The Forest That Time Forgot
Head south for a day out at the preserved-in-amber Enchanted Forest theme park.
There was a famous travel article that ran in The New York Times a few years back about experiencing Disney World whilst partaking of a certain amount of some soon-to-be legal-in-Oregon adult substances. I’ve often wondered what the authors of that story would make of the Enchanted Forest, the closest we Oregonians can get to Disney’s theme parks without hopping a flight to Orange County.
Because let’s be honest, the entire place is a trip (in more ways than one — it takes about an hour to get there, a straight shot down Interstate 5, within the realm of possibility for a day trip, if only just). The Enchanted Forest, on the outskirts of Salem, was opened in 1971 by the Tofte family and looks to have changed not a hair since.
I first took my kids to the Enchanted Forest when they were 4, which is just about the right age to start. By the time your kids hit 10 or so, they’ll probably be too old for much of the park, though there is a logging chute ride that ends with a satisfying splash and a rickety roller coaster called “Ice Mountain” geared toward bigger kids. Height restrictions apply to both of these — you need to be at least 48 inches to ride alone in the logging ride and 52 for the roller coaster.
Entrance is via “Storybook Lane,” which brings to life, or at least life-sized statues, the fairytale and nursery rhyme characters your kids have been reading about all their lives. Follow Alice in Wonderland down an actual rabbit hole, feel off-kilter in the crooked house where lived a crooked mouse and peek in at the seven dwarves at work in their mine. (And if the puppets and figurines you’re seeing all bear an uncanny resemblance to the Disney versions of same, just surrender to the moment, figuring that any copyright infringements were probably settled long ago and are not your problem anyway.) It’s fun to see if your kids can match the real-life scene in front of them to the poems and stories you’ve read aloud, without your help.
Adventurous kids will love the giant slide that catapults down from the house of the old woman who lived in a shoe; you will like the gently-skewed jokes on the “community bulletin board.” (Sample: “Due to sustaining some severe burns, Jack Be Nimble is taking a week off from teaching the candle-sticking jumping class.”) I’m also partial to the song that the four-and-twenty-blackbirds sing, and to the optical illusions in Geppeto and Pinnochio’s workstation.
Storybook Lane eventually winds its way to a reasonable facsimile of an old-timey wild west pavilion, where the bathrooms are predictably labelled as a “Waterin’ Troff” and there’s an alcohol-free saloon (rather a shame, frankly). Steer your kids away from the somewhat alarming point-and-shoot game, and toward the twisty-turning “Indian Caves,” which are not especially politically correct, but fun to explore, especially since you can pop out at the end at any one of several different exit points, including inside a giant teepee.
My daughter’s number one Enchanted Forest attraction is located at the edge of Western Town, where teenaged attendants watch over the “panning for gold” table. Shiny stones and gems are hidden in piles of sand and your kids are given sieves to strain them out; they get to keep whatever they find, which makes a great souvenir and allows you to bypass the overpriced gift shop without guilt.
Or head the other way from the wild west pavilion, and pass the Haunted House. The attendants at the gate will cheerfully refund your tickets if your kids balk at going any more than three steps past the entryway, as one of mine did the first time we tried it out. We went back when the kids were five and both of them made it through, gripping tightly to my hand, past the animatronic ghosties, goblins and assorted vampires while I mumbled soothingly that it was all just pretend. (Though even I jumped at an unexpected gust of air blowing up from the floor). If your kids aren’t ready for the haunted house, take them straight to the kiddie rides, which are reassuringly like what they’ve probably already seen at Oaks Park, including bumper cars, a frog-hopper and a mini-train.
Finish off your day with a snack at the Enchanted Forest’s amphitheater. If you are there on a summer visit, you’ll likely catch one of the endearingly cheesy, over-the-top musical theater shows, performed by what I suspect are gung-ho theater students from nearby Chemekta Community College. We last saw Jack and the Beanstalk, and my kids thought the mix of flatulence jokes, tap-dance and breakdance routines and the familiar story was hilarious.
If You Go:
The Enchanted Forest is at 8462 Enchanted Way Southeast, Turner, Ore. It’s a spendy day out — the price of gas from the metro area, plus admission, which is $10.95 per person for adults, and $9.95 per kid, though under 2-year-olds are free. Admission to rides costs extra, so if you want to hit them all, it’s a better deal to buy a ride bracelet, $25.95 for all rides, or $15.95 for kiddie rides only. More info at enchantedforest.com.
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