Winter Adventures, A to Z

Winter adventure for many Portland families means skiing or otherwise playing in the snow — and between Mount Hood, Mount Bachelor and other northwest peaks we have many great kid-friendly options. But don’t let your cold weather outings, activities and travel end on the slopes. The Pacific Northwest is home to a wonderful bounty of winter family fun, some of the best of which we’ve collected here (as well as a few ideas farther afield), for you to explore all season long.

A is for Albany. Astoria and Ashland make for great weekend getaways, but this year try Albany for an overnight or day trip. Just an hour and a half south of Portland, this picturesque small town along the Willamette River boasts beautiful pioneer-era homes, a gorgeously restored carousel, covered bridges and plentiful riverfront parks. From December 1-15, Albany is home to the 41st annual Christmas Storybook Land, a free, family-oriented, Christmas-and-fairy-tale-themed forest wonderland, complete with model train displays, a Victorian village and North Pole with Santa. Additionally, on December 10 from 2 pm-7 pm, a tour of historical buildings will be available via horse-drawn wagon and vintage trolley rides.


B is for Bend. Explore the fabulous High Desert Museum, where kids and grown-ups will love following Oregon’s history from the Native Americans to the pioneers to the gold rush and beyond. Interactive displays, many complete with in-costume, in-character staff bring history to life. Lots of native, rescued animals, including otters, bobcats, owls and porcupines, are also on view. Want more? Check out ski slopes, obsidian falls, caves, volcanic national parks, and even dog sled rides, via Oregon Trail of Dreams tours departing from the base of Mount Bachelor.

C is for cosmic tubing. Head to Mount Hood’s Ski Bowl for an after-dark tubing party, set to music and lit up with over 600,000 LED lights, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, November 25 through early May. Tubing runs range from “extreme” steepness to preschooler-friendly (all those 36 inches and above may participate) and can be ridden solo or in tandem. Kids will also flock to Frosty’s Playland, which offers a warm place to play between runs, featuring slides, ball pits and climbing. Kiddie snowmobile rides and a kiddie carousel add to the fun. For those who prefer to play in the day, regular daytime tubing is also available.

D is for Diamond Lake Resort. What began as a small fishing lodge in the 1920s is now a year-round resort, offering a wealth of winter recreation options and proximity to the majestic natural beauty of Crater Lake National Park. Families love the hilltop snow tubing slide with a carpet conveyor to make going uphill a breeze. Diamond Lake Resort is also known for its snowmobiling, which may be done with or without guides, on single or double passenger vehicles. For those seeking a slower pace, try snowshoeing. The resort has snowshoe rentals for littles on up.

E is for Ecola State Park. Yes, we tend to think beach in the summer, but don your winter rain gear and you’ll discover that, even in the cold and rain, the Oregon Coast delights all year round. Haystack Rock viewing, tide-pool exploring, shell collecting, and shoreline and coastal forest hiking opportunities abound. In fact, stormy weather can bring the landscape alive, and make cozying up afterwards with hot chocolate, fish and chips and a big bag of taffy all the more appealing. Procure that taffy from the Cannon Beach or Seaside outposts of Bruce’s Candy Kitchen, where you can watch the quintessential beach confection get made.


F is for Florence. A little farther down the coast, you’ll find Florence, which boasts gorgeous scenery whether you get sun or storms. Winter is prime whale-watching season, as nearly 20,000 grey whales swim past the Oregon Coast from mid-December through mid-January on their yearly migration from Alaska to Baja, Mexico. On wet windy days, rent a beachfront room and watch the high surf pummel the shore or suit up in rain coats to brave the weather from popular storm watching high cliff viewpoints, such as Heceta Head Lighthouse or Cape Perpetua. On a mild day, in addition to beachcombing, check out sandboarding at Sand Master Park (open through December and again beginning in March), where 3-year-olds on up can try sandboarding, sand sledding, dune buggy tours and more along miles of sand dunes.

G is for glass art. Discover your inner Chihuly at NE Portland’s Grace Institute, the same organization that puts on the beloved Grace Arts Summer Camps. Kids (and parents) love the opportunity to work with glass in these fun, creative workshops at the Grace Institute’s Glass Studio. A variety of classes are lead by experienced class artists Nancie Mann and Lori Rowell over the first three weekends in December, including ornament making, fused-glass wreaths, mosaic glass vase and candle holders. Children 5 and older may attend with an adult; older kids can attend solo, depending on the project’s complexity. The winter session, from mid-January to mid-March, will include classes on mediums including clay, illustration, animation and sewing.

H is for hot springs. Warm up at one of our region’s many hot spring resorts that offer overnight stays or day use and have amenities like restaurants and bathrooms. Central Oregon’s Kah-nee-tah Resort is particularly kid-friendly, with waterslides and spouting water and has spa treatments for the grown-ups. Breitenbush Hot Springs (where many guests soak al fresco) has an earthy, restorative vibe with natural hot spring pools and a steam sauna, as well as delicious vegetarian meals, yoga classes, massage and meditative forest trails. Lovely gardens surround the two well-maintained pools at Belknap Hot Springs along the central Oregon Coast. For a longer trip, try Harrison Hot Springs Resort, six hours north in British Columbia, which boasts multiple indoor and outdoor mineral rich pools at various temperatures, plus well appointed cabins and hotel rooms and a full service spa, set along scenic Lake Harrison.

I is for ice skating. Enjoy outdoor skating at the Ashland Rotary Centennial Ice Rink through February 19. Skates are available in toddler size 9 and up, and, yes, hot chocolate can be had as well. The rink is located across from the playground in magical Lithia Park, which little ones will enjoy exploring post-skate.

J is for Joshua Tree. For those who seek warm and dry weather, head to Palm Springs or Palm Desert, where winter temperatures average around 70 degrees, to take in the mind-blowing desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. Undulating cacti, dusty, glowing hills and climbable Dr. Seussian-like rock formation make this a big hit with visitors of all ages. No food is available on site, so bring along a lunch to enjoy at one of the many picnic areas. Kids will also love the Palm Springs Air Museum, Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, and the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert.

K is for Kauai. Take a break from the gray, and relax under sunny, blue skies in Kauai, the ultimate family island getaway. You’ll find lush tropical greenery, gorgeous kid-friendly beaches (Poipu is especially great), surfing, snorkeling and swimming, all without the hustle and bustle of Oahu and Maui. If you need more than a bucket, shovel and beach towel to keep your brood happy, hike the Na Pali Coast Trail, explore Waimea Canyon, kayak to the Fern Grotto, visit Wailua Falls, play at both amazing playgrounds of Lydgate Park or fly from tree to tree at one of several island zipline tours.

L is for Long Beach peninsula. Cross over the Astoria-Megler Bridge to discover the coastal wonders on the Washington side. Stop for oysters in Oysterville and hike in Leadbetter Point State Park. In Long Beach, Wash., kids will love Marsh’s Free Museum (don’t miss Jake the alligator man), the Funland Family Fun Center arcade and the Cottage Bakery for doughnuts. Ilwaco’s boardwalk has fish markets, restaurants and plenty of ships. The Discovery Trail is a wonderful, uncrowded paved walking and biking path that’s a breeze to navigate with young bikers in tow. Cape Disappointment offers breathtaking views, yurt and tent camping, plus the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center museum and lighthouses to explore.

M is for museum month. Stay at any downtown Seattle, Wash., hotel during February and get 50 percent off more than 40 of the Emerald City’s museums and attractions. Kids will enjoy the Museum of Flight, which has a new Apollo spaceflight exhibit, the waterfront Seattle Aquarium, the Museum of Popular Culture (MoPop), as well as the fantastic play structure out front, the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum and the Space Needle. Look for fish, flowers, doughnuts and fudge while strolling through Pike Place Market as well.

N is for Newport. Play marine biologists with a trip to the Oregon Coast Aquarium to see otters, sea lions, sharks, fish, pelicans and more. The daily 12:30 pm behind-the-scenes tour is worth the extra fee. If your kids want more oceanic adventure, head to the Visitor Center of the nearby Mark O. Hatfield Marine Science Center or, if they’d rather be a fish than touch one, take the plunge in the Newport Aquatic Center’s 25-yard indoor heated pool, lazy river and spa. Or try to spot whales as they head south to Baja, Mexico for the winter. Don Davis Park in Newport provides a great vantage point.

O is for the Oregon elk. Winter is prime elk viewing time at the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area in Seaside. This 2,940-acre site is home to upwards of 200 elk, which feed and rest in the meadows adjacent to viewing areas. Elk are fed onsite to keep them in the designated areas and help with the repopulation efforts. From December through February, visitors can sign up (call ahead as spots fill up) for free elk-feeding tour wagon rides. Deer, coyote, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles and other birds also take refuge in the wildlife preserve.

P is for Polar Express. Soak in the holiday spirit and take your family on a storybook-inspired journey to the North Pole aboard the Mount Rainier Railroad Logging Museum’s Polar Express train ride departing regularly from Elbe, Washington from November 17 to December 31. The enchanting children’s book comes to life on the train as Santa climbs aboard and gives each child a silver bell while they are enjoying plenty of hot chocolate and cookies.

Q is for quilts. Step back in time and browse the gorgeous quilts for sale and on display at Homestead Quilts and Gallery in La Pine, about 35 miles from Bend. You’ll also find yards and yards of fabric, a wide array of beads, yarn and knitting accessories, as well as an art gallery stocked with handmade items from local artisans, including jewelry, woodworking and paintings.

R is for roller skating. Yes, it’s a lot of work to lace up everybody’s skates and get everyone comfortable moving on wheels, but you’ll find your effort will more than pay out in old-time fun. Oaks Park Roller Rink is open year-round and has learn-to-skate sessions and beginner lanes to help everyone get the hang of it. The rink also features live pipe organ music during Sunday sessions.

S is for sugar cookies. Winter is the perfect time to taste test at Portland’s best bakeries — make it “educational” by buying a similar cookie at each one and rating it on a number of features, from design, size, value and frosting to crumb and taste. Start with Little T Baker, Grand Central Bakery, Lovejoy Bakers,
Le Cookie Monkey, JaCiva’s Bakery and Helen Bernhard Bakery. All in the name of science, of course.

T is for Tryon Creek. Southwest Portland’s Tryon Creek State Natural Area is a lush 658-acre second growth forest oasis just 15 minutes from downtown. You’ll find 8 miles of hiking trails that take visitors over eight bridges and a wetland boardwalk along the area’s namesake creek. There is also a 3-mile paved biking path and a paved all-abilities trail, making this an especially accessible natural area where you’ll encounter Douglas fir trees, owls, beavers, frogs, woodpeckers, salamanders and more.

U is for Umpqua Valley. Take the kids on an epic safari drive through the Wildlife Safari in Winston, where the animals roam free, often right up to your window, while you drive through their enclosures. You’ll see all the zoo regulars, plus buffalo, emu and cheetahs, all up close. For an additional fee you can also take camel rides. Round out your trip with stops at nearby local vineyards along the Umpqua Valley Wine Trail and at K & R Drive Inn, in Oakland, just off Interstate 5 at exit 148, to try one (or more) of their 38 flavors of Umpqua ice cream.

V is for Vancouver, B.C. Just six hours to the north, you’ll find the perfect big city adventure that combines European ambiance with Canadian charm. Visit Vancouver’s Science World for hands-on, interactive exhibits and awe-inspiring live science shows and the Museum of Anthropology to explore traditional and contemporary art from Northwest Native Americans and other cultures. Go to Granville Island for shopping and Grouse Mountain for skiing, snowshoeing and Skyride gondola rides.

W is for waterfalls. Waterfalls are just as lovely in winter without the crowds. The Eagle Creek Fire shut down much of the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge between Troutdale and Hood River this fall, but the majestic beauty of the Gorge and all those waterfalls endure. Until Multnomah Falls Lodge and the nearby waterfall-laden hikes (Bridal Veil Falls, Wahclella Falls and Elowah Falls are particularly good with kids) reopen, check out the great waterfall hikes, such as Falls Creek Falls, on the Washington side of the river, or Tamawanas Falls outside of Hood River.

X is for X-country skiing. Cross-country is the perfect winter recreation for those that want to relax and take in the snowy winter wonderland scenery rather than race down it. Enjoy the slower, but no less enjoyable or athletic, pace of cross-country skiing along groomed trails in the Alpine forests of Mount Hood, at Mount Hood Meadows Nordic Center, Teacup Lake Nordic Club and Cooper Spur Mountain Resort. Little kids can ride on your back or in a pull sleigh. The Teacup Youth Program, for kids 8 and up, is a great way to introduce bigger children to Nordic skiing. Otto’s Cross Country Ski Shop in Sandy is the place to rent your gear.

Y is for Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. The historic Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, perched on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the Yaquina River in Newport, was restored as a working lighthouse in 1996 and continues to shine its light from dawn to dusk. The lighthouse, which was originally built in 1871, includes the watch room and a basement museum and is open to the public year-round.

Z is for ZoolightsOver a million and a half lights sparkle at the Oregon Zoo’s annual winter Zoolights festival, held from November 24 through January 7 this winter. This beloved Portland family tradition delights young and old, year after year. Bundle up and walk the paths to see spectacular animals formed of multi-colored lights. The train ride is another fun way to take in the lights … and don’t forget the hot cocoa and elephant ears for sipping and munching along the way.

Sarah Vanbuskirk
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