When the fall crush of homework, soccer, carpools and daylight savings becomes too punishing, sometimes there’s only one thing to do: find a long weekend and pile into the van for a mini family retreat. Often, a good car ride together is the best way to reconnect (if not have fun trying).
Just a 4.5-hour drive from Portland, 1.5 hours from Crater Lake and right on the Oregon-California border, lovely Ashland in Southern Oregon offers a lot of easy ways for families to experience the unique region in the fall. The crowds from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival are winding down (the festival runs through October), and the dry climate, vibrant culture and warm hospitality remains.
One way to book an easy trip is to make it an off-the-grid, back-to-the-land experience at Willow-Witt Ranch farm stay, a 440-acre high-country ranch that raises goats, pigs and chickens for meat and eggs, as well as year-round gardens. Talking with the farmers, kids (and grownups) will get to see the preservation, alternative energy production and sustainable agriculture methods in practice. Not to mention the sheer beauty of the fall foliage and prime stargazing from this spot. Stay at the site’s Farmhouse Studio, Meadow House, rustic furnished wall tents or at their campground at affordable rates. If you don’t stay the night, come for the farm tour, which is $25 for adults and free for kids under the age of 12. Better yet, join a 4-hour pack goat hiking trip.
Inspire all of the family’s foodies — young and old — at the Ashland Culinary Festival (Nov. 8-11, 2018). Watch as 12 local chefs compete for the top chef title; there’s also a first-time Junior Chef competition Saturday night. Then grab some excellent grub at local family-friendly spots like Standing Stone Brewing Co., Alchemy Restaurant & Bar and Caldera Tap House, which boasts the area’s largest outdoor seating area, with a three-tiered deck overlooking Ashland Creek. Each have solid kids’ menus and some of Southern Oregon’s finest ales on tap.
Satisfy your inner nerd and spend an afternoon at the ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum, a nonprofit enterprise with indoor and outdoor exhibits including a “bubble-ology” room, a hall of illusions and a weather station with a 33-foot meteorological tower that takes real-time readings.
You can also follow the self-guided interpretive trails at North Mountain Park, which leads to a beautiful sandbox, all sorts of wildlife and pieces of native art. On weekdays, the park lets visitors check out Discovery Kits for $3, which come with storybooks and nature lessons for kids aged 6 to 11 to fuel their outdoor exploration. Kids can also join in CreatureQuest, marking off different sites along the park for a hole punch on their passport.
Finally, don’t leave Ashland without a day at Lithia Park, the city’s crown jewel. Kids will love the impressive playground and duck ponds amidst the 93 acres while you can soak up some serious fall colors in the Japanese Garden and other trees that’ll reach their peak in mid- to late-October.
For more kid-approved lodging options, Ashland is home to more than a dozen charming bed & breakfast options, many of which are located within walking distance to Lithia Park and other downtown. Try Abigail’s Bed & Breakfast Inn or Bayberry Inn.