Sometimes when you’re road tripping with the family, the best entertainment for everyone in the car is absolutely free — and this is especially true here in Oregon. From geologic wonders to good old conspiracy fun, check out these treasures that are sure to bring out the kid in all of us.
In Central Oregon, Fort Rock Basin — better known as Hole in the Ground — is a mile-wide explosion crater that drops 150 meters below ground level. But don’t worry about falling in. A few different trails will let you stroll at your leisure to the bottom, where you can ponder the geologic events that caused the crater. The area is so desolate, it was used by astronauts in training in the 1960s to resemble the moon’s surface.
About 50 miles east, just north of Christmas Valley, Crack in the Ground is another stunning natural wonder. The volcanic fissure is more than two miles long and up to 70 feet deep and can be hiked along the trail on the bottom. Fissures are typically filled in with soil and rock through erosion, but this one remains unfilled because of the arid conditions. The bottom of the crack can be about 20 degrees cooler than at the surface, so bring a jacket.
In the Willamette Valley, just south of Salem, it’s hard to miss the Enchanted Forest, a quirky and homemade theme park inspired by classic fairy tales. Since 1971, the Enchanted Forest has entertained families with its unique rides and stunning DIY craftsmanship. The park is filled with storybook characters like Humpty Dumpty, Alice in Wonderland and Pinnocchio — each with an old-school made-in-Oregon flair.
Along the northern Oregon Coast, on Clatsop Spit near Fort Stevens in Warrenton, you’ll find a relic of the Pacific Ocean’s unforgiving waters: the wreck of the Peter Iredale. This four-masted, steel ship ran ashore in 1906 and is now one of the most accessible shipwrecks on the West Coast. It has remained here, slowly decaying on the shore for more than a century. At low tide, big kids can walk up to the vessel’s remains and wonder about how it met such a fate.
Continue down Highway 101 to find the Prehistoric Gardens in a lush, temperate rain forest near Port Orford. Two dozen life-size dinosaur replicas lurk in the thick undergrowth, waiting to thrill the young and aspiring paleontologists among us.
In Southern Oregon, you can find the world’s only known Bigfoot trap, a funny way to show affection for our native son of the Pacific Northwest. Built in 1974 by a group of enthusiasts who reportedly baited it with meat for six years (only to catch bears), the 10-foot-square wooden box with a trap door is all about the story — so talk it up. It’s in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest — between Cave Junction and Ashland — about three quarters of a mile into the hike on the Collings Mountain Trail starting at the Applegate Lake Hart-Tish Park picnic area.
Yet another must-see is the Oregon Vortex and House of Mystery, just a quick 10 minutes from the highway in Gold Hill. Strange things happen here, like balls rolling uphill, brooms standing on end, and people’s heights changing based on where they stand. Legend has it that John Litster — a Scottish geologist, mining engineer and physicist — opened the area to the public in the 1930s and conducted thousands of experiments here until his death in 1959. Is it all a bunch of illusions, or a real magnetic vortex? That’s for you to ponder on the way home.