The Washington and Oregon coasts offer a variety of experiences for weekend jaunts, from the rainforest near Forks, Washington, to the sand dunes near Bandon, Oregon.
Forks is located just a few hours’ drive from the Kingston ferry dock. Recently made famous by the wildly popular “Twilight” book series for teens, Forks is an excellent base for exploring the farthest northwest corner of Washington. Highway 112, off Highway 101, will take you to Neah Bay and the Makah Cultural and Research Center, featuring the Makahs’ history and way of life. Walk through a replica of a longhouse inside the museum. Imagine fishing in the ocean as you climb into one of the full-scale cedar canoes and handle items used to fish. Thousands of archeological artifacts from a 500-year-old site will interest all. The exhibits on whaling, sealing and fishing show their importance to the tribe.
Twelve miles south of Forks on Highway 101, enter the Hoh Rain Forest, part of Olympic National Park. There is a small visitors center from which two easy trails start, each about a mile long. The Hall of Mosses is a good introduction to a temperate rainforest. The Spruce Nature Loop covers both old-growth and a newer forest along the Hoh River. During the fall and winter, this is a great place to see Roosevelt elk.
Farther down Highway 101, explore the beaches. Check the tide tables to time your trip at low tide to see sea anemone, sea urchins and sea stars, all of which will fascinate children and adults alike. Consider a stay at Kalaloch Lodge, about 35 miles south of Forks, overlooking the beach. At low tide, you can walk the whole area from Beach 1 (south) to Ruby Beach (north).
In the southwest part of the state is a Washington favorite — Long Beach. One of the longest beaches in the United States, this slender, mile-and-a-half-wide finger of land is 28 miles of continuous sandy beach open to the public. Fly kites, stroll the boardwalk, visit the Kite Museum, hunt for shells, kayak the bay on the east side, or visit a cranberry bog. There is something different for everyone. A range of lodging is available.
Across the Columbia River, about 20 miles away, is Astoria, Oregon. Explore Fort Clatsop National Historic Park, the winter home for the 33-member Lewis and Clark expedition. A winter visit allows children to imagine similar conditions. The visitors center has exhibits and videos, as well as a bookstore. Astoria is also home to the Maritime Museum, where children can learn about trade and life on the Columbia by exploring different boats.
Scout the central coast of Oregon by basing in Lincoln City, 90 miles south of Astoria. Rental houses and cabins right on the beach are available along with small inns and motels. Located right off Highway 101, my favorite splurge is the Salishan Spa and Resort, which offers something for everyone in the family, from a spa or golf to a game room and children’s activity center.
The Tillamook Cheese Visitors Center is a “must stop” located about 30 miles north. Watch while cheese is being made and taste a finished product. Open 8 a.m.–6 p.m. during the winter months, the visitors center is right off Highway 101.
Newport, located about 30 miles south of Lincoln City, is best known to parents as the site of the Oregon Coast Aquarium. If you have spawned a budding marine biologist, check out the availability of the Animal Encounter and work with a staff member behind the scenes at the aquarium. If you have a family with older children, and want a unique place to stay in Newport, consider the Sylvia Beach Hotel, where every room is based on a different author!
A different experience awaits you about two hours south of Newport. Did you know the Oregon coast has the largest expanse of sand dunes in North America? From Florence to Coos Bay, the Oregon Dune National Recreation Area offers miles of trails through the dunes. The Taylor Dunes Trail, south of Florence off Highway 101, is an easy one-mile trail. In Bandon, explore Shore Acres State Park, where something is always blooming. Visit the Coquille River Lighthouse in Bandon at Bullards Beach State Park. Lodging is available in the towns of Florence, Coos Bay and Bandon. Find one on the beach to enjoy beachcombing.
Janice Lovelace is a frequent contributor to ParentMap.
Washington State Ferry Travel Tips
Getting to Forks: From the Seattle area, take a ferry to Bremerton or Kingston to reach Highway 101. Stay on 101 until you reach Forks.
Getting to Long Beach: After the ferry ride to Bremerton or Kingston, take Highway 101 until it comes to a “T” at Highway 4, turn right; go 12 miles to Highway 103 in Seaview. Turn right to go to Long Beach.