The state of Oregon, located in the Pacific Northwest region on the west coast of the USA, is known for its vast and beautiful landscapes, with the state laying claim to 11 national forests, 21 national wildlife refuges, and over 360 state parks.
We’re not going to deny it, it’s one of our favourite places in the world for seeking out outdoor adventures with kids – even the more reluctant!
If you are looking for ideas for the perfect Oregon family vacation, look no further. There is something for everyone; Oregon has it all, whether you want a summer beach break, a winter skiing vacation, a picturesque nature getaway, or a bustling city escape.
Here is our selection of top things to do in Oregon with kids (+ keep reading below we set out our suggested itinerary on how to tackle them all on a circular Oregon road trip!)
- Best time to visit Oregon
- Best Places to Visit In Oregon With Kids
- 1. Spend Time in the City of Portland
- 2. Take in the awe-inspiring sight of Thor’s Well
- 3. Visit the Painted Hills in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
- 4. Admire haystack Rock on Canon Beach
- 5. Float Down the Deschutes River in Bend
- 6. Spend a Day at The Columbia River Gorge
- 7. Partake in Winter Sports at Mount Hood
- 8. Experience the Beautiful Waterfalls in Silver Falls State Park
- 9. Family Fun in Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
- 10. Relax at Seaside
- 11. Whale Watch in Newport
- 12. Ride Horses on the Beach in Bandon
- 13. Spend a Summer’s Day at Devils Lake
- 14. Raft along the Rogue River
- 15. Take a Trip to the Oregon Coast Aquarium
- 16. Admire the sealions at Sealion Cave
- 17. Witness Devils Punchbowl at work
- 18. Explore underground at Oregon Caves
- 19. Take a snap with the Wreck of Peter Iredale
- 20. Capture the natural beauty of Crater Lake
- How to tackle the highlights of Oregon on a family road trip
This post is part of our series Discover the USA
Best time to visit Oregon
Before we jump into the best places to visit in Oregon, let’s talk about the best time to visit weather-wise. Although Oregon may be famous for its grey skies and mild temperatures, the weather can be surprisingly varied depending on what part of the state you visit.
Southwestern Oregon has a Mediterranean climate with hot summers that can reach over 100°F.
The North and Northeastern areas have very cold and snowy winters, so it is recommended to go during the summer months for sightseeing, though the winter months also hold something special for snow sports enthusiasts.
The best month for visiting the coast is usually September. Winds from the Pacific Ocean keep beaches cool, so be sure to bring a sweater or a light jacket for nighttime and when out exploring, even in the summer months. The rainy season is between October and May, but there are occasional wet summers; basically, be prepared for wet weather whenever you visit!
The best time to visit Portland is during the summer months; it’s a great place to visit in June through to August, when the temperatures are warmer and there is less rainfall. Winter is the cheapest time to visit; cooler temperatures and rain deter many visitors.
Best Places to Visit In Oregon With Kids
1. Spend Time in the City of Portland
For anyone flying into Oregon, your journey will almost certainly start in Oregon’s largest city, Portland. Portland is a wonderful city to live in because of its peaceful parks, impressive bridges, amazing coffee, and culturally diverse food scene. A thriving art and music scene, with pop-ups and regular festivals, attracts locals and visitors alike.
We recommend having a look at what exciting events are going on before visiting!
Other family-friendly activities in Portland include the Oregon Zoo, Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, Oaks Amusement Park, and Portland Japanese Garden. We also recommend the marvellous toy store Finnegan’s Toys and shopping for souvenirs at the Portland Saturday Market.
2. Take in the awe-inspiring sight of Thor’s Well
Also known as the “drainpipe of the Pacific” and the “gaping sinkhole”, Thor’s Well is a must-visit natural wonder on the Oregon coast. The Well is a huge and seemingly bottomless hole in the rock that appears to swallow the seawater around it.
An awe-inspiring site and one of the most amazing things to do in Oregon, but not for the faint of heart! It is best seen about one hour before high tide (though do note, limited parking) for the most spectacular visual effects. If you are worried about younger children getting too close, you can also check out the natural phenomena from a distance using one of the various viewpoints nearby.
3. Visit the Painted Hills in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
The Painted Hills are one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon and a picturesque and educational outing for all the family in Eastern Oregon. The name is due to the beautifully colored stripes in the soil with bright green, red, orange, and gold colors layering the hillsides. It’s a great outdoor adventure and one of the most popular places to go in Oregon.
The area is a hot spot for paleontological research and is a suitable outing for kids of all ages, with most trails being relatively short and smooth enough even for strollers. It is hot to tackle in the summer, though, and quite isolated compared to other attractions, so do be aware of this when planning your visit and come hiking prepared.
4. Admire haystack Rock on Canon Beach
Cannon Beach on the northern Oregon coast is famous for its iconic 235ft sea stack, jutting out into the Pacific Ocean but accessing along the beach at low tide. The nearby town is surrounded by beautiful picture-perfect seaside cottages. Cannon Beach and adjacent Ecola State Park have appeared in several films, including The Goonies, Twilight, and Point Break.
If you’re keen coastal explorers, make time to explore this entire stretch of coast on foot, down to Hug Point (come at low tide!) for more interesting caves and rock formations, plus a small inland creek with easy water access for your junior paddlers and a bit gentler then those wicked Pacific Ocean waves!
5. Float Down the Deschutes River in Bend
The small and charming city of Bend, located on the Deschutes River, Central Oregon, offers great parks, fun shopping, and delicious food. By far the most popular summer activity is to float along the Deschutes, and we wholeheartedly agree that it is one of the most scenic, unique, and enjoyable experiences in the area; there’s nothing quite like drifting down the river with your family on a beautiful sunny day with a cool beverage in hand!
Don’t worry if you don’t have your own tube; there are plenty of places to either rent or purchase fun floats. Once your float is finished, there is plenty more to explore around the quaint and friendly town of Bend, from the Old Mill District to the thriving brewery scene (yes, great with kids!) and an excellent concentration of play parks to boot – this is one of the most family-friendly stops in the state!
Don’t miss our complete family guide to exploring Bend with Kids
6. Spend a Day at The Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Gorge has rightly earned the title of the largest National Scenic Area in the country, with stunning scenery and spectacular landscape extending more than 100 miles east of Portland. It is the perfect destination for water lovers, and we recommend that you and your family take advantage of the Gorge’s steady wind conditions for an exciting day of windsurfing, kite sailing, and other extreme water sports.
For those less adventurous or wanting to stick with dry land, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy, including mountain biking, fishing, and hiking.
Columbia River Gorges is also famous for its waterfalls, having the greatest concentration of waterfalls in North America! The most famous and arguably one of the most photographed in North America (aside from Niagra Falls) is Multnomah Falls. Do be aware, though, if you are visiting from May to September, a permit is now required for Multnomah Falls and the “Waterfalls Corridor” of this historic scenic byway.
7. Partake in Winter Sports at Mount Hood
Oregon’s tallest mountain is a dormant volcano surrounded by a national forest. It’s located about 50 miles east-southeast of Portland, and its eternally snowy peak can be seen from the city itself. Mount Hood has one of the longest ski seasons in the USA, so you and your family can hit the slopes all year round. With some of the most affordable lift tickets in the USA, it is a great ski destination for large families and one of the top things to do in Oregon.
Even if you’re not interested in snow sports, it is still a beautiful destination with stunning scenery, multiple hiking trails, and the famous Timberline Lodge, where the iconic film The Shining was filmed!
8. Experience the Beautiful Waterfalls in Silver Falls State Park
For more active and adventurous families, we recommend a trip to Silver Falls, the largest state park in Oregon at 9,200 acres. The park offers beautiful scenery and family-friendly hikes with spectacular views. Numerous short trails are suitable for young children, although for the really little ones, you’ll want to leave the stroller at home and bring a toddler carrier instead.
There are 10 waterfalls to explore, some of which are easily accessible by car and with parking lots located nearby. (The super-fit may be up for the challenge of the Trail of 10 Waterfalls – couldn’t convince my lot to take on the 8.7-mile loop just yet!).
It is truly an incredible place to visit with the family where you can actually walk beneath the waterfalls for an immersive experience – Our Master J declared it his favourite PNW destination!
9. Family Fun in Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Located along the Oregon Coast, you and your family can partake in a range of popular activities on the dunes, including horseback riding and off-road vehicle treks. They form part of Siuslaw National Forest, where you can enjoy also enjoy forests, lakes, campgrounds, hiking trails, and beach recreation.
10. Relax at Seaside
Seaside is known as the Jewel of the Oregon coast and one of the oldest tourist destinations in the Pacific Northwest. The picturesque beach town is the perfect place to stroll the grand oceanfront Promenade, fly a kite over the ocean, hike, bike, kayak, or just play and relax on the sandy beaches.
The bustling town is full of shops and great restaurants, and a great place to enjoy some freshly caught seafood. The town of Seaside is a place of unique historical significance, so be sure to check out its history when you’re there!
Find our complete guide to exploring Oregon’s coastal towns here
11. Whale Watch in Newport
The city of Newport on Oregon’s central coast offers daily Whale watching trips all year round. With one of the largest marine protected parks just outside of Newport Bay, you and your family can observe whales, dolphins, seals, and other incredible mammals in their natural habitat.
The summer and fall months, generally May through November, bring warmer waters and the opportunity to see giant blue whales in the waters. The cooler months of December through April bring grey whales to the area. A truly amazing experience and an exhilarating family getaway.
12. Ride Horses on the Beach in Bandon
Bandon, known for its beautiful beaches and rock formations, is located on the Southern Oregon Coast. This quintessential beach town is the perfect place for a laid-back and relaxing vacation. Enjoy year-round fishing, cycling, golf, kayaking, hiking, beach trips, and charming stores and restaurants.
And what better way to enjoy the stunning ocean views than on a peaceful horseback ride along the beach with your family? Don’t miss The Bandon Cranberry Festival, celebrated every fall as the cranberry harvest begins. Similar to Newport, you can also catch whale-watching tours from Bandon.
13. Spend a Summer’s Day at Devils Lake
Devil’s Lake is 685 acres of vivid turquoise-colored waters that separate the northern part of Lincoln City, on the Pacific Coast. The calm waters are unaffected by coastal winds, making it the perfect spot for freshwater fishing, swimming, kayaking, and boating. It is easily the most beautiful lake in all of Oregon and the ideal place to spend a summer’s day with the family.
The lakeside parks also provide a picturesque spot to enjoy a family picnic and take in the local wildlife and stunning lakeside scenery. We recommend renting stand-up paddleboards for a fun family water experience!
14. Raft along the Rogue River
Undulating its way over 200 miles from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, the Rogue River offers adventurous families some of Oregon’s most spectacular scenery, both on the water and from nearby hiking trails. Whether you’re looking for a simple taster or up for a multi-day adventure, the Rogue River offers families class II to IV rapid experiences on guided tours.
Fancy taking on zip dip and sip? Rogue Valley ZipLine Adventure devised a unique concept alongside Rogue River Rafting and Del Rio Vineyards. Enjoy a great family combo of ziplining adventure through one of the state’s best zipline courses, followed by white water rafting, finished with wine tasting – the perfect Southern Oregon day out!
15. Take a Trip to the Oregon Coast Aquarium
Newport makes the list again! Visit one of Oregon’s top tourist attractions in the beautiful coastal beach town. This world-class aquarium is devoted to ocean conservation and is a living classroom for ages. Spend the day interacting and engaging with all sorts of sea life at the numerous indoor, outdoor, and underwater exhibits.
Just a few of the aquarium’s resident animals include sharks, otters, seals, and sea lions. Fun fact, the aquarium was home to Keiko, the orca who starred in the classic movie Free Willy.
16. Admire the sealions at Sealion Cave
The Sea Lion Caves are one of the world’s largest sea grottos and the only known mainland rookery of the Stellar sea lion. The caves, found 11 miles north of the town of Florence on Highway 101, are connected by a system of many caves and caverns. Although not a zoo, the caves are privately operated, so an entry fee applies (as of early 2023, $16 USD for adults and $10 for children).
Winter is the best time to view the sea lions inside the cave, whilst in spring and summer, they gravitate to outdoor ledges along the shoreline for breeding and birthing. Be prepared for a bit of climbing, although there is a lift, you will still need to navigate some steps, so ditch the stroller and come prepared for a noisy, smelly nature adventure up close with these magnificent marine animals!
17. Witness Devils Punchbowl at work
Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area is just a short diversion off the 101 between Newport and Depoe Bay, one of the more dramatic stops along the Oregon coast. Whilst high tide brings the most spectacular action out of this natural wonder from the viewing points above, it is possible to walk into the cavernous rock formation from the adjacent beach at low tide (though we wouldn’t recommend this with small children, waves can still be unpredictable).
Like much of the Oregon coast, this is another great vantage point for whale spotting from land as whales stop here to feed on the off-shore kelp beds. You may even be lucky to spot some sea lions too!
You can see more on Oregon’s best whale-spotting stops here.
18. Explore underground at Oregon Caves
Your little adventurers will love the Marble Halls of Oregon! Oregon Caves National Monument is situated deep beneath the Siskiyou Mountains. The only marble caves to be found in the United States, be fascinated by one of North America’s most complex geological sites.
NPS offers daily ranger-lead Discovery Tours from April to November (weather permitting). They fill up on a first-come-first-served basis; go early in the peak tourist season if you wish to secure a spot, as it’s the only way you’re able to head underground. Note that for safety reasons, the minimum height is 42″ – participants need to be physically fit and be prepared for a big temperature drop!
19. Take a snap with the Wreck of Peter Iredale
Found on Clatsop Beach in Fort Stevens, about 4 miles south of Astoria, is the famous Wreck of Peter Iredale. Running aground in 1906, the barnacled remains – although quite small – are one of the most accessible along the Oregon Coast, hence their popularity. The wreck is best seen at low tide, where you can explore inside, but be warned, you’ll share it with dozens of other curious tourists!
Fort Stevens has plenty more on offer for families, though, especially if you enjoy camping. There are more than 3,500 acres of beaches, forests, rivers and mountains, so hiking, biking, and for the brave summer, swimming are all on the card in the most north-westerly point of the state.
NB State Parks in Oregon have a $5 a day parking fee – these can be used at multiple parks in one day, or get yourself an annual pass for $30 – buy online at the Park Store
20. Capture the natural beauty of Crater Lake
Surprisingly, the only National Park in Oregon is Crater Lake in southern Oregon. Part of the Cascade Range of volcanoes, Mount Mazama erupted some 7,700 years ago, leaving a deep basin that, over the centuries, has filled with rain and snow, leaving a pristine blue lake, the deepest lake in the United States (1943 feet!).
Crater Lake National Park is a great park to visit if you have slightly more reluctant walkers, as the 33-mile Rim Drive around the park (open June to October only due to heavy snowfall) circumnavigates the lake closely with dozens of viewing points.
Most viewing stops only require a few steps from your vehicle, though a few more spectacular stops require a slightly longer trail but are well worth it for the views.
Being a National Park, don’t forget to grab your Junior Ranger booklet and earn your badge.
We highly recommend that if you continue onward to northern California, grab your America the Beautiful national parks pass before you set out on your Oregon road trip; the $30 summer entry fee for Crater Lake will be included.
How to tackle the highlights of Oregon on a family road trip
We’ve plotted out all our favourite spots on Google Maps here for you to reference easily.
As you can see, most of Oregon’s most famous attractions lie on the state’s western side. You can complete these in an almost perfect loop – here’s our recommended itinerary:
- Start at Portland, heading north to Astoria & Fort Stevens.
- Spend a week working your way along the highlights of the Oregon Coast and the 101 – a guide to our favourite Oregon Coastal towns to stay in here.
- Cross back to the Rogue River (even dip into Northern California – head as far south on the 101 as Crescent City, then take the 199 into Southern Oregon – this way, you can also experience part of the Redwoods National Park – Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park) – camp here or stay at Grants Pass or Medford.
- Head North East to Crater Lake, then take Route 97 to Bend and Route 26 to Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area before returning to Portland.
The only real outlier is the Painted Hills. You could tackle these as a day trip from Bend (expect about 2 hours each way – it’s a long day) or tackle it separately on a larger PNW road trip, including Idaho.
You could, at a push, do the whole lot in around a week, but you’ll be pushing hard and fast with no downtime – we’d recommend truly embracing the best of Oregon you’ll want two to three weeks – if not more to settle in and enjoy!
More to come from Oregon & the Pacific North West!
This is just the start of our highlights from visiting the Pacific North West (PNW) we have plenty more articles to come from Oregon, Washington, California & Nevada.
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