Parks

Mount St. Helens Visitor Centers

Mount St. Helens Visitor Centers A Good Gray

On a clear, cloudless day, we can see Mount St. Helens from the Portland area. The 1980 eruption greatly diminished the peak, but it’s still a mighty member of the Cascade Range. And oh man, does it have stories to tell.

If you want to give your kids a healthy respect for Mother Nature, take them to one of three operating visitor centers for this volcanic neighbor:

  1. Johnston Ridge Observatory: This center is at the end of highway 504, with an incredible view of St. Helens. There are several interactive exhibits (many kid-friendly) and a large theater with shows impactful enough to leave my sensitive 4-year-old in horrified tears. True story. There are also outdoor trails and an amphitheater used for a cool Music on the Mountain series in the summer. (Open mid-May to October, admission is FREE for kids under 15, $8 for adults).
  2. Forest Learning Center: This location is within the 1980 blast zone, and is provided by Weyerhaeuser Company. It includes extensive information on the eruption and the recovery of the forests and animal life, and includes kids exhibits. There’s also a FREE eruption movie and an exterior playground. (Open end of May to October, FREE admission)
  3. Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake: Located at mile 5 on Highway 504, it’s the original Visitor Center built in 1993 and the gateway to the mountain. It’s farthest from St. Helens and a bit dated, but it’s closest to I-5 and includes a movie and a scenic walking trail along the lake. (Open year-round, admission is FREE for kids under 6, $2.50 for kids 7-17, $5 for adults, or $15 per family).

Sadly the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center, just 8 miles from the crater and a powerful memory for me as a kid, closed in 2007 due to budget restrictions. Boo!

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GUEST POST: Awesome Outings with Kids in the Portland Area

This is A Good Gray’s first guest post! My amazing friend Carrie is so good at getting out and exploring our area with her family, that I asked her to share some of her pearls of wisdom. She has excellent taste. You’re welcome.

OutingsMy name is Carrie and I’m a mama to 5 kids. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have 5 kids, but here I am! We’ve moved a lot since we started our family and the one thing I regretted more than anything is that we didn’t explore enough in the first few states we lived in. If I had been more Internet savvy when my oldest kids were little, I would have found so many cool and interesting places to explore and yummy places to eat. So, when we moved to the Portland area I was determined to make the most out of living here. Here are just a few of our favorite outings:

  • APPLE PICKING
    Sure, there are lots of great pumpkin patches and corn mazes around, but they are crazy! So many kids going every direction… it’s just too much for a couple of my kids. We enjoy going apple picking at Smith Berry Barn. I love this place. It’s quiet, for one. You can pick berries and apples or shop at their little produce stand. Kids love to feed the chickens and goats. Plus, they have the cutest little store inside full of fun kitchen gadgets AND they sell seasonal milkshakes. Yeah, this place is awesome.Across the street from Smith’s Berry Barn is South Store Café, which we pretty much HAVE to go to whenever we go berry/apple picking. They have delicious baked goods and sandwiches.
  • FOREST PARK/CEDAR MILL
    Forest Park is our go-to place when we want to go on a hike, but don’t want to drive too far. Forest Park is the Central Park of Portland and is much beloved. There are many trails and lots to see, so it never gets boring.After hiking at Forest Park it’s pretty much a rule that we HAVE to go to Skyline Restaurant. Now Skyline’s burgers and fries are okay, they’re not my favorite (that honor goes to Tilt) but their treats are the best. We love to get cherry ice cream sodas, chocolate malts, and root beer floats. The kids love this place because they can be themselves there and no one gives us the side eye.If we are ever close to the Cedar Mill area we MUST go to Mill Pond Park (located on Mill Pond Road in the Forest Heights neighborhood). My daughter’s best preschool friend introduced us to this park when her family moved there a few years ago and it quickly became one of our most favorite parks to go to. There are plenty of places for kids to play, awesome play structures and walking trails around the pond.
  • LAKE OSWEGO/OREGON CITY
    I just adore George Rogers Park. It’s a fabulous place to take kids. There’s a beach (Willamette River), great walking trails and plenty of places for kids to explore.Before you head on over to Oregon City stop by Lake Oswego Ice Creamery. Yum!Oregon City fascinates kids. Sure, it probably is largely due to the Oregon Trail game, but the history in the town is fascinating, too. Stop by The End of Oregon Trail Interpretive Center and Willamette Falls when visiting Oregon City.

I could go on and on about all the wonderful places we have taken the kids to in the Portland area, but I will let you find those amazing places on your own. I have found that that is the fun of it. Search it out and explore. There are still so many other places that the kids and I still want to explore and experience like the Fruit Loop, the covered bridges in Albany, Balloons Over Bend, and the Gorge’s Bluegrass Festival and Fiddle Contest. That’s what’s so great about where we live… there’s so much to do and experience! Get out there and have fun!

Carrie is that smart friend who always knows the best places to visit and the greatest restaurants to hit up. She lives in Portland’s west side with her husband and five children. Follow her on Instagram @pdxfieldtrip.

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The Outpost

What: The Outpost
Where: Shute Park and Shadywood Park in Hillsboro
When: Monday to Friday, 10:30 am to 1:30 pm (June 15 to August 14)
Who: Children and youth ages 1 to 18 (and their parents)
Why: It’s a fun, free way to spend a summer afternoon
Cost: FREE

A Good Gray: The OutpostAfter swim lessons at SHARC this past week we happened upon a field full of children—running, screaming, and simply having a ball. I assumed it was a summer camp at the park, but a cowgirl passing by let us know it was something better: the Outpost.

Yeee haw!

The Outpost is a FREE drop-in program put on by the Hillsboro Parks and Recreation. Nearly every weekday you’ll find them at both Shute Park and Shadywood Park. They provide children ages 1 to 18 free reign to tons of outdoor toys, books, activities, water play, and crafts.

Particularly helpful to many people is the free lunch provided by the USDA. You’ll get a nutritious lunch at Shadywood from 11:30 am to 12 pm, and at Shute from 12 to 12:30 pm.

Parents are expected to stay and supervise/play, but honestly that’s part of the fun. So git yourselves to the park one of these days. Your family will love it.

A Good Gray: The OutpostA Good Gray: The Outpost

Parks with Water Features on Portland’s West Side

When the scorching days of summer leave your family screaming for a relief, where can you turn???

A Good Gray: Parks with Water on Portland's West SideHow about trying one of these cool parks on Portland’s west side! Each has a refreshing splash pad or other water feature running all season long.

HILLSBORO
Magnolia Park (Hillsboro): small, simple fountains are perfect for young children; fountains are user activated

53rd Avenue Community Park (Hillsboro): a large paved space with a fun programmed spray sequence of fountains; terraced seating all around; in the peak weeks there is a snack bar open

Walnut Street Park (Hillsboro): this small spot features sprays and mists that are user activated

Civic Center Fountains (Hillsboro): these fountains in Hillsboro’s very own civic plaza are a treat for kids of all ages


BEAVERTON

City Park Fountain (Beaverton): these are the grand-daddy of fountains; located near the library and the farmers’ market, these fountains are tall and powerful

Conestoga Recreation & Aquatic Center (Beaverton): this splash pad for kids of all ages costs $3.50 per child (adults are free)

*Updated* Fountains at Progress Ridge (Beaverton): fountains and splash pad

Are there any I missed? Please let me know!

P.S. Most water features are on from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but it’s wise to double check online.

Cooper Mountain Nature Park

What: Cooper Mountain Nature Park
Where: 18892 SW Kemmer Road, Beaverton
Who: All Ages
When: Daily dawn to dusk
Why: Nature, people. NATURE. (Oh, and a cute playground.)
Cost: FREE

A Good Gray: Cooper Mountain Nature ParkCooper Mountain Nature Park was a breath of fresh air. For. Real.

We hit it up on a gorgeous spring day and it was far nicer than I expected. A true gem. It had all the beauty of preserved land but with a fun playground and killer views. I simply couldn’t stop looking out over the Tualatin River Valley and saying to my girls, “THIS IS JUST SO BEAUTIFUL!”

They were too busy running around like crazy people to humor me with a response.

But who can blame them? The one-of-a-kind playground really hit the spot for them. It’s relatively small, but they were amazed by the pioneer wagon and the “magical” ladder-less slide (it’s built into the hill). There’s also a sandbox for younger kids and challenging bars and nets for older kids.

The heart of the park is, of course, the carefully preserved habitats. You’ll find 3.5 miles of trails covering conifer forests and prairies (the signs will help you say smart things like that too). Our stroller did great on the gravel paths, and you’ll bump into plenty of runners, casual hikers, and other parents.The land is all protected, so stick to the trails and leave your pets at home. The most exciting wildlife we saw was a hummingbird, but apparently with some silent patience (with kids! ha!) people have seen deer, bobcats, cougars, and black bears. (Maybe some noise is a good safety measure??)

There’s a Nature House that hosts classes and events, and the park also has the usual restrooms, picnic tables, and parking.

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Outdoors In

What: Outdoors In
Where: 124 E. Main Street, Hillsboro
Who: Ages 0 to 17
When: Monday to Friday 9 am to 12 pm, 2 to 5 pm; Saturday 9 am to 12 pm, 1 to 4 pm; Sunday 1 to 4 pm
Why: It’s the perfect playground for rainy days
Cost: $3.50 ages 1-17 (resident), under 1 free, adults free

Outdoors InAfter days of rain last week, we were searching for a cure to our cabin fever. Outdoors In, the city of Hillsboro’s indoor playground, was the perfect medicine.

Located in downtown Hillsboro by the civic center and courthouse, Outdoors In is simple yet surprisingly fun. There is a large play structure and several active toys–small bikes, scooters, balls, and more. There’s even an electronic light game that keeps kids moving. A large portion of the space is reserved for tables and chairs, and outside food is welcome.

I’d say this spot is most fun for kids under 8. Parents must stay with their kids. Keep an eye on the weird hours (I always forget about the break in the middle of the day!).

Hillsboro residents pay a discounted entry fee, and there are punch cards that offer further savings. You can even rent out the facility in the evenings for a reasonable price.

All in all, this is a great (dry!) place to run, scream, and play.

IMG_8262 A Good Gray: Outdoors In

Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve

What: Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve
Where: 2600 SW Hillsboro Highway, Hillsboro
Who: All ages
When: Daily, dawn to dusk (Education Center is open daily 10 am to 4 pm)
Why: It’s a great way to get outdoors, rain or shine
Cost: FREE ($2 suggested donation)

A Good Gray: Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve

I’ve been wanting to check out ye ol’ Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve for a while now, so on a gray morning I finally brought my girls there. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I’m happy to report we definitely weren’t disappointed!

The preserve is a free part of the Hillsboro park system, and it’s far closer to town than I expected. The wetlands are just thatacres upon acres of wet, marshy land that’s been set apart to protect the plants and wildlife.

We started at the education center. The helpful worker patiently showed us trails and which animals to look for this time of year. The center’s show-stopper was a real-deal bald eagle’s nest. It’s gigantic! It’s quite interesting how they got it. Bald eagles are a majorly protected species, so this is one of the only nests like this “in captivity.”

We then headed out on the trails. We liked the half-mile Kingfisher Marsh trail. There were viewing shelters and benches, as well as informative signs, labeled plants, and birds galore. We saw a few snakes (ugh), and we had our eyes peeled for nutrias, heron, frogs, and coyotes.

The trails are mostly gravel or mulch, so bring the right shoes and stroller (our jogging stroller did fine). Plan on keeping your kids on the trails and encouraging them to be quieter (the birdwatchers do NOT appreciate screaming kids). The preserve also asks that you not smoke, pick flowers, or bring pets.

There are free evening activities for kids and adults, and events from time to time. It’s quite the beautiful place! So grab your binoculars and plan for a peaceful walk.

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Forest Park

What: Forest Park
Where: Northwest Portland

Who: All ages
When: Daily 5 am to 10 pm
Why: It’s miles of beautiful hiking trails close to home
Cost: FREEA Good Gray: Forest Park

A while back a friend told stories of wonder about Forest Park. This large park on the edge of the city is a protected wooded wonderland with trails throughout. I was a bit overwhelmed to try it by myself, so she finally got me and another friend to join her hiking there last week.

There are several different trailheads, but with kids she suggests starting with the Wildwood Trail. You start it in Upper Macleay Park (off Cornell Road just past the Audubon Society of Portland). Park here and then head downhill to the stream trail that runs along Balch Creek. It’s steep, so keep your kids close or in a carrier.

After about half a mile you’ll run into a stone house that’s a perfect stopping/turning point. Our kids played in the house and down in the water for about an hour and a half! The saddest part was heading uphill back to the car. About 1oo yards from the parking lot, my 4-year-old started to lose the will to go on. It confirmed she’s not ready for longer hikes yet.

Other trails in Forest Park lead you to scenic viewpoints or historical spots like Pittock Mansion. There are trails that allow bikes and horses, so pay attention to signs. Pets must be on a leash, and no fires or camping are allowed.

You’ll love this chance to introduce your kids to some great hikes without having to leave town. Go discover Forest Park this summer!

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Our 6 Go-To Hillsboro Parks for Spring

Folks, it’s spring.

[cue the chorus of angels]

That means the flowers are blooming, the skies are blue, and we have enough dry days to make it worth it to go to the playground. Booya!

A Good Gray: Go-To Hillsboro Parks for Spring

Hillsboro has a plethora of parks, but here are our top 6 for the spring:

1. Shute Park750 SE 8th Avenue
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This souped-up playground is pretty sweet. It includes a toddler play structure, HUGE big-kid play structure, swings, seesaws, and sandbox. We love it! It’s also right next to the brand new Shute Library.

2. Noble Woods Park475 SE Century Blvd. (South Entrance), 23480 W Baseline Road (North Entrance)
A Good Gray: Go-To Hillsboro Parks for SpringA Good Gray: Go-To Hillsboro Parks for Spring
MAN this place is beautiful! The playground you’ll find here is nature-made. Our girls love to hunt for bugs and leaves on the trails and bridges. This is a great way to get safely lost with your kids in the incredibly interesting Oregon woods. The pavilion and field are by the south entrance.

3. Magnolia Park1810 NW 192nd Avenue
A Good Gray: Go-To Hillsboro Parks for Spring A Good Gray: Go-To Hillsboro Parks for Spring

This Tanasbourne park has a play structure for toddlers as well as older kids (which includes what we call “the gigantic slide”). You’ll also find a covered pavilion and easy, road-side parking. And come summer? There are play fountains.

4. Orchard Park20900 NW Amberwood Drive
A Good Gray: Go-To Hillsboro Parks for Spring A Good Gray: Go-To Hillsboro Parks for Spring
I admit the playground is tiny, but the cool climbing boulders (big and small) go a long way. There are also great trails for spying wildlife, and a disc golf course that’s hoppin’ during lunch hour.

5. Frances Street Park6205 SE Frances Street
A Good Gray: Go-To Hillsboro Parks for Spring
Nestled in a neighborhood, this cute ship-themed play structure is on turf (no bark chips in the shoes!). There are basketball courts right down the hill from the playground, and lots of fields to run on.

6. 53rd Avenue Community Park300 NE 53rd Avenue

A Good Gray: Go-To Hillsboro Parks for Spring A Good Gray: Go-To Hillsboro Parks for Spring
The playground is best for older kids, but even our littlest has a fun time here. Besides the play structure, there’s a sandbox, hill with a great view, turf fields, basketball courts, and tennis courts. There’s no shade, so once it’s hotter come for the cool fountains instead of the playground.

So once you see those clouds part this spring, start running to the park! (But maybe bring a towel to dry off the slides.)