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Favorite Family-Friendly Summer Adventures

21 Pacific Northwest Destinations for Summer Break ’21

Finding summertime activities for the family is as easy as heading to your neighborhood park, beach or forest, but these spots quickly start to feel routine. Fear not, summer schedulers. Washington and northern Idaho are rife with unique, kid-friendly experiences no matter the age.

Wherever you call home, there’s a memorable adventure just around the corner. See our 21 recommendations below grouped by region.

Because of COVID-19, please take recommended health precautions if you explore outdoors.

Northwest Trek
Animals at the Northwest Trek Park. Photo courtesy of the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park.

Puget Sound

Jetty Island near Everett is a classic day trip for kids who love boat rides, collecting rocks and shells or wandering the beach until they’re hot enough for a dip in the salty water. Reached by a seasonal ferry for a minimal fee or free with a personal watercraft, the 2-mile-long, 0.5-mile-wide beach also offers more solitude than the stretches of sand on the mainland. The ferry runs Wednesday through Sunday from July 5 through Labor Day.

Away from the water, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park near Eatonville just might be captivating enough to pull your kids away from their phones for a day. The park is home to bears, wolves, bison, birds and many other animals from the region and beyond. As of early June, the hiking trails, zipline courses and trams were still closed, but to see the open wildlife area, book a keeper tour — for an additional charge — to see the animals from the back of a Northwest Trek pick-up truck, or use your vehicle.

About an hour north of Northwest Trek, Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park has enough family-friendly activities to keep everyone busy for days. Highlighted by the zoo and aquarium, the park also has miles of hiking trails, a living history museum, lush gardens and plenty of places to walk and bike. Between adventures, check out nearby Point Ruston, where both kids and adults will find a wide selection of restaurants for a snack and a drink.

If the weather is less than ideal, you can never go wrong with a day at the Seattle Aquarium on the city’s waterfront. The events and programs are an excellent way to learn about Puget Sound’s fascinating ecosystem.

Image of Sol Duc Falls
Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park. Photo by Jeremy Janus/Getty Images.

North Olympic Peninsula

Known for quirky and quaint towns, access to wilderness and great beaches, the north end of the Olympic Peninsula could become your family’s favorite summertime destination. Fort Worden Historical State Park in Port Townsend was once part of the Triangle of Fire — a trio of heavily armed military bases built to protect Puget Sound from invading ships. Today, you can walk through old barracks, wander the beach to a lighthouse, camp for a night or two or enjoy miles of trails and coastline, thanks to the fort’s conversion to a state park in the early 1970s.

A walk or short drive to the western edge of the park takes you to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, which offers short cruises, scavenger hunts and guided low-tide walks that teach visitors about marine life in the Salish Sea. For a little less infrastructure, head south a few miles to Fort Flagler — another installation in the Triangle of Fire — which features 5 miles of hiking and biking trails, 2 miles of beach trails and more barracks and bunkers to wander.

Hoping to get to Olympic National Park? Consider hiking or biking the flat Spruce Railroad Trail along Lake Crescent, or walk the well-trodden path to Sol Duc Falls. The Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort features one freshwater and three saltwater soaking pools. Inquire within to take a dip.

If your kid would rather hike on ridge lines high in the mountains, head up the 17-mile road from Port Angeles to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. Hiking trails give nature lovers a chance to explore wildflowers and wildlife a mile above sea level. The best way to take in the views of the glaciated peaks of the Olympic Mountains is to head to the visitor center, hit a trail or drive the seasonally open, narrow and bumpy road to Obstruction Point. For an added treat after a day of adventuring, hit up Frugals drive-through in Port Angeles for delicious burgers, fries and milkshakes.

Image of Mount St. Helens Ape Cave
The Ape Cave Interpretive Site near Mount St. Helens. Photo by Cedar House/Getty Images.

Southwest Washington

The Ape Cave Interpretive Site — an old lava chamber near Mount St. Helens — is the third-longest lava tube in North America and a fantastic spot for all-ages adventures. Reservations are currently required to enter, but it cost just $2. Once there, you can choose between spelunking in the shorter 1.5-mile, roundtrip lower cave or the 3-mile trek in the upper cave. The lower cave is considered relatively easy and family friendly, while the upper cave and its scrambles up an 8-foot-high rock wall and numerous rock piles is better suited for older and more adventurous kids. To do either, you’ll need a headlamp and warm clothes, as the cave has no natural light and stays 42 degrees all year.

Roughly 30 miles west of the Ape Cave is the heavily trafficked (but for good reason) Lower Lewis River Falls, one of the most awe-inspiring waterfalls in Washington.

At 43 feet high and 200 feet wide, the powerful waterfall drops into a large pool, creating great swimming holes for older kids and fun wading areas for the little ones. Find picnic areas, scenic views, trails to more waterfalls and a campground nearby to make this a weekend destination.

Even on cloudy or rainy days, the Columbia River still offers plenty to do. One of the best places to learn about the region’s history, including the indigenous way of life and the logging and fishing industries, is the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Museum in the riverside town Stevenson. On the other side of the Columbia, find the Bonneville Lock and Dam in Cascade Locks, Oregon. A visit to the complex’s fish-viewing building, where fish struggling through the fish ladder and Pacific lampreys suctioning themselves to the glass is as entertaining as it is educational. Be sure to visit the nearby Bonneville Fish Hatchery when it reopens, and take a sightseeing cruise with Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler about 15 minutes west of the dam.

Image of Lake Chelan
Stehekin on Lake Chelan. Photo courtesy of

The Cascades and Central Washington

If you’re looking to cool off on a hot day, rafting the Wenatchee or Tieton River with a local outfitter is one of the most exhilarating ways to do it. Just outside Leavenworth, the Wenatchee features an array of bouncy Class III rapids and is best enjoyed from late May to mid-August. From mid-August to late September, the Tieton is fun for older kids and adults looking for something a little more technical and rougher. Those hoping for a calmer boat ride should head to Chelan and ride the Lady of the Lake ferry to Stehekin and take in the picturesque waterfalls and towering peaks of the Cascades

Hikers and nature lovers should consider a trip to the Sunrise, Ohanapecosh and Paradise areas of Mount Rainier, where trails lead to sweeping ridges with glacial views, wildflower-filled meadows and powerful waterfalls. The budding stargazers in your family will enjoy a night trip to Sunrise, where views of the galaxy expand in all directions overhead. But if the skies are clearer to the south, head to the Goldendale Observatory east of Mount Adams to admire the night sky through public telescopes. Be sure to register online before making the trip.

Image of Fresh Strawberries
Fresh strawberries near Spokane. Photo courtesy of Green Bluff Growers.

The Inland Empire and Northern Idaho

Riding the Route of the Hiawatha Scenic Bike Trail is a classic Northwest family adventure on the Idaho Panhandle. Starting at Lookout Pass on the Idaho-Montana border, the trail runs 15 miles, passing through 10 decommissioned train tunnels and crossing more than seven towering trestles. Bike rentals and shuttles are available at Lookout Pass. A few miles west, Kellogg is an all-in-one adventure center featuring hiking, biking, ziplining, a gondola ride and an indoor waterpark. Fascinating mining tours in both and nearby Wallace give deeper insight into the geology and history of the area and how it became known as Silver Valley.

No summer is complete without eating fresh fruit, which is why a stop at Green Bluff Growers near Spokane is in order. In June and July, you’ll be able to pick and purchase perfectly ripened strawberries, while July is known for cherries. In August, the peaches are ready, and September is a time for apple festivals. A stop here is always a treat, giving everyone in your group a chance to pick that perfect piece of fruit on a hot summer day.

–Written by Douglas Scott
–Top photo of whitewater rafters on the Wenatchee River. Courtesy of Blue Sky Outfitters.

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