Perhaps no other state in America can boast about its outdoor beauty and wildlife like Oregon. The Beaver State offers some of the most scenic destinations anywhere, like Crater Lake National Park inside a dormant volcano, and John Day Fossil Beds National Monument that tells the story of dinosaurs and early man. With so many wild and scenic places, it’s no surprise Oregon is also home to animal preserves, zoos, and parks.
1. AC Gilbert’s Discovery Village
© AC Gilbert’s Discovery Village
There is probably no better setting for an interactive children’s museum than AC Gilbert’s Discovery Village in Salem. The village is housed in the former National Toy Hall of Fame building. This iconic hands-on museum provides educational experiences that are both stimulating and innovative. The museum offers a variety of exhibits designed to teach children through interactive play. Exhibits like Farm to Table allows children to harvest and plant their own crops. The All About Me exhibit teaches kids about the body using interactive role play. There is an admission fee for kids two and older.
116 Marion Street Northeast, Salem, OR, Phone: 503-371-3631
2. Cascades Raptor Center
Located in Eugene, Oregon, the Cascades Raptor Center is a wildlife hospital and nature center dedicated to the rehabilitation of raptors. Home to the largest collection of native raptors, there are 50 types of birds representing 30 species permanently housed at the Center. It offers a year-round educational programs for kids of all ages, and provides expansive outdoor aviaries that showcase raptors in a protected environment. Visitors can view these magnificent birds by walking trails on the hillside. Self-guided tours are available with general admission, but families wanting paid guided tours must arrange them in advance.
32275 Fox Hollow Road, Eugene, OR, Phone: 541-485-1320
3. Children's Museum of Eastern Oregon
© Children's Museum of Eastern Oregon
Children and parents will witness first-hand how development and learning go hand-in-hand at the Children’s Museum of Eastern Oregon in Pendleton. This unique museum has been around for more than two-decades, offering a wide range of activities and exhibits for every kid. Emphasizing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), the museum values self-expression through fundamental skills. Featuring almost a dozen hands-on exhibits to teach children how to prepare for the “grown-up world”. A few of these exhibits are the Grocery Experience, Art Studio, Magnetorium, and Fire Station. Admission price for this fun-filled museum is the same for kids and adults. Visitors aged one or younger are free.
400 South Main Street, Pendleton, OR, Phone: 541-276-1066
4. Columbia River Maritime Museum
Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria was founded in 1962, and was Oregon’s first museum to meet the standards for National museum accreditation. The museum is dedicated to exhibiting 50,000 Columbia River and Pacific Northwest artifacts and photos. Kids will learn about the perilous Columbia Bar in the Crossing the Bar exhibit, and 260 years of exploration in Mapping the Pacific Coast exhibit, among others. Another highlight kids will love is a tour of Lightship Columbia, a floating lighthouse. Films that explore everything from hurricanes to the ocean are on offer in the museum’s IMAX 3D theater.
1792 Marine Drive, Astoria, OR, Phone: 503-325-2323
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5. Crater Lake National Park
Perhaps one of the world’s most beautiful parks, Crater Lake National Park offers families breathtaking views of Crater Lake, mountains, and forests. Crater Lake lies inside an inactive volcano that collapsed more than 7,000 years ago. The volcano is said to have been more than 12,000 feet tall. The lake with its vivid blue water is the country’s deepest lake at 1,943 feet deep. This pristine lake is fed by snowmelt and rain, making this large body of water one of the clearest and cleanest. There is no park fee for children 15 and younger.
Crater Lake Highway 62, Crater Lake, OR, Phone: 541-594-3000
6. Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum
© Ritu Jethani/stock.adobe.com
Historical Willamette Valley is home to Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. This museum houses an array of fascinating military and civilian flying vehicles. One the most famous civilian aircraft on display is the Spruce Goose. It was built entirely of wood, because of restrictions on aluminum during WWII. The aircraft is technically known as a Hughes H-4 Hercules. The museum strives to inspire all ages of children to take an interest in the sciences through hands-on activities. Aircraft displays range from the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird that can reach speeds exceeding 2,000 mph, to designs from the Wright brothers. Children four and under are free.
500 Northeast Captain Michael King Smith Way, McMinnville, OR, Phone: 503-434-4180
7. Great Cats World Park
On the historic Redwood Highway leading to southern Oregon in the Siskiyou Mountains, Great Cats World Park is about a mile from Cave Junction, Oregon. It’s home to more than 50 big cats representing 17 distinctive species and subspecies. The park provides a great learning experience for kids of all ages through guided tours with knowledgeable keepers. Field trips, photography sessions, videography, and special events or parties can all be arranged. There is a shaded patio for relaxing, and a gift shop for souvenirs. Kids three and under are free.
27919 Redwood Highway, Cave Junction, OR, Phone: 541-592-2957
8. Hellgate Jetboat Excursions
© Hellgate Jetboat Excursions
The Rogue River has been the scene for exciting Hellgate Jetboat rides for the past 50 years. With historical Hellgate Canyon as the backdrop to these scenic tours, the excursions take visitors through Southern Oregon’s natural beauty. Hellgate Jetboat Excursions offers several tours to choose from. The shortest tour is two hours long and covers about 36 miles. The longest tour lasts over five hours and covers 75 miles. This tour offers riders a chance to dine at Morrison’s Lodge, or simply to relax and take in the views. Excursions run from the beginning of May till the beginning of September.
966 Southwest 6th Street, Grants Pass, OR, Phone: 541-479-7204
9. Jerry’s Rogue Jets Mail Boat Tours
© Jerry’s Rogue Jets Mail Boat Tours
In 1895, there were no roads along the Rogue River. People received their freight and mail via riverboat. Today, Jerry’s Rogue Jets Mail Boat Tours follow the same 64-mile round-trip mail boat route of the past. Located just north of California’s border at Gold Beach, Oregon, visitors catch the mail boat tour that seats 65-passengers on a large vessel gliding mere inches above the water. Passengers get a glimpse of how mail was delivered back then, although mail is till delivered by these boats. Tours include a 90-minute lunch stop in Agness (extra cost), 32 miles upriver. Mail boat tours start in May and end in October.
29985 Harbor Way, Gold Beach, OR, Phone: 800-451-3645
10. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Boys and girls of all ages enjoy stories of dinosaurs and cavemen, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument allows them to take a step back in time and see first-hand how earth was back then. Kids will get first-hand experience in the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. The center features more than 500 fossil specimens, all from the John Day Fossil Beds. Inside this historic park, guests will visit the Painted Hills. This area has hills with different hued stripes of orange, tan, red, and black. His area is also great for hiking with five separate trails to choose.
32651 Highway 19, Kimberly, OR, Phone: 541-987-2333
11. Mount Hood Railroad
© Mount Hood Railroad
Almost every child has dreamt of being the conductor in steam engine train, blowing the whistle when taking the turn around the bend or pulling into the train depot. Mount Hood Railroad provides a variety of scheduled tours beside scenic Hood River. Offering Old West entertainment, the railroad simulates a train robbery on the Iron Horse, complete with robbers, and a heroic sheriff. The train also offers a Murder Mystery Train Ride. This train ride is family-friendly and offers riders a hands-on interactive activity, while giving riders clues to make deductions on who-done-it? Each train ride is priced separately.
110 Railroad Street, Hood River, OR, Phone: 800-872-4661
12. Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve
Covering more than 4.5 acres of protected land in southwestern Oregon, Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve in Cave Junction provides visitors with a jaw dropping experience inside Oregon’s Marble Halls. Acidic waters that have seeped into the marble walls in the Siskiyou Mountains have created some of the world’s most beautiful natural cave walls anywhere. The preserve offers several guided tours with experienced rangers to educate visitors, young and old. Nearby Cave Creek campground is available for families wanting to sleep outdoors. Camping at this site is on a first-come, first-served basis.
19000 Caves Highway, Cave Junction, OR, Phone: 541-592-2100
13. Oregon Coast Aquarium
Children living on the Coast of Oregon will naturally be drawn to ocean life, whether surfing, swimming, or the wildlife under the deep blue sea. The Oregon Coast Museum, with its plethora of exhibits and animals, provides all who visit an exciting and educational experience not soon to be forgotten. One educational exhibit is Sandy Shores, a study of the many animals that live under the very sand we stand on when visiting the beach. For children aged six and older, the aquarium offers a Sleep in the Deep experience. Kids sleep in the tunnels of the Aquarium surrounded by a million gallons of water.
2820 Southeast Ferry Slip Road, Newport, OR, Phone: 541-867-3474
14. Oregon Film Museum
© Oregon Film Museum
Adults and children of all ages will be utterly surprised about the number of movies filmed in the state of Oregon. Dating back to 1908, when the Fisherman’s Bride, was filmed in the state, Oregon has now been dubbed “Hollywood North”. The Oregon Film Museum in Astoria, is housed in what was once the Clatsop County Jail featured in the movie The Goonies in the scene of the opening jail break. This venue has posters and memorabilia of all the movies and TV shows filmed in Oregon. The museum is only closed three days each year, and admission for children six to 17 is nominal.
732 Duane Street, Astoria, OR, Phone: 503-325-2203
15. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
© Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
Offering over 200 activities and interactive exhibits in five halls, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland provides children of all ages a place to have fun while learning about science, design, and technology. The museum showcases the “Exquisite Creatures” exhibit, which is an exhibit that utilizes three-dimensional displays to connect the science and art of rare specimens. Kids interested in space will love the Kendall Planetarium featuring a full-dome projection to help kids learn about the planet and life on it. For those who wonder about marine life, the Submarine allows a guided tour of the Blueback. Here, one can touch an actual torpedo.
1945 Southeast Water Avenue, Portland, OR, Phone: 503-797-4000
16. Sea Lion Caves
© Frank Fichtmüller/stock.adobe.com
Located off Oregon’s rugged Pacific coast north of Florence, Sea Lion Caves provides a privately-owned bird sanctuary and wildlife preserve featuring sea lions and other local marine life. An elevator that can carry 400 people an hour gives visitors access to the Cave 208 feet below the visitor center. Kids of all ages will enjoy the caves and the wild sea animals that inhabit this beautiful place. Unlike a zoo, these animals are not bound by aquariums or trainers and freely come and go. The natural setting of the caves allows visitors to observe hundreds of sea lions inside the cave during the winter. During spring, the sea lions can be seen on the rock ledges, the entrance to the caves.
91560 Highway 101, Florence, OR, Phone: 541-547-3111
17. Springfield Museum
Housed in a historic building that was once home to the Oregon Power Company station, this 1911 building has been the site of the Springfield Museum since its doors were opened in 1981. Rotating its artistic and historical exhibits bi-monthly allows visitors to view different exhibits. This museum, dedicated to Springfield history, also showcases permanent exhibits on its second floor. These exhibits chronicle Springfield’s early history through documentary films, period photographs, and artifacts. Keeping up with the times, Springfield Museum now offers its collection online for those wanting a glimpse of what the museum has to offer. To see the online collection, check their Flickr feed.
590 Main Street, Springfield, OR, Phone: 541-726-2300
18. Tillamook Forest Center
Providing scenery only Oregon can produce, Tillamook Forest Center offers park visitors free admission (donations are welcomed) to this splendid, outdoor oasis. Children of all ages will enjoy what the forest has to offer. A suspended pedestrian bridge that covers 250 feet, takes hikers from the Jones Creek Campground to Wilson River Trail. If that isn’t enough, the center features a climbable lookout tower for forest fires that’s 40 feet high. As an outdoor classroom that educates visitors on sustainable forest management, Tillamook Forest Center houses the region’s largest forest-based center. This venue offers free programs for schools to learn more about this majestic forest.
45500 Wilson River Highway, Tillamook, OR, Phone: 866-930-4646
19. Tradewinds Charters Whale Watching and Ecology Boat Trips
Tradewinds Whale Watching and Ecology Boat Trips have been operating off the coast in Depoe Bay since 1938. Visitors can choose from 10 vessels that are fully equipped and modern, with experienced crews. Tours include whale watching excursions, ecological experiences, or sportfishing. Aspiring anglers can take halibut, albacore tuna, and lincod fishing trips, or ocean Dungeness crabbing. The types of marine life seen on Tradewinds tour boats, depends on the season and weather. The best time of year for whale watching December through February and March through May, although resident gray whales are around all summer. Whale watching tours are narrated by knowledgeable captains.
118 Highway 101, Depoe Bay, OR, Phone: 541-765-2345
20. Wallowa Lake Tramway
Located in scenic Wallowa Whitman National Forest in Joseph, Oregon, Wallowa Lake Tramway offers visitors a tram ride that covers almost 4,000 feet to the top of Mt. Howard. When first constructed in 1970, the Swiss-made tram was North America’s steepest vertical lift. The grounds surrounding the Lake offer well-groomed trails for those who don’t want to take the tram, or are taking the tram only one way. Usually the walk takes about 20 minutes and offers hikers breathtaking views of the valley and lake. Upon reaching the summit via the tram or hiking, visitors are treated to views of the states of Washington and Idaho.
59919 Wallowa Lake Highway, Joseph, OR, Phone: 541-432-5331
21. West Coast Game Park Safari
Imagine a child walking inside a game park or zoo and seeing goats, deer, peacocks and other animals walking around freely. This is exactly the scene at West Coast Game Park Safari in Bandon, Oregon. Viewing the animals here is easy; visitors just walk to the exhibits they want to see. A large number of the exhibits are hands-on, and are included in the admission price. Some of the interactive presentations feature exotic animals such as baby bears, lions, and tigers. The presentations also provide opportunities to be photographed with these adorable animals. The park is open daily, weather permitting.
46914 Highway 101, Bandon, OR, Phone: 541-347-3106
22. World Forestry Centre
© World Forestry Centre
Portland, Oregon, is home to the World Forestry Centre, a not for profit organization designed to educate the world about sustainable forestry. World Forestry Centre believes kids of all ages should be educated about global and local forestry. Featuring a demonstration forest, the Magness Memorial Tree Farm provides a hands-on, outdoor training area for environmental learning. The Centre is also home to a museum of 20,000 square feet with the sole purpose of educating visitors about environmental sustainability, and how important trees and forests are in our lives. There is no admission fee for children under three years old.
4033 Southwest Canyon Road, Portland, OR, Phone: 503-228-1367
23. Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Yaquina Head Lighthouse is a must-see for families traveling the Oregon coast. This historic, Paris-built lighthouse off coast of Yaquina Head near Newport is the state’s tallest lighthouse at 93 feet high. The working lighthouse was first lit in 1873, and is needed to guide ships at night or in inclement weather. The Lighthouse has an interpretive center with exhibits of marine life and seabirds to help educate visitors of the surrounding seascape. Tours here are typically 45 minutes long, weather permitting. Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area Park opens at 8 a.m., and the Interpretive Center opens at 10 a.m. Those wanting to tour the lighthouse must sign up in person at the Interpretive Center on the day of the tour.
750 Northwest Lighthouse Drive, Newport, OR, Phone: 541-574-3100