We all love a good family vacation, but sometimes summer calls for a ‘staycation’ right here at home. But a staycation doesn’t mean you can’t discover someplace new. If you’re looking for a new adventure for your staycation within a short drive of Portland, here is a list of FIVE maybe-new-to-you destinations and activities. All are guaranteed for a day of family fun and adventure, but are close enough to get you home by bedtime.
Note: We have updated this post for 2021; please confirm closures/openings and COVID safety precautions prior to visiting any destination!
1. Hood River Waterfront Park
This little gem is right on the Columbia River in Hood River. This park has something for everyone, with a protected sandy beach for swimming, a playground, picnic tables, and paved trails. All with a gorgeous view of the Columbia Gorge. The Hood River Waterfront Park is also bordered by a row of family-friendly restaurants, including pFriem Brewery, so everyone can have a relaxing day out.
2. Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Just on the other side of the Columbia River in SW Washington is the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, home to Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams. There is an outdoor adventure for everyone there, and it’s usually much less busy than Mount Hood National Forest. You can learn about our neighboring active volcano at the Mount St. Helens Johnston Ridge Observatory, or explore a lava tube at Ape Cave (be sure to bring jackets and flashlights). Finally, finish up the day with a swim at one of the reservoirs along the Lewis River.
You might be thinking, Salem? Really? Oh yes! Besides all the history and government education at the state capitol building, Salem is home to so much family fun. Enter a land of enchantment at Enchanted Forest, Oregon’s premier theme park. Rides, Storybook Lane, Western Town, Old Europe Village, Comedy Theatre and more family fun was created by Roger Tofte in 1971, and still family owned and operated. The Riverfront Park along the Willamette River, where the kids can play on the playground, ride the carousel, enjoy an ice cream from the snack bar, and finish with a run through the splash pad. Not a bad way to spend a play day. The AC Gilbert House Children’s Museum is a great place for littles to spend a couple of hours pretending, building, climbing, and creating. Gilbert House also has a reciprocal agreement with OMSI, so your OMSI membership will get you in for free!
Just down 99W is the little town of McMinnville. Though it’s small, there’s a lot to do in this little town. The Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum hosts the massive Spruce Goose airplane, the SR-71 Blackbird, and other airplanes and rockets. Next door to the aviation museum is the indoor Wings and Waves Waterpark where you can slide out of an actual Boeing 747 aircraft. Finally, enjoy dinner on the rooftop of McMenamin’s Hotel Oregon overlooking McMinnville’s cute little downtown, nestled in the heart of wine country.
5. McKenzie River Highway
Okay, so this one isn’t exactly within an hour from Portland, but the McKenzie River Highway is definitely worth packing extra snacks for a longer road trip. Drive through pristine old growth forests to get to Tamolich Blue Pool. There you’ll find a four mile, flat hike that crosses streams and lava flows along the McKenzie River, and ends at a stunningly blue pool. If you’re not done exploring, Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls are just right up the road. Then head over to nearby Belknap Hot Springs to soak those hiking muscles.