The Pacific Northwest is a great place to instill the awe of nature in your kids. Mighty rivers, a rugged coastline, glaciated volcanoes and old-growth forests are but a few of the options you’ll have when choosing a family-friendly vacation in the region. Most of these adventures can be done in a long weekend, depending where you live, but all of them can be combined or extended to fully experience the grandeur, beauty and quirkiness of the Pacific Northwest, where Sasquatch still roams.
Vacation Ideas in the Pacific Northwest for Adventurous Families
1) Catch crabs on the Garibaldi docks
If you want to visit an authentic fishing village in Oregon, one where low-tide carries the suggestive whiff of crustaceans, look no further. You can rent a few crab rings at the Jetty Fishery. Throw them off the productive docks or rent a motorboat to ply the bay. You’ll catch plenty of crabs, but maybe only a few keepers. They’ll cook them for you right by the pier so you can enjoy your family’s spoils while overlooking the bay. The nearby Nelahem Bay State Park has highly-coveted campsites by the ocean and the location provides easy access to the delightful town of Manzanita for dinner out. There’s also an incredible hike up Neahkahnie Mountain that provides a sweeping view of the region.
2) Peer into a volcano at Mount St. Helens
Geology is old, slow and hard to see but at Mount St. Helens, it’s an explosion that’s impossible to miss. There are a few great visitor centers around the mountain. Be sure to visit them to bring the eruption into focus, but don’t miss the Johnston Ridge Observatory. It has an incredible panorama of the lava dome and is named after the volcanologist who went down with the ship. From there you can do the super easy Johnston Ridge Eruption Trail. Watch your kids’ jaws drop looking at the blast zone of a recently-exploded (geologically speaking) volcano.
3) Raft the Wild and Scenic Rogue River
The Rogue River was one of the original eight Wild and Scenic Rivers designated by Congress in 1968, and for good reason. There are fun, family-friendly rapids, an abundance of bald eagles and black bears, beautiful riverside camps, terrific fishing and side hikes, and a storied history of Native Americans and gold miners around every bend. When you need a fully unplugged vacation to reconnect with each other, this 3- to 5-day family rafting trip will delight the whole crew even if they can’t bring their devices.
4) Herd sheep at the Leaping Lamb Farm
Every kid has read enough storybooks to know a lamb when they see one, but it’s less common to stay on a working sheep farm and feel like you’re living within a children’s story. At Leaping Lamb Farm, kids can help with farm chores, feed chickens, collect eggs, splash around in Honey Grove Creek or hike around the farm. Situated in the Coast Range of Oregon, the farm serves as a good jumping off point for day trips to the coast as well. But why leave when you can kick back on the porch of your cozy cabin and watch your kids frolic about the farm?
5) Backpack in the Indian Heaven Wilderness
The dramatic volcanoes get all the attention, but for families that want to explore meadows, creeks, lakes, ponds and marshes without leg-burning ascents, this little gem of a wilderness is perfect for beginner backpacking trips. There are many lakeside camps and idyllic meadows where kids can chase butterflies, find frogs and swim in chilly water. Parents be warned, a good map is essential, as there are many junctions and unmarked trails. Also, in mid-summer the mosquitos are vicious. September is a great time to visit and the abundant huckleberries are a major bonus in your backcountry pancakes. The Gifford Pinchot National Forest has more information to plan your visit.
6) Experience the Lower Salmon River
If you want a sunny beach vacation in the Pacific Northwest, the inland river beaches you encounter on a Lower Salmon River rafting trip are your best bet. Stake your tent in the sand, hang a hammock in the trees, and let your kids test their skills in exciting Class III rapids. Traveling through a scenic canyon and learning about the inhabitants who’ve lived there over 10,000 years ago is the ultimate perspective shift for kids and adults alike.
7) Rock climb outside of a Bavarian-themed Village
One of the joys and challenges of parenting is letting your kids take risks. Icicle Creek Canyon outside of Leavenworth, Washington is a great place to introduce your kids to rock climbing. If parents have the gear, there are plenty of moderate routes on sticky granite to choose from. A good guidebook or hiring a guide is essential since the crag can be confusing to navigate. The Northwest Mountain School is a reputable outfitter that would gladly introduce you to the Leavenworth climbing scene. Plus, the touristy town has everything you could want for a long weekend — good food, coffee, breweries and charming places to stay. You don’t even have to go climbing. There’s plenty to do in Icicle Creek without it, just keep an eye out for Sasquatch.
8) Hike old-growth forests on the Olympic Peninsula
There are many amazing hikes within Olympic National Park, but the Cape Alava Loop is a great one for families. The trail heads out from the Lake Ozette campground to the coast. Long stretches of boardwalk keep your boots above the mud, where you pass through incredible old-growth forests festooned with moss. Upon reaching the Pacific, you hike along the coast and over terrific headlands with knotted ropes to help you keep your grip. Wild waves, towering sea stacks, enormous ferns and the quietest spot in the U.S. create an unforgettable outing. The Lost Resort at Lake Ozette has cabins and campsites ideally located near the trailhead.
9) See wild grizzly bears and whales on Vancouver Island
Dust off your passport and take a ferry from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria, British Columbia. Stay a night in the charming city, but if you’re here for the wild, head up north on Vancouver Island to the town of Campbell River. Painter’s Lodge offers grand accommodations for serious fisherfolk and it’s a great place for the family. They offer boat tours of the Juan de Fuca Strait where you can experience tidal rapids, get a glimpse of the Inside Passage’s infamous maritime history, and view gray whales and killer whales along your way to Bute Inlet. There, after about three hours boating into an extremely remote region, you are welcomed by members of Homalco First Nation, who offer wildlife and cultural tours. They will guide you to safe viewpoints of wild grizzly bears hunting salmon along the river. Your kids will not wish they were playing video games, the grizzlies ensure it.
10) Drive the Fruit Loop in Hood River
Stay in the delightful town of Hood River, perched in the Columbia River Gorge with views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood, before embarking on the 35-mile driving loop through the most fruitful growing region in Oregon. Stop at a U-pick apple orchard or berry farm and bring a picnic blanket and basket, pull over at one of the many roadside stands to gather your farm fresh meal, or wile away a few hours at Mt. View Orchards & Brewery while soaking in views of Mt. Hood. The beauty of the drive is it’s a choose-your-own adventure. Beyond the Fruit Loop, there are ample waterfall hikes in the area, White Salmon River rafting, and fishing, stand up paddleboarding and camping at nearby Viento State Park along the Columbia River. But parents, be warned, after a weekend in Hood River (don’t miss the incredible pizza and delicious beer at Double Mountain Brewery), you’ll likely dream about leaving it all behind and moving to the Pacific Northwest.
Photos: Garibaldi Docks – Visit Garibaldi; Mount St. Helens – John Stockon (CC BY 2.0); Rogue River rafting family adventure – Adam Edwards; Leaping Lamb Farm; Indian Heaven Wilderness – U.S. Forest Service- Pacific Northwest Region; Lower Salmon River rafting trip – James Kaiser; Leavenworth – Daniel (CC BY 2.0); Cape Alava Trail Olympic Peninsula National Park – U.S. Forest Service- Pacific Northwest Region; Hamalco Wildlife & Cultural Tours; Family adventures near Hood River – Visit Hood River