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).

Best Hikes with Kids near Portland, Oregon

Today, we interview Bonnie Henderson, the author of Best Hikes with Kids: Oregon. Let’s find out more about hiking in Northwestern Oregon.

Do you have any favorite rainy-day hikes in Oregon? Is there an area of Oregon that’s particularly wonderful for family hiking, even during spring or fall? Why do you like that kid-friendly hike?

Bonnie: I love hiking at the Oregon Coast in the winter when the weather is crummy. Not if it’s pouring, and not on the beach itself, but when you’re tired of the same old trails around your house and the Cascades are still snowed under, the forest right along the coast is a great place to go. I’m thinking of the Fort to Sea Trail near Astoria-Warrenton, for instance, and trails in Oswald West State Park. The big trees provide some protection from rain and wind, and the forest is so lush and alive. In the fall you’re likely to find lots of different kinds of mushrooms popping up, and in the early spring there’s bright yellow skunk cabbage.

I live in Eugene, so I love to hike at Cape Perpetua, just south of Yachats, in the winter. It’s usually not too cold on rainy days; wear decent rain gear, bring a change of clothes, have a thermos of something hot to drink back in the car, and don’t worry about getting a little wet.

The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area is great for hiking with kids in fall and winter (as long as there’s no ice storm) and even better in spring, when the wildflowers are blooming and waterfalls are gushing. I haven’t been out to the Sandy River Delta Trail since the Confluence Project bird blind was completed, but I look forward to going; I expect that will be a great hike with kids, and just a short drive east of Portland at the west end of the gorge.

Q. What’s your favorite hike that’s either in or near Portland?

Bonnie: There are SO many, but with kids I really like Tryon Creek State Park (lots of choices of short-ish loop trails) and trails on Sauvie Island (especially Oak Island). Sauvie Island is great because it’s SO close but feels like you’re really getting out of the city (which you are). The trails at the Audubon Sanctuary on NW Cornell Road are close in and great to walk with young children.

Q. Can you suggest a good one-night backpacking hike with kids, anywhere near Portland or Eugene?

Bonnie: My very favorite is Bobby Lake Trail, in the Willamette National Forest. It’s probably farther than Portlanders want to drive, so I’ll describe it and you’ll see what qualities I think make a great backpack with kids; you could look for something like this close to wherever you live. (It’s hard to find something this good that’s close to Portland AND uncrowded.) Bobby Lake is a smallish lake near Waldo Lake Area in the central Cascades. It’s a pretty boring hike in, but it’s flat and only about 2.5 miles, so very doable for almost any kid. There are a number of good campsites scattered along the edge. There’s a huge rock that slopes into the lake, which is great for sunning and launching a swim. (Many beautiful mountain lakes have marshy or rocky shoreline and aren’t inviting for swimming). And from the lakeside campsite you can stage day hikes, such as a circumnavigation of the lake or a hike up a nearby peak for a great view. It is very mosquito-y there, which is true for many lakes in the high Cascades, so I wouldn’t recommend going (especially with kids) before the second half of August.

Q. Are there any accessible, close-in to Portland hikes that are great for snowshoeing after snow falls or before it melts?

Bonnie: The Crosstown Trail on Mount Hood comes to mind. It goes through the woods just above Government Camp, so you can rent snowshoes in the village and be snowshoeing in a few minutes. It’s in the trees, so you aren’t exposed to wind and driving snow if it’s a snowy day. It’s about an hour’s drive from Portland, but it’s rare that there is snow any closer than that (enough for snowshoeing). It’s great to be out in the deep quiet of winter, and if you stop to eat, guaranteed you’ll immediately be found by a party of “camp robbers” (gray jays or Clark’s nutcrackers) trying to snatch food out of your hand!

Readers, do you have a favorite family hike in Oregon, Washington or British Columbia? Do you mind sharing your secret ramble?

Family Travel: Manning Resort, BC with kids

In winter, many of Washington, Oregon and BC’s ski resorts become overwhelmed with hordes of weekend ski bums (yes, that description includes my own family). For a change of pace, smart families — like Bellingham-based travel writer Joanna Nesbit‘s family — head for the quieter ski resorts. No, the resorts aren’t filled with flash ‘n’ cash, but they’re perfect for a low-key, snow-filled getaway. We chat with Joanna to find out what she loves about Manning Park Resort, set in British Columbia’s lovely Skagit Valley Provincial Park.

Cross-country skiing at Manning Park Resort

Located a mere 2. 5 hours northeast of Bellingham (Sumas/Abbotsford border crossing) and two hours from Vancouver, BC, the area is a fine option for a long weekend or a winter break.

Who went? How long did you stay? How did you hear about Manning Resort?

Over President’s Day weekend, we took our family of four plus a friend (Curt, Joanna, Leah, 13, Ty, 11, and friend Emma, 13) to Manning Park Resort in British Columbia’s Manning Provincial Park for a weekend of alpine and cross-country skiing and snowplay.

We’ve been visiting Manning for some 15 years, and one year by accident we discovered that many families from our neighborhood make the trek for President’s Day weekend. This holiday weekend — also a 4-day school break — has turned into a Manning tradition for many Bellingham families.

Manning Park Resort has a lodge and cabins, and all visitors stay at the resort because there are no other lodgings nearby. The resort is 45 minutes from Hope to the west and Princeton to the east.

Besides offering a friendly ski scene, the resort is compact enough that you can let your kids wander fairly freely (depending on your comfort level), which is what we love about the place. Manning has a pool/hot tub facility (the Blue Lagoon), a sledding hill, and an ice rink. Kids need adult accompaniment to the pool, but the sledding hill is close, and snow play is right there. You can rent ice skates for the rink, where you’ll often encounter a rousing game of hockey. There’s also a game room in the basement, but it can be underwhelming. When we were there, they were out of functioning ping-pong balls because of rowdy ping-pong players.

Kids ice-skating at the resort

Ice-skating at the resort

Compared to other ski resorts, Manning is nothing fancy, but it’s the low-key vibe and compact size that we especially love. The staff is always friendly, and the guests happily engage in casual conversations with each other. Many guests have been going to Manning for years, if not decades.

What types of activities did your family enoy, while at Manning Resort? Nordic skiing, downhill skiing, sledding, anything else?

Manning offers alpine skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing at Gibson Ski Hill, 6 miles from the lodge, and miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. The kids ice skated first, and then over the next two days, they hit the downhill slopes for skiing and snowboarding, while I x-country skied. My husband skied with Ty at Gibson Hill, and then x-country skied with me the next day. We met up at the hot tub.

What we like about Manning is how it accommodates all interests, and Gibson is a small enough ski hill that you can’t lose your child in the crowds, but still big enough to be fun for skilled skiers. The ski hill is never crowded, and no one waits more than a few minutes to get on the chair (there are two), even on a busy weekend. For beginners, it’s especially friendly with a low-intimidation factor (no fashion contest either). The bunny hill offers a graduated experience, with a rope tow on the upper, flatter portion, and a T-bar on the lower, steeper portion. It’s a great place to take lessons.

Any great restaurants in the Manning Resort area?

The resort only offers one restaurant, as well as a pub, and a tiny store that tends to be understocked and overpriced. The restaurant is good for a meal or two. The burgers are great, but service can be slow (I recommend a 5:30pm arrival to beat the rush).

Because Manning is isolated, we take groceries with us, and shop for fruits and veggies in Hope (you can’t take these across the border).

What are the rooms/cabins like at Manning Resort?

The last few years, we’ve been staying in the main lodge in a “mini-suite.” The lodge offers three different room configurations, but the mini-suite works best for families, as it includes 2 Queens and a hide-a-bed, as well as a table, chairs, mini-fridge, sink, and microwave. The resort also offers cabins, from small to large, with full kitchens. Many families we know opt for cabins, sometimes sharing a cabin with a second family.

A family room at Manning Park Resort

A family room at Manning Park Resort.

We have stayed in cabins and in the lodge, and lately have opted for the lodge because it’s closer to the amenities like the pool. I recommend both types of lodging. However, for a mini suite, be sure to book very early for popular weekends, as the lodge only offers 8 of these rooms. Otherwise, book accommodation for a less popular weekend or opt for the smaller room (comes with 2 Queens, a mini fridge, and microwave; no table and chairs).

Did you have to chain up to get to Manning?

In all the years we’ve traveled to Manning, we’ve never had to chain up, but it’s always a possibility. Also, the highway conditions east of Hope can be sketchy, so always watch for potholes.

What else should we know about going to this British Columbia resort with kids?

Manning is a year-round resort, offering mountain biking and hiking in the summer (there are also several campgrounds nearby). The ski hill closes in early April, but keep an eye on snow conditions because the x-country skiing may be great and accommodation rates at this time of year drop significantly. Also, be sure to check the website for winter package deals.

Thanks for the report, Joanna! Readers, can you recommend any great family ski spots in Washington, Oregon or BC?

Harvest Days: Farm tours, family celebrations and pumpkin patches

Get out into the autumn weather: pick pumpkins, catch leaves and attend an Oktoberfest or two. If you’re planning to travel to another city (or nearby) this season, check out these fantastic events:

If you live near Seattle, grab a light jacket for this weekend’s families-welcome harvest celebration. Can’t make it? Find farmy goodness (markets, stands and u-picks) at Puget Sound Fresh website, including the always-popular Remlinger Farms.

Further from Seattle, this weekend (September 25), the party-hearty Leavenworth offers a Leaf Festival. Leavenworth also hosts an Oktoberfest that runs through three weekends in a row.

A more sedate time may be found at the Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms, on October 2, 2010, which features farm tours and kid-friendly activities.

Near Portland, in the shadow of Oregon’s Mt. Hood, Clackamas County offers many harvest happenings, including the Pumpkin Fest at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm.

About 20 minutes northwest of downtown Portland, Sauvie Island has delighted children for generations with pumpkin patches galore.

Outside Vancouver, BC (and accessible to Bellingham and N. Washington), use the listings at BC Farm Fresh to discover great picks in BC’s Fraser Valley , including hayrides and pumpkins at Aldor Acres and rides around a Corn Maze.

And if you’ve ever considered a visit to BC’s Salt Spring Island, the first weekend in October is the time to go. It’s the perfect excuse to sink your teeth into 100 varieties of apples at the Salt Spring Island Organic Apple Festival. Kids attend for free.


I do miss the East Coast’s apple farms. One in particular offered transitional apples, hot apple cider, tractor rides, pumpkins, a petting zoo, and amazing apple cider doughnuts. Wow, is there anything like that in BC, Washington or Oregon?

I will add additional festivals, if you let me know about them, and keep this listing up to date in October.

Hiking with kids in Vancouver, BC

Writer-broadcaster Jack Christie is one of Canada’s most trusted sources on travel, recreation and sport. And he did a quick Q & A on hiking with kids in Vancouver, BC. We should consider ourselves very lucky!

As the outdoors columnist with Vancouver’s Georgia Straight newspaper (Canada’s largest circulation weekly) since 1986, he has filed over 500 reports, many of which are posted on line at straight.com. Jack, along with his partner in creativity, photographer Louise Christie, is the best-selling author of a series of 17 adventure guides, including 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver, The Whistler Book: All-Season Outdoor Guide and Best Weekend Getaways from Vancouver: Favourite Trips and Overnight Destinations (Greystone Guides).

Does he have kids? “Louise and I have two grown boys who are now enthusiastically making their way in the world on their own two feet as well as by bike, skis, snowboards, and motorcycles,” Christie says, with characteristic aplomb.

Let’s see what Jack says about hiking with kids in and around Vancouver, BC.

1. Is there a kid-friendly hike within Vancouver’s city limits that you recommend? What do you like about it?

Based on our family’s experience, a “kid-friendly hike” is an oxymoron. Our kids told us they didn’t “get” hiking until they were 14+ teenagers. Stick to walks and let kids decide how far they want to go and what they want to see and do.

In Vancouver, visit Queen Elizabeth Park, second largest next to Stanley Park with far fewer visitors, great views, neat little hiding places dotted among spectacular gardens, good picnic spots, with a big dancing fountain on top in which kids can frolic on hot days. (Note: Photo at right is the view from Queen Elizabeth Park)

2. Is there a hike within 45 minutes of downtown Vancouver, that’s good for families with toddlers? A spot accessible by public transportation?

By car: Yew Lake Trail in Cypress Provincial Park in West Vancouver. It’s a hard-packed loop trail that leads past a lovely subalpine lake, next to a grove of massive ancient evergreens

By transit: North Vancouver’s Maplewood Flats Conservation Area (run by the Wild Bird Trust of BC) on Dollarton Road. You’ll find a gentle loop trail, great spot for wild birds, a small beach, views of the inner harbour. (Read a lovely description of a visit to Maplewood Flats with children on the Outdoor Vancouver blog)

(Consult 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver for details on both locations)

3. Can you recommend a similar hike (near downtown Vancouver) that’s good for elementary-age kids — children who can go a little further without complaint?

Port Moody’s Rocky Point Park offers an ocean side approach along the Shoreline Trail which touches on five pocket parks. In summer, good swimming both at a beach or freshwater pool and water playground for kids to cool down in. Bonus: Great fish & chips at Pajo’s kiosk in the park, a must-visit to reward non-complaining kids.(Consult 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver
for complete details)

4. How about tweens and teens who can go as far as an adult? Do you have a recommendation for a close-to-downtown hike that’s still a bit challenging?

Metro Vancouver’s sprawling Pacific Spirit Regional Park. Pacific Spirit Regional Park’s Wreck Beach stretches for 5 kilometres (3 miles) and can be accessed from a variety of trails numbered 1-7. Trail 6 leads to the section informally known as “Coney Island” where the majority of clothing-optional folks hang out.

The Trail 4 approach that I recommend is naturally removed from the main action by a mile of rocky headlands and very family-friendly. Trail 4 starts with a 300-step staircase directly behind the UBC Museum of Anthropology and leads along a cobble-and-sand beach to twin gun towers, graffiti-plastered relics from World War 2. Lots of driftwood to picnic on, panoramic views of the mouth of the harbour and the Strait of Georgia. My kids loved the wild side of this section of beach.

If families are really turned off by the sight of an occasional bare bum, try downhill along Northwest Marine Drive at the park’s Acadia Beach, next to the city’s Spanish Bank West Beach. They’ll find picnic tables and washrooms and a leafy, gentler approach to Wreck Beach where a colony of blue herons stalk smelt beside net-casting fishers.

(Read a lyrical description of Wreck Beach on Jack Christie’s website)

5. What’s your favorite family-friendly hike between Vancouver and Whistler? What do you like about it? Who is it good for — which ages?

The Sea to Sky Trail, specifically the new stretch between Brandywine Falls Provincial Park and Whistler. One of the best-built, multi-use trails in the region. Starts with a stunning waterfall and leads beside the Cheakamus River. (View the video posted at www.jackchristie.com and consult The Whistler Book: All-Season Outdoor Guide for details)

6. Do you have a gentle, family-friendly hike recommendation in or around Whistler, BC?

The gentle Cheakamus Lake Trail in Garibaldi Provincial Park at the south end of Whistler leads through a spectacular forest to a stunning turquoise-hued lake at the foot of Whistler Mountain, or the multi-use Tin Pants Trail in Whistler’s Lost Lake Park with its twig-furniture benches and grand views of the mountains on all sides (Consult The Whistler Book: All-Season Outdoor Guide for details on both).

Thanks for those family-friendly hike suggestions, Jack. Readers, I’d suggest picking up one of Jack’s books — he’s obviously an exceptional, detail-oriented writer who can offer wonderful things to do in and around Vancouver.

Great American Campout & REI’s Family Adventure Program

This Saturday, June 26 marks the Great American Backyard Campout, sponsored by the National Wildlife Foundation. It’s a great excuse to open up the musty tent and fluff the sleeping bags. A backyard campout can help get kids ready for a real overnighter (if they haven’t gone yet), and the Great American Campout raises money for a great cause.

We’ve taken the kids camping since babyhood, so they’ve always been used to a pitch-black tent and strange noises around the campsite (Don’t worry, that’s not a bear, it’s just a grown-up snoring. Probably). I’m a big fan of being comfortable, so our packing list always includes an air mattress, a fluffy duvet and…brie cheese.

Whether you’re a family of pros or first-time campers, Pacific Northwest retailer REI is offering some wonderful incentives for families preparing to get outside. Their Family Adventure Program provides pocket-sized “kids’ adventure journals,” available for free at any REI or online at REI.com. Families can also find detailed descriptions of family-friendly hikes and bike rides at the link above, and a travel-photo sweepstakes.

After completing at least one outdoor activity, kids can send in the tear-off postcard from their journal to receive a certificate.

Families can also take advantage of advice from REI’s local experts to plan fun and budget-friendly ways to spend time outdoors. REI offers online checklists, tips and videos to help you plan campouts and day trips.

They also have some upcoming workshops that you might find interesting:


  • REI’s Family Adventure Party | Celebrate REI’s Family Adventure program and find out how you and your family can get the most out of summer. This celebration is at our REI Portland and Clackamas stores only. 6/26/2010, 10:00 AM


  • Saturday Climbing | Adventure Climbing is a fun and exciting family activity. Co-op members climb for free. 7/31/2010, 1:00 PM


  • Cycling Ready 101 | Join REI for an introductory clinic on preparing you for any touring ride. The clinic will cover what you need to know before, during, and after your ride. 7/6/2010, 6:00 PM

Family Camps & Adventures in BC, Oregon & Washington State

If you haven’t yet firmed up your summer vacation getaway, consider a family camp, family-friendly ranch or a family adventure program. Yes, the camps are old-school:  rustic rooms and questionable food. But you know you’ll have fun anyhow, just like you did when you were a kid. If you’d rather enjoy a bunk-free stay, check out the aquarium or geology adventures or a family-friendly ranch summer getaway.

British Columbia Family Camps

BC Family French Camp. Okanagan, Gwillim Lake and Vancouver Island, BC. Say bon nuit to one another at this Francophone camp where all ages learn to speak and sing in French.

Family Adventure Camps at Kumsheen Rafting Resort. Lytton, BC. For families with children aged 7 and up, these trips incorporate paddling OR whitewater rafting, hikes, rock climbing and more. Sleep in a teepee, cabin or tent.

Family Adventure Camps. BC Horne Lake Caverns and Teepee Camp, BC. Sleep in a teepee or geo-dome, then explore caves, learn to canoe and rappel down some rocks.

Family Weeks. Echo Valley Ranch & Spa. Clinton, BC. This ridin’ and ropin’ resort swings open the gates to families in July and August. Pan for gold, ride horses and tell stories around the fire. Contact ranch for more information.

Oregon Family Camps

Big Lake Family Camp. Sisters, Oregon. Two five-day sessions feature hikes and horses, campfires and in the Willamette National Forest. Because this camp is run by Seventh-Day Adventists, all the food served is vegetarian – but you don’t have to be either Seventh-Day Adventist or vegetarian to have fun.

Nature of the Village Family Camp. Sandy, Oregon. You’ve watched Survivor. Now live it. Learn to track animals, make bows and arrows, build shelters, grow food and start fires along with your “village.”

Public Family Sleepovers. Oregon Coast Aquarium. Sleep with the sharks while enjoying a family sleepover at the Newport Aquarium, complete with pizza dinner, breakfast and all the aquatic exhibits.

Salem YMCA Family Camps. Salem, Oregon. At Camp Silver Creek, families can roast marshmallows, sing songs and get crafty. Parents even get a kid-free afternoon, while counselors entertain the children. Kids 5 and under are free.

Washington Family Camps

Camp Orkila Family Camp. Orcas Island, Washington State. Multiple options (including short visits and longer stays) for May, July, September dates in the gorgeous San Juan Islands. Enjoy kayak tours of Orkila Bay, pottery classes, horseback rides, a climbing wall and CAMP FOOD! We know kids who camp here every year – they love it.

Family Programs. Olympic Park Institute, Lake Crescent, Washington. In the Olympic National Forest, enjoy a Salish-style canoe trip, hike with a naturalist and make s’mores.

Geology Adventures. Various destinations in Washington and BC. Rock on! Geology and rock-collecting day and overnight trips in Seattle, the Cascades and the Okanagan (BC and Washington).

Warm Beach Family Programs. Stanwood, Washington State. Faith-based (Christian) Dad and Me weekends, parent-child horse programs and family camps.

Family Vacation on raveable

Families Travel! Geocaching with kids

Geocaching may be the perfect Cascadia sport. It’s a puzzle (appealing to our inner geek), it’s an outdoor excursion (appealing to our inner jock), it’s a social trading game (yes, even cheerleaders can play).

Geocachers hide containers with tradeable trinkets – pick one and keep it, and leave your trade inside. Cache stashes could offer small plastic toys, movie tickets, foreign money or stickers. Note your visit in the logbook with a stamp or signature, also kept in the container.

Caches can be tucked away anywhere: city park, campground stream, old-growth tree or a mountain peak.

How do you find these containers? With your Global Positioning System (GPS) device or cellphone, after retrieving instructions from a geocaching website (the most popular is geocaching.com, although regional sites also offer hide ‘n’ seek clues).  It’s a game you can play anywhere – even when on a family vacation.

This week, we’ll find out more about the kid-friendly sport of geocaching with Lisa and Martin Pedersen of the site FamilyNavigation.com, which focuses on their family life, geocaching and children’s activities.  Lisa and Martin live in the Comox Valley of BC’s Vancouver Island, and are the parents of Annika, 5, and twins Bryce and Jada, 2. All photos below are courtesy of the Pedersens, and certainly bring geocaching to life!

Q: How do you geocache with kids?

Our kids are all young, so they just help us find the cache once we locate the area. Finding caches is a lot of fun, but hiding caches for other people to find is also important.  Our oldest child has hidden a cache of her own and she enjoyed deciding on the trading items.

Q: What sort of toys did your daughter put into the cache?

For Annika’s cache, she decided that she wanted to include international coins. We had a lot of coins from our previous travels, which we put inside her cache. People are trading coins for ones in their collection.  In other caches we hidden we’ve put geocaching supplies or small plastic toys that kids like.

Q: Is it an all-season outdoor sport or best in summer?

Geocaching is an all season activity, it just depends on how much one enjoys going outside in the winter months.  Many caches are hidden at ground level so they can be a real challenge to find in the snow.

Like most outdoor activities, geocaching is most popular on warm sunny days.

Q: Why is BC a great place to go geocaching with kids?

BC is an outdoor paradise (yes, we are biased) so we love an outdoor activity that shows some of the hidden area gems. Many forests, mountain parks, lakes, rivers, beaches and towns are filled with geocaches, for all difficulty levels. Many geocachers live in BC, so there are lots of caches to find wherever you go.

Q: Do you need any special equipment to go geocaching?

To go geocaching you need a GPS receiver that can direct you to the coordinates of the hidden geocache. Like any electronic device, the cost can vary depending on the features you’re looking for.  You can buy a GPS receiver under $100, and you can pay much more.

We spent $300 for one that had special geocaching features and came with topographic maps.  There are a lot of good, used GPS units for sale.  If you are unsure if geocaching is for you then you may want to rent a GPS unit from an outdoor outfitter, or see if you can tag along with an experienced geocacher.  Some cell phones now come with GPS capabilities as well.

Q: Any geocaching tech that kids really enjoy?

Travel bugs are a cool thing that kids can get into.  You purchase these small tags that attach to a trading toy.  You put the toys (with tag) into a cache and other geocachers will find the toys and move them on to another cache.  Travel bugs are tracked on the geocaching.com website, so kids can follow their travel bugs and read the stories of their adventure.

Q: What’s the coolest cache you’ve found?

We like tricky caches hidden in a very clever container or those requiring us to solve a tough puzzle. We’ve found caches inside fake sprinkler nozzles, rocks, logs, among others.

A fun cache we found lately took us to a street sign, where we found a small sticker with numbers on it.  You had to figure out that this was the number of a book that was on the shelf in the local library.  The geocacher had made arrangements with the library to shelve a logbook where people could find and then sign their name.

After you have been geocaching for a while these sort of tricks become easier to figure out.  This was a very unique cache and a fun one to do with the family.  There are many extremely tough puzzle caches, or multiple step caches, for people who really like challenges.

Q: Which caches do your kids like best?

Our kids — mostly due to their age — like any large container with lots of things to trade.  In their eyes the best caches are full of toys where they can trade something of equal or greater value for something new they like. Sometimes choosing a toy takes longer than actually finding the cache.

Our kids think there is nothing like going for a hike in the woods and returning with a new toy.

Q: What would you suggest to families just getting started or who want to learn more?

If geocaching sounds interesting, then visit geocaching.com, the official website listing all the geocaches hidden worldwide.

It’s very easy to get started but it may take a little while to get the hang of it, if you’ve never used a GPS before.  There are many local geocaching groups you can find online. We have found that geocachers are very approachable and like to help out new cachers.

You can also find out on the geocaching.com website if there are any free events in your area put on by local cachers (usually a very casual potluck) where you can meet people and get lots of tips.

Q: Any parting thoughts?

We recently moved back to Vancouver Island, to a town we did not know very well.  Through geocaching we’ve now visited many of the local sites and found some hidden gems like swimming holes or shell collecting beaches.

We’ve found that geocaching is a great excuse to go outside and spend time as a family.  A word of warning, however: It is a very addictive activity.