You know that voice in your head that's murmuring about school supplies and back-to-school clothes? Turn it off and get outside. To help you take advantage of the remaining sunny days and get your kiddos off their screens, we've rounded up some of the South Sound's best outdoor adventures for your end-of-summer bucket list. Many of them don’t cost a cent.
1. Try the new sport of footgolf
A couple of years ago someone came up with a sport that combines soccer and golf. It continues to gain popularity. Players kick a soccer ball into a 21-inch diameter cup on a golf course. The distance from where the footgolfer “tees” off to the hole is much shorter than it is for golf.
Tacoma now has two footgolf courses – Meadow Park Golf Course separates the footgolfers from regular golfers and Fort Steilacoom Golf Course lets golfers and footgolfers share fairways after 11 a.m. Bring your own soccer ball and get $2–$3 off your course fees.
2. Play at kid-designed Playground by the Sound
More than 1,000 local children provided the ideas and inspiration for Playground by the Sound, a play structure overlooking Chambers Bay in University Place (4870 Grandview Dr. W.). With the help of more than 1,000 volunteers, it came to fruition in a six-day building blitz in September of 2011. Children love all the elements, including a bouncy bridge, chain ladder, double slide, Galloping Gertie Bridge, Giant Octopus, lookout tower and more.
3. Touch wildness at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Would your kids like to feel the scales of a green iguana, touch the shell of a radiated tortoise or run their fingers over fur-coated animals? All these adventures are available at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in the Close Encounter area near the Red Wolf Woods picnic pavilion — and are free with admission. Touching encounters happen at 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. A different animal is spotlighted each day so if you have a favorite, plan to go to the zoo on that animal’s day.
4. Visit a lighthouse
Lighthouses are magical for kids, and two in the South Sound welcome visitors. Browns Point Lighthouse in Tacoma offers free tours every Saturday from 1–4 p.m. through November. Step back in time and see what an old school desk looked like and where the light keeper lived. Free admission.
Point Robinson Lighthouse, on the eastern most tip of Maury Island, adjacent to Vashon Island, is located on a 10-acre shoreline park. Information and souvenirs are available at the Ship’s Store Gift Shop on Saturdays and Sundays from noon–5 p.m.
5. Dig in at Dirt Works Children’s Garden
Children ages 4–12 can perform garden chores alongside Master Gardeners at Dirt Works, a wonderful community garden in West Olympia. (A parent or guardian must be present.) Workshops are held on Tuesdays from 10 a.m.–noon, with a different theme each week. Email firstname.lastname@example.org the Friday before the date you wish to attend. You can also get driving directions at that time.
6. Take a guided river walk at Tumwater Falls
Ready to cool off? Free guided tours along the Deschutes River in Tumwater Falls Park are offered select Tuesday evenings, Thursday mornings and Sunday afternoons, through early September. On the half-mile walk you’ll encounter gentle slopes, bridges and stairs down to the lower Tumwater Falls. You'll also find picnic facilities and a play area for children at Tumwater Falls Park.
7. Splash around in Tenino's sandstone quarry pool
Editor's note: The Tenino pool is closed as of Sept. 6, 2015, for the season. Not too many old-fashioned swimming holes exist these days, but Tenino has one — a natural rock quarry pool fed by natural spring water located in Tenino City Park. Once, sandstone was mined here. Now, families come to splash, swim and enjoy the soothing sound of the natural waterfall flowing in the background. Adventurous swimmers like the high dive and little ones feel at home in the chlorinated wading pool. The pool is open from noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, weather permitting. Admission costs $2 for those living within the Tenino School District and $4 for non-residents.
8. Play at the Family Funland in Federal Way
The Family Funland, a new and inclusive play structure, opened at Federal Way’s Steel Lake Park (2410 S. 312th St.) last year. In addition to the towers and slides, the play area features an AbilityWhirl, a merry-go-round that kids in wheelchairs can use, the first of its kind in the nation. New signs let kids hear the sounds different animals make and a Braille Panel explains how Braille numbers feel.
9. Scale Finholm View Climb in Gig Harbor
This popular stair climb in Gig Harbor (8826 N. Harborview Dr.) leads up to a panoramic view of Mount Rainier and more. You'll also be treated to a drinking fountain, seating and (best of all) tired little ones.
10. Grow a mini-gardener at Lakewold Gardens
Lakewold Gardens in Tacoma launched a youth program that's now in full swing. On September 19, Lakewold celebrates Community Kids Day with activities focusing on nature and the outdoors. Families are invited to do arts, crafts, participate in a raffle, and eat hot dogs, chips and soda (for purchase). Admission is $1 per person or a donation of a toiletry or hygiene item for the Lakewood Area Shelter Association. Fall Green Thumb Explorer workshops take place in October and November.
Editor's note: This article was written in 2014 and updated for 2015.