No Hotel Rooms? No Problem.

Kid-friendly Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portland Airport with Kids: Play Areas, Shopping and More

Whether you’re arriving Portland to enjoy a wonderful family vacation, or you’re headed out of town, the Portland International Airport (PDX) offers plenty of kid-friendly diversions. Who’d think that going to the airport could be so enjoyable? Who knows, you might even want to arrive a few minutes early.

Play areas for kids at Portland International Airport

Portland Airport Play Area things for kids to do

Portland Airport Play Area

Two play areas keep little ones busy at PDX. One play area is located near the D/E security checkpoint, pre-security, and the other is located on Concourse C near gate C17 beyond the security checkpoints. Tired parents and grandparents can rest weary legs on the nearby seats (just don’t fall asleep!).

The airport’s play area located near the D/E security checkpoint (pre-security) offers a full play structure equipped with two slides, climbing stairs and a creative space for imaginative play. The space also offers three Lego tables and a wooden activity set for toddlers.

Portland Airport Play Area a fun thing for kids to do

Portland Airport Play Area

PDX’s play area on Concourse C (post-security) offers an airplane-themed play space for toddlers and a flat screen TV.

Family restrooms at the Portland airport

Family rest rooms are located near Gates A2, C3 and D1.

Changing stations are available in every restroom at PDX. Here’s a Portland airport terminal map for further reference on where each is located.

Areas for nursing moms at the Portland airport

During normal business hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday – Friday, excluding holidays), the PDX Conference Center, located pre-security, provides mothers a private area with seating to nurse their infants and an electrical outlet for pumps. This room is offered free of charge on a space available basis.

Of course, in Oregon, moms are free (and encouraged) to nurse wherever they like, whenever they like. I’m not making it up — it’s the law (read more at the Oregon Health Authority). While it’s fine if you don’t breastfeed, breastfeeding in public is very normal throughout the Pacific Northwest.

After security, pumping moms can head into one of many rest rooms throughout the airport that offer a convenient bench with nearby electrical outlets. The rest room near Gate D-3 offers a bench near a bank of sinks away from the toilet stalls.

You will also find benches and nearby electrical outlets in rest rooms near the ABC security checkpoint, on the baggage claim level.

Travel Tips for the Portland International Airport with kids

At the Portland airport, there was once a children’s toy store, but the store didn’t renew its lease. Thankfully, there are three Powell’s Books at the airport; one located pre-security in the Oregon Market, and the other two are located on Concourses C and D, beyond the security checkpoints. Each of these locations has an assortment of children’s toys and books to select from to keep little ones busy and entertained while traveling (more than 30 percent of their inventory is children’s toys). These locations even buy books — so you might be able to sell an already-read book, then buy a new board book for your toddler.

Need more help navigating PDX? Visit the Port of Portland’s website.

Thanks to Annie Linstrom and Steve Johnson at the Port of Portland for background information and photos.

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?

Daytrip! Four Portland day trips with kids

On certain winter weekends, you’re cooped up inside the house, kids bickering and frustrated while the rain pounds outside.

Sounds like it’s time for a daytrip.

A daytrip is a break from the usual routine. Hop in the car for an hour or so, motoring down the freeway and along country lanes. Enjoy a movie or a museum or a hot chocolate (or all three). Bring a change of clothes in case the kids want to play at a park (despite rain or snow). Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore daytrips based out of the Portland, Vancouver and Seattle metro areas.

Home Base: Portland

Oregon Coast with kids daytrip

Take Hwy 26 out to Seaside and Cannon Beach, where the kids can fly kites, make mud castles and storm-watch from the warm safety of a café. Or make your way out west toward Tillamook, Ore., and tour the Tillamook Visitors Center before visiting the quiet little towns of Rockaway Beach and Manzanita.

Time one-way: About 90 minutes.

Mt. Hood with kids daytrip

Take Hwy 26 east to Portland’s beloved mountain and take a free tour of Timberline Lodge, counting animals you find hidden in ironwork, woodwork and on the mountain. Play in the snow, drink hot chocolate at the lodge, then go to Government Camp and stop for a brief 10-minute self-guided tour of Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum (check out those tiny, vintage hiking shoes from an elementary-aged mountain climber).

Time one way: About 90 minutes

N. Bonneville Hot Springs with kids daytrip

Fed up with the rain? A day pass to the Bonneville Hot Springs offers a pool and two jetted hot tubs featuring heated, sulfate-rich water. Weekdays are the deal here, though ($15/3 hour pass for adults), and weekends incur significantly higher rates ($25/3 hours pass for adults). Kids under age 2 are free, and the Family Swim Time runs on Sundays from 1:30-7:30. Post pool, head into Stevenson, Wash. (my hometown!) to visit the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center or a meal at the upscale Skamania Lodge.

Time one way: About an hour

Salem with kids daytrip

Head to the Oregon state capitol to enjoy A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village, an interactive children’s museum, the Riverfront Carousel and an indoor playground featuring four themes (trains, princess, music and market).

Time one way: About an hour

Portland in a Day: 12 hours of fun

Where do you go in Portland with kids – if you’ve only got a day? My friend Sarah recently came down from Victoria, BC, with her daughter Rowan (age 4) and I wanted to introduce her to the city I grew up in. We only had one day to cover Portland’s Greatest Hits, so I was determined to pack as much as possible into 12 waking hours.

I snagged a four-star hotel room off of Priceline (RiverPlace Hotel, $100/night) using the Priceline bidding method. Once we arrived, we upgraded to a junior suite for $25, which offered a King and a Queen pull-out sofa bed. My kids and I shared the King, Sarah and her daughter shared the Queen.

8:00 a.m. Slappy Cakes. This Southeast Portland restaurant puts a griddle right in the middle of the table – so you can flip your own flapjacks. Choose from buttermilk, zucchini or multigrain, then select your fixins (we chose apples, blueberries and walnuts). The kids had a blast with the griddle. I wouldn’t bring a grabby baby here, but I saw plenty of parents doing so — with no ill effects.

Making breakfast at the kid-friendly Portland restaurant Slappy Cakes

Making breakfast at the kid-friendly Portland restaurant Slappy Cakes

9:30 a.m. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. We hit OMSI at opening time, and got in as one of the first admissions. We played in the vacuum-powered ball room, let the kids run amok in the Science Playground (it’s best for kids ages 6 and under), took a ride on an earthquake-simulator house and made our hair stand on end in one of OMSI labs.

OMSI with kids

Looking down on OMSI (this is just one section of the two-story science museum)

12:00 noon Pok Pok. This Portland restaurant serves North Thai food – you won’t find Pad Thai here. We asked the server to accommodate and work with our kids’ sensitivity to hot-spice and found some fantastic dishes. The kids gobbled down the roasted peanuts, shrimp chips (like a fluffy cracker) and Phat Si Ew Muu (smoky, fried noodles). They even went for the vinegar drink — which didn’t taste too much like cleaning solution, thank goodness, more like a soury-sweet pop.

Nom nom noodles at Pok Pok, a kid-friendly Portland restaurant

Nom nom noodles at Pok Pok.

1:30 p.m. train ride. We dropped off our car at the waterfront hotel, then walked to downtown Portland. We hopped on the sleek MAX lightrail system at Pioneer Courthouse Square and rode into a tunnel to arrive at the Washington Park station (at 260 feet underground, the deepest station in North America), where we went to…

2:00 p.m. The Portland Children’s Museum. The kids buried my son in the construction zone’s rubber chips, splashed in the water area and built a fort in the child-designed treehouse area. On our way out the door, we spied the book Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) which my daughter begged me to buy. Dangerously, I agreed.

Better than sand in your pants! Burying a brother at the Children's Museum.

4:30 p.m. Finnegan’s Toys and Gifts. We rode the MAX back downtown and made a quick stop in Finnegan’s Toy Store, a toy shop packed with fabulous finds. My daughter picked out a lovely selection of exotic Japanese erasers (two bunnies, a sundae and a toothbrush that come apart in a variety of ways) and Rowan found the perfect doll.

5:00 p.m. Laughing Planet Cafe. We walked 15 blocks over to Laughing Planet, where the food is always fresh and fast. The children’s menu always has offerings under $5 and every menu item can be adjusted in a variety of ways – for example, the “protein” includes Draper Valley chicken, tempeh or tofu.

Kid-friendly restaurant Laughing Planet.

Entertaining ourselves with Japanese erasers at Laughing Planet.

5:45 p.m. Cool Moon Ice Cream. I had to introduce my foodie friend to this Pearl District classic,  which offers handmade ice cream in incredible flavors. The kids and I ordered some marionberry-tinged scoops, while my friend tried a lemon hefeweizen flavor.

6:00 p.m. Powell’s City of Books. We didn’t have much time left before we started reaching meltdown time, so we visited the children’s area for just an hour. At one point, my son had so many superhero books in each hand (and lodged under his chin) that he had trouble navigating the room.

Children's area at Powell's City of Books.

In the Rose Room at Powell's City of Books.

7:00 Waterfront walk. A full stomach, a full mind and tired feet meant that it was time to return to the hotel. We walked through downtown, then along the Tom McCall Waterfront Park – pausing, of course, for a good look at the Salmon Street Springs fountain, where water shoots from 185 jets. On a quiet summer evening, there are few things better than enjoying a good view from the Willamette River.

What did we miss out on? Plenty! For example, we didn’t have time to work in The Oregon Zoo, Sellwood Park, Portland Art Museum, Portland Saturday Market (or the Portland Farmers Market), the Portland Japanese Garden and the Lan Su Chinese Garden. Or the Portland Rose Gardens, for that matter — but my friend does have the lovely Butchart Gardens to console her. Jamison Square’s fountains were shut off (when we walked by), so we didn’t get to splash in the cascading waterfalls.

35 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Portland with Kids

What’s kid-friendly, free and fun in Portland, Oregon? Here’s a warm-weather list to get you started. What would you add?

  1. Play in Salmon Springs Fountain’s 137 jets at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
  2. Enjoy a $3 family movie at McMenamin’s Kennedy School.
  3. Watch ice skaters twirl at the Lloyd Center Ice Rink.
  4. Enjoy one of Portland’s kid-friendly museums on a free or cheap day.
  5. Try on glasses made from forks in Spoonman’s booth at Portland Saturday Market.
  6. Go for a bird-watching hike on Sauvie Island.
  7. Look for leprechauns in the tiniest park in America — Mill Ends Park.
  8. Enjoy the Preschool Skate and Play at Oaks Amusement Park.
  9. Get your thrills from the Portland Aerial Tram.
  10. Ride the vintage 1921 carousel at the Jantzen Beach SuperCenter.
  11. Seek Simpsons references in Portland’s Alphabet District (including Reverend Lovejoy, Mayor Quimby and Ned Flanders).
  12. Stop and smell Barbara Streisand at the International Rose Test Gardens. You won’t even get slapped with a restraining order; the rose is named after the singer.
  13. Listen to family tunes at Portland Farmers Market.
  14. Sit in the Jamison Square waterfall and disappearing pool.
  15. Find Ramona Quimby at Grant Park.

  16. Ride the MAX to the Washington Park stop, the deepest train station in North America.
  17. Play on an (extinct) volcano at Mt. Tabor Park.
  18. Drink from a Benson Bubbler.
  19. Speak out against early bedtimes from Pioneer Courthouse Square’s Echo Chamber.
  20. Browse the picture books at Powell’s City of Books.
  21. Make art from SCRAP‘s scraps.
  22. Head to a Portland Park — for movies or a concert.
  23. Get inches away from salmon and horror-movie eels at Bonneville Dam.
  24. Cool off with 620 feet of water at the second-largest waterfall in the U.S. — Multnomah Falls.
  25. Discuss American history at Kidd’s Toy Museum, where vintage toys reflect the values of their day.
  26. Try a Spanish, Mandarin or ASL storytime at Green Bean Books.
  27. Cycle along one of Portland’s kid-friendly bike paths.
  28. Let your mouth travel ’round the world — sample dishes from Portland’s food carts.
  29. Bop along to a family-friendly music show at Milagros Boutique.
  30. Play Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position and other retro games at Ground Kontrol with a pocketful of quarters.
  31. Ride the Portland Streetcar.
  32. Listen to a summer lunch concert at Noon Tunes at Pioneer Courthouse Square.
  33. Get your fortune told at the wacky 24-Hour Church of Elvis.
  34. Party pretty at the Portland Rose Festival.
  35. Enjoy a cup of drinking chocolate at Cacao. Buzzing with caffeine, repeat 1-34.

Free and Cheap Portland Museums, Zoos and Attractions

Make your trip to Portland even cheaper! Portland’s a good deal already, with all those kid-friendly, affordable restaurants. But the Rose City knows that traveling and local families can’t always spend $50 bucks on admission — even if it is a really cool museum. Here’s a whole month full of discounts, so you can visit Portland attractions for free, cheap and a little less.

Free museums and cheap museums in Portland, Oregon:

OMSI: Admission is $2 on the first Sunday of the month; kids 2 and under are always free.

World Forestry Center: Admission is $2 on the first Wednesday of the month; children 2 and under are always free.

3D Center of Art and Photography: Admission is free on the first Thursday of the month; kids age 14 and under are always free.

Portland Children’s Museum: Free admission on the first Friday of  the month from 6-8 p.m.; children under age 1 free daily.

Oregon Zoo: $2 admission on the second Tuesday of the month; 2 and under free daily. Save $1.50 off the price of admission by presenting your MAX ticket.

Washington County Museum: Free admission every Monday. Kids 5 and under always free.

Oregon History Society and Museum: Up to two kids (under age 18) enter free with each paid adult admission on the third Saturday of the month. Kids 5 and under are always free. Annual free day: April 17, 2010.

Portland Art Museum: Free admission on the fourth Friday of every month. Free general admission quarterly in conjunction with Museum Family Day. Kids 17 and younger are always free with paying adults.

Portland Japanese Garden: Free admission on November 11, 2010. Kids 5 and under are always free.

Lan Su Chinese Garden: Kids 5 and under enter free, daily.

Photo on right: World Forestry Center.

Four Family-Friendly Markets in the NW & BC

We have markets by the bushelful here in Casadia and traveling families are always welcome. Bring the kids, $30 and a sense of adventure to these farmers’ markets. It’s a cheap vacation solution and a memorable excursion, all rolled into one afternoon.

Here are my favorite four markets — indoor and outdoor, large and small. Don’t miss them when you’re visiting!

Portland Farmers Market, Portland.

This weekend, the Saturday Portland Farmers Market reopens for the growing (and grazing) season. The outdoor, downtown market features dozens of local-vendor booths, great food trucks (I like Pine State Biscuits) and musical performers.

Chefs put on cooking demos, and children’s cooking classes take center stage. This market is a great place to “meet the grower,” (if the grower isn’t too busy to chat), because most stalls are operated by the farmer who hand-raised the produce.

Tip: The market’s surrounding South Park Blocks provide a great breather during your market experience; or the small playground can serve as a place to entertain the kids while your partner does the shopping.

Pike Place Market, Seattle.

The oldest continuously-operating market in the U.S., Pike Place offers well-covered shopping for Seattle’s tempestuous weather. A mix of open-air and indoor vendors sell fresh produce, doughnuts, hot dogs, local confections, jewelery and blankets. Little kids love the free samples, bigger kids love the creepy underground corridors full of mystery and history.

There’s a veritable United Nations of food options here: culinary options include Vietnamese, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Greek and Turkish. The Market’s family-friendly events are a great way to spend an afternoon; check the market’s site beforehand to see if there’s something going on when you’ll be in town.

Tip: Play urban explorer through the market’s a-maze-ing alleys, underground arcades and adjoining buildings. Can you find Rachel the Pig, the gum wall covered with already-been-chewed gum (as disgustingly cool as it sounds) and a cow-themed shop that only sells dairy?

Granville Island Market, Vancouver.

The Granville Public Market is a covered, light-filled indoor enclosure with independent vendors: produce, hot meals, candied salmon, imported cheese, pastas and teas. Right outside, there’s a sunny patio for relaxing, eating and pigeon-chasing.

Then, head out the market’s front door. You’ll find a village of pedestrian-friendly arts and retail buildings along the island’s one-way road. Small stores populate each building, selling everything from hats to gorgeous Japanese paper to do-it-yourself jewelry options. Don’t miss the tremendous two-story Granville Kids Market and the family-friendly (read:they have toys!) Pedro’s Organic Coffee House (60-1550 Anderson Street, right outside of the Kids Market).

Tip: This island was made for wandering. Take the kids toward anywhere green, and you’ll find grassy play areas, playgrounds, bike trails and swampy marshes – a delightful verdant surprise in the middle of an urban market scene.

James Bay Community Market, Victoria.

This outdoor market attracts locals and tourists alike. It’s packed with jellies and musical jams, muffins and ragamuffins. James Bay Community Market is small in comparison to the three above, but that’s why it’s so charming. It’s also easy to walk to from the downtown Inner Harbour, where many hotels are located.

Kids chase one another beneath leafy trees, market vendors are happy to share tips on local restaurants and the hourly musical acts are low-key and accessible, with lots of room for children to dance around.

Tip: Give the kids several dollars to purchase a hand-made craft; there’s an abundance of island crafters (all pre-approved through a jury process) here.

Do you have a favorite Washington, Oregon or BC market to share? What insider tip can you provide?

Four Family Hikes Near Downtown Portland

Spectacular scenery is a fabulous reason to visit Portland, Oregon with kids. Portland is located just west of both the stunning Mt. Hood and the waterfall-rich Columbia River Gorge. Even if you’re in town for just a few days, squeeze in a quick family hike.

Where should you go for your hike? To find out, I e-interviewed Paul Gerald, the Portland-based hiking expert and author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland: Including the Coast, Mount Hood, St. Helens, and the Santiam River.

Q: If a family was visiting Portland and had a half-day for a hike, where would you send them? What’s a must-see, if you can only experience one hike?

Paul Gerald: If you’re only going to see on hike around here, and you have kids, go to Eagle Creek. There are some ledges where you’ll have to pay attention, but the scenery is fantastic: a wild mountain stream pours through a narrow gorge in the Cascades, with waterfalls and trees everywhere. It’s also super easy to get to: the trailhead is right off Interstate 84 near Bonneville Dam.

If you can make it 2.2 miles up (and it’s barely “up”), you’ll get to Punchbowl Falls, where a side trail leads down to the creek and a front-row view of a spectacular falls in a circular gorge. Just past that junction on the main trail is a birds-eye view of the same falls.

How far? Forty-five minutes east of downtown Portland, on I-84.

To get there: Take Interstate 84 east to Exit 41/Eagle Creek and park as far up the road as you can get. NW Forest Pass ($5 for the day) is required but can be bought on-site.

NOTE: The trail features some steep drop-offs without guardrails. The U.S. Forest Service does not recommend this trail for families with young children or for individuals afraid of heights.

Q: What’s a good hike for a family with a toddler? Probably only one mile or so – more of a ramble?

Paul Gerald: The Salmon River, off Highway 26 on the way to Mount Hood, is a great old-growth forest ramble along a Wild and Scenic River where salmon migrate all the way from the ocean. Several trailheads are along the road, and the trail is always very near the rambling stream, so you can go for as little a time as you like — or just look for a quite place by the waterside to gaze at the big trees, look for salmon, and maybe even splash around in the water.

How far? One hour, 15 minutes east of Portland, via Highway 26

To get there: Take Highway 26 east for 36 miles to Salmon River Road. Turn right here, and look for the first trailhead in 2.7 miles. NW Forest Pass ($5 for the day) is required.

Q: How about a good hike for a family with a preschool-aged child?

Paul Gerald: Washington Park is a great place to go hiking with a kid this age, for several reasons. One is that there are trails all over the place, many of them in the Hoyt Arboretum. The trails here are named for the trees that abound along them, and in spring and summer something is always in bloom here. And with all these trails, you can explore in all different directions and head back whenever you’re done.

The other great thing about Washington Park is that when you get tired of hiking, you can choose from so many other family-friendly activities: the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, the Children’s Museum, and the World Forestry Center.

How far? Ten minutes by car or MAX from downtown Portland.

To get there: Take MAX light rail to Washington Park.

Q: How about a trail for big kids or teens (ready to hike a longer distance)?

Paul Gerald: The Triple Falls hike, in the Columbia River Gorge, is a classic. There are some small ups and downs, and some rocky terrain — but there are also four waterfalls, one of which you hike behind, and one of which is actually in three branches.

Plus, you get to look down into the amazing Oneonta Gorge, which is a quarter-mile-long chasm so narrow that to go up it, you have to wade in the stream for a bit.

How far? Forty minutes east of Portland on I-84.

To get there: Follow Interstate 84 east to Exit 21/Bridal Veil. This puts you onto the Historic Columbia River Highway; follow that 5.2 miles to the parking are at Horsetail Falls.

Q: What should families keep in mind, when going for a day hike in the Pacific NW?

Paul Gerald: Safety comes first, of course, so tell someone where you are headed and when you plan to be back. Bring plenty of food and water; if it’s warm, plan for about two liters per adult and one per child.

Also, no matter the forecast, take clothing to account for everything from warm and sunny to cool and rainy — remember where you are! Wear shoes that will work for you on rocks, dirt, and mud, and consider taking an extra pair to wear in the car, so you don’t track dirt all over the place.

Timing is another issue; sometimes it’s hard to know how long the experience will last. All of these trailheads are around an hour away, and for walking speed, plan for about one mile per hour, which includes stops to eat, rest and take pictures.

Thanks, Paul, for your time! If you have further questions for Paul, meet him in person at one of his book sales events, which you can find listed at Find more great hikes, maps and information in Paul’s book — and tell us about your favorite hikes in the comments section below.

Portland Family Vacation

10 Family-Friendly Restaurants in Portland

Lucky you, going to Portland, Ore., with the kids. So many amazing dining spots, and so little time. I’m giving you a quick rundown of my favorite Portland kids-welcome restaurants, from cheap to chic, granola to gut-busting.

Kid-friendly restaurants in Portland, Oregon

1. Vita Café. Even meat eaters will devour the vegan vittles at this café. Take a seat at one of the booths, order off of the extensive vegetarian and meaty menu. Then head back to the waiting area, where you’ll find two small containers stuffed with table-ready toys (cars, plastic figurines, you know, all the stuff you mean to bring to the restaurant but forget at home). Kids’ menu items are only $1 on weekday nights between 5 and 7 p.m., a total deal. Don’t try passing yourself off as a kid, even if you are a short adult. It never works, dang.

2. Mother’s Bistro & Bar. City swank atmosphere, serious comfort food.  I love Mother’s for breakfast, but so does every other family. Make reservations, arrive at the crack of dawn, whatever you have to do to sit in the restaurant’s center, surrounded by gilded mirrors and chattering families. It’ll make your little girl feel like a princess. And that’s before the chocolate-chip-flecked mouse-face pancake arrives.

kid-friendly laughing planet cafe in portland oregon

Dinosaur train at Laughing Planet, Ecotrust Building

3. Laughing Planet Cafe. Now this is a green restaurant chain. Order your food with a few greenbacks. Then, kids play with emerald dinos while waiting for their cilantro-sauced bowl of goodies to appear (the restaurant borrows heavily from Mexican cuisine). Afterward, you’ll bus your own table, sorting leftovers into their proper ecological receptacles. Perfectly Portland. And damn good. And cheap. No item on the children’s menu breaks $3.50.

4. Hopworks Urban Brewery. This sustainability-focused spot knows what families like, and the restaurant is just a short drive from OMSI. Ask for seat near the kids’ play area, where preschoolers toddle about with trains and play-pizza sets. Older children busy themselves with stretchy pizza dough, but the wait is never too long for your organic-tomato pizza or grilled-chicken sandwich. What’s on tap for baby? Earth’s Best baby food, naturally. For adults, I recommend the handcrafted beer sampler.

A pomegranate, orange and whipped cream waffle. For real.

5. Waffle Window. Fruit. Whipped Cream. Exotic toppings (Pumpkin pie? YES!). It’s what your kids wish you served them every morning. You must go. That’s all there is to it. You really order at a window. Then you take the dishes inside of an adjoining restaurant (yes, a little odd) and share a long table with whoever else is eating waffles that morning; you may be able to get a two-top along the window or outside, as well. Doesn’t matter. You still must go. It’s on Hawthorne’s busy street — after finishing, you can browse bookstores and toy shops.

6. Staccato Gelato. Nestled in the vintage vibe of Portland’s Sellwood district, Staccato serves up perfect bowls of egg-enriched gelato. But you can also order the kids a PB & banana panini (Elvis missed out). They’ll run off to play in the mini-sized children’s corner, decorated with a fanciful, silhouetted cityscape, while you get to drink your coffee in (near) peace. There’s another location at NE 28th as well, but I like this one because it’s close to the roller rink at Oaks Amusement Park.

7. Burgerville. At this 50s-themed, Portland-grown restaurant chain, antibiotic- and hormone-free beef goes into your burger, seasonal berries mix up your shake and native sweet potatoes transform your fries. The kids’ meals provide (upon request) apples instead of fries and milk instead of pop. The music-loaded jukebox is all the entertainment you’ll need, because the food arrives within a few minutes of ordering. Great in a pinch, with multiple locations throughout Portland and along I-5 North up to Centralia, Wash., and a solid alternative to Other National Fast Food Chains.

Friday night jam at Mississippi Pizza

8. Mississippi Pizza Pub. Mismatched furniture and  set the stage for fun at this community pizza joint. Always check the calendar before arriving — the pub’s offerings include live music shows for kids, kids’ spelling bees, and evening entertainment that starts at a family-friendly 6 p.m. With so much going on (particularly on weekends), there’s no excuse for skipping a set. Oh, and the pizza’s good too — your choice of whole-wheat, regular or gluten-free, plus lotsa toppings. Arrive during late afternoon, so you can walk through Mississippi’s busy, indie-biz neighborhood.

kid-friendly playroom at old wives tales restaurant in portland oregon

Playroom at Old Wives’ Tales

9. Old Wives’ Tales Restaurant. At Old Wives, kids are never an afterthought. This well-established restaurant offers playroom just for kids, a raucous, noisy affair where kids climb up, down and around a cutout featuring an underwater scene and a circus train. Of my listings here, Old Wives may offer the most options. Dozens of different items on the kids’ ala carte menu, including half a waffle or a turkey frank, so super-picky kids can have their pick.The food at Old Wives is very Cascadia granola. You know what I mean. Two words: carob mousse.

10. Laurelwood Brewing Company. I know. Another pub? It’s true, all we do in Cascadia is drink coffee and beer. With our kids playing in a kids’ play area. Don’t mess with success, baby. Laurelwood’s pubs offer a multiple-choice menu for adults and a small, low-walled play area for kids. The downside? All locations can become insanely busy with half-hour or 45-minute waits. The upside is that the Laurelwood NW Public House location is close to downtown and the Pearl, via a 10-minute ride on the cute Portland Streetcar. (As of publication, the NW location closed, but will be reopening in the spring of 2010).

Hmm. While writing this, I thought of 10 more. Guess I’ll have to save those for later.

Where do you like to dine in Portland, kids in tow?

Portland Family Vacation