‘The Childhood Express’ red wagon. Photo by Allison Sutcliffe
Summer may be the prime season for road trips, but the adventures don’t need to stop there. In fact, Pacific Northwest winters bring plenty of opportunities to hop into the car and explore the seasonal wonders the region has to offer, at your own pace, and without the hassle and expense of air travel.
Whether you’re looking to hit the ski slopes or wander around quaint holiday-festooned towns, one of the best parts of a family road trip is the journey itself — and the impromptu detours and oddities to be experienced along the way. (Not to mention a chance for kids to stretch their legs.) From a garbage-eating goat to awe-inspiring waterfalls, these quirky and curious roadside attractions will make for fun-filled pit stops, with plenty of photo ops and laughs on your way to the region’s most popular winter destinations.
Heading east? Check out these stops along the way
Heading east of the Cascades is a year-round routine for Seattleites seeking sun and snow play. Popular pastimes include visiting the Bavarian town of Leavenworth, which turns into a magical Christmas village for the holidays, and skiing or snowshoeing along the surrounding trails of Wenatchee; staying at Suncadia resort, which is rife with activities, from ice skating to tubing and pool time; and spending time at Lake Chelan — a busy summertime spot that turns quiet and restful during the low season. Driving a few hours more lands you in Idaho, where winter fun can be found at Silver Mountain Resort or in Coeur d’Alene.
Just steps from each other, these two whimsical public art pieces are found in the sprawling Riverfront Park in downtown Spokane, a city that makes a great stopover on the way to Idaho. The gigantic 12-foot-high red Radio Flyer wagon was built in 1989 for the Centennial Celebration of Children, and its handle doubles as a slide. Nearby, the friendly metal “Garbage Goat” will gobble up any piece of trash you proffer, thanks to a vacuum hidden inside. Be ready for the kids to keep asking for more bits to feed this hungry critter.
In addition to these intriguing works, Riverfront Park features a roller rink, a gondola ride, fantastic playgrounds and a children’s museum.
Granger dinosaurs, Granger
Dino lovers will be in heaven with a stop at Granger, just south of Yakima off Interstate 82. The small town boasts a whopping 33 cement dinosaur statues roaming its parks. The majority are concentrated in downtown’s Hisey Park and available for climbing. There’s even a prehistoric volcano that hides the public restrooms.
Wild Horses Monument, Vantage
The drive down I-90 in the Columbia River basin offers vast views of rolling hills and valleys, and few signs of civilization. This seeming desolation makes it even more of an otherworldly experience when you glance up at a mountain ridge to see a herd of 15 wild horses galloping in the wind. These life-size steel sculptures are the work of artist David Govedare. Take the short hike up to stretch your legs and see the beasts up close.
Perfect pit stops for northbound destinations
Seattle’s favorite northern destination is, of course, our friendly neighbor Canada. An easy three-hour drive takes you over the border to Vancouver, where a plethora of sights and eats awaits. Looking for snow play? Maneuver the stunning Sea-to-Sky Highway to the world-class ski resort of Whistler, or ride the gondola up to Grouse Mountain. Another option? Book the ferry and head over to Vancouver Island to visit its charming capital of Victoria or settle in for some storm-watching at Tofino.
Cedardale Orchards, Mount Vernon
There may not be much to see at this roadside attraction, but everyone knows refreshments are an essential part of any road trip. And what better way to refuel than at a funky roadside pit stop? Warm up on your way to Canada with a steaming mug of freshly squeezed apple cider at Cedardale Orchards cider shop, just off I-5 near the town of Mount Vernon. You can’t miss the bright red barn with its oversized “Cider” sign. Rumor has it that there are mini doughnuts available on the weekends; payment is based on the honor system, so be sure to have cash on hand.
Overgrown ship hulk, Anacortes
What happens to a ship when it becomes abandoned in a boatyard for decades? You can find out when you see this early-20th-century vessel, La Merced, which once carried petroleum products. Since being sidelined in 1966, it has been taken over by nature, with trees and shrubs growing over the shell-like structure that looks like something out of a storybook. See the ship from the road or walk up to the parking lot, but be respectful as it is located in a working boatyard.
Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, Squamish, British Columbia
The First Nations peoples are a crucial part of Canadian heritage. So, if you’re heading up to Whistler, stop by the tourist-friendly town of Squamish to learn about these important communities. This beautifully designed, family-friendly cultural center invites visitors to explore the histories and cultures of Squamish and Lil’wat nations through tours and exhibits. Also worth noting: the Indigenous-themed cafe, gift shop and gallery.
Shannon Falls, Squamish, British Columbia
This magnificent landmark along the Sea-to-Sky Highway is the creation of nature, not humans. An easy 10-minute hike through the woods of the Shannon Falls Provincial Park takes you to the main event: the base of a roaring 1,000-foot waterfall tumbling down a rocky cliff. Fun fact for the older kids: Water from the falls was once used for making beer.
Westward-bound travelers should stop to see these sights
West of Puget Sound is the state’s beautiful and rugged Olympic Peninsula and the unique charm of the Pacific coast. Whether you’re checking out Ruby Beach, Forks or the quaint town of Port Townsend, or heading for a relaxing stay at Seabrook, these westbound winter journeys offer everything from beachcombing and storm-watching to winter hikes, museums and more.
International Mermaid Museum, Between Aberdeen and Westport
Mermaid fans everywhere will go gaga at the prospect of dropping in at this funky spot, located between the coastal towns of Aberdeen and Westport. Nestled on the grounds of Westport Winery Garden Resort, this small but curiosity-packed museum is dedicated to teaching ocean ecology and marine education through the lens of mythical mermaid lore. Magical exhibits, artifacts and, of course, plenty of mermaids await.
Spend time at these places when you travel south
Head south and drive through Olympia, the state’s capital, and down into neighboring Oregon, where destinations such as the big, bustling city of Portland and stunning Cannon Beach beckon. On the Washington side of the state line, Cape Disappointment State Park presents sweeping beaches and an intriguing lighthouse, while Great Wolf Lodge, the definition of kid heaven, makes for a fun-filled overnight stop.
‘Bacon and eggs’ skatepark, Wilkeson
Whether or not you have a rising skate star in your household, a stop at this delightfully playful, breakfast-themed skate park is a must if you’re in the area. Located in the town of Wilkeson, about 50 miles south of Seattle, this fully functional skatepark doubles as an urban art piece: a giant skillet holding two sunny-side-up eggs and a bacon-shaped ramp. The park, the creation of renowned local artist John Hillding, can be accessed from a nearby Rails-to-Trails path — another great spot for road-weary kids to get those wiggles out.
‘Nutty Narrows’ squirrel bridges, Longview
The concept for this adorable structure in Longview, just north of the Oregon border, was born when a resident kept seeing the squirrels outside his office attempting to cross the street to find food. To help keep them safe, he built “Nutty Narrows,” a tiny bridge designed to help the critters safely cross 60 feet above the street. The cute construction has received the titles of the “World’s Narrowest Bridge” and the “World’s Narrowest Animal Crossing.” Since the construction of the original bridge, 23 others have been built in Longview.
World’s largest egg, Winlock
Where do you find the world’s largest egg? Apparently, right here in our state in the town of Winlock, just off southbound I-5. The enormous egg was first built in the 1920s to commemorate the town’s egg industry. It was designated the world’s largest egg by Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in 1989 and has undergone several changes in construction material before its current cement version.
Wreck of the Peter Iredale, Hammond, Oregon
Another nautical attraction, this famous shipwreck, on the shore of Oregon’s Fort Stevens State Park, is an intriguing sight. The massive, rusted steel skeleton is all that remains of the Peter Iredale, a four-masted ship that ran ashore in 1906. Combine your visit with a beachcombing walk at low tide so you can get up close and examine the mysterious wreckage.
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