Summer means sunny days (we hope!), and that means lots of time for noodling around outdoors. We’ve got eight ideas for said noodling, from the mellow vibe of a walk through a rare South Sound prairie to the wild rush of an afternoon of whitewater paddling east of the mountains.
1. Bag a berry. Local berries are on the market for just a few weeks in June (depending on the weather), and they’re worth every penny. Instead of buying a flat at the market, plan a day trip to a local farm to pick your own —kids with treasure hunts on their minds love the search for the glistening berries. Visit pugetsoundfresh.org for a searchable database of farms all over the state. If you have a hankering for shortcake, the Marysville Strawberry Festival (third weekend in June) or Old Bellevue Strawberry Festival (fourth weekend in June) will do right by you.
2. Go Greenway. The already cool festival that celebrates the Mountains to Sound Greenway, the 100-mile stretch of Interstate 90 between Mercer Island and Thorpe, just got cooler. Now in its eighth year, the fest has been given a new name, Mountains to Sound Greenway Summer, and it offers not just a weekend but an entire 100 days of outdoor events. Explore Rattlesnake Trail (near the Cedar River Watershed Education Center) with your tot, haul the kids’ dirt bikes to Issaquah for a ride or take a Father’s Day walk along the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.
If you plan to make a summer of it, join the Greenway Challenge by taking a picture of yourself at every event you visit.
3. Run a river. Even if we don’t get warm temps on the west side, east of the Cascades the weather is typically warm and dry in early summer — perfect for an adrenaline-charged paddle down the Wenatchee River, which runs right through Leavenworth. Make reservations with an outfitter (which supplies all the gear) and run swoopy whitewater under the sharp eye of a professional guide; it’s big fun for families with adventurous older kids! Prime paddling time usually ends in late June or early July. Check here for a list of Wenatchee River outfitters.
4. Explore the North Cascades. Plan a trip to the historic Seattle City Light company town of Newhalem, located on the gorgeous North Cascades Highway. The kids can explore the huge vintage locomotive, “Old Number Six,” that’s parked in town, and free walking tours depart from the Skagit Information Center Wednesdays through Mondays, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., during July and August. Another easy exploration is the short walk to pretty Ladder Creek Falls, which starts with a traverse across a foot suspension bridge from behind the Gorge Powerhouse.
If you’d like some water time, make reservations to take a two-hour guided tour of the glacier-ringed Diablo Lake, which is remarkable for its sublime milky green color. (Directions and reservation information can be found here.) While you’re there, make sure to stop by the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, located on the shores of Diablo Lake, for an easy trail walk through the lush forest, rich in native plants, that surrounds the campus. (If you like what you see, ask about information on the center’s family getaways, which are well worth the cost.)
5. Great Shakes. Let the kids bond with the Bard — but take it outdoors, so they can wiggle at will. Pack a picnic, bring a blanket and low-backed chairs, and settle in for professionally produced theater in a relaxed setting. Best of all, it’s free! Wooden O and GreenStage perform in towns all over the Puget Sound region in July and August.
6. Beach it. Summer low tides are a great time to go to the beach; kids can explore broad expanses of packed sand and look for manmade structures uncovered by the receding water. But, at select beaches, families also have the chance to learn about the hardy critters that live in the intertidal zone. Seattle Aquarium’s Beach Naturalist Program sends trained volunteers out to beaches from Shoreline to the South Sound on selected days from early June through late July. Beach naturalists from Tacoma Nature Center visit Tacoma’s Titlow Beach in July. Naturalists show kids how to treat the beach and its animals gently, and help them identify what they’ve seen. It’s summer learning that goes down easy.
7. Terrific tours. The Cedar River Watershed — the source of 70 percent of Seattle’s drinking water — is usually off-limits to visitors, but during the summer, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) naturalists lead guided tours of the area. The landscape is gorgeous and pristine; tours stop by sparkling Cedar Falls and a rocky lakefront beach, and the guides focus on the region’s history and archaeology. The three-hour tour is appropriate for kids ages 10 and older, but SPU also offers one-hour family tours for all ages. The family Cedar Falls Waterfall tour runs on five days in June, July and August, and bargain hunters can take the tour for free (on a first-come, first-served basis) on June 18 and 19. Register early for the tours, which fill fast.
While you’re there, stop by the Cedar River Watershed Education Center to stroll the lovely grounds, gaze out over Rattlesnake Lake, walk through a water exhibit and — if you have the time and energy to spare — take a walk along the nearby Rattlesnake Trail.
8. Prairie pals. The strange and beautiful Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve is a wonder of the South Sound area: more than 600 acres of extremely rare prairie habitat covering 6- to 8-foot-high mounds that dot the landscape like oversized molehills. Visit in late spring to walk the stroller-accessible interpretive trails and enjoy the wildflower bloom, or in summer to spot butterflies. It’s a place that turns kids’ imaginations right on; according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources website, there’s no clear explanation for what caused the mounds.
If you’d like to visit a prairie that’s not often open to the public — and at the same time, give back with the kids — head to the Glacial Heritage Preserve in Thurston County on the second Saturday of each month for a habitat restoration work party. Plant native species, remove invasive species, collect seeds and learn about a nearly extinct part of our ecological heritage.