We don’t have any mega-big-deal-amusement parks* here in Cascadia. But we do have several options within easy driving distance of major cities, including water parks and kid-friendly rides. The parks are all fairly inexpensive (at least when compared to airfare for four, lodging and ticket prices at mega-big-deal-amusement parks). It’s low-key fun, an easy getaway in pleasant weather.
1. Oaks Amusement Park. Portland, Oregon. One of the Pacific Northwest’s oldest operating amusement parks, Oaks Park pops with options: a year-round roller rink, big kid thrill rides, gentle toddler rides. I love this quaint amusement park. Free admission, pay per ride. It’s well-shaded and nestled along the banks of a river, so you can take over-excited kids for a chill-out walk before hopping back into the car. A 15-minute drive from downtown Portland in the quaint Sellwood District.
2. Wild Waves: Theme & Water Park. Federal Way, Washington. In the summer, corkscrew-style slides deliver hordes of screaming kids. It’s not all wild, as the gentle wave pool welcomes younger children. Post-swim, visit the the Enchanted Park and drive bumper cars, ride the ferris wheel or discover your scream on a kiddie coaster. Big problem though – the food here is distinctly sub-par, and you can’t bring in your own. Plan for a car picnic.
3. Great Wolf Lodge. Grand Mound, Washington. Located halfway between Portland and Seattle, this indoor waterpark offers raging river slides, family-friendly rooms (with bunk beds), a kids’ spa, and a magical wand that kids can use to play an interactive game throughout the building. Caveat: You can’t enter without staying the night – but a night’s stay allows you to come and go from the water as you please. It’s sort of like an all-inclusive, right here in the Pacific Northwest.
4. Playland at the PNE. Vancouver, BC. Like a county fair in the big city, all summer long. This amusement park is about a 15-20 minute drive from downtown Vancouver, and worth the cost with elementary-age kids or middle schoolers. But even my son (then 2) found plenty of just-ride rides among the selection of over 20 options. Cool big-kid rides: The wooden roller coaster and the “Hellevator.” Bring sunscreen or go during evening hours (like we did); buy the pass for hours of fun.
5. Enchanted Forest Theme Park. Turner, Oregon. If you find yourself driving along Oregon’s I-5 this summer, check out this campy, cheesy and amusing park. Stand in a giant’s mouth, get mildly spooked in the Haunted House, take a stroll through Storybook Lane, Western Town or English Village. It’s the sort of amusement park you’d enjoy if you like old-school Paul Bunyan statues, Roadside America and other oddities still hanging around the Northwest like old moss. I’d go; I’m not sure you would. But you should.
6. Cultus Lake Waterpark and Slides. Cultus Lake, BC. In British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, about 80 km (50 miles) east of Vancouver, the weather dries out and the lakes warm up. So Cultus Lake Waterpark is a fine place to spend the day. Tweens can tear down the maze-like Blasters and Twisters, while the more hesitant (like me!) can enjoy the milder Kiddie Slides. The unusual “Valley of Fear” slide is set up like a skater’s half-pipe; families can slip along in double or triple tubes. Bonus feature: You can bring in your own food.
7. Riverfront Park. Spokane, Washington. I lived in the Pacific Northwest for decades, ignorant to this unique – and diverse — park. In Spokane, the 100-acre Riverfront Park offers: a SkyRide past waterfalls, tour train, wide grassy areas for picnics and running, mini golf, a garbage-eating metallic goat, a ginormous red wagon, a pavilion of amusement rides, an IMAX theatre and water bumper boats. Whew. I’m tired from just listing the options. Worth a weekend’s exploration.
8. Dinotown. Bridal Falls, BC. Yes, it’s a theme park based on dinosaurs. Three hours from Seattle and a 1 ½ hours from Vancouver, this park is basically like an outdoor Chuck-E-Cheese, but with a sorta-dino-themed train, a musical tribute to the Flintstones, dinosaur mascots, bumper cars and other quasi-dino choices. Not a must-see unless your kid really, really, really loves pink dinosaurs. Update 7/25 CLOSED.
9. Slidewaters. Lake Chelan, Washington. It’s almost always dependably sunny and hot on Washington’s eastside – so there will never be an excuse for skipping the eight slides. At Slidewaters, the new “Purle Haze” ride slips you through 420 feet of disorienting darkness. As a parent, you’ll probably prefer the hot tub and cool pool. Wear sunscreen, because the sun’s rays are a bit sneaky — I think I still have scars from my Chelan burns.
*Full disclosure: My husband works for The Mouse.
Did I miss an awesome waterpark, theme park or fabulous fun center? Let me know.