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.



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).

Washington State Round-Up: From the Coast to Cascades (and beyond)

As you probably know by now, Cascadia Kids isn’t my day job — yet. I write travel articles for a wide variety of print publications, including the Washington State Visitors’ Guide, which is available on many of the Washington State ferries, in the Whole Foods, and at many visitors’ centers throughout the state.

Here’s a quick sampling of the articles I wrote for the guide (you’ll find more inside the print pub). Some of the articles focus on places I haven’t yet written my family guides for, including Whidbey Island, Washington Coast and Kitsap County. They’re all on my to-do list, I promise! But the to-do list is pretty long at this point.

One more note — Stay In Washington is also offering a two-night stay in Kirkland Washington at The Heathman Hotel, dinner for two at award-winning Trellis restaurant and a couple’s massage at Penterra Spa. The prize drawing will take place on August 22, 2011. Sign up for this Seattle-area sweepstakes at the StayInWashington.com site.

Ocean Fronts: Washington Coast stops

Port of Creativity: Port Townsend’s arts scene

Sea Birchin’ : Birch Bay, a retro-style family resort town

Taster’s Choice: Edible treasures in Skagit County

Good Sports: Spokane’s sports events

Loving Leavenworth: The charms of a Bavarian town

Pike’s Peak: Exploring Pike Place Market’s alleys

Sound Bet: A Kitsap County road trip

Dual Charms: Stops on Whidbey Island

Full disclosure: I am paid by Saga City to produce editorial content for Stay In Washington. However, I pay my own way the entire time and I chose my assignment towns and topics, so the suggestions and recommendations are 100% my own. So yes, if I point you to a doozy of a museum or destination, no one else is to blame. But I think the recs here are solid.

A Perfect 5-Day Oregon Road Trip

If you’re thinking of sun, sun and more sun (and who isn’t, at this point?), you’ll probably find warm weather and bright days in Oregon. I’d like to offer this Oregon Family Road Trip for your consideration. We went on this 5-day getaway last year over Labor Day weekend (plus a few more days) and had a lovely time – although you could also do this over Memorial Day or during summer break.

Day 1 of your Oregon Road Trip: Mt Hood

Drive from your starting point eastward toward Mt. Hood. Pull over at Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Store (right outside Portland, in Milwaukie). This grainy emporium features a giant waterwheel, real mill-grinding stones, great breakfast and lunch in the café and plenty of snacks for your Oregon road trip. I know it seems goofy to visit a store, but this store is pretty cool. Let kids pick a snack or two (gluten-free or not) from the bulk bins and enjoy a lunch, either from the second-story dining area or on the outdoor patio.  Bob's Red Mill near Portland, Oregon

Playing on the lawn outside Bob’s Red Mill Store

Stop off at Mt. Hood’s village of Government Camp and visit the Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum (check out the teeny-tiny mountain-climbing boots belonging to an elementary-aged kid). Or enjoy the kid-friendly birdwatching, hiking, wildflower-photographing (no picking!) or mountain biking on Mt. Hood. Read more about summer activities at The Village at Government Camp site.

Stay overnight at Timberline Lodge. Read more about our family accommodations at Timberline.

Day 2 of your Oregon Road Trip: Bend

Snow-covered mountain caps gradually fade into fir forest and grassy pasture, before flattening out into Central Oregon’s sun-kissed topography. Deep-green leafy trees cluster along riverbanks and wildflowers pop out of the most unexpected roadsides.

For an optional stop between Mt. Hood and Bend, pull over at Kahneeta Resort & Casino and visit the museum’s traditionally designed encampment (read more about staying at Kahneeta at Milagros Boutique’s blog). Or you can pull out a gallon of sunblock and visit the always-hot Smith Rock State Park, where rock climbers scamper up the face like tiny lycra-clad spiders. Wade in Crooked River’s banks, and show kids “Monkey Face,” a 350-foot-tall rock formation that resembles a primate’s mug.

Continue on until you reach the compact, turn-of-the-century-quaint town of Bend. Lunch at a family-friendly restaurant (our pick: The airy, spacious, healthy-but-delicious Deschutes Brewery).

Bend family restaurant with kids

Coloring outside the lines at the Deschutes Brewery.

Then, stretch your legs on Bend’s streets: Children’s clothing stores, bookstores, toy shops and two candy and ice cream shops (Powell’s Sweet Shoppe and Goody’s Soda Fountain and Candy) pack the downtown grid.

Pick up food at a grocery store before heading to your Bend condo or resort; the on-site food options are typically expensive and mediocre. My family gives eight thumbs up to the deli salads and quick-cook pizzas from the Bend Whole Foods. Most of these stores are clustered in Bend’s suburbs, along Highway 20.

Staying in the Bend family-friendly Sunriver Resort:

We stayed at the Sunriver Resort in one of the condominium vacation rentals. The kids loved Sunriver, and I have to say, the adults loved it too.  Among the attractions: Three outdoor pools (and one indoor pool), a fascinating observatory and nature center (my kids and husband went on a four-star “family owl walk”), a kids’ camp (Ft. Funnigan) that runs through both day and evening, an arcade, bike paths that line the river and weave through pine forests and horseback riding.

Sunriver Lodge’s front entry, where even the bears welcome you.

Take a VERY close look at the condo vacation rentals before committing to your purchase. Each rental is decorated and maintained at different standards. Our first rental was unacceptable to me (sort of mildew-smelling, mold in bathroom, oven will burn kids) and I asked to move to a different property. The second property was immensely better.

Also, familiarize yourself with the Sunriver map. If you think you’ll mostly be hanging out in your room, biking the trails or out in the surrounding area, it’s fine to be located further from the main lodge area. But if you have young children that tire easily or you want to be able to access the pools, try to stay near the Lodge area (lodge guestrooms, rentals in the Tennis Village Condo areas). The new, upscale Caldera Springs area is incredible, if your budget can afford the expense or if you’re sharing the cost with another family.

Caldera Springs at Sunriver Resort

The amazing outdoor swimming area at Caldera Springs.

Bring your bikes or shop around on-site for the best bike rental prices, and do not neglect to check out prices in the Sunriver Village Mall. Prices (per day or multi-day) vary tremendously, and you’ll kick yourself if you pay far more than you should.

Check the Sunriver vacation packages and deals page. Accommodations aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it. Really, they are. I like this property far better than I like Washington’s Suncadia (sorry, Suncadia). On the resort’s website, you can sign up to be included in deal e-mails.

Do I need to add that my kids are now nagging me to death to return to Sunriver Resort? No, I do not. Endlessly. They. Nag.

Day 3 of your Oregon Road Trip: Bend Environment

You may want to chill at the resort for the morning (hey, did you see that list of things to do?). In the afternoon heat, think about escaping to two cool spots that are unique to our region:

Lava once scoured and scorched this area of earth. But that lava now provides you with an always-chilly escape into the earth’s basement. Pack a sweater and jeans, sturdy shoes and a flashlight (One flashlight for EACH MEMBER of the family. I am not kidding about this) Then head into the dank, dark lava caves at Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

Oregon Lava Tubes with kids

Oregon Lava Tubes

It is pitch-black once you get deep inside and you cannot even see your hand in front of your face; see, aren’t you glad you brought so many flashlights? Not a place for young children terrified of the dark, but a great exploratory experience for big kids and their fraidy-cave parents. Lamps can be rented at the monument, but it’s better to just bring your own.

The High Desert Museum is incredible. A toddler- and preschooler-friendly play area entertains little ones, while the Volcano Country exhibit handily beats boring school geology discussions.

Things to do with kids in Bend Oregon, High Desert Museum

High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon

You’ll also learn about local flora and fauna and Central Oregon’s wild history in a glossy, contemporary building. Outdoors, a heavily shaded area shelters a working replica of a lumber camp; on high-traffic days, you’ll even see period-dressed men recreating the planing of timber.

Even kids can help saw wood at High Desert Museum.

A top-notch historical museum with a calendar full of family activities.

Day 4 of your Oregon Road Trip: Eugene, Oregon

Today, you return to Oregon’s western through a gorgeous evergreen route. Before hitting the road, eat breakfast at Alpenglow Cafe, which serves up real maple syrup alongside generous portions of homestyle pancakes, homemade breads and locally-smoked meats. Oregon family-friendly and Oregon farm-friendly can’t be beat. Of course, there are plenty of vegetarian options as well (this is the Pacific Northwest, after all) — you can even sub in tofu for those farm eggs.

In my opinion, the best way to go from Eugene to Bend is to take the 2.5 hour, two-lane Highway 26 route, which pulls you through the western-style town of Sisters, Ore., before shooting you over the mountains. You’ll enjoy ear-popping mountaintop panoramas before descending into Western Oregon’s verdant firs and deciduous trees.

Ponderosa pine forest, Bend.

Ponderosa pine forest, Bend.

Now that you’re in Eugene around midday, what will you do? Check out this family guide for 15 fun things to do with kids in Eugene, Oregon.

Sniff! Are you sad about going home yet?

I loved writing this trip report up and can’t wait to repeat this trip. Does your family have a favorite Oregon road trip itinerary?

Kid-friendly Resorts of Vancouver Island

Family resorts of Vancouver Island

Family resorts of Vancouver Island: Tofino

Smart Vancouver families in the know have already made their reservations for Vancouver Island. Want to play catch-up?

I pulled together a selection of ultra-deluxe Vancouver Island resorts and affordable family accommodations, as I’m doing my own research for a trip through Vancouver Island. I found plenty of resorts where children are definitely NOT welcome; one said that kids were welcome to use the pool — for exactly three hours per day!

I’ve mostly listed upcoming high season prices. On Vancouver Island, high season runs roughly from June 25-early September. Shoulder seasons will offer savings between 10-25%. Winter season will offer discounts of up to 25-50%. You’ll find a similar pricing structure when you go to book your travel via BC Ferries, which offers car, pedestrian and bicycle transportation to Vancouver Island and the Gulf Coast Islands.

Confused about where, exactly, you’ll find the towns mentioned? I created a map:

View Vancouver Island on a larger map.

Photo above: Courtesy of Pacific Sands Beach Resort, Tofino, British Columbia.

Vancouver Island Family Vacation Resorts:

Parksville Family Resorts

This is the most popular Vancouver Island beachside town for families. Featuring warmer water, sandy beaches, easy access to Vancouver and Victoria and plenty of family activities, Parksville serves up a treasure of a destination.

Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort. On the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, this family resort boasts full-fledged family packages, an outdoor playground and indoor pool, plus 3 kilometres of sandy beach. Many cottage-style and suite-style units provide full kitchens and spacious living areas for family relaxation. To top it of, Tigh-Na-Mara offers kids-eat-free hours (5-6 p.m.) at the restaurants, a children’s menu, coupons for free activities, children’s playground and a free summer drop-in children’s program. Rates: From $207/night in high season (summer).

Beach Acres Resort. Near the mild-mannered Rathtrevor Beach, this Parksville kid-friendly resort hosts families in cottages and townhouses, while entertaining kids of all ages. Weekday activities for kids ages 5 and up include craft afternoons, pizza and movie nights, family camp fires with s’mores; for kids age 10 and up, there’s mini-golf adventure, sports tournaments and pizza and movie nights. There’s an indoor pool, lots of sports activities (volleyball, tennis, badminton, horseshoes!), and a children’s playground. Rates: From $259/night in high season.

Ocean Trails. For active family vacationers who don’t need many services, Ocean Trails may be one of your best options. This resort lays out multiple sports activities (basketball, tennis, volleyball) on-site, offers a children’s playground, is surrounded by 7 acres of green space. You’re close to Rathtrevor Beach, and rates here are lower than many other resorts. No restaurant available, so bring your own food for your kitchen-equipped condo. Rates: From $149/night in high season.

Beach Club Resort. Just steps from your hotel room, you’ll wade into the warmest ocean swimming water in Canada. Explore marine life in the tidepools or create sandcastles on the wide, flat beaches. If it’s a rainy day out, dive into the indoor pool or relax in your room (1 and 2-bedroom, villas and suites available). Babysitting/child-minding services and a children’s menu available. Rates: Start at about $300/night.


Campbell River, British Columbia Resorts

Campbell River is known as the “Salmon Fishing Capital of the World,” but it doesn’t just reel in fish fanatics. Head here for wildlife-watching, farmers’ markets and a laid-back lifestyle.

Painter’s Lodge. Painter’s Lodge attracts fishing enthusiasts but welcomes children as well. Kids can play the Wii in the activity centre, pick up their kids’ package upon check in (it contains a coloring book and other little things) or meet a childminder or babysitter if the parents are off on a fishing excursion. A tennis court and outdoor pool are keep-em-busy options when the weather’s nice. A solid family accommodations option: the large loft-style room featuring two twins upstairs and a queen bed downstairs. Rates: From $148/night in high season.

North Vancouver Island Resorts

With working-class villages and whale-watching opportunities, North Vancouver Island’s quiet, rugged pleasures are perfect for a low-key vacation.

Telegraph Cove Resort. Most families coming this far north up Vancouver Island are here for whale-watching, kayaking and hiking. Set down your tent on the resort’s campground, or settle in to one of the eclectic cabins, houses or inn-style rooms (the resort is at the site of an early-20th-century village).  You won’t find anything catering to kids beyond a swingset on a field and a few puzzles, but the diversity of affordable, family-friendly options make the resort a solid bet. A short drive from Port McNeill. Rates: Start from $220/night.


Tofino Family Resorts

On Vancouver Island’s wild Western shore, you’re far from manicured beaches and tamed nature. So it’s obviously a perfect place to bring your hyper toddler or run-all-day preschooler — once you manage the long cross-island drive. Tofino offers upscale, world-renowned resorts for adults and children alike.

Pacific Sands Beach Resort. This resort’s free kids camp starts at 9:30 a.m. daily and runs six days per week from July through Labour Day Weekend. Camp activities include crafts, scavenger hunts, musical instruments from seashells, sealife identification, sandcastle-building, and marshmallow roasts. Suites and villas range from 520 to 1,400 square feet – plenty of room for families. Look for the family getaway weekend packages. Rates: From $285/night per night.

Crystal Cove Beach Resort. You’ll find a nice mix of pet-friendly accommodation options at Crystal Cove. Over 30 modernized (wifi! wood-burning fireplaces! DVD players!) 1- and 2-bedroom log cabins await families looking for a splurge, while 72 serviced sites welcome RVers on a budget. Kids can play near the warm-ish MacKenzie Beach or enjoy the resort’s deluxe kids’ playground, featuring swings, teeter-totter, sandbox and more. Rates: From $290/2 people per night in high season; children 3 and over are an extra $10/night. RV sites start from $55/night.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. A very different kind of West Coast adventure awaits you at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. Families come to this summer-only spot to enjoy the all-inclusive atmosphere, which includes airfare from Vancouver, your stay in a luxe outpost tent, all activities (there are over a dozen, including bear-watching, kayaking, horseback riding, fishing, cooking classes, archery). Oh, and possibly even a massage or two. Older kids, tweens and teens get the most out of a stay, as they can go on excursions while you relax into a massage or traipse off on a different excursion. It’s not cheap; all-inclusive weekly rates easily run into the five digits. Rates: From $4,750 for three nights, all inclusive, airfare included.

Long Beach Lodge Resort. This resort doesn’t offer an indoor pool, but does provide the “Surf Club,” where children learn how to surf from a private instructor (for an additional fee). Other kid-friendly amenities: Toys to borrow, a family movie library and children’s board games. Cottage rentals include a hot tub on the back deck. Children eat free off the Great Room’s kids’ menu, when dining with parents at the 5:30 seating. Rates: From $319/night.

Comox Valley Family Resorts

Color abounds in this eastern Vancouver Island community, from wildflower-dotted mountains to artwork in one of the region’s seaside villages (Comox, Courtenay).

Old House Village Hotel and Spa.These budget-minded one-bedroom Courtenay suites provide full kitchens for your in-room cooking ease. Kids can enjoy nearby beaches and the Comox Valley Aquatic Centre (a 5-minute drive away), plus the outdoor heated pool. Rates: From $149/night in summer.


Pender Island and Salt Spring Island Family Resorts

These tiny islands are accessible from Vancouver Island, and attract visitors seeking a bucolic, farm-dotted region full of artisan outlets. Come here to kick back in a sub-Mediterranean climate and soak up the island lifestyle.

Poet’s Cove. Stay in a Pender Island cottage or villa for plenty of family room, then head outside for pooltime (one pool is reserved for adults only, the other pool is all-ages), tennis courts, basketball, ping-pong tables, and a mini-playground with slide and swing. There’s a kid’s camp (weekends only until July, then daily throughout July and August) with fun crafts and activities. Rates: From around $300/night in high season.

Salt Spring Harbour House. While this Salt Spring Island resort doesn’t offer a pool or playground, it does provide the ultimate chilled-out island experience, right on an organic farm. Visit the farm’s goats and gardens, then hop in the car for a 5-minute drive to Salt Spring’s playground and the Rainbow Road Public Pool. Under 12-year-olds stay free. Rates: From $135/night in summer high season.



Family Day Trips from the Seattle Area

If you’ve only got a day, try one of these family-friendly daytrips from the Seattle area for winter break, spring break or a weekend escape:

Bellingham with kids daytrip

Take I-5 North to Bellingham and enjoy the town’s artsy vibe, parks and museums, then get a cool scoop at Mallard Ice Cream. In fact, there are over 20 family-friendly things to do in Bellingham.

If you don’t want to drive as far as Bellingham, try the picture-perfect, riverfront town of La Conner for spring’s tulip festivals or just to stroll streets stacked with bookstores, toy shops and museums.

A typical storefront in La Conner

Don’t forget to try the Banana Coconut Cakes at Calico Cupboard Cafe.

Time one-way to Bellingham: About one hour, 40 minutes.

Kitsap County with kids daytrip

A quick ferry from downtown Seattle delivers you to Bremerton, where you can pick up a pack of Belgian frites at Fritz European Fry House or tour the U.S.S. Turner Joy warship (my son loved the maze of sleeping bunks and chow hall).

Maybe you can find your sea-legs aboard the U.S.S. Joy — I obviously didn’t!

Drive up the peninsula to enjoy’s Poulsbo’s Nordic theme and the Poulsbo Marine Science Center (note: currently closed for repairs — keep an eye on their website), then end your day on Bainbridge Island’s KiDiMu. Ride the ferry home.

Time one-way to Bremerton: About one hour; round-trip drive time about two hours.

Olympia daytrip with kids

Visit Olympia’s stellar Hands On Children’s Museum with little kids or the Washington State Capitol Building with big kids. Then spend a few hours in the local toy stores, cafes and at Olympia’s April-December farmer’s market. Read more here: Daytrip: Olympia with Kids. Need more to do? On the way down, you can always make a stop at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and a 19th-century fort at Fort Nisqually’s Living History Museum.

Finding out what’s up with George at the Washington State Capitol

Time one-way to Olympia: About one hour

Snoqualmie Pass daytrip with kids

If the snow skipped your neighborhood, there’s still a chance of catching the white stuff up on Snowqualmie Pass, even into early spring. Whether sledding at Hyak, skiing at Summit West, tubing at Summit Tubing Center or just playing in the snow, the Cascades offer dramatic vistas of cloud-wrapped, evergreen-studded peaks. Read more at The Summit at Snoqualmie website.

Sledding and snowshoeing at Hyak

In summer, either enjoy the cool breezes or push on just a little further over the mountains and let the kids visit “The Other Washington,” featuring a dry, arid landscape and rolling hills of bleached grass. A prime pick: Washington’s weird little Petrified Gingko Forest (about 2 hours from Seattle; head to downtown Ellensburg for food).

Time: 45 minutes to 90 minutes, depending upon road conditions. Pack chains and check road conditions before leaving.

The Most Beautiful Villages and Towns of the Pacific Northwest

Still looking for that perfect last-minute gift? Last week, I picked up The Most Beautiful Villages and Towns of the Pacific Northwest by travel writer Joan Tapper, with lush photos by Nik Wheeler.

Tapper knows her stuff.  She’s the founding editor of National Geographic Traveler magazine and she’s a great judge on what makes for a beautiful destination– she highlights those smaller, quaint towns that feel like they’ve gracefully aged for the past 100 years. Each village or town is accompanied by text and large photographs; this is as much a coffee-table display book as it is a dream-guide of where to go during your lifetime.

The downside is obvious – it’s a pictorial wish list. You won’t find specifics, you won’t find much on what to do with kids. The price is steep at $40 USD, $45 CAN, yet understandable, due to the photo-heavy format. The book sells for considerably less on Amazon.com.

Regardless of these issues, if you (or your gift recipient) flips through the pages on a rainy, wintry day, you’ll find yourself taking mental notes for next summer. I think I’d like to head to Florence’s waterfront neighborhood and ride Kaslo’s streetcar. The photos and narratives complement each other; it would be difficult to imagine the Oregon Coast’s jagged haystack rocks and soft sand without a photograph. And without the text, you wouldn’t understand historical transformations that many of these towns went through, as logging and fishing economies fell away.

Which villages are covered in the book? Here’s a rundown. Do you agree? What was left off the list – and out of the book?

Oregon’s Most Beautiful Villages and Towns:

  • Albany and Brownsville
  • Ashland
  • Astoria
  • Baker City
  • Bandon
  • Cannon Beach
  • Florence
  • Hood River
  • Jacksonville
  • Joseph
  • McMinnville

Washington’s Most Beautiful Towns and Villages:

  • Coupeville
  • Ellensburg
  • Friday Harbor and Eastsound
  • Gig Harbor
  • La Conner
  • Oysterville, Ilwaco, Seaview and Long Beach
  • Port Townsend
  • Walla Wall and Dayton
  • Winthrop

British Columbia’s Most Beautiful Villages and Towns:

  • Fernie
  • Fort Langley
  • Fort Steele
  • Ganges
  • Ladysmith and Chemainus
  • Nelson and Kaslo
  • Revelstoke
  • Whistler

Winter Break Vacation Deals & Ideas for Washington, Oregon & BC

Where will you go for the kids’ two-week break? If you haven’t yet made plans, don’t despair. There are plenty of wonderful ways to celebrate (and rooms to book) in our area. Whether you’ve got the budget of a pauper or a prince, or whether you’d rather stay in a small town or big city, there’s a getaway just right for your family’s travel lifestyle.

British Columbia winter break vacation ideas:

You know I love Victoria, BC: all those great kid-friendly Victoria activities and restaurants. Now’s the time to go, too — Tourism Victoria is promoting special Christmastime rates, starting at just $69/night. Go and enjoy Butchart Gardens’ Christmas lights, caroling and ice skating. The photo at right? It’s a pic we took while enjoying holiday tunes at Butchart Gardens.

Create your own deal for Vancouver, BC. Use my tips to do a little Priceline bidding (four-star rooms are usually plentiful over Christmas break) or take advantage of Tourism Vancouver’s third-night-free package. Then, head up to the snow-draped Grouse Mountain (just 10 minutes from downtown Vancouver), which offers a Santa’s Workshop, ice skating, reindeer, live entertainment, mountaintop sleighrides, a children’s village and classic Christmas movies for a family rate of $79.95. Oh, and there’s skiing and snowshoeing up there too. It’s really a fantastic getaway, right in the city.

If you want to go all out, Whistler’s upscale Fairmont Chateau Whistler puts on the ritz for Christmas. Check out the on-site festivities: The Family Fun Room offers an internet cafe, bouncy castles and video games to keep non-skiing kids occupied; the hotel hosts gingerbread house decorating, tea with Santa and children’s stories with Mrs. Claus. It’s not cheap — but at about $1000 for three nights (and an amazing breakfast, typically around $70/family), it’s the same as you’d spend on two (maybe three) tickets to Hawaii. If you’re looking for more affordable offerings, go before Christmas (rates can be as much as 30% less than the week AFTER Christmas) and take a look at what’s available on Whistler.com.

Washington State winter break getaways:

Take your muggley self to Seattle, where the deluxe Hotel Monaco’s Harry Potter Package offers accomodations, discounted tix to the Pacific Science Center’s Harry Potter: The Exhibition and complimentary valet parking. Down in the hotel’s restaurant, the premium desserts include a Molten Hot Cauldron Cake with Cockroach Clusters and Make Your Own Potion. You never know — you may leave Seattle a wizard, after all.

In the charming little burg of Fairhaven, the Fairhaven Village Inn will offer horse-drawn carriage rides and a Santa visit on December 18. Fairhaven is right outside of Bellingham, Wash. (read more about Bellingham with kids); the adorable village close enough to enjoy the college town but far enough to feel like you’re in a small community.

Over in Eastern Washington, in the Methow Valley, this winter will mark the first StorySki Experience among the region’s popular cross-country ski trails. The Storytrail helps kids keep moving along by posting pages from the book, “Polar Opposites” (by Erik Brookes) along a 1k loop. You’re skiing your way through a children’s picture book, reading more of the story at each stop. The trail will debut at Christmas and stay up throughout the winter ski season (mid-March or so), moving. Kids (under age 12) ski free throughout the Methow.

Oregon winter break vacation packages:

A mere 20 minutes from Central Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor, and about 20 minutes from Bend, Oregon, Sunriver Resort hosts Traditions, a holiday celebration that reaches across generations and includes innovative activities like snowmobile excursions, cocoa mug making, holiday trivia, elf tuck-ins, an ornament workshop and more. Check out Sunriver’s page of packages, because the Sugarplum package starts at $149/night, and includes a $50 resort credit toward your on-site activities, including the appropriately named Ft. Funnigan (which both of my children enjoyed, despite their disparate ages — 4 and 10!).

Portland is another wonderful, family-friendly and discounted destination for families during winter. Plenty of kid-friendly Portland activities and plenty of kid-friendly Portland dining, and Travel Portland is offering an unequalled Portland Perks deal AND $50 in cash. But only through December 20th! I’m sure it will revert to the usual Portland Perks deal after the 20th, but you should take advantage of that $50 rebate. A great destination to visit with toddlers and preschoolers — visit Zoolights and the take in the Christmas Ship Parade.

Do you have any favorite family holiday getaways in our region?

15 Haunted Spots in BC, Oregon and Washington

What’s that strange noise in the hotel? Hopefully it’s a ghost, not a blown-out water heater. Here are 15 goofy, ghastly spots in Cascadia to delight your easily-spooked big kids. At right, the Davenport Hotel’s lobby. Can you spot a spectre? (I can’t, either!)

Washington Haunted Spots

Mt. Baker Theatre, Bellingham

Judy didn’t want to leave, but she was evicted from her home to make way for the 1917 theater. So she’s supposedly returned, year after year, to haunt the theatre, showing up as gusts of cold air and the sound of old-timey skirts. Read more about Mt. Baker Theatre’s ghost stories.

Roche Harbor Resort, San Juan Island

The cemetery mausoleum (in the resort) hosts a ghost (or three), which you’ll hear on full-moon evenings. These specters are supposedly having a fine time – laughing and chatting. Makes sense, because it’s one of the most gorgeous resorts I’ve ever seen.

Hotel Andra, Seattle

Rumors of Prohibition-year partying swirl around this hotel (the former Claremont), what with the Jazzy tunes and smashing glasses. The ninth floor is the focus of most ghastly behavior.

Pike Place Market, Seattle

A Native American woman’s ghost supposedly walks the alleys and tunnels of Pike Place Market; she walks through crowds, arms heavy with baskets. Hungry for more? Check out the Ghost Tours in Pike Place Market.

Davenport Hotel and Tower, Spokane*

What’s that knocking at the door? Ghostly room service, perhaps? A flapperesque 1920s-era woman is said to haunt this historic hotel’s restored mezzanine and stairwells. And hey, if you’ve ever slept at the Davenport (I have), you might want to stay forever too. *Thanks to Washington State Tourism Office for reminding me of this one.

Oregon Haunted Spots

Heceta Head Lighthouse, Yachats.

“The Lady in Gray” – possibly a former lightkeeper’s wife – peeks around corners, cleans up broken glass and bustles about in the kitchen. She certainly picked a picturesque spot to haunt, right on the Oregon Coast. There’s a bed and breakfast here, but it’s only open to adults.

Pendleton Public Library, Pendleton

Say, does that librarian look a bit pallid? A librarian that passed away suddenly during the 1950s reenacts the Ghostbusters movie – opening and shutting windows, knocking books off the shelf, flipping lights on and off. Rabble rouser.

Oaks Park, Portland.

This amusement park – one of the oldest in the Pacific Northwest – is home to a groovy 70’s-dressed kid apparition, dressed in bell-bottoms and stylin’ lapels. Even if you don’t see the superstar, Oaks Park is a fantastic way to roll away a Saturday.

McMenanamin’s Edgefield, Troutdale

This hotel/brewery/restaurant/music venue can add “ghost hotel” to its repertoire. Stay a night and ask to see the ghost logs to find out which rooms have had the most paranormal activity. If no one’s in those rooms (well, no one visible), book a night’s stay.

Oregon Vortex, Gold Hill

At this sideshow destination, people and buildings list northward, objects roll up hills and there may even be an appearance from the ghost of John Lister, who once lived here. Spirits aren’t to blame for all the toppling and rolling, according to current owners — but supposedly an incomprehensibly strong magnetic force, which causes people to list northward.

British Columbia Haunted Spots

Old Spaghetti Factory, Vancouver

Kids always want to dine in the OSF’s train car. Ghosts seem to call “FIRST” and jump into the Gastown restaurant’s trolley car, rattling plates and talking quietly. This chain restaurant is always a family favorite in the region.

University of British Columbia, Vancouver

A ghost hitchhiker asks for rides outside the museum, and the university’s library is haunted by an elderly lady in a white dress, walking among the stacks and tipping a book now and then. And even if you don’t see a ghost, you can always visit the past at the Museum of Anthropology.

Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria

This landmark mansion’s home to a ghostly woman dressed in all-white. She walks up and down the building’s stairs (good thing, because the staff hate to see anyone running). The piano sometimes plays vintage tunes – but no human is tinkling the keys.

James Bay Inn, Victoria

At this haunted budget hotel in Victoria’s bustling Inner Harbour, phones ring (with no one on the other line), lights flicker for no reason and chilly spots crop up in rooms. Who is this spectre? It’s rumored to be the spirit of artist Emily Carr.

O’Keefe Ranch and Mansion, Vernon.

Visitors and staff tell of a non-paying customer ghost who walks the halls and peeks outdoors from upstairs windows at this Okanagan Lake heritage site. The building was constructed in 1867, so there’s a long history of residents — human and otherwise.

Do you have a favorite haunted destination?

Stormwatching at the Coast: Tips and Hints

Winds howl outside at 55 miles per hour – fast enough to tip over a toddler. Waves explode on the beach, each one more spectacular than the last. The lights flicker, but stay on. Your family is inside, dry and happy, playing “Apples to Apples” with a warm drink (Hot chocolate? Hot cider? Hot toddy  — just for grown-ups) in hand.

During this season of storms and seas, some upscale resorts even offer a “stormwatcher’s package,” like this one at the Wickannish Inn in Tofino. But you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy the wild weather at the coast.

Here are tips for enjoying stormwatching in the Pacific Northwest and BC:

The best months for stormwatching, generally, are November-March. Low season for travel in the Pacific Northwest, so you should benefit from lower room rates. This year’s winter season will be more powerful than in many other years, according to weather forecasters.

Watch or read the weather forecast and book when it looks like a weekend storm’s a-brewin’. A “storm” on the Beaufort Wind Scale includes very high waves (20-30 feet) with overhanging crests, a white sea with foam and lowered visibility. Winds reach 55-63 miles per hour. Either choose a destination with lots of rocky shore (Depoe Bay, Westport, West Vancouver Island) for wave-meets-cliff explosions or sandy beach (Cannon Beach, Newport, Long Beach, Ocean Shores) for a milder experience.

Reserve a room with double-pane windows and an ocean-front view. No partial views, no peek-a-boo views. Just listening to the wind howl isn’t as interesting as watching the waves crash on shore.

Bring cozy-day essentials: books, blankets and board games. Make bets with your kids on which wave is the biggest, and let them take pics from the hotel room. Talk about or watch a video on how waves work. Trust me, nature’s rage captures a kid’s attention immensely. And sort of puts that whole post-naptime tantrum in perspective.

During a storm, when the wind is strong enough to make walking difficult, stay away from sea cliffs (ulp!) and don’t walk outside. Wind and sneaker waves can sweep you out to sea, and branches or driftwood can make a surprise, airborne appearance. Bring waterproof jackets for the whole family, if you must venture out for dinner or groceries. But remember that more than 30 people lost their lives to storm-watching in Oregon, in the past 20 years.

Even after the storm’s passed, remember that large waves can still approach. Check the tide times and don’t get trapped on outcroppings, as always. However, many say that the best beachcombing is right after a storm – all those knickknacks got kicked out of the sea.

The storm may knock out electricity, as it did during the Great Coastal Gale of 2007. It’s not a big deal, and unlikely. Still, it may make sense to keep extra water, snacks and flashlights on hand.

Do you have a favorite storm-watching spot in Washington, Oregon or BC? Any favorite board games or tips for storm-watching with kids?