Autumn in the PNW is magical! Across the state of Oregon, as the leaves begin to change, colors begin to pop turning a multitude of locations into stunning options for getaways. With the kiddos at home for the first part of the school year, getting out of the house is more important than ever. Get ready for a season packed with accessible and epic road trips. We’ve lined up all the best destinations for your fall, family escapes . Read on to find out more.

 

photo: jenny via flickr

Hunt for Fossils in Eastern Oregon

Fall is one of the best times to head to the desert of Eastern Oregon, with temperatures a little bit cooler and crowds thinner. The drive itself is part of the allure, with mining towns and ghost towns scattered around. Aim for the John Day Fossil Beds for a stunning geological survey of the state: the park is spread out over three locations 3-4 hours away from Portland. Each “unit” shows off a rainbow of colors, as well as geological formations and history. Rock-lovers and kids can admire the range of rocks along the drive, and they can can even dig for fossils themselves at Wheeler High School, in the aptly named town of Fossil. At the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center learn more about the national monument, and the impact of paleontology.

Further east, dig into more recent history at Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, the town that was once the third largest Chinatown in the country. The building opened in the late 1800s and served as a Chinese apothecary and general store.

Check locations websites for updates on COVID-related changes.

Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, Sheep Rock Unit.
32651 Highway 19
Kimberly, Or
Online: nps.gov/joda/learn

Wheeler High School Fossil Beds
404 Main St.
Fossil, Or
Online: oregonpaleolandscenter.com/wheeler-high-school-fossil-beds

photo: jason via flickr

Catch a Seashell at the Coast

While Seaside and Cannon Beach are the closest to Oregon, there’s plenty to see further south, too. Take an extended trip down the 101 to find lighthouses, whale-watching spots, an award-winning aquarium, and sandy dunes.

Start out your adventure at Newport, about 2 and a half hours away from Portland. There you’ll discover one of the nation’s best aquariums! Once home to Keiko the whale (of Free Willy fame), the aquarium now houses sea otters, a giant octopus, plenty of crazy-looking fish, and a long tunnel to stroll underneath the predators of the deep.

A bit north you can spy the Devil’s Punchbowl, a unique rock formation that swirls water around in it’s wild geology, and offer some great tide pool exploring. Further down the coast near Florence you’ll find Heceta Head and it’s rumored-to-be-haunted lighthouse. Check it out for yourself and enjoy the beautiful coastal views at the same time. Finally, get sandy at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, where you can rent dune buggies and ATVs to zoom around the shifting sands.

Make sure to check area websites for COVID-related changes.

Newport Aquarium
2820 SE Ferry Slip Rd.
Newport, Or
Online: aquarium.org/

Heceta Head Lighthouse and Viewpoint
725 Summer St.
Florence, Or
Online: oregonstateparks.org

photo: foothills via yelp

Pet an Alpaca in Hood River

Enjoy the bounty of fall at the Fruit Loop—one of the best places in Oregon to gather, eat, explore, not to mention pet an alpaca or two. And it’s only an hour away from Portland!

In town stop by the visitor center for a Fruit Loop map, then leave it to the kids to navigate to any of the 30 farms! Any given weekend offers another apple or pear festival, and later in the fall you’ll find plenty of pumpkins to pick and corn mazes to navigate. You could easily spend two full days enjoying every single farm, but for this visit, pick your favorites so you can spend a day in town.

Back in Hood River, stop by G. Willikers Toy Shoppe for an excellent selection of games, books, noise-makers and rabble-rousers. They even have disposable masks for the little ones. Then spend an afternoon at the Waterfront Park, watching the kite-boarders play in the world-famous Columbia Gorge wind. A recently updated playground is a welcoming addition to the town for all ages. Toddlers will love the gentle hill slides, and older kids can challenge themselves to scale the climbing wall– it’s tough! Across the street you’ll find Solstice Wood Fired Cafe or Pfriem Brewery, two delicious and completely family-friendly restaurants.

Check online for hours and outdoor patio seating options.

Cascade Alpacas and Foothills Yarn & Fiber
4207 Sylvester Dr
Hood River, Or
Online: cascadealpacas.com/

G. Willikers Toy Shoppe
202 Oak St.
Hood River, Or
Online: gwtoyshoppe.com/

 

Photo by jacly via yelp 

Discover Enchantment in Salem

Though it’s only an hour south of Portland, Salem has a whole new world of fun for kids. Stay a few days to take advantage of nearby day trips like a hike in Silver Falls State Park, or a bicycle tour of covered bridges.

In Salem, spend some time wandering around the Oregon Garden in it’s fall colors– kids will love the Children’s Garden, complete with a hobbit door. Older kids will learn a lot about state history with a guided or self-guided tour of the capitol building, and the whole family will love the the beautiful Riverfront Park on the Willamette River. And for even more fun, stop by the Enchanted Forest, a non-Disney theme park that’s a little goofy and utterly enchanting, aimed at those ages 3 and up.

Silver Falls State Park
20024 Silver Falls Hwy SE
Sublimity, Or
Online: oregonstateparks.org/

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Soak and Play at Crystal Crane

 

This eastern Oregon hot spring is a wonderland for both parents and kids. The large heated pond is spacious enough for little ones to splash and enjoy themselves and there’s a private bathhouse where parents can soak in cedar-enclosed tubs. But the hot spring is only part of the the fun. Lodging options include cabins, ten and RV camping or a stay in a teepee! All of the options are cozy and rustic, but the teepee offers an experience your kids will be talking about for years to come!

For a little adventure head to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Just 29 miles away, this location is home to over 58 species of mammals including mule deer, pronghorn antelope  Rocky Mountain elk, coyotes and bobcats. The visitor center has recently reopened and fall is perfect for wildlife viewing, fishing and you’ll likely get some great photos.

Crystal Crane Hot Spring
59315 Hwy 78
Burns, Oregon
Online: cranehotsprings.com

—Katrina Emery & Annette Benedetti

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