Thinking about our travels through Washington and Oregon several years ago brings back so many special family memories. It was an area of the country my husband and I were eager to explore, even though it was not considered a hot vacation destination from the DC area. I planned an 1,800 mile loop from Seattle that was balanced between National Parks, big cities and small town attractions, with extra days spent in Seattle and Portland. It was easy to find awesome attractions that were unique to this part of the country, along with special activities that I knew would appeal to my kids. Here are 10 favorites in Washington and Oregon that are perfect for teens and tweens.
1. Explore the EMP Museum. Seattle has many fun activities for older kids, like the Space Needle and Bill Speidel’s Underground Tours, but one of our favorites was the EMP Museum. It combines music and science fiction into a one of a kind pop culture experience. The Guitar Gallery and the Sound Lab are filled with hands-on activities, along with a soundproof Jam Studio where my entire family was able to jam out just like our favorite rock stars. The most current exhibit, Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction, invites visitors into an alien spacecraft to view over 150 objects from the world of television and film. The museum is included in the Seattle CityPASS booklet.
2. Bike Ride across San Juan Island. Take a ferry to the San Juan Islands, then explore the island by bike. Island Bicycles will get you set up and on the road in no time. I would say that San Juan Island was pretty hilly, but the reward of seeing the beautiful Pacific Ocean when we crested that final hill was so worth it. We followed the map from Friday Harbor to Lime Kiln State Park, but there are several other routes that can be taken. Lopez Island might be a better option if you are looking for a slightly less hilly bike ride.
3. Follow the Twilight Tour in Forks. The movie series Twilight was at the height of its popularity when we traveled to the Pacific Northwest. So when we rolled into the tiny town of Forks, Washington, we were all excited to visit the hometown of those famous vampires and werewolves. It was pretty easy to find many Twilight related places on our own, but you can also consider taking one of the many tours, such as Twilight Tours by Team Forks. Don’t forget to visit the town of La Push just down the road. Just know that there are Twilight filming locations throughout Washington and Oregon (we stopped at many of those later in our trip).
4. Stroll Through a Rain Forest. It’s not often you get a chance to visit a rainforest in the US, so be sure to take a hike through the Hoh Rain Forest in beautiful Olympic National Park. The Spruce Nature Trail is an easy 1.2 mile loop through the forest. Walking the trail with a park ranger is often a good option with kids.
5. Explore the Tide Pools Along the Coast. Seeing hundreds of starfish clinging to the rocks is an amazing sight, especially for those of us who are used to sandy, east coast beaches. Ruby Beach and Second Beach in Olympic National Park are some of the top spots along the coast. Down the Oregon coast in Bandon, we found amazing tide pools while staying at the Bandon Beach Motel. The most important thing to remember for any of the beach areas is to know the tide schedule, as the change in water levels from low to high tide can be quite dramatic.
6. Cruise the Sand Dunes. Kids love adventure, so when we decided to go riding in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, we opted to go with the expert driver who knew how to maneuver a sand buggy without getting stuck. After putting on helmets and goggles, the driver took off straight up a hill, and the adventure began. After a half hour of twists and turns and flying over hills, I was ready to shake the sand out of my clothes and let my stomach settle. Without a well protected camera there were not many photo opportunities, but you can watch this video on the Sandland Adventure website to get a better sense of what it was like.
7. Ride in a Jet Boat on the Rogue River. This adventure is perfect for a hot summer day! If you have never been on a jet boat, head to Hellgate Jetboat Excursions on the Rogue River near Grants Pass, Oregon. You can choose from a scenic 2 hour ride, or take a longer excursion, stopping for lunch or dinner at the OK Corral. Travel through scenic Hellgate Canyon skimming across the top of the river while enjoying the majestic scenery. Whatever adventure you choose, be prepared to get wet when the boat drivers start showing off!
8. Visit the Oregon Vortex and the House of Mystery. This was one of those places that I was a bit skeptical about, so I decided to stop and see the infamous House of Mystery for myself. It didn’t hurt that it was right on the way to Crater Lake National Park. Weird things happen here, like balls rolling uphill, and people looking shorter than they really are, so it’s a really cool place for kids. I must admit I did feel a bit off kilter when we left after our tour, but it was a fun roadside attraction.
9. Swim in a Lake Formed from a Collapsed Volcano. It’s hard to describe the feeling when you first set eyes upon the deep blue waters at Crater Lake National Park. It’s amazing to me that the park did not even make the top 100 National Parks in 2014, because in my opinion, the view of the lake alone is just breathtaking. There is only one way down to the tantalizing blue waters, and that’s the steep path to Cleetwood Cove. Once there, you can dip your feet in the frigid waters, or take the Park Service boat tour. Although it's not encouraged by the park service, you can usually find people jumping off the rocks into the deep water. Either way, it’s an opportunity to swim in a collapsed volcano that won’t come along very often.
10. Eat Lunch at a Haunted Pizza Parlor. Make a visit to Old Town PIzza in downtown Portland. Sitting on the site once occupied by the Merchant Hotel, and on top of the infamous “Shanghai Tunnels,” this pizza parlor has been visited by many searching for the ghost of Nina. I have to admit that I found myself looking over my shoulder on the way down the hallway to the restroom. If you are feeling really adventurous, you can try one of the highly rated Portland Walking Tours, like Underground Portland and Beyond Bizarre. Kids are allowed but some late night tours may be restricted to those 18 and older.