We don’t have any mega-big-deal-amusement parks (read: Disney) here in Washington, Oregon or BC. No huge surprise, as we also lack the year-round pleasant weather. But we do have several options within easy driving distance of major cities, including water parks and kid-friendly amusement rides. The parks are all fairly inexpensive, at least when compared to airfare for four, lodging and ticket prices at mega-big-deal-amusement parks. It’s low-key fun, an easy getaway in pleasant weather. Note: Updated in December 2022. There used to be 9 amusement parks, but Dinotown has gone extinct, alas.
Amusement Parks in Oregon
1. Oaks Amusement Park. Portland, Oregon. One of the Pacific Northwest’s oldest operating amusement parks, Oaks Park pops with options: a year-round roller skating rink, big kid thrill rides, gentle toddler rides. I love this quaint amusement park, and grew up going here as a kid. Free admission, pay per ride. It’s well-shaded and nestled along the banks of a river, so you can take over-excited kids for a chill-out walk before hopping back into the car. A 15-minute drive from downtown Portland in the quaint Sellwood District.
2. Enchanted Forest Theme Park. Salem, Oregon. If you find yourself driving along Oregon’s I-5 this summer, check out this campy, cheesy and amusing park. Stand in a giant’s mouth, get mildly spooked in the Haunted House, take a stroll through Storybook Lane, Western Town or English Village. It’s the sort of amusement park you’d enjoy if you like old-school Paul Bunyan statues, Roadside America and other oddities still hanging around the Northwest like old moss. I’d; I’m not sure you would. But you should.
Bonus: Not quite a “theme park” but the Oregon Vortex (and House of Mystery) in Gold Hill, Oregon, likely inspired the popular DisneyXD animated kids’ show Gravity Falls.
Amusement Parks in Washington
3. Wild Waves: Theme & Water Park. Federal Way, Washington. In the summer, corkscrew-style slides deliver hordes of screaming kids. It’s not all wild, as the gentle wave pool welcomes younger children. Post-swim, visit the the Enchanted Park and drive bumper cars, ride the ferris wheel or discover your scream on a kiddie coaster. Big problem though: the food here is about what you’d expect, and you can’t bring in your own. Plan for a car picnic.
4. Great Wolf Lodge. Grand Mound, Washington. Located halfway between Portland and Seattle, this indoor waterpark offers raging river slides, family-friendly rooms (with bunk beds), a kids’ spa, and a magical wand that kids can use to play an interactive game throughout the building. A night’s stay allows you to come and go from the water as you please, but you can also now purchase a full or half-day pass. It’s sort of like an all-inclusive, right here in the Pacific Northwest.
5. Riverfront Park. Spokane, Washington. In Spokane, the 100-acre Riverfront Park offers: a SkyRide past waterfalls, vintage carousel, sculptural art and fountains kids can play in, a playground based on prehistoric floods, an accessible and inclusive playground, a skate ribbon, a garbage-eating metallic goat, a ginormous red wagon, and an IMAX theatre. Riverfront has undergone massive updates in the past few years and definitely worth a day. Whew. I’m tired from just listing the options. Worth a weekend’s exploration.
6. Slidewaters. Lake Chelan, Washington. It’s almost always dependably sunny and hot on Washington’s Eastside so there will never be an excuse for skipping the eight slides. At Slidewaters, the new Purple Haze ride slips you through 420 feet of disorienting darkness. As a parent, you’ll probably prefer the hot tub and cool pool. Wear sunscreen, because the sun’s rays are a bit sneaky—I still have weird skin from my Chelan burns in 8th grade.
Amusement Parks in British Columbia
7. Playland at the PNE. Vancouver, BC. Like a county fair in the big city, all summer long. This amusement park is about a 15-20 minute drive from downtown Vancouver, and worth the cost with elementary-age kids or middle schoolers. But even my son (then 2) found plenty of just-ride rides among the selection of over 20 options. Cool big-kid rides: The wooden roller coaster and the “Hellevator.” Bring sunscreen or go during evening hours (like we did); buy the pass for hours of fun. Summer only.
8. Cultus Lake Adventure Park. Cultus Lake, BC. One of the newest parks on our list, opened in 2014 (most of the other amusement parks on our list are many-decades old). In British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, about 80 km (50 miles) east of Vancouver, the weather dries out, much like Oregon and Washington’s “dry sides.” So as early as spring, this amusement park opens for visitors. It’s small, with just one roller coaster, but plenty of family-friendly rides for kids of all ages along with minigolf and a nearby water park.
Did I miss an awesome waterpark, theme park or fabulous fun center? Let me know.