Sure, you can spend a ton of money on just about anything for a special treat, but the real art of finding free, cool stuff to do in the fall can be a little trickier. Whether your crew is into museums or gardens, firehouses or farms, Portland has bundles of family-friendly freebies waiting to be experienced. Read on to discover seven free, belly-laugh inducing adventures, from hay rides to fire pole slides, that make us love autumn in the Rose City.
ChildrensMuseum

photo: Portland Children’s Museum by Lisa H. via Yelp

Museums

Portland Children’s Museum
When: First Friday of each month, 4-8 p.m.
Where: 4015 SW Canyon Rd., Washington Park
Contact: 503-223-6500
The Scoop: There’s always plenty to do at the kids’ favorite museum in town – art, trains, water tables and pretend play. Their new Blue Man Group exhibit just opened in September and runs through January. This “Making Waves” exhibit encourages visitors to see, feel and create sound with instruments and a surround sound theater. Admission is free every first Friday evening of the month. There is a fee for parking in the lot.

Portland Art Museum
When: First Thursday of each month, 5-8 p.m.
Where: 1219 SW Park Ave., Downtown
Contact: 503-226-2811
The Scoop: Kids under 17 always enjoy free admission to the museum, but on First Thursday nights of every month, the adults get in free, too. Right now, show your little ones great works of art by Klimt, Monet, O’Keefe and others as part of the museum’s “Seeing Nature” exhibit. Afterward, grab a bite to eat from the Museum Grounds coffee shop, then walk through the South Park blocks, seeing a little nature of your own with the changing leaves.

BelmontFirehousephoto: Historic Belmont Firehouse and Museum, by Tiffany O. via Yelp

Historic Belmont Firehouse and Museum
When: Wed. and every second Sat. of the month, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: Belmont, 900 SE 35th Ave.
Contact: 503-823-3741
The Scoop: Since October is Fire Prevention Month, what could be better than your little ones sliding down the pole, getting a history lesson and learning about safety from a real live firefighter? After your visit, head across the street to Electric Castle’s Wunderland (3451 SE Belmont Ave.), the nickel arcade, and challenge your little ones to a skee ball tournament.

Washington County Museum
When: Second Saturdays, Sept. through June, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Where:
Hillsboro, 120 E Main St.
Contact: 503-645-5353
The Scoop:
They really pull out all the stops for family free days at the Washington County Museum, with special programming like October’s featured earthquake preparedness fair, Quake Up and Preparedness. Guests will learn about Earth’s movements, make tsunami bottles and create pet rocks to take home.

hayride

photo: Hayride by James Case via Creative Commons

Outdoor Adventures

The Pumpkin Patch
When: Weekends in October
Where: Sauvie Island, 16511 NW Gillihan Rd.
Contact: 503-621-3874
The Scoop: The kids love seeing the animals in the big red barn, climbing on the giant hay pyramid and finding their way through the hay maze, not to mention the hay rides — and those things are totally free. Other activitlies, ike the cow train ride, The Maize, U-pick pumpkins, produce store and food has a fee attached, but there is plenty of fun to be had just by showing up.

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
When: After Labor Day
Where: Woodstock, 5801 SE 28th Ave.
Contact: 503-771-8386
The Scoop: Kids 12 and under are always free, but now that it’s after Labor Day, the whole family gets free admission. The rhodies aren’t in bloom again until the spring, but it’s still worth a long wander to see the beautiful grounds and turning leaves – not to mention migrating waterfowl.

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Davis Graveyard
When: Every day in October
Where: Milwaukie, 8703 SE 43rd Ave.
Contact: hosts@davisgraveyard.com
The Scoop: In this spooky labor of love, a group of volunteers turns a neighborhood yard into a graveyard. Check the website for schedules for when lights and full video effects are on display.

What are your favorite free family activities for fall? Let us know in the comments below!

— Marianne Walters