About Lora

Lora Shinn writes about travel for regional and local publications, including AAA Journey, National Geographic Traveler, Bankrate.com, Natural Health and Whole Living.

No Hotel Rooms? No Problem.

Kid-friendly Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

I’ve recently been contacted by readers, despairing that my top hotel picks are either priced out of reach or unavailable for the upcoming summer. Family hotels in Portland, Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle are booked solid, sold out and too expensive!

Well, no surprise — I’ve dealt with the same situation, even as a travel writer. Here’s what I typically do when faced with sold-out hotel rooms, a planned trip and kids.

1. Set up in the suburbs. Now, some suburbs are better than others. For example, many suburbs of Vancouver offer the SkyTrain option into downtown Vancouver, so I’ll look for hotels near the SkyTrain. Portland offers this as well. Seattle is still working on getting their transit act together, so that’s not as much fun — but I’ve done it. Worst case scenario, I resign to driving into the city and paying for parking.

2. Use Priceline’s “Express Deals” tab. If it’s a heavily-booked weekend, I probably won’t hook a successful, low-priced bid for a decent hotel in my desired destination. But the “Express Deals” usually work at hitting the sweet spot of price and location. The potential downside: because you don’t get to choose your bedding type, you may end up with one King, three kids, and no sleep. To circumvent this, look for “Bed choice available” in the text of the express deal. This can allow you to choose two Queens, two doubles, or whatever you need. OR arrive very, very early in the morning, and you may end up with a bed choice (this has always worked for us, but we arrive at 9 a.m.).

3. BYOB (bring your own bed). With a teen and a kid (who will not share a bed with one another), I bring an air mattress for my younger child, or build a “sleep nest” out of pillows, cushions, blankets, and more pillows. This allows me some flexibility in the kind of bedding arrangements we can find, or which type of Priceline stay we reserve.

4. Get very creative or expand the budget. Home swaps? VRBO? AirBnB? Non-reservable, last-minute camping spots? Hostel rooms — there are family rooms available, but often booked far in advance; with teens you might find the bunk options reasonable? Vacation swaps? Petsitting or housesitting stays (I’ve found great petsitters through trustedhousesitters.com, although I haven’t used it as a traveler, yet.)?

5. Ask about a waitlist. If I have my heart set on a specific hotel, I might call 24-48 hours in advance of a stay and ask if there have been any cancellations. Or I’ll call earlier and ask if there’s a waitlist of any sort. Smaller hotel owners may be willing to work with a family — they want their hotel or inn filled for the weekend.

6. Reschedule the trip. This is the worst option, but sometimes necessary. Look for a weekend that isn’t insane — weekend festivals can pack Northwest hotels. This only works if I’m driving, not flying. I’ve done it many times. I’m unwilling to pay $150 for a one-star hotel room in the grottiest part of town, and there’s always another weekend that could work.

Eastern Washington Kid-Friendly Campgrounds

These Washington campgrounds east of the Cascades welcome families with playgrounds of all types, including tiny one-swing facilities and giant slide-swing-and-balance-toy contraptions. Eastern Washington’s weather tends to be predictably dry and hot, which makes it a great place camp with kids until winter sets in. Worried about the heat? Many campgrounds are near lakes and rivers — plan to slip in for a dip.

Central and Eastern Washington Kid-Friendly Campgrounds

Alta Lake State Park. Pateros, Washington. Families will find a playground great for preschool-aged kids with a corkscrew slide at this 91-site campground near Alta Lake.

Bridgeport State Park. Bridgeport, Washington. Just a few camping spaces here (14), and a small playground, but next to the freshwater shores of Rufus Woods Lake.

Conconully State Park. Conconully, Washington. Families will find slides, a plastic climbing wall and monkey bars at this shower-equipped North-Central Washington playground, along with 39 tent spaces and five cabins.

Eastern Washington Kid-Friendly Playgrounds

Eastern Washington kid-friendly playgrounds: Conconcully Campground. Photo courtesy Washington State Parks

Daroga State Park. Orondo, Washington. Sleep in one of 17 tent spaces at night at this Washington campground with showers; kids can play on the petite play equipment (and slides) during the day.

Lake Chelan State Park. Chelan, Washington. These very popular 109 campsites can be reserved in advance; let the kids scramble on the playground, which features climbing platforms, monkey bars, slides, standing swings and more.

Lake Easton State Park. Easton, Washington. Families will find 90 tent spaces at this campground on the (sunny, dry) eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, just off I-90. Bring the bikes — there are more than six miles of bike trails here, along with a lakeside  playground featuring toddler- and kid-friendly climbing structures, monkey bars and slides.

Lake Wenatchee. Leavenworth, Washington. A fun preschool- and toddler-age playground with a triple slide, monkey bars and climbing platforms plus 155 tent spaces and 42 water and electricity hookup sites.

Lincoln Rock State Park. East Wenatchee, Washington. A larger children’s playground, including wide climbing walls, a bridge, slides and a variety of monkey bars alongside deluxe family-friendly cabins and 27 reservable tent spaces.

Riverside State Park. Nine Mile Falls, Washington (near Spokane). A smaller campground with just 16 campsites, but this state park does offer rentable canoes ($25) and a small playground.

Eastern Washington kid-friendly campgrounds:  Lake Easton

Eastern Washington kid-friendly campgrounds: Lake Easton State Park. Photo courtesy Washington State Parks.

Steamboat Rock State Park. Electric City, Washington. This campground offers a toddler- and preschool-aged kid playground with slides, mini-climbing wall and a bridge. Three family-friendly cabins can be reserved, along with 26 tent spaces, 136 utility sites, and 44 primitive sites north of the main park.

Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park. Coulee City, Washington. Families will find 152 campsites along with a small, partially-shaded play structure featuring bridges, slides, wheels and monkey bars.

Wenatchee Confluence. Leavenworth, Washington. A miniature playground with slide, rock wall and climbing structure near this larger campground; reserve one of 155 tent spaces or 42 RV hookup sites.

Southeast Washington Kid-Friendly Campgrounds with Playgrounds

Lewis and Clark Trail State Park. Dayton, Washington. Just a few swings at this 24-site campground, which is also constructing teepees for overnight stays.

Potholes State Park. Othello, Washington. More than 60 tent sites here, along with 60 utility spaces, and five family-friendly cabins and a small playground.

 

 

12 Strange Natural Wonders in the Pacific Northwest and BC

These odd Oregon, British Columbia and Washington State destinations can compete with even the best video game or smartphone and win. Don’t tell kids the science behind the weird natural wonder’s unusual nature — at least not right away — and see what interesting and creative explanations they might come up with, then explain the science.

1. Mima Mounds. The Mima Mounds seem like something out of a sci-fi movie — a meadow of grassy mounds in a repeated pattern, as if carved or created intentionally. In the past, locals thought perhaps “pocket gophers” created these little bumps. Turns out that the mounds are generated by plant growth — but aliens indeed would’ve been more fun.

2. Oregon Vortex. Dare your Wicked-loving daughter or son to belt out “Defying Gravity” here. Things seem to roll uphill at the Oregon Vortex, and nothing is quite as it seems. Turns out the vortex is part of a “gravity hill optical illusion.” There are many in the U.S., but this is the Northwest’s own.

3. John Day Fossil Beds. Spread out geographically over three “units,” spectacular reds, yellows and greens seem etched into The Painted Hills Unit, and the Clarno Unit looks like a cathedral for space-men (but is only viewable from below, along the highway). I recommend the Painted Hills over all others, thanks to easy-going paths that wind through super-vivid hills. But watch out for snakes!

Painted Hills Cove Trail, Oregon

Painted Hills Cove Trail, Oregon

4. Gingko Petrified Forest. I know you’re imagining a standing forest made of stone, but the Gingko Petrified Forest is not that cool. This is a dry, mountainous area with more than 50 fossilized tree species, along with a park museum center that shows off fossils in funky shapes. Read more about the Gingko Petrified Forest. 

5. Lost Lake. When is a lake not a lake? When it’s a Lost Lake. Every winter, the lake basin fills up, and every spring, it leaks down a giant hole that’s actually a dried-up lava tube! — sort of like your tub’s drain. Also, families can camp here at Lost Lake, in Oregon.

6. Beacon Rock. The Northern Hemisphere’s second largest free-standing monolith! A hiking trail winds around Beacon Rock to the top; keep an eye on impulsive children next to the barely-guardrails on this 722-foot monster of Southwest Washington. Other unusual rocks include Hat Rock in Eastern Oregon and Haystack Rock on the Oregon Coast.

7. Soap Lake. It’s like a giant bubble bath…kinda. Washington’s Soap Lake contains more than 20 minerals that give the lake a sloppy, soapy texture (complete with a brownish froth), and make the water buoyant. Oily ichthyols also float in the lake; Europeans believe these help heal skin issues. Fun gross-out kid fact: these ichthyols come from decomposing shrimp. Ew!

8. The Octopus Tree. A 250-year old Sitka spruce with branches that grow out and up, in a many-legged octopus pattern. Located at the Cape Meares Lighthouse along the Oregon Coast.

Octopus Tree Oregon Coast

Octopus Tree: Oregon Coast

9. Spotted Lake. In Eastern British Columbia, Spotted Lake (Kliluk Lake) is covered in blue and yellow circles of varying sizes, thanks to colorful mineral deposits and summer’s evaporation. Located just west of the Washington-BC border town of Osoyoos.

10. Sea Lion Caves. Billed as the “America’s Largest Sea Cave,” this Oregon attraction is full of sea lions and pretty rank sea lion breath. But it is actually probably the largest sea lion cave in America. Take that for what you will, and the attraction will take $14 (adults) and $8 (ages 5-12).

11. Oregon Caves. These dark batcaves are the”marble halls of Oregon.”  They bear 15,000 feet winding of marble, formed by underground cave women. No — just lava made it long ago. The Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve’s excellent tour is recommended for big kids only: at least 42 inches tall (107 centimeters) and able to climb steep stairs without help. You can’t carry little ones. And yes, there are bats,but don’t worry they don’t bite. Another tunnel: Horne Lake Caves.

12. Oregon Dunes. The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area offers 40 miles of Tattooine-like mountains of sand that can reach up to 500 feet tall, and rapidly overtaking local businesses. Wear serious hiking boots or comfortable shoes, bring a sled or snowboard for slipping down hills of sand. Sunglasses help prevent sand in your eyes.

Skateboarding kid at Oregon Dunes in Florence, Oregon

Sandboarding at Oregon Dunes in Florence, Oregon

I think we can agree that Oregon is definitely one of the odder regions of our area, due to the diversity of natural oddities left behind by Earth’s evolution. I left volcanoes off this list, although they’re also extremely terrifying and fun.

Washington National Parks with Kids

Get the kids excited about your upcoming trip to a National Park, Recreation Area or Historic Site in Washington State. Here, I’ve gathered information on great kids’ programs, Junior Ranger programs, camps and living-history museums. At the larger parks, I suggest stopping by the visitor centers, which may offer local pelts to pet, replica ranger cabins, models of the park’s range and other hands-on activities.

Olympic National Park. Western Washington State.

For kids: Check out the well-loved Junior Ranger program, this list of Olympic National Park activities for families and children, plus volunteer and ecological adventure camps for teens in the Olympic National Park.

Olympic National Park with Kids

Stopping by Olympic National Park’s Discovery Ranger Station with kids

Lewis and Clark National Historic Park. Southwest Washington (Coast).

This park is shared between Washington and Oregon locations, as ol’ L&C ended their journey at the mouth of the Columbia River. Print out the Junior Ranger workbook in advance to give kids context (ages 4 and up), but I recommend Oregon’s Fort Clatsop, just over the border, which seems frozen in time. Check out the National Historic Park’s summer camps, too.

Mount Rainier National Park. Western Washington State.

For kids: Get sworn in as a Junior Ranger after filling out the workbooks available at the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center. Stop by the new Sunrise visitor center and hike a trail. Find more to do with kids and teens at the Mount Rainier National Park.

Mt. Rainier with Kids

Mt. Rainier with Kids

 

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Vancouver, Washington.

For kids: Learn about life in the 19th century! New playground, junior ranger program (download the Junior Ranger workbook), overnight and day camps and The “Kids Dig” archaeology program for ages 8-12, but only 20 spots are available. Reserve in advance.

Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve. Northwest Washington.

Download the Junior Ranger workbook before you go to the wildlife-rich location, or pick up a copy while there.

 

Klondike Gold Rush — Seattle Unit. Seattle, Washington.

Right in downtown Seattle, learn about the region’s intertwined history with gold at this indoor museum (it is NOT an actual park). Do the Junior Ranger thing or listen to a live performance on the second Sunday of the month.

North Cascades National Park. North-Central Washington State.

For kids: New Junior Ranger and Scout Ranger programs, helpfully broken down into age-appropriate junior ranger materials for ages 3 and up. Download forms before you go and you’ll have plenty to keep the kids occupied en route. Discover more via the North Cascades NP’s site for kids.

North Cascade Lakes with Kids

North Cascade Lakes with Kids

 

San Juan Island National Historical Park. San Juan Island, Washington State.

Earn that junior ranger badge! Here’s a tip, mom and dad — print out the workbook in advance, then bring the completed pages to the English Camp or the American Camp. But the costumed story-tellers and reenactments are the most intriguing and unique elements here, so check out the schedule before boarding the ferry.

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. Northeastern Washington.

Roosevelt offers a Junior Ranger program (check in at the Fort Spokane Visitor Center), attend a ranger-led program and learn about wildlife and frontier life.

Whitman Mission National Historic Site. Southeastern Washington.

No one is as polarizing as Narcissa Whitman. As recently in the 1980s, many of us learned that the missionary Whitmans were basically sacrificial saints. Not everyone feels this way, suffice it to say. Head here to explore the controversy and get a Junior Ranger badge.

Additional National Parks:

Minidoka National ParkPrimarily in Idaho, this park explores the sad history of Japanese Internment. In Washington State, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial is currently comprised of a “story wall” with the names of interned individuals and families. Nothing here though for kids, in particular.

Nez Perce National Historic Park. Spread out between Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington, this park ranges as far as historic Nez Perce tribal lands. Unfortunately, the Junior Ranger programs are not offered at Washington’s site, limited to Joseph Canyon.

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area is next to and administered by the North Cascades National Park, but there aren’t roads into the NRA. You can hike in, or take a boat or seaplane to the quaint village of Stehekin, however, for tours of the Buckner homestead and one-room Stehekin School. You can also camp in Stehekin with kids.

Ross Lake National Recreation Area is also managed by the North Cascades National Park. Go boating on Ross Lake, or stay in one of the cute Ross Lake floating cabins accessible by boat only (and probably not a great bet for those with crawlers or toddlers).

New for Families from Victoria Clipper

For U.S. residents, there’s never been a better time to visit Canada. Thanks to the strong dollar, U.S. visitors will find items less expensive, from hotels to restaurants (if you withdraw Canadian money from an ATM, using your low-transaction-fee debit or credit card).

The Victoria Clipper has a few new options I thought I’d share — they’ve added a Family Fun on Bicycles tour that takes families on a private, two-hour cycling tour of Victoria ($41.75/adults, $26.50/children over age 2, prices in USD). The tours fit the family — so young kids may want to visit the petting zoo at Beacon Hill Park or feed the seals at a wharf, older children can visit historical sites or explore one of the beaches outside of downtown.

Meeting a Beacon Hill peacock; Photo courtesy The Pedaler.

Meeting a Beacon Hill peacock; Photo courtesy The Pedaler.

The Pedaler (leading the tours) can set you up with a cargo trike that can either be driven by a tour operator or a family member, bike trailers for toddlers or a trail-a-bike so your child can pedal behind your bike. Kid-sized bicycles are also available; the smallest size is 20”. Check out the options at The Pedaler’s site.

The Clipper also offers Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre as an add-on option to travel/accommodations. The centre is in Sidney, BC, which is either a 30-minute drive or very long bus ride from downtown Victoria. I’d suggest it only if you have an extra day or so, because of the time involved. However, Sidney (also called Sidney-by-the-Sea) is sweet, petite, fish ‘n’ chips-style town.

A few more notes for families:

  • Children under age 12 are $10 per paying adult when booked with an overnight package. The children’s tickets sans package aren’t too expensive either ($35). Go before they turn 12!
  • The Clipper now offers online check-in, and you’re assigned a boarding group when you pay for your reservation. BUT! Pre-boarding is still available for families traveling with children under age three. Request pre-boarding at the ticket desk at your departure terminal, even if you’ve already checked in. You want to board as early as possible to get the best seats (My favorite spots are the four-person tables near the bathrooms/exit; upstairs four-person tables; and front-of-ship seats)
  • On the breakfast menu, there’s a kid’s basket called the “Lil’ Sailor” with Kellogg’s cereal, milk, string mozzarella cheese, a cup of fruit and a fun surprise ($4.50), if you didn’t have time to pack a breakfast.
  • You’ll hear about contests and promotions by signing up for the Victoria Clipper’s email list — no quick-link, scroll to the bottom of the page and look for the “Subscribe” text-entry box. I heard about the new online check-in via the e-mail list. Or you can follow the Clipper on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Oregon Water Parks

Oregon’s water parks are few and far between — most people flock to the sunny Oregon Coast to fill up on watery good times. But as if to make up for the lack of water parks, Oregon offers wonderful municipal aquatic centers. Here are Oregon’s water parks, aquatic centers and water slides.

 

Oregon water parks

Oregon Water Parks: Wings and Waves Waterpark

Wings and Waves Waterpark at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. McMinnville, Oregon.

It’s an air museum. No, it’s a water park. Well, it’s both. Although admission is pricey ($32 for an adult), you’ll get to enjoy a wave pool, a vortex pool, fountains, slides that take you right past an airplane (and nine more slides), along with an indoor playground. Located about an hour away from downtown Portland.

Splash! At Lively Park. Springfield, Oregon.

In a Eugene suburb, this indoor city water park is one of the best in Oregon. Ride inner tubes in the wave pool, slip down the 144-foot water slide and let babies and toddlers sit in the bathtub-warm infant pool.

Pendleton Aquatic Center. Pendleton, Oregon.

A fantastic outdoor, summer-only aquatic center in dry, hot Eastern Oregon. Fountains, a giant pool (with zero-depth entry), huge slides and baby slides, too.

North Clackamas Aquatic Park. Milwaukie, Oregon.

A suburban indoor water park with three brightly colored water slides, an 85-degree wave pool and free lifejacket rentals. Just south of downtown Portland.

City of Astoria Aquatic Center. Astoria, Oregon.

When the weather just won’t cooperate, this North Oregon city aquatic center offers two slides, a hot tub, lazy river and toddler pool, along with the usual lap pool.

Emigrant Lake. Ashland, Oregon.

Yes, this is a lake — but it’s a lake with a water slide. How cool is that? A 280-foot twin flume water slide splashes down into the lake, right next to the campground.

Jamison Square. Portland, Oregon.

Located in the Pearl District shopping area — just a few blocks from Powell’s Books — this is a low-stress water feature. Fountains of water create little water falls down steps, which pour into a shallow bowl below, filling it. The water drains, and the cycle repeats. Great for toddlers and preschoolers.

Crystal Mountain with Kids in Summer

Recently, my family went for a long weekend to Mt. Rainier and Crystal Mountain. Here’s what we found ~

Gondola rides at Crystal Mountain

A cherry-red gondola takes you to the top of Crystal Mountain and a viewpoint. The gondolas seat six comfortably, but your family probably won’t have to share, even if there are only three of you. The gondolas arrive quickly and frequently. It’s not cheap ($20/adult r/t), but kids under age 10 are only $5 r/t.

Gondola ride up Crystal Mountain

Gondola ride up Crystal Mountain

On the 10-12 minute ride straight up the mountain, look sidelong for eagles, blue jays and red-tailed hawks as they fly from fir to cedar or chase prey, and look down on pockets of lupine and magenta paintbrush that grow in tidy bunches. The diversity and abundance of wildlife is a kid’s dream — other mountain denizens include black bears, Roosevelt elk, marmots, bobcats and blacktail deer.

Even on a windy day, the gondola doesn’t rock…much. Just a little, enough to get a tiny thrill.

Once the gondola delivers you to Crystal’s peak, sit back in one of the forest-green lawn chairs and enjoy views of Mt. Rainier’s glaciers  and clusters of smaller mountains, including Mt. Shuksan and the adorable Sourdough Mountain. Or watch brides and grooms gettin’ hitched on the outdoor patio.

Wedding viewpoint at Crystal Mountain

Wedding Viewpoint at Crystal Mountain Resort

Eating at Crystal Mountain with Kids

Located on the top of Crystal Mountain, Summit House  is Washington’s highest-elevation restaurant (it’s at 6,872 feet, to be exact) with almost 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. With a claim like that, I expected them to rest on their lofty laurels and serve fairly standard Food Service of America food (bleh). Instead, my waiter brought free-range chicken, fresh, sweet heirloom tomatoes. The potatoes were so well cooked that my 7-year-old stole them from me. Even the sausage (Uli’s Famous Sausage, from the Seattle Pike Place Market) and my daughter’s hamburger were good here.

Eating with kids at Summit House at Crystal Mountain Resort

Summit House at Crystal Mountain

Overhead, there are antler ceiling lights; outdoors, amazing views on the flower-box-rimmed outdoor patio (bring coat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and maybe all three). To keep the kids entertained, watch for the random chipmunk who might attempt to snatch a crumb (but don’t feed the critters — it’s not good for them). Children’s meals are available, but it will still run you about $8 for a burger or noodles. I suggest splitting one of the generously sized adult meals.

I looked at the Yelp reviews and it seems not everyone has had such a positive experience. I went at a quieter time of day (no wait for a table) and food was delivered promptly, at the right temperature. So I don’t know. Your altitude (and attitude) may vary, but Summit’s lunch was the best meal of my weekend.

For more casual grub, peer into cave-like The Snorting Elk Cellar. Located at the mountain’s base, Snorting Elk doesn’t boast the same alpine views but it’s a bit cheaper, and serves sandwiches, pizza and hot dogs for kids.

Activities at Crystal Mountain with Kids

Relaxing after hiking paths at Crystal Mountain

Post-Hike Relaxation at Crystal Mountain Resort

In summer, downhill ski runs become hiking trails suited to various abilities. Here is Crystal Mountain Resort’s hiking paths in PDF form; many of the hikes take at least 90 minutes though, so prepare for variable weather and wear sturdy shoes (the usual). Also, keep a tight rein on antsy or impulsive toddlers — sharp drop-offs  abound.

Forest Service Ranger-guided walks take place Thursday through Sunday.

Complimentary hiking poles for Crystal Mountain

Complimentary hiking poles for Crystal Mountain

Play disc golf with bigger kids — the path is free, so you can either bring your own discs or purchase them at Snorting Elk Cellar or one of the local shops. Read more about the sport of disc golf at the Disc Golf Association.

From here, it’s a short drive to Mt. Rainier. A quick word of note — cell phone service is available at the resort, but once you drive or hike outside the resort, cell phone coverage is spotty or nonexistent. Plan accordingly, make sure your car is well-fueled and you have everything you need.

If you’d like to read more staying and hiking at Crystal Mountain, check out Northwest Tripfinder’s post on Mt. Rainier North and Three Day Hikes.

Oregon Road Trip: Dig for Fossils, Meet Dinos & Haunt a Ghost Town

Each turn on an Eastern Oregon road trip presents a new view of the region. Driving through valleys and over peaks carved by ancient floods, you’ll encounter flat range where cattle graze, basalt mountains that stretch thousands of miles into the blue sky, yellow wheat fields bending with the breeze, white windmills generating power for a growing urban population. Truly unusual sights dwell here, yet it’s not too difficult to find a room, even during summer’s peak travel season. It’s like a little slice of undiscovered Oregon — so get out there. Here’s a trip to remember.

Eastern Oregon Road Trip with Kids, Stop by Stop:

Shop a tiny Powell’s at Country Flowers Soda Fountain, a one-woman emporium of gifts, lattes, great kitchenware, beauty supplies and yes, a very small Powell’s Bookstore. Really! It’s a book-lover’s oasis.Condon Café offers microbrews on tap, bottles, pizza, salads and fine service.

Country Flowers; Powell's in Oregon

Country Flowers; Powell’s in Oregon

Wash the grit off at the restored Hotel Condon, a welcome sight after a day driving along hot, dusty roads. This 1920-era hotel offers spacious rooms for families, cable, and yes, hot showers. Truly one of my favorite little Oregon hotels. Wine and cheese hour and a continental breakfast is included in the nightly rate.

Kid-friendly Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

Drive back in Time. From Condon, it’s a 20-minute drive south along the John Day Highway, a valley with giant basalt mountains cut by floods, flanking both sides of the road, until you reach the town of Fossil.

Find fossils in the aptly named Fossil. Behind Fossil High School, you’ll find Oregon’s public fossil beds, where you can scrape and brush aside layers of dirt and rock to find your very own plant fossil, such as the needles of a metasequoia that fell 33 million years ago. The fossil tools are free for use by anyone, but there is a $15/four-person family admission fee.

 

Digging for fossils with kids in Fossil

Digging for fossils with kids in Fossil

Meet ancient residents at Oregon Paleo Lands Institute, which has a full-size Plesiosaur found right in Fossil, along with little puzzles and playthings for younger children. Don’t miss the family activities at OPLI, if you can arrange your visit around one of the hikes.

Oregon Public Lands Institute with Kids

Oregon Public Lands Institute with Kids

From Fossil, you have two good choices. You can drive for another hour south toward the Painted Hills, which are stunning; I recently wrote about the Painted Hills. Or you can drive a half-hour west  for an otherworldly hike at the Clarno Unit of John Day Fossil Beds, just 18 miles west of Fossil; giant rock outcroppings almost look like a sci-fi high-rise made of stone (those little holes/windows look they belong in alien condos, for sure). It’s a great place to picnic.

Clarno Unit with Kids

Clarno Unit with Kids

Heading north again, don’t miss a chance to creep through the Oregon ghost town Shaniko, where the town’s  remaining buildings are painted in almost-giddy colors. You can still get lunch or ice cream in town though — without scaring your wallet.

Shaniko Ghost Town with Kids

Shaniko Ghost Town

From here, it’s about a 90-minute drive to The Dalles. Eat at Burgerville, just for me. Drive back toward Portland along I-84, through the Columbia River Gorge.

Oregon Dunes (Florence) with Kids

Skateboarding kid at Oregon Dunes in Florence, Oregon

Skateboarding kid at Oregon Dunes in Florence, Oregon

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area — the largest coastal sand dunes in North America – makes you feel exactly like Luke Skywalker. Well, maybe you won’t look or sound like him, but after 10 minutes here, you’ll empathize with Luke’s long walk over those huge, majestic dunes on Tatooine.

Naturally, kids LOVE this place.

As if  dropped right into a giant’s sandbox, you’ll find giant 500-foot-tall (152 m.) peaked mounds and “tree islands,” where trees cluster together, surrounded by sand.

The Oregon Dunes NRA Visitors Center offers hiking tips through the dunes, info on the area’s natural history and summertime programs on the plants and animals of the dunes. No tusken raiders actually live here, boo.

Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park is a great place to experience the area’s unique landscape — walk the dunes, watch kids sled or snowboard down dunes, and visit the beach. The park’s freshwater lake (Cleawox) was warm enough to qualify as a “bath” for my kid, who hates baths but didn’t complain here.

Cleawox Lake, Florence Oregon with Kids

Cleawox Lake, Florence Oregon

The dunes stretch for forty miles long along the coast, so many visitors opt to see them in a giant, slow-moving dune buggy (you can even bring a baby in a carseat on a buggy) or a faster sand rail (required: goggles, a helmet and age 3 & up).

In either case, reservations must be made in advance with one of the dune buggy outfits. Sandland Adventures has a nice little Family Fun Center with bumper boats, if you want to cool off after a Sandland buggy ride.

If sandboarding looks more your kids’ speed, Sand Master Park rents gear, gives lessons and offers family packages. The park is right next to a Fred Meyer, and it’s funny to see the sand actually moving into the parking lot – it creeps inland 16 feet per year. Maybe some day we’ll all be driving sand buggies.

Oregon sand dune

View from the top of a Oregon Sand Dune

Where to stay in Florence with Kids

You can stay at Jessie M. Honeyman in one of the yurts — or bring your tent. Book far in advance, because it’s a popular destination with great weather.

We stayed at the Driftwood Shores Resort right on the beach, which was fine and clean, if a bit dated and mildewy in spots (hey, it’s the Northwest Coast — only so much you can do about things like this). A bonus: The Inn has a small children’s aquatic play area with fun showers and sprinklers — a nice back up if you do arrive on a very windy or rainy day.

Where to eat in Florence with Kids

After some deep research, we went with a few fun places:

Mo’s in Florence Old Town. 1436 Bay St., Florence, Oregon. So,  the seafood is similar, perhaps, to your grandparent’s seafood restaurant (like a fancy Skipper’s, maybe). You can’t beat the location (right on the water), the kid-friendly aspects (really noisy restaurant, crayons, kid menu) and the fact your child’s palate and your grandparent’s palate are probably not too dissimilar. It’s fine. Order an appetizer if the restaurant is busy, as you may wait a while for your food.

Maple Street Grille. 165 Maple St., Florence, Oregon. An upscale restaurant with solid meal options, including well-cooked salmon, chicken and pasta. A bit more formal and expensive. No kids’ menu, but kid-friendly restaurant staff will help your children find yummy food, such as mac ‘n’ cheese.

Nature’s Corner Cafe and Market. 185 Hwy 101 Florence, Oregon. Hearty, healthy breakfasts in a very casual setting  — more like a store than a restaurant. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. It can take a while for the food to arrive (maybe order something small to take the edge off). But when it does  arrive– yum.

1285 Restobar also looks like a decent option for pizza and Italian food.

Read more about Florence with Kids.

Bainbridge Island with Kids

Bainbridge Shops with Kids

Bainbridge shops

On a sunny day, there’s nothing better than catching a Washington State Ferry from Pier 52, bound for Bainbridge Island. En route, ask the kids to find the mountains — they’re all around you. Olympics to the west, Cascades (behind Seattle’s high-rise office buildings) and Mt. Rainier looming to the south. Once you’ve arrived, hop off and enjoy some island time: slow down, ramble along the streets, poke your head into independently owned shops and say “hello” to store owners.

Things to Do on Bainbridge Island with Kids

Bainbridge Aquatic Center, 8521 Madison Avenue N.
Rainy day on Bainbridge Island with kids? No problem! Ride down the 180-foot water slide, cruise along the lazy river, take your stir-crazy toddlers to the play area or encourage your teen to jump off the diving board.

Bainbridge Cinemas at the Pavilion, 403 Madison Avenue N.
In downtown Bainbridge Island, catch a first-run movie or matinee on one of five screens, along with the usual popcorn and popcorn-powder toppings.

Farmers’ Market, Town Square at City Hall Park (spring, summer, fall – Saturdays, 9-1)
This market’s rules say the veggies, fruits, handmade cheese and crafts must be island-grown or island-made, so when they say local, they mean local.

Kids Discovery Museum (KiDiMu), 150 Madrone Lane N.
KiDiMu’s sweet little museum welcomes babies, toddlers and preschoolers with a child-sized village, a cute Smart car, a realistic treehouse and upstairs hands-on science lab. It’s not big, but makes up for size in enthusiasm.

KiDiMu: Bainbridge Island Attraction with Kids

KiDiMu: Bainbridge Island Attraction with Kids

Waterfront Park
Native plants gather around hiking trails and a playground in this 5.5-acre park. Picnic tables welcome picnicking families.

Bainbridge Island Historical Museum may interest older children. Or it might not. Skip it with any child under the age of 10 or so; the museum probably isn’t hands-on enough to engage younger kids.

Where to eat with kids on Bainbridge Island

Blackbird Bakery, 210 Winslow Way E.
Pastries include wheat-free and vegan options, along with rich pies and quiches. I love the unusual drinks; once, I enjoyed a nettle lemonade here. Pack up your snacks and take them to the Waterfront Park (above).

Café Nola, 488 Winslow Way E.
Draw on the paper-topped tables before your pecan-orange challah bread arrives (breakfast). Great lunches and dinners too. The kids’ menu has everything from ravioli to quesadillas to PB&J. Long lines – make a reservation if you can. One of my favorite restaurants in Puget Sound.

Doc’s Marina Grill, 403 Madison Ave S.
Fish ‘n’ ships! Your meal comes with a fine view of boats on Eagle Harbor, whether you’re seated indoors or outdoors. The menu doesn’t stray too far from the typical burgers, sandwiches and breaded fish.

Mora Iced Creamery, 139 Madrone Lane
Mora serves Bainbridge-made seasonal favorites like eggnog (winter) and lavender (summer) along with more typical flavors. But mostly, I love going here for the funky flavors.

Pegasus Coffee House, 131 Parfitt Way S.W.
Order breakfast, salad or dinner, listen to an open-mike or jam session (weekends only), or try absinthe (adults only!). Pegasus coffee for adults, and drinking chocolate for the kids, which is like drinking a slurry of melted chocolate bar – rich enough to share, for sure.

That’s a Some Pizza, 488 Winslow Way E.
Easy-cheesy, pick up a slice to go for the ferry ride home or a pie for your hotel room.

Bainbridge Stores for Kids

Bon Bon Confections, 230 Winslow Way E
Enough candy to scare a dentist: Bainbridge Island Fudge, chocolate in jars, pastel-colored beauties and more than a dozen varieties of licorice. And fudge. Yum.

Calico Cat Toys, 104 Winslow Way W.
A fun little toy shop with great unique selections, including locally made toys and a fantastic stuffed-animal collection.

Eagle Harbor Book Company, 157 Winslow Way E.
Sit on the hardwood floors or an armchair and read from a picture book or a tween paranormal romance – this indie bookstore has it all. Yes, a great selection of books for grown-ups, too.

Lollipops Children’s Boutique, 278 Winslow Way E.
A children’s boutique with upscale brands for girls and babies, with some locally made extras that make fun souvenirs.

Where to Sleep on Bainbridge (Family-Friendly Hotels)

Eagle Harbor Inn, 291 Madison Avenue S.
Four boutique hotel-style rooms (including one with a queen bed and a foldout couch) within walking distance of the ferry and the village center.

Best Western Bainbridge Island Suites, 350 N.E. High School.
Spacious, kitchen-outfitted suites that are great for families, although you’ll need a car to get here and the views are lacking (parking lots, the road, etc.).