the Oregon Trail Museum, Fort Stevens State Park (military fort and more), Silver Falls State Park (historical timber industry), Timberline Lodge, Cape Disappointment State Park (Lewis & Clark), and Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, just to name a few. Check out the events calendar on the places you’d like to visit, because sometimes they host really cool activities!
I grew up in a podunk little Midwestern town, and the highlight of the summer was when the little traveling carnival would come to town. One of the many benefits of growing up has been moving to a larger city so I can visit the amusement park whenever I want to! (Go, adulthood!) Oaks Park in Portland has rides for people of all ages and thrill capacities, carnival games, a giant skating rink, mini golf, and festival food. My kids love going, even if we have to drag them whimpering onto the rides. (I promise, I’m not a horrible mom; they always come off the rides celebrating! Let’s just say my kids have yet to find their courage.) There are plenty of places to picnic if you’d like to bring your own food, and the view of the river from the top of the ferris wheel is very nice.
Family Fun Center and Bullwinkle’s Restaurant
Again, I can’t vouch for the Family Fun Center in Wilsonville since my kids are still a little too young to fully participate, but I drive by it frequently and it totally looks like it lives up to its name. Attractions include go-karts, laser tag, a zipline, a rock wall, an arcade, a giant kids’ play structure, bumper boats, batting cages, and a few rides & ride simulators. They host a $12 Tuesday Special, and if there’s anything that gets me excited, it’s a discount!
John Day Fossil Beds
If you, your spouse, or any of your kids are science aficionados, make your way to the John Day Fossil Beds, a sprawling three-unit National Monument northeast of Bend. Fossils of plants and animals as old as 44 million years old are encapsulated by the geologic formations, which are a wonder to behold. Not only are the sites an paleontological treasure trove, but an archaeological one, too; ancient peoples used the area seasonally and left behind pictographs in what is now called Picture Gorge. In the Sheep Rock Unit, you can visit the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center (a great educational and research center) and the Historic Cant Ranch. While camping isn’t allowed inside the national monument, there are lots of camping and lodging options in the surrounding area. Here’s a great resource for planning your visit.
Any thrill seekers with older kids out there? Try out some of the regional places that offer ropes courses, ziplines, and other crazy adventures. Salem Ropes has several options, and Tree to Tree Arial Adventure Park near Hagg Lake west of Portland has a lot of different activities. Camp Dakota near Scotts Mills is a privately-owned campground that has a ropes course on-site. (I visited Camp Dakota once a few years ago when a couple of relatives wanted to do a ropes course. While I didn’t participate, I did get to wander around the awesome campground. Talk about glamping!)
So if you haven’t attempted a day trip with your family in recent weeks…GO! For every great activity and attraction inside our metro area, there is another one within an hour or two that will provide family fun and lasting memories.