Often missed by families cruising along Highway 6 on their way to and from the Oregon coast after a day at the beach, the Tillamook State Forest Center is a great place to stop and stretch your legs while (unintentionally) learning a wealth of local history. We’re all about sneaking in a little education on our family vacations, making this more than a worthwhile pit stop. With nature-based programs that cover everything from the local birds to plants and fungi, the Tillamook State Forest Center boasts a little something for the naturalist in everyone. Once you’ve absorbed your fill, head outdoors and hike along the easy trails where you can spot the very wildlife you just learned about. The surrounding woods are teeming with local fora and fauna, so bring a camera to capture everything that your mini John Muirs can spy with their little eyes.
When to go: Their hours are seasonal based on the following schedule:
Spring: Wed – Sun, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Summer: 7 days a week, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Fall: Wed – Sun, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
The center has been known to close early on account of weather, so we highly suggest calling to confirm before you make the trip. They can be reached at either 503-815-6800 or 866-930-4646.
Travel time: An hour drive west of Portland on Highway 6.
What to see/do: The Tillamook State Forest Center was built to help educate the public about the Tillamook Burn, a series of forest fires that destroyed over 350,000 acres of old-growth timber from the 1930s to the 1950s, as well as to promote stewardship of local forests. Kids can learn about the forest plants and animals with hands-on exhibits.
Let your elementary-school-aged kids use magnetic cut-outs to match animals to their native habitat or play a computer game that puts them in the boots of a forest district ranger. There are authentic animal pelts to touch, and exhibits of plants and flowers that are not only pretty to look at, but also tell us about the age and the health of the forest.
Toddler and babies have their own place in the back corner of the center, with a hollowed-out tree begging to be explored, blocks and books. There’s also a tunnel that gives little tourists a mock-up underwater view of salmon run.
In the middle of the center, visitors can learn about the pioneers who settled in the Tillamook State Forest and the people who helped replant the forest after the fires. The center also shows a film at regular intervals giving a history of the fires and describing how the community came together to heal the forest.
The journey continues outside, where those with strong legs can climb the 40-foot replica of a forest fire lookout tower at the center’s entrance. Behind the center is a 250-foot suspension bridge that takes hikers over the Wilson River to easy, kid-friendly trails that lead into the forest and along the river.
Need to know: The Wilson River trail does eventually lead right down to the river, so be sure to keep little ones close to you. The center also rents out a banquet room for events, which can make the parking lot a bit busy during summer weekends. The film includes footage of the fires and the devastation, and can be a bit dramatic if your little one frightens easily.
How to dress/What to bring: Wear comfortable clothes and sturdy shoes if you plan to go hiking. It’s Oregon, so it’s also a good idea to bring a rain jacket unless you are going in the middle of the summer. If there is sunshine, you’ll definitely want to slather on sunscreen. There’s also a certain amount of overgrowth along some of the trails, so you may want to consider wearing long pants, even in the summer. While there are a few vending machines at the center, there’s no snack bar and the closest restaurants are several miles down the road. So, pack a lunch and plan to have a picnic at one of the chairs or benches around the center, or travel down the road into Tillamook for a proper meal.
Cost of trip: Admission to the center is free, though donations are gladly accepted.
Tillamook Forest Center
45500 Wilson River Highway
Tillamook, Or 97141
What was the highlight of your last visit to the State Forest Center?
Phone credit: Tamara Miller & The Tillamook Forest Center Facebook page