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.

 

 

Western Washington State Campgrounds with Playgrounds

Campgrounds offer many natural playthings to entertain kids: sticks, stones, spiders (OK, maybe not spiders). But one of my favorite childhood memories featured a Washington campground decked out with swings, slides and other fun play equipment. Here’s a quick list of Western Washington kid-friendly campgrounds that roll out the green carpet.

 

Kid-Friendly Washington State Campgrounds:  Scenic Beach State Park. Photo courtesy Washington State Parks.

Kid-Friendly Washington State Campgrounds:
Scenic Beach State Park. Photo courtesy Washington State Parks.

Northwest Washington Kid-Friendly Campgrounds

Belfair State Park. Belfair, Washington. Sleep in one of 120 campsites and let the kids play at the nearby beach or on the simple playground, which has swings, toddler-ready slides and a small climbing structure.

Blake Island Marine State Park. Blake Island, Washington. Only reachable by boat (no roads!), this kid-friendly campground features 44 campsites and petite, older wooden playground with slides and a tire swing.

Cama Beach State Park. Camano Island, Washington. The draw at this location? The family-ready cabins. As for the playground, only a small kid-sized boat and a solitary swing.

Rasar State Park. Concrete, Washington. Kids will enjoy the wood-and-plastic climbing structure with slides and monkey bars over woodchips, and parents enjoy the variety of sleeping options, including walk-in tent sites, lean-to shelters and reservable bunk-bed equipped cabins ready for families of five.

Deception Pass. Oak Harbor, Washington. Reserve one of 167 campsites or the one cabin (requires a boat for access), and let the kids climb on the small playground.

Fort Flagler Historical State Park. Nordland, Washington. Not one but two playgrounds are available at Fort Flagler: at one playground, swing on one of four swings, including infant swings and two tire swings; at the lower campground, kids slide and scramble on the climbing walls and monkey bars. Tired yet? Tuck into one of the 100 sites, including tent-only, full hookup/RV and primitive campsites.

Illahee State Park. Bremerton, Washington. A small saltwater campground with 23 tent sites and a smaller toddler- and preschooler-friendly playground.

Kitsap Memorial State Park. Poulsbo, Washington. When you’re done spotting marine life in the tidepools, head back to your five-person bunk-bed cabin or one of 21 campsites. A wooden play structure keeps kids busy, although better suited for older children.

Lake Sylvia State Park. Montesano, Washington. This campground’s semi-shaded, newer, and fenced-off playground sits below towering firs, and features multi-level climbing facilities and a small tunnel-slide, and benches for parents to rest with babies or toddlers. Just 31 tent spaces here, perfect for families.

Larabee State Park. Bellingham, Washington. Count sea-stars on the beach, then head to the newer playground with balance-boosting equipment, a wide slide, rock-climbing walls (plastic, but OK), ladders and a standing swing. Sleep well in one of the 51 standard tent sites, 26 utility sites or eight primitive sites.

Moran State Park. Olga, Washington. Take the ferry to Orcas Island for 151 campsites and a small playground for the kids.

Saltwater State Park. Des Moines,Washington. Camp out with the kids in one of 47 campsites near the beach, and an older wooden playground with a chain-ladder, slides, monkey bars and platforms.

Kid-Friendly Washington Campgrounds: Scenic Beach Playground

Kid-Friendly Washington Campgrounds: Scenic Beach Playground

Scenic Beach. Seabeck, Washington. A larger Western Washington campground with 52 reservable sites, tidepools and two well-shaded playgrounds featuring a tire swing, climbing and slide equipment, ladders and slides.

Sequim Bay. Sequim, Washington. Lay down stakes at this 49-site campground in the Olympic Peninsula. The playground has a few swings, including one toddler swing.

Spencer Spit. Lopez Island, Washington. A more rustic family campground with 37 spaces but no showers or hookups, so maybe not great for long-term camping stays. Small playground.

kid-friendly campgrounds in washington state

Blake Island State Park Playground. Photo courtesy Washington State Parks.

Southwest Washington Kid-Friendly Campgrounds

Battle Ground State Park. Battle Ground, Washington. Slip down the tunnel slide or corkscrew slide, scramble across the monkey bars and jump from platform to platform at this kid-friendly campground, which also provides 25 campsites and four cabins that accommodate five people (perfect for families with three kids).

Ike Kinswa State Park. Silver Lake, Washington. A giant 101-site and nine-cabin campground situated near a large freshwater lake, offering year-round camping and an older wooden playset with corkscrew slide, tall platforms and tire features.

Rainbow Falls. Chehalis, Washington. The petite playground will entertain kids for a few minutes — just a toddler-approved slide, a few small wooden platforms and hang bar. All sites here are first-come, first-served: 53 campsites, including a few hiker/biker only (walk-in) sites.

Seaquest State Park. Castle Rock, Washington. Yurts! This Mt. St. Helens campground offers five yurts (suitable for families of six), 55 tent spots and 33 utility spaces, along with a small vintage playground featuring metal ladders and wooden platforms.

 ***

Did I miss something? Get something wrong? Can you recommend another playground? Do you have photos of any of these playgrounds? Please e-mail me at lora AT cascadiakids.com. I will also add photos as I receive them from state parks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).

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.

Washington Water Parks & Water Slides

Washington State Waterparks

Washington State Waterparks: Birch Bay Waterslides

Need a way to cool off the kids this summer? Try one of Washington’s waterparks, where children (and parents) can ride down giant water slides, splash in water sprayparks, dump buckets of water on friends, play in a wet-sand playground or just chill in the pool. If you’re within an hour or two of the Washington-BC border, you may want to read this piece on BC Water Parks.

Ready? Let’s splash.

Water Parks in Western Washington

Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, Washington.

Washington State’s mega-water park that draws visitors from BC and Oregon, this indoor water park offers year-round fun — as long as you spend the night. No day passes here, folks. So with your night’s stay, you’ll also get admission to the indoor water tree fort, a crazy funnel water slide, rafting slides and four story flumes, among other wet ‘n’ wild stuff. For younger kids, there are kiddie slides, water guns, a wave pool and water basketball. Overstimulating, expensive, and well, kids love it.

Wild Waves, Federal Way, Washington State.

Washington State’s other water park, in an infamously temperature-variable area. You could end up riding water slides in mid-summer rain, under overcast skies or in glorious sun — perhaps  all in the same day. That said, this water park’s prices are a good value for bigger kids who are tall enough to ride the park’s multiple giant water slides  (42″ or taller) like Zooma Falls or Konga River and Slides. For younger children there’s the pirate-themed “Pirate’s Cove” spray playground. Look for coupons and passes to cut costs.

Birch Bay Waterslides, Birch Bay, Washington.

This year is Birch Bay’s 30th year of running a low-key outdoor waterpark alternative to the Big Boys (see above). They’re adding a pizza restaurant this year, and are planning to run lots of giveaways and discounts this year to honor their anniversary. The half-dozen slides include curlicue, straight-shot and drop chute rides, along with a children’s slide and tube slide. Nothing too fancy, just a nice way to cool down in summer.

Henry Moses Aquatic Center, Renton, Washington.

A great outdoor aquatic center with zero-depth entry (like a beach) suitable for toddlers, along with a toddler area; for bigger kids, a lazy river with tubes and a wave-machine enhanced pool, a spray area, an island lagoon, two big water slides, a water play structure. At just $14 per person over age 5 ( non-resident), not bad. Sells out fast though, so line up early.

Sprayparks and Wading Pools, Seattle, Washington.

Seattle’s communities are watered in summer by the City of Seattle’s wading pools and spray playgrounds (sprayparks). None of these are quite as wonderful as the ones in Vancouver BC,  but they’re not bad, if you’re in town. The lakes and shorelines of Seattle are also popular, and many have shallow depths suitable for toddlers/preschoolers, along with lifeguards.

 

Water Parks in Eastern and Central Washington

Blaster Ride: Slidewaters Waterpark in Central Washington

Blaster Ride: Slidewaters Waterpark in Central Washington

Splash Down Family Water Park, Spokane, Washington.

Six-story slides, body slides, tube slides, dark slides, four-story-tall bowl slides for big kids, teens and adults. For younger fry — a toddler/preschool-aged area with toddler slides, splashketball, a space where you can refill your water guns, and another area where you can launch water cannonballs at other people (who will hopefully remain your friends and family). For a less-expensive water experience, head upstream to the water jets and splashpads at Discovery Playground in Spokane Valley.

Surf ‘n’ Slide Water Park, Moses Lake, Washington.

Some municipal pools just do it right. This outdoor waterpark is like a mini-amusement park, with big (200 feet) and small slides, a lazy river, zero-depth entry points and a wet-sand playground for the littles and a surf simulator. Located off of I-90 between Spokane and the Cascades, this is a nice place to stop and cool off for a few hours. Admission $8-10 pp, so a pretty good deal.

Slidewaters, Lake Chelan, Washington.

The best  sunburn of my life came from this place, in eighth grade. I earned that burn. Slidewaters continues to thrill big kids and teens with the Downhill Racer and Purple Haze slides, and dependably sunny weather. In the past year, this small park recently added a long lazy river for summer tubin’. Wear your sunscreen.

Asotin County Family Aquatic Center, Clarkston, Washington.

Southeast Washingon’s place to slip down body slides, ride tubes down a slide or around a lazy river, a wave pool with kid-friendly zero-depth entry, and an adventure spraypark. There’s a giant indoor pool as well, with fountains, zero-depth entry and sprinklers, if you just need a break from the Eastern Washington sun.

BC Water Parks and Water Slides

Boomerang Ride at Cultus Lake Water Park, BC with kids

Boomerang Ride at Cultus Lake Water Park, BC

Cultus Lake Water Park, Fraser Valley, BC.

This waterpark offers a two new rides in 2013. The Boomerang takes up to four passengers in a raft  in a double-figure-eight slide, down 60 feet before diving to the ‘boomerang’ landing canal below. The Bazooka Bowls dares the daredevil — it takes riders through a black-hole flume, into a 30-foot bowl slide where they’ll rotate before dropping into a 9-foot bowl below. Too scary? There’s a spray “Pirate’s cove” that’s very cute and suited for younger children. OK to bring in your own food, and great discounts on the Cultus Water Park’s website.

Bridal Falls Waterpark, near Chilliwack, BC.

This BC water park is pretty straightforward — heated water (up to 80F) pours through four advanced slides, two intermediate, one tube and three kiddie slides under the shadow of looming mountains, along with a giant hot tub for the grownups. OK to bring in your own food. Near Harrison Hot Springs.

Harrison Water Park, Harrison Lake, BC

A summer water park actually located in a lake, Harrison Water Park functions like a freshwater playground. Scramble, bounce and slide on the inflatable equipment in the middle of Harrison Lake. It’s for ages 6 and up only; kids need to be at least 10 years old to be here unsupervised.

Splashdown Park, Tsawwassen, BC.

Just a short drive from metro Vancouver (and near the ferry to Vancouver Island), this park serves up a ramp slide, river run, body slide, five children’s slides and a big outdoor pool to splash in — a nice collection of water slides for the BC summer.  Look for the $8 off coupon on the park’s website.

Variety Kids Water Park,  Vancouver BC.

This free Stanley Park water playground or “sprayground” brings on the sprinklers, cannons and streams to create Vancouver’s largest outdoor spray park. On Granville Island, kids can play in the Granville Island WaterPark, which offers one slide along with a “spray park” area for toddlers and big kids. There’s also an outdoor spray park at Vancouver Aquatic Centre.

Atlantis Waterslides, Vernon BC.

In the hot, sunny BC interior, this water park keeps kids cool with 10 water slides, including the bumpy “River Riot,” three fast flumes and two gentle slides suited for preschoolers or toddlers. About 45 minutes away, young kids will like the colorful municipal Kelowna waterparks. (Check out this photo of Ben Lee Waterpark).

Camping Grub That Kids Will Love: Kid-Friendly Camping Food

Cardamom donut holes

Cardamom donut holes

Recently, I had the good fortune to interview Emily Trudeau, a veteran camper and one of the three cofounders of the camping-food blog Dirty Gourmet, along with Aimee Trudeau and Katherine Kwan. She encourages first-time campers to get out there — even if you’re not typically comfortable with sticks, dirt and bugs. “Being outdoors is a healing experience,” she says, whether you’re sitting around a campfire, counting stars in the night sky or watching your kids play (with sticks, dirt and bugs).

Camping doesn’t mean you have to leave the comfort foods of home at home — particularly with kids. Yet, if you’re sick of hotdogs by the summer’s end, I’m with you. With Emily’s help, here’s a quick rundown of popular camping meals for families that everyone will enjoy.

Dirty Gourmet Girls

Dirty Gourmet Writers

Kid-friendly camping meals (links to Dirty Gourmet site): 

Great kid-friendly camping snacks:

Camping with kids in Washington, Oregon and BC

Prepping for S’mores

Top this! New twists on s’mores: 

Emily Trudeau calls S’mores the “all-American quintessential campfire delicacy.” That doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun, though. Stack your s’more in a new way:

  • Pepperidge Farm Geneva cookies, marshmallows and dulce de leche
  • Shortbread cookies, marshmallows, chocolate and raspberry jam
  • Graham crackers, peanut butter, chocolate and marshmallow
  • Graham crackers, marshmallows, bacon, chocolate
  • Graham crackers, fresh strawberries, chocolate, marshmallows

Don’t forget:

  • Your awesome cooler
  • Cooking oil
  • Foil
  • Dish soap and cleanup
  • Cooking utensils
  • Mixing bowls
  • Silverware
  • A sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Plates & silverware
  • A knife for kids to “help” (you could bring bananas, etc).
  • Easy snacks for the kids (goldfish crackers, pre-sliced fruit, Trader Joe trail mix etc)

For more fun recipes, check out the Cascadia Kids “Camp Cuisine” board on Pinterest. Do you have a favorite camping snack or recipe to share?

Harrison Hot Springs with Kids: Where to Eat, Sleep & Splash

My kids and I recently went on two trips to Harrison Hot Springs, which is about 90 minutes east of Vancouver, and two hours north of Seattle. And we loved it.

Harrison Hot Springs Resort outdoor pool.

Harrison Hot Springs Resort outdoor pool.

The hot springs of the town’s name are located inside Harrison Hot Springs Resort. While there are little restaurants and hotels in the town of Harrison Hot Springs, this is a town that takes up all of about four blocks, and in order to use the hot springs, you must stay at the resort. So for that reason, check out the family deals and specials offered through the hotel’s website.

The hotel itself, although called a “resort,” is a straightforward middle-class retreat. You won’t find a lot of fancy touches (although there is free wifi) or luxe trappings. The property almost feels like it’s from the 1980s, and I mean that in a good way. The resort attracts people of all income levels, nationalities and languages. No one is here to put on airs — you’re walking around in a bathrobe, for goodness sake.

The pools at Harrison Hot Springs:

Natural hot springs come out of the ground at 150-degrees Fahrenheit; cool water is added, then the mix is fed into the resort’s five pools (which are also chlorinated for hygiene). Outside, plunge into one of three pools: the rectangular lap 87F/30C pool or the asymmetrical curved lines of the 95F/35C larger family pool or adults-only 105F/40C-degree pool. The water is warm enough to sit around in, whether it’s summer or winter, night or day. After sunset, we saw kids bringing glowsticks into the pool — and at night, you can look up and name constellations overhead without city light pollution.

Outdoor pools at Harrison Hot Springs

Rainy day at Harrison Hot Springs Resort

In summer, a spray park sits beneath surrounding towering mountain range –great for toddlers and preschoolers.

Indoors, you’ll find two more pools — another large, rectangular warm pool, and a very hot circular tub (38C/100F) below a dramatic ceiling and skylight. You can go from warm to cool to hot in a matter of steps.

Rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

Inside Harrison Hot Springs Pools

No poolside towel service exists here; you receive towels in your room, and you might not have enough of them during your stay. It seemed like our towels were constantly wet. You might bring some super-absorbent pool towels from home.

Poolside deck chairs are available, but you won’t find much shade. Pack sunscreen. Also, if you’d like a deck chair on a sold-out weekend, you may need to send a member of your party down to scout out chairs early (7 or 8 a.m., perhaps).

Rooms at Harrison Hot Springs:

Family-friendly rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

East Tower rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

Rooms come in more than 25 configurations in four different buildings: each were developed during different time periods. Choose from the East Tower, Main Hotel, West Tower and West Wing. The East Tower offers the most modern, with larger rooms. The family rooms — in the Main Hotel — are historic (so historic, they don’t have air conditioning in summer…). The East Tower and West Tower have balconies, and most rooms have two Queen beds. Views are categorized as garden, pools, lake, mountain and village.

I don’t like a lot of commotion, and rooms facing the inner pools get noisy, so I ask for a lake view room. Many young professionals and groups of friends come here to enjoy the adult-only pool late into the night (the pools are open past midnight), so you might want to figure that into your room choice considerations.

Because the rooms are smaller, you may want to pack some board games and books for the common areas, which are spacious. Lots of little nooks, two-person chairs, couches in front of the fireplace and table-side seats.

Awesome stuff: Arrive by 4 p.m. to take advantage of the daily tea service, so you can get a cuppa and a cookie. On very busy weekends, you may not be able to check in right away at 4 p.m., if your room isn’t ready, so be prepared to walk along Harrison’s lovely beachside path or go play at the town’s playground for a few minutes.

Eating at Harrison Hot Springs:

Most rooms come with a mini-fridge, which is great if you’d like to bring snacks or your own breakfast. We enjoyed the hot breakfast buffet in the resort’s Lakeside Cafe once, and it was okay (great views if you’re lucky enough to score a window). But the buffet is not something I would make a habit of, due to the price (unless you get a Harrison resort package or deal). So you might bring cereal and milk for the fridge.

Lakeside cafe kid-friendly restaurant in Harrison Hot Springs

Getting served at the Lakeside Cafe

The resort’s “Miss Margaret” cafe serves quite good (and shareable) wraps and salads, perfect for a poolside lunch. The hotel’s Copper Room is renowned for its live music, fine dining and light-up dance floor. There’s even a children’s dance floor. However, it is very expensive — sort of a special night out. I’ve never eaten there.

Dining in town is also sort of 1980s  — at 2025 prices. Harrison Pizza is decent, has great service, and offers good deals.  The Yukiya Sushi spot is also fine (despite what the Yelp reviews say), but expensive. In the sushi restaurant, there’s a cute little table-booth that feels a bit more private — as a family, I’d go for that booth. 

Muddy Waters Espresso Bar serves up gourmet sandwiches featuring local ingredients (until 2 p.m.). But mostly, this is a town with $11-12 children’s meals (yes, you read that right), so you may well want to plan for PB&Js or sandwich wraps in the room. There’s no grocery store in town, so stop at the Costco in Abbotsford, at the Abbotsford Farm & Country Market or a grocery in Chilliwack, 25 minutes away to the west.

Kids at Harrison Hot Springs:

The hotel supplies you with two adult robes, but no robes for children. Bring robes for the kids from home, and do bring them — walking between the rooms and the pools can get very chilly, especially at night. During peak travel seasons, the hotel plays kids’ movies.

Be aware that because of the high mineral content in the water, your muscles get tired (aka “relaxed”) very easily, so don’t let the kids wear themselves out on the first day. There’s a zero-entry point (like a beach) for the outdoor pool, perfect for babies and toddlers visiting Harrison Hot Springs Resort.

Bring flip-flops to make an easier (and cleaner) transition between hotel room and outdoors, and between the indoor and outdoor pools.

Kids can wear floatation devices, bring toys into the pool with them, and so on — so don’t forget those toys, either.

There are no lifeguards at these pools. You are 100% responsible for your own kids.

In the main building, kids might like the game room with some old-school arcade games. The resort’s gift shop is definitely the best one in town for families, with board games, activity books, t-shirts, and water toys. Outside, on the resort’s grounds, there’s a small garden suitable for hide-and-seek.

Family Activities in Harrison Hot Springs:

Okay, the truth is that my kids and I mostly like sitting around and playing in the hot springs. If you’d like more though, there’s a nice playground and beach (bring sand toys) lakeside, a water park (like a water playground), surrey bikes for rent and bumper boats for rent. Nearby, you can hike at Sasquatch Provincial Park, which offers picnic tables and Bigfoot (or so I hope, although I didn’t see him when I was there). A public swimming pool sits right in the town center, but it’s not really worth a visit.

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Later this week, I’ll talk about what else your family can do around Harrison Hot Springs, if you’d like to make it a multi-day stay.

Long Family Camping Trips in Washington State

Seattle-based parenting consultant Jenni Pertuset and her 8-year old daughter Meg like camping. No, scratch that – they love camping. The duo have camped for thousands of miles around Washington State for the past three years. Each year, they wrap a different theme around their two-week camping trips.

The first year, mother and daughter toured Olympic Peninsula destinations Jenni visited with her parents, when Jenni was a child. She revisited these places, in part, to remember her father, who had recently passed away.

The second year followed Lewis and Clark’s westward water route in Washington by road, starting from Canoe Camp in Idaho, following the land along Washington’s Clearwater, Snake, and Columbia Rivers, and ending at Cape Disappointment  on the Washington coast.

Camping with Kids at Cape Disappointment in Washington State

Camping with Kids at West Beach, Deception Pass in Washington State

In year three, the two camped for the entire month of June, with occasional overnight returns to Seattle to connect with loved ones and to wash up. The third camping year focused on water-centric campsites in Washington State, where they could swim. “We stayed at eight campsites, all on bodies of water,” she says. “Considering that my girl will immerse herself in the Puget Sound even in the coldest months, in effect this meant I could pick anywhere with water, as long as it moved slowly enough not to whoosh her away.”

So yes, they love camping in Washington State. Here’s a quick interview to find out how one expert mom camps with her kid.

1. Your Washington State camping trip in year two (following the Lewis & Clark trail) sounds amazing. What was your favorite part of Year Two?

We visited cultural sites, museums, interpretive centers, and Confluence Project installations learning more about the Corps of Discovery and the Native people whose lands they crossed. With a couple of notable exceptions, most were interesting and engaging. We especially enjoyed the Interpretive Center at Sacajawea State Park in Washington State and the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in Oregon.

But far and away the highlight of the trip was the interpretive center at Fort Clatsop (near Astoria) where the Corps wintered on the south side of the mouth of the Columbia. The museum itself is nothing special, but the replica of the fort and the living history guides there are remarkable. My then-6-year-old and I engaged with one man in period dress for over two hours, both of us fascinated the entire time while he told us stories and answered questions, offering interesting facts and considered opinions remarkably well-informed by his studies of the Lewis and Clark journals. I can’t recommend a visit highly enough.

2. What’s your favorite type of campsite?

I love camping on the salt water best. Whether it’s a sandy beach on the coast or a rocky one on the Puget Sound, my girl and I are content to spend hours toe-dipping, seal-watching, pit-digging, fort-building, crab-hunting, and sun-soaking. I don’t think you can go wrong with a beach.

Meg’s favorite spot was Rainbow Falls State Park, because the Doty General Store nearby sold penny candy.

3. Any tips for multi-night camping stays, particularly for parents trying it for the first time?

Go to one or two sites, and stay put. Stay to see the details of one place. Decide what you care about, and relax about the rest. I love cooking over the fire, and it suits us to spend a few hours a day at the campsite to prepare meals. But you might prefer to pack super easy food so you can get out on a trail.

Expect everything to take a long time. Linger. Let it slow you down.

4. Which Washington State campsite would you recommend for first-time camping with kids?

I think Deception Pass  State Park is a great choice for first time campers. It’s astonishingly beautiful, with beaches and trails for miles, and it’s still close to civilization in case you’ve forgotten something or just need to escape from unexpected rain in a public library for a couple of hours. For Seattleites, it’s a quick trip out of town, and if you go mid-week (or on the spur of the moment early in the season as we just did to catch the pre-summer sun) there are plenty of spaces available. Don’t try to go on a weekend in August without a reservation made well in advance, though. And make sure you get a spot inside the main park, rather than across the road at Quarry Pond.

Deception Pass State Park with Kids

Swimming at Deception Pass State Park

5. Anything you always bring on camping trips that you would miss if you forgot it?

Apart from the essentials required to shelter, clothe, and feed ourselves, I’d be disappointed if I forgot a book. Reading by the fire or in the tent before sleep is one of my pleasures while camping. As for tools, my two favorite things are telescoping roasting forks with a knob on the handle that allows you to rotate the fork (you can get them for a few dollars at Fred Meyer OR Lora’s example: Coghlan’s 9670 Telescoping Fork) and battery powered LED holiday lights for the inside of the tent.

Rain paints! Rain pants are the best invention ever, ever, ever. I’ve spent plenty of days out in a canoe or exploring a beach, or even sitting at the campfire, totally comfortable because my backside wasn’t soaking wet.

Two things I’ve stopped bringing: my camp stove, because I cook every meal over the fire, and my camp lantern, because as retro cool as it is and as much as it reminds me of camping with my dad, it’s a hassle to light and it’s blindingly bright.

6. Which games, activities and songs you both enjoy while camping?

We often drive long distances to campgrounds, so we usually have an audio book going in the car.

I usually bring a handful of things to do — art materials, a card game — and we never use them. We mostly poke around at and around the campsite, often literally. Meg dedicates hours to digging a “pit trap” at almost every camp site.

Columbia River Gorge Camping with Kids

Jumping into the Columbia River Gorge

7. Any favorite camping foods?

I usually plan for one night of very easily prepared food — sausages and raw fruits and veggies — for every couple of nights of food that takes a bit more effort. We still get to enjoy the fire, but it allows for more flexibility to stay longer at the beach or hike an extra mile or get the tent up before dark.

I tend to keep it fairly simple, but I cook anything that I could make on the stove or grill at home, using a cast iron pan, foil on the grate, or roasting forks. I haven’t taken my cast iron dutch oven recently, but in the past I’ve taken that along to make stews, soups, and cobblers. (An example of a Dutch oven: Esschert Design USA FF117 Fire Pit Dutch Oven)

One important camping tip: Put a big pan of water on to heat while you cook and you’ll have hot water for dishes and for a post-marshmallow washcloth.

Jenni Pertuset and Meg

Jenni and Meg

Thanks, Jenni & Meg!

Readers, what would you bring on a long family camping trip?

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