When the Seattle skies turn to lead and the thought of wrestling a soggy child into a car seat one more time makes you want to scream, it’s time for a change of attitude. Learn to love the rain with a trip to the Cedar River Watershed Education Center in North Bend, affectionately known as “the rain museum.” (19901 Cedar Falls Road S.E. North Bend, WA (206)-733-9421 or (425) 831-6780) With everything from age-appropriate science lessons to backpacks full of gear for hiking around Rattlesnake Lake, this center operated by Seattle Public Utilities is a fabulous (and overlooked) destination for kids. It lies at the headwaters of the Cedar River watershed, which supplies much of the Seattle area with its drinking water. After a visit to the center, your child may have a whole new appreciation for what comes out of the faucet.
What to see: You’re immediately put in a different frame of mind by the native plant water drum courtyard (pictured), where raindrops fall on more than a dozen taut drums interspersed among trees, wetland grasses and drippy moss. The overall effect sounds like a Led Zeppelin drum solo, if it were being played in a Zen meditation garden.
Indoors you’ll find cleverly conceived exhibits that can work for a range of age groups. A scale tells you how many gallons of water are in your body (2.3 for a two-year-old) and an old-fashioned red water pump lets you feel how much work it is to get it out of the ground. A five-gallon water jug helps kids imagine what it’s like for people who have to carry drinking and cooking water to their homes each day. Interactive displays let tech-savvy kids pretend to be a water manager, using data about reservoir levels, snowpack, and salmon needs.
The coolest feature is the series of pneumatic tubes running between different exhibits that illustrate concepts like evaporation. Yellow balls that represent drops of water zing through the tubes – stick one in the “ocean” bin and it’s immediately sucked up into the clouds. Then it may wind up in a river, or at the wastewater treatment exhibit or benefiting forest creatures.
Approximate travel time: 40 minutes from Seattle
Go: On a slightly drizzly day— not too rainy, so you can also take advantage of the hiking and walking trails around the center’s grounds.
Need to Know: Child-sized backpacks (packed with fun items like scat guides and magnifying glasses to identify bugs) can be checked out for free by leaving a drivers’ license at the main desk.
How to Dress: Casual for indoor museum, sturdy shoes and rain gear if you want to explore the grounds in a drizzle.
Possible lunch spots: The Riverbend Café (14303 436th Ave. SE, North Bend, 425-888-6600) is a classic country restaurant with kids’ meals, ice cream and pie just down the road from the watershed center, near the I-5 exit.
Bonus: The North Bend Outlet Mall (461 South Fork Avenue SW, North Bend, 425-888-4505) has deals on Carter’s, A Children’s Place, the Gap, Gymboree, OshKosh B’gosh, Stride Rite and maternity wear.
Cost of trip: Free