Awesome Things to Do in Oregon with Kids

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A creek splashes through a lush, green forest, one of the things to do in oregon with kids.
Oregon Forest. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

On the west coast of Oregon, Multnomah Falls, the Columbia River Gorge, a stunning coast and foggy forests dominate the landscape. Travel east and the lush green terrain gives way to red rocks and scenes straight from a wild west movie set. Oregon’s diversity coupled with the state’s mix of cities and charming small towns make it an ideal destination for your family vacation. Let’s explore!

View of Portland, one of the things to do in oregon with kids.
Portland, Oregon. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

The Many Faces of Portland

Divided into north and south by Burnside Street and into east and west by the Willamette River, Portland residents refer to the city’s north, northeast, northwest, south, southeast and southwest as quadrants. With 90 distinct neighborhoods, Portland, Oregon delivers a multitude of experiences.

From the repurposed Victorian homes of Nob Hill to the chic Pearl District featuring cultural institutions and stylish shops on cobbled streets to Belmont in the southeast quadrant filled with indie shops and numerous food carts exploring this northwest city is entertaining at every turn. The city also offers plenty of attractions to entertain everyone in the family.

Must-see attractions include Powell’s City of Books which spans an entire city block. Founded in 1971, Powell’s offers new and used books and has its own art gallery and coffee shop. Founded in 2003, Voodoo Doughnut introduced the gourmet doughnut category. These enterprising folks brought flavors like the Bacon Maple Bar, Memphis Mafia and The Cannolo to the doughnut scene. Over the years Voodoo Doughnuts has expanded in locations and flavors now featuring 50 artisan flavors including 25 vegan options.

Customer browses the shelves at Powell's City of Books in Portland, one of the things to do in oregon with kids.
Powell’s City of Books. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

For an educational and family-friendly experience, spend some time exploring the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. In the Turbine Hall kids explore concepts of chemistry, music and physics through interactive exhibits. The museum’s Science Playground offers full-body experimentation and building. A favorite with younger kiddos, the water station provides plenty of hands-on fun. The museum also features an on-site theater showing science-based documentaries.

The Witches House in Forest Park is one of the things to do in oregon with kids.
Witches House in Forest Park. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Experience an Urban Hike in Forest Park

Located within the city of Portland, Forest Park feels miles away. As one of the largest urban parks in the US, Forest Park features more than 30 miles of hiking trails. If you’re in Oregon with kids, follow the wildwood trail which leads to an old stone house known as the witch’s castle.  Keep an eye out for wildlife including owls which are often spotted in the area. The free park also features overlooks with panoramic views of Portland.

Conclude your hike in Washington Park with a visit to the Portland International Rose Test Garden. The oldest official continuously operated public rose test garden in the country, the garden features more than 10,000 roses. Now you know why Portland is known as the city of roses!

More Family Fun Awaits at the Oregon Zoo

One of Portland’s most popular family-friendly attractions, the Oregon Zoo harbors over 2600 animals and birds from 215 species. Features include areas for rhinos, primate habitats, and an elephant enclosure. The oldest zoo west of the Mississippi, it’s located minutes from downtown Portland via MAX light rail in Washington Park.

Family Fun at Oaks Amusement Park

Amusement park fans will enjoy a visit to Oaks Amusement Park just outside of Portland. Boasting over 24 rides, Oaks Amusement Park has been serving up thrills and entertainment for more than a century. Some of the most popular rides include Zero Gravity, AtmosFEAR, and Adrenaline Peak roller coasters.

For more kid-friendly activities popular with the little ones, Oaks Amusement Park features a vintage carousel dating back to 1911, Jump Boats, an Oak Park Train and a Ferris Wheel with stellar views of downtown Portland. Older kids enjoy the park’s escape room, roller rinks and minigolf.

Make a Splash at North Clackamas Aquatic Park

About 10 miles south of Portland, fun for the whole family awaits at the North Clackamas Aquatic Park. The water park features over 400,000 gallons of water attractions including the largest wave pool in Oregon, water slides, age specific areas and a 29-foot rock climbing wall to keep the kids entertained.

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Just 30 miles east of downtown Portland, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area features a deep canyon forged by the Columbia River. For outdoor adventure in the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia River Gorge is hard to beat. Home to beautiful waterfalls and awe-inspiring vistas, the Columbia River Gorge is ideal for day hikes, mountain biking, fishing and camping.

Famous for kiteboarding and windsurfing, the Columbia River Gorge attracts both world champions and beginners who test the waters in an enclosed lagoon known as “The Hook.” If your family’s up for the adventure, outfitters in Hood River offer lessons and equipment rentals.

Kayaks and paddleboards are also available.

Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Multnomah Falls. At 620 feet, Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Oregon. The dramatic two-tiered cascade attracts two million visitors annually. An attraction for everyone, Multnomah Falls features wheelchair-accessible viewing platforms along with steep hiking trails that lead to the top of the falls.

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach is one of the things to do in oregon with kids.
Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Discover Cannon Beach

Along Oregon’s coastline, you’ll find numerous beach towns offering a variety of experiences for beach lovers. From lighthouses to tide pools teaming with unusual sea creatures to the famous Haystack Rock, Oregon’s Beaches provide an intriguing getaway for family fun.

You may recognize Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock from the big screen. Cannon Beach is where Twilight, The Goonies and Point Break were filmed.

While you’re there, book a stay at Surfsand Resort in Cannon Beach. The resort provides free movie rentals, including Goonies and other family-friendly choices. Other amenities include an indoor pool, a fitness center and hosted hot dog roasts on the beach.

Oregon Coast Aquarium & Other Newport Attractions

Located in Newport, the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s exhibits showcase seabirds, sea lions and other marine mammals, fishes, invertebrates and plants primarily native to the Oregon Coast. An exciting 1.32-million -gallon exhibit, Passages of the Deep features three expansive ocean habitats connected by a series of tunnels stretching under the water. As you walk beneath the sea, you’ll experience nearly 360-degree views of the 3,500 sea creatures.

Fun for the whole family, Newport’s Yaquina Head Lighthouse is the tallest in the state and has been serving as a beacon of light along the west coast since 1873. Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area extends out from the Oregon coast one mile into the Pacific Ocean.The Yaquina Head Lighthouse  interpretive center features exhibits on seabirds and marine life as well as human history.

Get Cheesy at the Tillamook Cheese Factory

Did someone say cheese? Open daily, the Tillamook Cheese Factory offers self-guided free tours that are fun for the whole family of cheese lovers. A highlight, the second-level observation deck provides views of large blocks of cheese traveling along conveyor belts for slicing, shredding and packaging. The Tillamook Cheese Factory receives 1.7 million pounds of milk each day yielding 171,000 pounds of cheese. Another highlight? Sampling the Tillamook cheese, of course!

Ecola State Park

Wrapping around Tillamook Head, between Seaside and Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park stretches along 9 miles of coastline. The park offers a diverse array of outdoor adventures including  picnicking, tidepooling, surfing and wildlife observation.

Ecola State Park hiking trails offer cliffside viewpoints of secluded coves, forested promontories and a long abandoned lighthouse.  

View of Mount Hood through the trees, one of the things to do in oregon with kids.
Mount Hood. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Don’t Miss Mount Hood

Roughly 50 miles east of Portland, Mount Hood beckons to outdoor adventure seekers year round. In winter, it’s all about skiing and snowboarding at Mount Hood Meadows where you’ll find some of the Northwest’s best terrain. Accessible to all levels of skiers and snowboarders, Mount Hood Meadows is an ideal destination for a winter family vacation.

In warmer months, hiking, camping and fishing keep outdoor adventure lovers happy. The surrounding Mount Hood Natonal Forest ecompasses  1.2 million acres of land and is considered to be one of the nations’ largest Christmas tree producers.

Crater Lake is one of the things to do in oregon with kids.
Crater Lake. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Crater Lake National Park

Situated in the Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park was formed by the now-collapsed volcano, Mount Mazama. The deepest Lake in the United States, Crater Lake reaches a depth of 1,943 feet and boasts deep blue waters framed by rocky cliffs. A drive or bike ride along Rim Drive yields views of the park’s volcanic formations.

Highlights in Central Oregon

Discover history in Central Oregon with a visit to the High Desert Museum in Bend. With native wildlife, historical characters and an authentic homestead and sawmill from the early 20th-century, the museum entertains kids of all ages.

Also in Central Oregon, the Deschutes River State Recreation Area provides a tree-shaded, overnight oasis for campers and a gateway to the nearby Lower Deschutes Wildlife Area. The park features trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.

Consider a hike on the  Ferry Springs Trail that loops toward the canyon rim with views of the surrounding hills and the river. Other outdoor adventures include camping, mountain biking, whitewater rafting and world-class steelhead and trout fishing.

In summertime, the Deschutes River delivers never-ending fun for the whole family. Enjoy a canoe or kayak trip on the river making your way downstream while you soak in the summer sunshine in Bend.

In the Mount Hood territory, you can watch your kids burn off some energy with tunnel slides, a trampoline room, monkey rings and web crawls, while you lounge nearby enjoying a local beer or wine in front of a big screen at Wippersnappers in Sandy.

Highlights of Oregon City.

Located 13 miles south of Portland at the confluence of the Willamette and Clackamas Rivers, Oregon City’s landscape is defined by steep bluffs. Take advantage of the rivers with outdoor adventures including kayaking to Willamette Falls. Depending on the season you may have sea lions and ospreys joining you along the way.

Check out the interactive exhibits at the Museum of the Oregon Territory. This interpretive center has refreshed their displays with augmented reality and hands-on things to do. And if you’re interested in our rich heritage, you can take a bit home with you with our free Oregon Trail Activity Book.

Bike Through Eugene

One of the most bike-friendly cities in the Pacific Northwest, Eugene has bike paths everywhere. Bike riding is an excellent way to sightsee and the bike paths make it safer for the whole family. Extensive bike bridges connect to paths on both sides of the Willamette River. Along the bike paths, keep an eye out for  wildlife including blue herons, egrets, and pond turtles. Bike rentals are available at outfitters in town and delivery can be arranged to your hotel.

In the heart of downtown Eugene, the 5th Street Public Market boasts an assortment of shops and delicious family-friendly eateries.Worth a visit, The Science Factory in Eugene combines a children’s museum with a planetarium.

Highlights of Salem

As Oregon’s capital city, Salem shines bright especially in Riverfront Park. Located along the Willamette River in downtown Salem, the park is home to the handcrafted Riverfront Carousel and the Willamette Queen Riverboat. The 23-acre park features wide paths ideal for walking, running and bike riding. There are also bike repair stations along the way.

Riverfront Park is also home to Salem’s children museum. Housed in a Victorian home, the Gilbert House Children’s Museum has a gigantic outdoor play structure and many interactive educational rooms to keep the kids entertained.

Just outside of Salem, stroll through the Enchanted Forest Theme Park along Storybook Lane, the Western Town and the English Village, home of the Fantasy Fountains water-light show. Rides include the Ice Mountain Bobsled Roller Coaster, the Big Timber Log Ride and indoor target shooting. In summer months, the outdoor comedy theater presents farces on fairy tales.

Painted Hills at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is one of the things to do in oregon with kids.
Painted Hills at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo credit: Shutterstock

A Peek at the East

Eastern Oregon displays a vastly different landscape than the state’s west coast. Here are a few must-see gems in eastern Oregon.

Dive deep into Oregon’s pioneer history along 4.2 miles of developed trails at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. You’ll have your feet in history as you walk along the old wagon trail ruts.  

Connect to an even older part of history at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Grant and Wheeler counties. Fossils here date back 95 million years and can be explored along three trails. You’ll also find the stunningly beautiful Painted Hills where multi-chromatic hills change with the light of day.

Based in New York City, Terri Marshall is an award-winning writer covering cultural travel, multi-generational travel, road trips, soft-adventure, camping, cars and characters. From hanging out with penguins in Antarctica to fishing for piranhas in Peru to road-tripping through the jungles of Belize, Terri’s always up for an adventure. Drop her into a landscape filled with mountains, towering evergreens, waterfalls and a glacier or two and she’ll be in heaven. But what thrills her most of all is traveling with her teenage grandkids. Terri serves on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee for the North American Travel Journalist Association (NATJA). She also serves as the First Vice-Chair of the Eastern Chapter for the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). In addition to writing for SheBuysTravel, Terri’s publication credits include AARP, Island Soul, Girl Camper Magazine, A Girls Guide to Cars, CHILLED, World Footprints, North Hills Monthly, Alaska Business Monthly, Alaska Contractor and more. Follow her on Instagram at TrippingWithTerri.
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