Living in the Portland Metro area offers so many options for day trips to beautiful places. Even better if you have kids who need to get out and run around without having to drive several hours away. There are five places within an hour and a half that we visit each and every summer. From the Cascade Range all the way to the Oregon Coast, these places are worth the short drive: Mt. St. Helens, the Columbia River Gorge, Silver Falls State Park, Mt. Hood, and the Oregon Coast.
Beautfiful Coldwater Lake near Mt. St. Helens is a great pitstop for lunch or a short trail walk.
Mount St. Helens
Just about an hour and a half northeast of Portland off Interstate 5 lies the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Take the scenic Highway 504 east off of I-5 all the way up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. There they have a visitors center that includes a gift shop and a theatre that shows a short film on the eruption of the mountain. They also have kids activities at scheduled times. Our boys took part in the Junior Ranger program and it was very interactive and fun for them. They were thrilled to earn their Junior Ranger badges. Along the highway there are several view points for great photo opportunities. There are also a few small lakes that you can access that have crystal clear waters and well maintained trails around them. The best part is though that they also have picnic areas and restrooms.
Mt. St. Helens
Columbia Gorge Waterfalls
Just a short drive east of Portland on Interstate 84, the Historic Columbia River Highway provides both a scenic drive and plenty of short trail hikes to a number of majestic waterfalls. On a hot summer day, the falls make for a great getaway with the short hikes (most of which are in the shade) leading to crystal clear waterfalls where you can get an up close mist shower to cool off. Many of the trailheads have restrooms and picnic areas as well. Pack a lunch and a camera and head out for the day. Multnomah Falls is by far the most popular stop. A very touristy location, but a beautiful, towering waterfall nonetheless. You have some options here. You could walk the trail halfway up where there is a bridge over the water and you find yourself directly in front of the falls. A full mile uphill will lead you to the very top of the falls and a great view of the Gorge. Other stops along the highway include Wahkeena Falls, Latourell Fall, and Horsetail Falls. These all have short trails, ample access, and great photo opportunities. Some of the falls also have trails that will allow you to walk behind the waterfall giving a nice cool off in the process.
Silver Falls State Park
Another beautiful day trip possibility is to go to Silver Falls State Park. About an hour and a half drive southeast of Portland, this is the largest state park in Oregon. There are more than 25 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horse trails and 10 waterfalls to view. Above the where the falls begin, there is a nice family area with picnic tables and swimming spots in the creek. There is also a nice old lodge which houses some really interesting historical information about the park. Once you start on one of the trails it is up to you how far you want to go. There are trail maps at the gate station and they have the mile markers for each of the several trails. Some of the falls are not too far and it is great for the kids to be able to walk behind a few of them and take in a natural misty shower on a hot summer day.
Mt. Hood, Timberline Lodge
Mount Hood is the tallest peak in the state of Oregon, and is arguably the most well known landmark in the state. At 11,250 feet, Mt. Hood stands out among the rest of the Cascade Range throughout Oregon. On the highway up the mountain there are several small lakes that are worth stopping at. Some demand a little bit of a hike to reach, but others like Trillium Lake are easily accessed by car right up to the lake. Most of these lakes are fishable, and they have trails that outline their perimeters. Swimming is usually an option as well, but some are still quite chilly even in the summer. Most have facilities and picnic areas as well.
Timberline Lodge, which was built in the 1930's, sits at 5,960 feet. This massive old lodge holds a lot of history on the mountain. In the summertime it is a great place to escape the heat for the day. There are trails and plenty of magnificent viewpoints especially on clear sunny days. It's one of the only places I know of where you and your kids can have a snowball fight in the summer!
Mt. Hood from Mirror Lake
The Oregon Coast
During the hot summer weather one place that my family likes to cool off at is the Oregon Coast. From Portland, there are several small coastal towns within 2 hours that have plenty to do for both adults and kids. Some of our favorite stops include Seaside, Cannon Beach, and Lincoln City. All of these small towns have individual characteristics, but they all have one thing in common: nice beaches. Taking the kids to the beach can be a day fulfilling event. Whether they like to build sand castles, play in the water, look for seashells, or search tide pools for little creatures, kids love the beach! Seaside is probably our favorite and happens to be the closest to Portland. This small town is always busy during the summer months. There are a few main streets near the beach where we like to stroll to walk off a good meal. You can hit the huge arcade, or ride in the bumper cars, but for sure you have to stop in at the candy and ice cream shops.
Oregon Coast beach