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

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

Eastern Oregon Road Trip with Kids, Stop by Stop:

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

Country Flowers; Powell's in Oregon

Country Flowers; Powell’s in Oregon

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

Kid-friendly Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

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

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

 

Digging for fossils with kids in Fossil

Digging for fossils with kids in Fossil

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

Oregon Public Lands Institute with Kids

Oregon Public Lands Institute with Kids

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

Clarno Unit with Kids

Clarno Unit with Kids

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

Shaniko Ghost Town with Kids

Shaniko Ghost Town

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

Oregon Coast Road Trip with Kids

Oregon Coast Road Trip with Kids

Just south of the busy tourist towns of Cannon Beach and Seaside is the 40-mile, quieter Three Capes Drive, which has a few haystack rocks of its own. From north to south, you’ll follow the gentle C shape from Tillamook to Pacific City. This coastal drive — rich in over 2,500 acres of warm-sand beaches, dramatic cliffs, dunes dotted with evergreens and coastal rainforest – encourages you to slow down, smell the sea air and unwind. Here’s an all-day itinerary for enjoyment:

10 a.mOregon Coast Road Trip 1: Tillamook Cheese Factory with Kids, Oregon

The town of Tillamook acts as a road-trip gateway to the coast, tying Highway 6 from Portland to the Oregon Coast’s Highway 101 (Portland is about 90 minutes away). A quick 30-minute self-guided tour on at the Tillamook Cheese Factory reveals quirky facts. For example: Why is the Oregon Coast a great place to make cheese? Facts are always best served with samples and treats, so try the facility’s complimentary samples and pick up a picnic lunch for later.

Tillamook Factory Signs

Tillamook Factory Mad Men-Era Ads

11 a.m. Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 2: Cape Meares Scenic Viewpoint 

Just 8 miles from Tillamook and over 200 feet above the ocean, Cape Meares Scenic Viewpoint offers ocean-view housing on a bluff – to the largest colony of common murres south of Alaska. From the parking lot, walk a paved .2 mile down to the 1890s-era lighthouse and watch for migrating grey whales (nearly 18,000 pass Oregon’s shores annually), puffins, seals and Stellar sea lions. Kids will love running the paths guarded by giant evergreens — and don’t miss the “Octopus Tree,” a 250+ year-old sitka spruce shaped by time and wind into a many-trunked fascination. Read more about the Octopus Tree so you sound like an expert to the kids.

Octopus Tree Oregon Coast

Octopus Tree

12 p.m.  Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 3: Oceanside

From Cape Meares, take Bayshore Drive south and pop into Oceanside’s heart-stopping idea of real estate. Oceanside’s vacation community steps up the face of sheer cliffs, rewarding inhabitants with incredible views of the offshore Three Arch Rocks Refuge, the oldest National Wildlife Refuge west of the Mississippi, where over a quarter-million nesting birds land annually. Grab a latte at local coffeeshop Brewin’ in the Wind, dig your toes into Oceansides’s sliver of sand and marvel over the gravity-defying habitats surrounding you. I would really like to stay here someday.

1 p.m.  Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 4: Cape Lookout State Park

Stop at the 700-foot Cape Lookout State Park for a hike and picnic lunch. Set right in a lush coastal rainforest, the cathedral-like setting also acts as a sanctuary for deer, elk and yes, even a bear or two (hide the roast beef sandwiches). Get back in the car and move south along the two-lane Cape Lookout Road past glossy salal, stout firs and twisted spruces blanketing eastern hills. Blackberries brambles offer juicy gems in summer, a roadside snack that one-ups store-bought candy. To the west, waves fall like dominoes on sandy, quiet beaches.

2 p.m.  Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 5: Whalen Island

The Clay Meyers State Natural Area at Whalen Island‘s gentle contours are the perfect setting for a post-picnic hike with the kids after a long day on the road. It’s an easy loop hike, about a mile and half long through a variety of Oregon Coast land, from mudflats to dunes. Read more about the Whalen Island hike at the Portland Hikers Field Guide.

4 p.m.  Oregon Coast Road Trip Stop 6: Pacific City

Spend the night in Pacific City’s beachfront community, the southern entrance to the Three Capes drive and home to Cape Kiwanda and the Pacific dory fleet. Pacific City is similar to Cannon Beach, right down to the signature haystack rock and sandy coastline — but it doesn’t have the shops or crowds. It’s like Cannon Beach’s shy Oregon Coast sister.

Surfing, shopping and sunsets are all here in Pacific City. Put down the car keys and pick up a micro-brew at Pelican Pub and Brewery. The brewery offers a sophisticated kids menu (grilled salmon is an option),  and the staff brings a packet of goldfish crackers ASAP after you order a kids’ meal, a godsend for starving kids and anxious parents. After the meal, sit on the pub’s back deck, immerse yourself in the salt air and let the craggy-faced haystack rock offshore hypnotize you as the kids play in the sand.

Pelican Pub: Oregon Coast with Kids

View from the Pelican Pub outdoor patio

You can walk from the pub to the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, where every room has an ocean view. However, be aware that the hotel’s rooms are right above the road. Although I was anxious about reviews that disparaged road noise, I really enjoyed this hotel.  The Inn kindly rents DVDs from a complimentary library with many family options, a board game library and a hunt through the hotel’s trinket “toy chest.” Other cool benefits of staying here: Free chocolates, manager’s reception on Friday nights (cheese, wine, etc.), free coffee for mom and dad, and nice family-sized vacation packages.

If you need lots of room or are staying multi-generational, you might look into the vacation rentals that dot the Oregon Coast; VRBO or Google some options.

Inn at Cape Kiwanda: Kid-friendly Oregon Coast Hotel

Inn at Cape Kiwanda: Kid-friendly Oregon Coast Hotel

For breakfast, head to Grateful Bread Bakery and order the Gingerbread Pancakes. Do it for me…and tell me how you liked them!

From here, it’s about two hours back to Portland, without traffic. Not as beautiful of a road trip, but you’ll have your memories, right?


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

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

Harrison Hot Springs Resort outdoor pool.

Harrison Hot Springs Resort outdoor pool.

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

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

The pools at Harrison Hot Springs:

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

Outdoor pools at Harrison Hot Springs

Rainy day at Harrison Hot Springs Resort

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

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

Rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

Inside Harrison Hot Springs Pools

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

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

Rooms at Harrison Hot Springs:

Family-friendly rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

East Tower rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

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

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

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

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

Eating at Harrison Hot Springs:

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

Lakeside cafe kid-friendly restaurant in Harrison Hot Springs

Getting served at the Lakeside Cafe

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

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

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

Kids at Harrison Hot Springs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Activities in Harrison Hot Springs:

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

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

Long Family Camping Trips in Washington State

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

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

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

Camping with Kids at Cape Disappointment in Washington State

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. What’s your favorite type of campsite?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deception Pass State Park with Kids

Swimming at Deception Pass State Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Columbia River Gorge Camping with Kids

Jumping into the Columbia River Gorge

7. Any favorite camping foods?

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

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

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

Jenni Pertuset and Meg

Jenni and Meg

Thanks, Jenni & Meg!

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

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BC Okanagan with Kids: Camping, Parks, Restaurants & More

Jennifer Kossowan is a mom to a 2.5-year old daughter, blogs at her delightful site Mama. Papa. Bubba and lives in Vancouver. But both she and her husband grew up in the Okanagan, part of BC’s sunny central interior that offers warmth and long, lazy summer days. Where would Jennifer send a friend who’s visiting the Okanagan for the first time. She’s most familiar with the Vernon-Lumby-Winfield-Kelowna area, so that’s what we’re covering here.

Family at Echo Lake Fishing Resort

Kossowan with her daughter at Echo Lake Fishing Resort

1. What’s your favorite Okanagan destination with kids?

It’s hard to choose as there are so many wonderful places to visit with children in the Okanagan. That being said, if I had to pick just one it would be Davison Orchards Country Village, near Vernon, BC. It’s been a favourite of mine since I was a girl, and with each year, it gets better and better. On top of being able to pick your own produce (or buy it pre-picked in the market), the orchard includes a small kid’s playground with horse-shaped tire swings, a large grassy knoll perfect for picnicking, hourly tractor tours, a café serving delicious homemade food, a petting zoo that includes chickens, goats, bunnies, sheep, and a donkey.

Family at Davison Orchards

In the Crazy Cow Corral

Even more enticing than all of that though, is the Crazy Cow Kid’s Corral, a huge play enclosure that includes a ride-on tractor track, rubber duck races, giant slides, a tree house, corn bins to play in, a mini golf course, and a huge sandbox, complete with vintage truck and tractor. When you visit, be prepared to stay for the better part of the day – the kids will love it that much.

2. What are some of your favorite Okanagan parks and things to do with kids and why do you like those spots?

Visiting some of the plentiful parks and beaches is an absolute must when visiting the Okanagan with kids. Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park and Ellison Provincial Park, both located in Vernon, are wonderful for biking, hiking, and swimming adventures, while Kal Beach (Vernon), Skaha Beach (Penticton), Hot Sands Beach (Kelowna), Paddlewheel Park (Vernon), and Canoe Beach (Shuswap) offer an array of swimming areas, playgrounds, water parks, and water sports rentals.

Other than beaches and parks, the Okanagan has several really unique spots geared towards families. One of our favourites is Rawhide Ridge Ranch, a working ranch run by passionate owners and filled with wild animals – buffalo, turkeys, and zebras included! Also on the unique animal front, Kangaroo Creek Farm in Kelowna offers the opportunity to learn about and interact with kangaroos and wallabies in a completely non-commercial setting.

Another great spot is the Enchanted Forest. Situated in a gorgeous old growth forest in the Monashee mountains between Revelstoke and Sicamous, the forest is a world of fantasy brought to life. If you’re looking for a little more adventure, Atlantis Waterslides in Vernon is the place to go. With kiddie slides, a popular river riot ride, large hot tub, and slides of all sizes, there’s fun for all ages.

Okanagan splash park

Playing in the splash park at Polson

Lastly, Polson Park, also located in Vernon, is not to be missed. Home to a floral clock, beautiful gardens, duck ponds, a lawn bowling club, a space and science centre, plus a skate park, water park, and children’s playground, you can definitely make a day of your visit.

3. Do you have any favorite restaurants to go with your child in Okanagan?

Though we don’t eat out a whole lot, Friesen’s Country Tyme Gardens in Vernon would definitely be somewhere I’d recommend taking the kids. With hearty, homemade food reminiscent of Baba’s cooking and lots of outdoor seating, wee ones can take in the fresh air and enjoy a delicious meal all at once.

4. Can you recommend any preferred family-friendly hotels or rentawhls? If someone were visiting the Okanagan for the first time, where would you suggest that they stay?

Though it can be a bit of a splurge in the summer months, staying at Lake Okanagan Resort is an Okanagan adventure in itself. Rentals range from studio apartments to 3-bedroom suites, and include gorgeous balcony views and kitchen facilities, which is very convenient when travelling with kids. The resort includes a spa, golf course, multiple pools, various courts, a kid’s playground, an interpretive trail system, horseback riding, and summer kid’s programs, so mom, dad, and the munchkins are sure to be happy.

Echo Lake Fishing Resort a place to stay with kids

Echo Lake Fishing Resort

If you prefer the complete opposite – something small, quiet, inexpensive, very outdoorsy, and not at all commercial, we really enjoy staying at the Echo Lake Fishing Resort. Located outside of Lumby, Echo Lake Fishing Resort has seven small, rustic cabins that line the lake. The cabins come equipped with electricity, propane-operated fireplaces, kitchenettes, cold running water indoors; there are personal outhouses, fire pits, and wharfs outdoors. A small kid’s playground is onsite, along with endless nature to observe and inexpensive boats for rent, which makes for a serene family getaway.

5. Any favorite hikes or camping spots in the Okanagan?

Ellison Provincial Park in Vernon, mentioned before for its beaches and hiking and biking trails, is a very family-friendly spot to camp. In addition to a playground that is almost always filled with kids, it boasts a huge waterfront picnic area, a volleyball court, and designated swimming areas. Haynes Point Provincial Park, located on Osoyoos Lake, is very popular and sometimes difficult to get into, but most would say the ultra warm water is worth the fight. The combination of warm water, lakefront sites, and it being in Canada’s only desert area makes for a special experience.

Also on the popular but worth the effort to get into list is Shuswap Lake Provincial Park. It offers hiking and biking trails, great scuba diving experiences, a large adventure playground and big grassy knoll, as well as horseback riding, parasailing, bumper boats, go carts, and water sports rentals very nearby. The last one is actually a campsite I’ve yet to visit, but always hear great things about. Cedars Campground, just east of Sicamous and the Shuswaps, is known for its river setting, indoor pool, jacuzzi, and elaborate playgrounds.

6. Any toy stores, clothing stores or small-biz shout-outs — somewhere to pick up a new plaything while staying in the Okanagan?

I’m probably a little biased towards Vernon businesses, as that’s where we spend the majority of our time when in the Okanagan, but Vernon Teach & Learn on Main Street is an amazing store that started out small and has grown into a one stop shop for teacher resources, quality children’s toys, and unique learning materials. It also includes a cute ice cream and sweets shop now too! Equally awesome is Chicken Little, a barn-shaped store on 29th street. It’s the best place to buy children’s clothes, baby basics, and innovative kid’s items that aren’t carried anywhere else in the city. They also have a small but wonderful consignment section, and great end of season sales.

Thanks so much, Jennifer! Readers, where does your family eat, stay and play when visiting the Okanagan? Please leave a comment.

12 Family Hotels That Offer a Free Breakfast

Okay, even if you don’t looooove chain hotels, you gotta admit — the free breakfast is awesome. Even if it’s just a bowl of cereal or a pastry and orange juice, that’s one meal out of the way. You can avoid  taking your gang of ravenous, borderline-manic children into a Denny’s or breakfast diner (hmm, or is it just me with that problem?).

Hanna Pauli

Your breakfast will not look like this. “Breakfast- Time” painting by Hanna Pauli.

I created this list of free breakfast-serving hotels in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Some of these are not just fine, but great — you’ll get a hot meal, a cooked-to-order breakfast omelet or an evening reception. Not bad at all. Many chain hotels also provide indoor pools (preferable in our always-undependable climate)  so the kids won’t mind if there’s not much of a personal touch. Free breakfast and a pool — I’m ready to go now.

Caveats: Check with the specific property you’re booking to make sure that they are offering breakfast. Always, always check.

1. Staybridge Hotels. These hotels offer a hot buffet breakfast, including fresh waffles. Evening receptions as well, Tuesdays through Thursdays. See the lists of Staybridge Oregon hotels, Washington hotels and BC hotels.

2. Embassy Suites. Free breakfast might include a cooked-to-order omelet, bacon, eggs, breakfast potatoes and pastries. Also, an evening reception (with wine!). Most locations are clustered in the Puget Sound and Portland. Also in the Hilton family: DoubleTree sometimes offers a continental breakfast. The roomy Homewood Suites provides a full, hot breakfast like Embassy Suites — along with a weeknight free manager’s reception featuring dinner items. Most are in the Puget Sound, Vancouver/Portland metro and in Medford, Oregon. Oh, and 15% off for active and retired military service members.

3.  Comfort Inns. The common Comfort Inns now advertise a free hot breakfast, including eggs, sausage, waffles and fresh fruit. Many locations in Oregon, Washington and Canada.

4. Oxford Suites. This contemporary-focused hotel chain has a free buffet breakfast and many also offer family rooms. Locations on the Oxford Suites map ? Six hotels in Oregon, six hotels in Washington State — stretching from Klamath Falls, Oregon to Silverdale, Washington.

5. Hampton Inns. While not so common throughout our area, Hampton Inns have a free hot breakfast served daily, with fresh waffles and oatmeal. If you’re in a hurry, the “On the Run Breakfast Bag” gives you the basics: apple, cereal bar, muffin, water. Check the map in this Hampton Inns link to find two in Oregon (Salem and Astoria), two in BC (Vancouver and Surrey) and more in Washington. I’ve stayed at the one in Burlington, and found it just fine, with easy access into the North Cascades.

6. Ramada Limited, Super 8, Travelodge. The Wyndham family offers free continental breakfast at many of the budget properties, including Ramada Limited, Super 8, and Travelodge.  I’ve stayed at Super 8s a few times; not my first choice, but it might be yours. See this listing of BC Ramada properties and use the Ramada map for Oregon and Washington free-breakfast hotels.

7. Holiday Inn Express. This hotel chain isn’t skimping on the free hot breakfast bar; here you’ll find cheese omelets, bacon and sausage, biscuits and gravy, cinnamon rolls, an assortment of cereals and pancakes at a few locations. View the British Columbia Holiday Inn locations, Washington State hotel and Oregon hotels.

8. Best Western Plus. Best Western Plus provides a free breakfast at the PLUS locations (and even then, I would call and make sure — also, some non-plus locations will offer breakfast too.). Here are locations for Best Western in Oregon, Best Western in BC and Best Western in Washington.

9. Days Inn. Pick up a complimentary breakfast at “participating locations,” Days Inn says. Which means you should double-check, but you’ll probably find the juice and pastries out at Oregon Days Inns and Washington State Days Inns. More than 108 Days Inn hotels dot British Columbia.

10. La Quinta Inns and La Quinta Inns and SuitesLa Quinta Inns and La Quinta Inns and Suites serve up a continental breakfast. These properties are mostly found in Washington and Oregon, with just one in Richmond, BC.

11. Country Inn and Suites says that their free breakfast choices vary, but could include waffles, scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, hard-boiled eggs and biscuits and gravy. Nom. Unfortunately, there aren’t many in the Pacific Northwest —  one near Puyallup, one in Portland, none in BC.

12. Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn and Suites, Springhill Suites and TownePlace Suites. Several of the Marriott family of hotels offer free breakfast (hot and continental), including the Residence, Fairfield, Springhill and TownePlace. Only a handful in BC (a Fairfield in Kelowna, a Residence Inn with free breakfast in Vancouver), but there are many free breakfast buffets in the Washington hotels and in Oregon hotels.

Whidbey Island with Kids: Activities, Restaurants and More!

Taking the kids to Washington State’s Whidbey Island for spring break, a summer vacation or day trip? We spoke with Deb Crager, author of 101 Things to Do on Whidbey Island, for her suggestions on what to do on this beautiful 35-mile-long island, an easy day trip from Seattle (it’s only 30 miles north of Seattle), or weekend getaway from British Columbia or North Washington.

Why is Whidbey Island a great destination for a family vacation?

I think there are plenty of things to do for all ages. Being out on the water in a boat, or watching the tankers make their way through the sound, or hiking in the outdoors is always a great way to tire kids out! Environment is very important to the residents of Whidbey, so the water is clean, the beaches are clean. The people are so friendly, you can feel safe bringing your children here.

What kinds of things can you do with younger kids on Whidbey Island?

The libraries on Whidbey Island have many things for the kids to do, including storytimes and craft projects.  Even if the structured events don’t appeal to the kids or you, walking on the beach, collecting the rocks and shells is a timeless hobby.

In February, the Mystery Weekend in Langley always has whole families taking the challenge and it seems to keep them going for two days straight! During other times of the year, there is a Fishing Derby for the young kids, a Driftwood Day (a contest to build a themed structure with only driftwood found on the beach), and a contest to build the largest pumpkin at the Coupeville Farmer’s Market in October.

Can you recommend any hiking spots for kids on Whidbey Island?

It’s pretty rugged, although there is a flat one near Sunnyside Cemetery (Lora’s note: This area is called “one of the prettiest areas on the Pacific Northwest”), and Deception Pass has a short one that’s pretty stable near the bottom (Lora: here’s a map of Deception Pass State Park, including hiking trails) Lots of beaches to roam along though, such as Maxwelton Beach and in the campgrounds at Libbey Road in Fort Casey Park.

Fort Casey, a fun thing to do with kids on Whidbey Island

Fort Casey, Whidbey Island

Do you have any favorite family Whidbey Island beaches?

The best beach for kids is Double Bluff Beach in South Whidbey Island. It’s got the gentle open water—with a good view of Mt. Rainier—but also has a small “kiddie” pool, where the water comes up and pools within a small area. The water gets pretty warm there because it’s shallow too. Another place might be Cranberry Lake, which is within Deception Pass Park and completely enclosed, there might even be a lifeguard, but I’m not sure. They also have a place to rent paddleboats and canoes, so I know the older kids like it there too. Lora’s Note: Here’s a great map of family-friendly beaches on Whidbey Island, from the Whidbey-Camano Islands Visitor Bureau. 

What kinds of things can big kids do on Whidbey Island?

Occasionally, there are events for the pre-teens to get together to dance or mingle, usually in Bayview. Other things that might interest that age range are at the Whidbey Highland Games, where the contests with riding and music may interest them. There is a fenced in area that has children’s activities, including jumping platforms, or those with plastic balls. The Coupeville Arts & Crafts Festival in July offers a pirate ship and stations where the young artists can show their stuff!

Fishing can be done right from the shore, and paddleboards are often seen in the quieter areas around the island. The Polar Bear Dive might be good for the older kids, there are lots of families that do it every year, and it’s a good fund raiser for the 4-H groups here on the island.

Which Whidbey Island activities are great for teens?

Again, I think the dances offer some options for meeting other teens, and many teens enjoy going to the fair to see the others, the animals, ride on the amusement rides, basically just hang out! Occasionally, there are art classes that are only for this age range, or they can blow glass at Callahan’s Firehouse in Langley. The state park at Deception Pass also has classes and a learning center where they sometimes have classes. Hiking would be great too. Up at Deception Pass during the summer, you can rent paddleboats or canoes and spend some time paddling around the cove there.

Deception Pass: A fun family activity on Whidbey Island

Deception Pass: A fun family activity on Whidbey Island

Do you have a favorite family-friendly restaurant on Whidbey Island?

While all the restaurant accept children, the menu may not be as accommodating as it is for adults. The kids do like the Pizza Factory, there is one in Coupeville and one in Oak Harbor, where there are video games too. Some of the sandwich shops on Coupeville’s Front Street are nice for kids too because they have some control over what they eat and can still be on the water. (Lora’s Note: Knead ‘n’ Feed gets good reviews)

Knead 'n' Feed, a good family restaurant on Whidbey Island

Knead ‘n’ Feed, a good family restaurant on Whidbey Island

Whidbey Island is an island that offers so much, every day, every month. There are events every weekend that cover the range of environmental issues to historical events, to art events. There is a lot of topics to choose from, and most of what happens takes place because of volunteers, the great Whidbey residents will make it happen.

Enter to win a copy of 101 Things to Do on Whidbey Island by leaving a comment below by Friday, March 22. Winner will be selected at random and notified by e-mail. 

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.

BC’s New Family Friendly Holiday

British Columbia has a new holiday that celebrates families. “Family Day” will occur on the second Monday of February, starting this year (2013).

Here’s a quick round up of events that will happen next Monday throughout BC, including street entertainment and face painting in Vancouver, all-ages concerts in Victoria and free skating in Nanaimo.

Family activities such as skiing and snowboarding on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, sleigh rides, snowmobile tours, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, ziplining and ice skating are always on the menu at Whistler and on Family Day, many local activity operators are offering discounts on these experiences.

Whistler Blackcomb is offering half-price lift tickets to B.C. residents on Monday, February 11 and including a free drop-in craft station at Millennium Place, kids’ yoga jam at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre and Park Rider Ski and Snowboard Sessions.

The Whistler Museum is offering entry by donation on February 11 while the Meadow Park Sports Centre (my favorite! I love the kids’ pool) is offering family drop-in rates at half the regular price. The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre is offering discounted family admission passes February 9 and 10.

Now this sounds like a holiday we could all enjoy (hint, hint Washington & Oregon legislators).

Last-Minute Kid-friendly Winter Escapes in Washington & Oregon

It’s not too late to go somewhere for winter vacation. Here’s a quick rundown (and a few opinions) on Destination Resorts’ getaway options in our area.

SUNRIVER RESORT

Web: Sunriver Resort

Location: Central Oregon

Phone: 541-593-1000

Sunriver Resort is my favorite property in our region. This winter, Sunriver is offering over 100 workshops, camps and childcare options through “Traditions.” Among the offerings: sleigh rides, snowshoe and caving tours, magic shows and Fort Funnigan (both of my kids gave the Fort their approval). I love the new indoor pool, generously sized condos, solid dining options and all the great options in Bend. It’s close to Mt. Bachelor, too, for the fresh-powder fans.

Sample rate: $189 for a lodge room. I recommend a vacation rental (usually the same price or less) when staying here; the kitchens make a huge difference in a pleasant family vacation. But the website doesn’t always work well (it was nonfunctional, this morning, for example)– call to get exactly what you want. Sunriver’s knowledgeable reservation agents are great.

 

SKAMANIA LODGE

Web: Skamania Lodge

Location: Southwest Washington

Phone: 800-221-7117

In the Columbia Gorge (and only about 45 minutes east of Portland), the Skamania Lodge offers Elf Story Time through December 29, along with s’more roasting and wine tasting (only for grown-ups). Check the event calendar for more information. There’s a page on “family offers” but honestly, nothing seems all that family-friendly, so I’d just stick with a rack rate unless you’re planning to eat in the restaurant (which is quite good).

Sample rate: $174

 

SUNCADIA RESORT

Location: Central Washington

Web: Suncadia Resort

Phone: 509-649-6400

Located about 90 minutes east of Seattle, Suncadia Resort has two popular waterslides, an indoor pool and outdoor sports galore (rope-tow sled hill, ice skating, cross-country skiing, and more) and s’mores by the fireplace. Campcadia offers childcare (so you can relax in your room with a good book, get a spa treatment or go out on a cross-country excursion). Check the current schedule for more information. The bad news: this place is quite sold out, and rooms that remain aren’t cheap. Activities are extra.

Sample rate: $349


RED LION HOTEL ON FIFTH AVENUE

Location: Seattle

Web: Red Lion Hotel on Fifth Avenue

Phone: 206-971-8000

Maybe you just want to enjoy the big city’s pleasures, kids in tow. The Seattle Family Vacation Package includes an overnight stay, welcome bag with bottled water and snacks, a “Red the Lion” plushy, tix to the Woodland Park Zoo, overnight parking AND a $50 Chevron gas card. Not bad. I haven’t stayed here or visited the property yet, so if you end up going, e-mail me and let me know what you think. Here’s a quick link to the Tripadvisor reviews.

Sample Rate: $159