Oregonians tend to seek adventure and time outside — rain or shine. Hiking, skiing, backpacking, mountain biking, splashing in cool, hidden swimming holes and even rock climbing are routine weekend activities for many Portland families. So this summer, why not take the adventure to the extreme?
First stop, Tacoma’s picturesque Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, for a family swim with sharks. Yes, doing the backfloat with dozens of real, small-eyed, big-finned, sharp-toothed fish methodically circling. Groups of up to four adults and children age 8 and up can take the plunge via the park’s popular Eye-to-Eye Shark Dive program.
Don’t worry, you’ll comfortably (the water’s a balmy 74 degree and dry suits are provided) and safely view these awesome predators up close from within a dive cage submerged in the Pacific Seas Aquarium’s 225,000-gallon tank.
Feeling somewhat less adventurous? You can can observe and snap pictures from behind the exhibit’s thick glass. After your shark playdate, be sure to visit the many other amazing creatures on view, including clouded leopards, wolves, playful polar bears, a whistling walrus, elephants, lemurs, arctic foxes and tigers, or simply enjoy the spectacular vista over the marina.
This gem of a park is the Northwest’s only combined zoo and aquarium and also boasts a carousel, playground, camel rides and a goat petting zoo. The new Pacific Seas Aquarium facility, opening this summer, will be home to hammerhead sharks, green sea turtles and spotted eagle rays.
Oregon offers an abundance of gorgeous beach destinations from Astoria to Brookings, where beachgoers can frolic in waves, spy into tide pools and hunt for shells. But this summer, why not put more than just a few toes in the water? Head to Newport for family surf lessons at Ossie’s Surf Shop. Kids 9 and up can surf solo, but younger kids can take lessons too if parents join in. Owner Daniel Hasselschwert, who also teaches surfing classes at Oregon State University, leads lessons, along with his staff of experienced instructors. He promises the frigid water feels fine once you’re outfitted in wetsuits (“it’s much colder skiing”) and that even first timers will get up on their boards and have a blast.
The surf beach is located right across the street, cutting out the hassle of transporting sandy equipment with kids in tow and maximizing your time on the waves. The shop also offers kayaking tours in adjacent lakes and rivers and in the ocean. Other fun nearby activities include the Oregon Coast Aquarium, whale watching and hiking to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.
If you seek an aerial adventure, contact Discover Paragliding, based in Warrenton and offering flights in multiple spots along the Oregon Coast, including Tillamook. Their highly experienced paragliding instructors will help make your flying dreams a thrilling reality. Solo or tandem paragliding rides are officially offered for flyers 12 and up, but kids as young as 4 can participate on an “interview” basis if deemed developmentally ready.
After all that adrenaline-packed adventure, you’ll need fuel. Break up your drive home with a stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory’s new-and-improved Visitors Center, which re-opens this summer after extensive renovations, and will include a 38,500-square-foot facility housing an indoor-outdoor ice cream counter, an expanded cafe and store, educational farming displays and enhanced opportunities to view cheese-making and packaging.
Stranger Things to the South
Four and half hours from Portland, the bucolic and Shakespeare-mad town of Ashland is another summer travel wonderland. On your way down, take a small detour to check out the bizarre phenomenon at the Oregon Vortex and House of Mystery, where gravity, relative size and other natural laws behave in unusual ways. See bottles roll uphill instead of down and your child appear to tower over you.
The Rogue Valley is also home to many kid friendly jet boat and rafting adventures. Numerous Rogue River outfitters, such as Rogue Jet Boat Adventures and Indigo Creek Outfitters, can put your group on the river doing exhilarating 360s or running rapids for a few hours or all day.
Just a few minutes from downtown Ashland you’ll find Emigrant Lake County Park, which offers optimal lake swimming, 280-foot water slides that deposit swimmers into a lake-fed pool, and kayaks and paddle boards for rent, where kids can safely try out kayaking and paddleboarding on their own.
Another exciting Southern Oregon destination worth trekking to is Cave Junction, where you can try your hand at spelunking at the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve. Explore the thrilling underground landscape of Oregon’s Marble Halls, home to amazing rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites, glistening flowstones and bats. Reserve your cave tour in advance as they regularly sell out (check to make sure your kids meet the age and height requirements). Choose from routes illuminated by contemporary lighting or candlelight and bring sweatshirts as it is surprising cool underground. Above ground, take advantage of the park’s spectacular hiking trails through ancient forests, offering lovely views of the Siskiyou Mountains and Illinois Valley. Learn all about caves at the Oregon Caves Visitor Center’s interactive displays.
Next stop, fly through the trees at Treehouse Ziplines. Participants climb up to 75 feet in the air and zoom from platform to platform at speeds up to 45 miles per hour. Ages 4 and up can choose from six to 10 zipline rides. Be sure to add on the thrilling Tarzan Swing, two back-to-back rides on the 50-foot-high pendulum swing. Also, check out the Great Cats World Park, right in Cave Junction, for up close feline encounters.
If you’re looking for even more adrenaline rushes, break up your travel to and from Portland with stops at Wildlife Safari in Winston, where you drive in your own car right through the animal habitats. Check out the Salem Ropes Course (book in advance), where groups of 8 or more are led through exciting, team-building obstacle courses, group challenges and exhilarating, risk-taking adventures, such as jumping off a 50-foot-high platform to swing through the forest. Or stop at a perennial favorite, the Enchanted Forest, where the haunted house and log ride are sure to give everyone chills.
Where to Stay
Take your shark dive trip to the next level by staying at Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, Washington, conveniently located right off Interstate 5. This waterpark mecca offers excitement for everyone, from hitting the wave pool to positioning yourself right under the water tree fort’s bucket dump to racing your kid down twin water slides or spinning while screaming down the more extreme water rides on four-person rafts. Hot tubs, an outdoor splash pad and a pool with basketball hoops and a series of floating “lily pads” for aspiring American Ninja Warriors to cross are a few of the other options to explore. The resort also provides engaging terrestrial attractions, such as glow-in-the-dark mini golf, panning for gold, a MagiQuest game, where guests use a wand to discover secrets, an arcade, a ropes course specially designed for little climbers and a second, more challenging option for big kids and adults.
The Oregon Coast offers many lovely places to stay the night, including condos, hotels and houses for rent. We suggest Pacific City’s brand-new Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa in one of their two-to three-bedroom, pet-friendly, oceanfront cottages featuring spectacular views of Haystack Rock. Your family will have a kitchen and have room to spread out just steps away from beachfront horseback riding, clam digging and dory boat fishing. Plus, mom and dad will have access to the excellent in-house spa, cooking classes and beachfront yoga.
When in Ashland, base yourselves at the newly renovated, hipster chic Ashland Hills Hotel and Suites, which boasts wonderful, spacious rooms with multiple bed options to easily accommodate families large or small, tennis courts, an outdoor pool and roomy hot tub, plenty of bikes to borrow, a lavish included breakfast buffet and excellent casual, high-quality lunch and dinner dishes to please even the pickiest palates.
After channeling your inner monkey, bird and flying squirrel at Treehouse Ziplines, play Swiss Family Robinson while bedding down in the treetops at the attraction’s Out ’n’ About Treehouse Treesort. You’ll climb spiral staircases and cross suspension bridges to enter the ultimate in tree-fort living (you’ll find a variety of sleeping arrangements from bunks to king-sized beds and most have full bathrooms and balconies). Plus, enjoy nightly resort campfires, daily arts and crafts projects, and horseback riding via the on-site stables.
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