: Thomas Boyd

Road Trip! Family Fun on I-5

Megan Monson, Guest Author
June 29, 2012 (Updated July 17, 2019)

Oregon’s share of Interstate 5 runs neatly down the length of the state, from the California border all the way up to the south side of the Columbia River. It’s mostly straight, mostly flat, and you can drive its 308 miles in just under five hours. But why would you want to?

I-5 is packed full of family fun, most of it close enough to be visible from the freeway. From theme parks to animal parks, fish ladders to fairy tales — it’s all just an exit away. So buckle in as we count down the miles, heading north into Oregon from the southern border.

The new Ashland Welcome Center just off I-5 includes a kids’ play area, grownups’ lounge area and visitor information to keep everyone happy on your road trip.

Exit 14, Ashland

Road trippers arriving at Oregon’s southern border now get to stop for restrooms, information, a play area, Wi-Fi and more at the Ashland Welcome Center, the newest of Travel Oregon’s eight welcome centers statewide. The Cascadia-themed structure is a showcase for all things Oregon. Friendly staff will be happy to offer resources about attractions and activities in Southern Oregon and beyond. Also just off the exit, Ashland’s ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum is a museum with activities (including a pedal-powered railroad) for all ages. And just a few miles west, Lithia Park is Ashland’s crown jewel, with 93 acres of trails, gardens and natural spaces for exploring year-round. The compact, walkable downtown bustles with the arts, boutique shops, sidewalk cafes, and dog- and kid-friendly spots for lounging.

Exit 40, Gold Hill

A trip through Southern Oregon would simply not be complete without visiting one of the state’s more quirky attractions — the Oregon Vortex/House of Mystery, a house of crazy angles that has been baffling visitors since it opened to the public in 1930. The tour guide tells visitors that a “spherical field of force” causes the dizzying phenomenon, but seeing a golf ball roll uphill defies all explanation.

Exit 76, Wolf Creek

In Oregon’s olden days, the Wolf Creek Inn welcomed weary stagecoach passengers traveling the California-Oregon Stage Road. It still serves trans-state passengers today, even if their mode of commute is a little more mechanized. Oregon State Parks, which owns the inn (along with the nearby ghost town of Golden), completely restored the nine guest rooms to their former glory. Stop into the inn’s elegant restaurant for a bite or a drink, sign up for a guided tour of the historic space (where Clark Gable once slept) and book a night at the inn — which is reportedly haunted, so beware. 

Wildlife Safari in Winston is a favorite stop off I-5 for all ages. There's plenty of wildlife outside the safari park, too: Oregon is famous for birding, whale-watching, elk, deer, butterflies and more.


Exit 119, Winston

Wildlife Safari is a favorite destination for I-5 travelers and local residents alike. Here, there be lions and tigers and bears — and cheetahs, camels and giraffes, too (learn more about the safari’s renowned cheetah conservation program to help address the threatened species). You can see all of them on a leisurely 4.5-mile drive through the compound. Or park the car and visit Safari Village’s free petting zoo (beware of the llama — she spits) and take a ride on the Safari Train. Be sure to check out the activities board; the elephants are known to throw a car wash every once in a while.

Exit 129, Roseburg

Along the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway the Winchester Fish Ladder is definitely under the tourist radar, but it’s one of the most fun — and free — things you can do off I-5. Climb down from the parking lot above the North Umpqua River to the Winchester Dam (prepare to descend several steep sets of stairs) to find lots of big winter steelhead on the other side of the Plexiglass-enclosed viewing area. Between waterfall hikes, mountain bike trails, scenic wineries, and rafting on the Wild and Scenic North Umpqua River, Roseburg is full of epic adventures all year-round. Find sweet spots for snacking and other fun stops for kids along the Great Umpqua Food Trail

Exit 148, Rice Hill

Known up and down the West Coast as “that ice cream place on I-5,” K&R Drive-In stays busy all day serving freeway motorists. There are no bathrooms and no indoor seating, but the travelers lined up for burgers and local Umpqua ice cream don’t seem to care. Enjoy towering ice cream cones under the classic drive-in sign while waiting for burgers and fat steak fries. Thirty minutes west of Rice Hill, the Elkton Butterfly Pavilion is a fun diversion, with fascinating wildlife to see and acres to roam.

Find year-round fun at Splash! at Lively Park, a great way to tire out before hopping back in the car. Courtesy of Willamalane Park and Recreation

Exit 182, Creswell

A stone’s throw from Cottage Grove’s six covered bridges — and the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway — Creswell is filled with worthy diversions. To the east of I-5, the public Emerald Valley Golf Club awaits, while Garden Lake Park is a picturesque place to stretch your legs. Nearby Creswell Bakery hits the spot with their fresh artisan goods — try the hazelnut sticky bun or savory meat pie. Find other tasty stops for rumbling tummies along the self-guided South Willamette Valley Food Trail.   

Exit 186, Eugene

Tucked into the forested hills of Fox Hollow in south Eugene, the Cascades Raptor Center is a delight for children and adults alike. Peruse the grounds, home to some 50 birds of prey, which serves as a working hospital and rehabilitation center for native raptor species. From here, the towering Spencer Butte is just a short drive away. Hike the butte’s semi-moderate 1.7-mile loop trail to its rocky summit, where you’ll be treated to 360-degree views of the valley below.

Exit 189, Springfield

No matter what the weather is like outside, the water is always warm and inviting in the year-round indoor water park at Splash! at Lively Park. There are concessions, a sundeck, slides and waves galore. The Springfield Mural Walking Tour is a fantastic way to take in the town’s sights. Sample your way through tasty places to eat and drink on the South Willamette Valley Food Trail, including the hyper-local breads, pizzas and cakes at 100 Mile Bakery. Look for more arts, culture and outdoor trip ideas here and in surrounding communities of the South Willamette Valley. 

Exit 216, Brownsville

It’s worth the 4-mile journey off the highway to see the old railroad town of Brownsville, which houses the Linn County Historical Museum in an old train depot and adjacent boxcars. You can also pick up a walking map of sights used in the filming of “Stand By Me,” a nostalgic ‘80s classic. Volunteers also guide tours of the 1881 Moyer Historic House. For a quick dose of water sports, picnicking and wildlife watching, the accessible Willamette River National Water Trail is just a few minutes away. Or take the family for a hassle-free thrill on the water with the guided Scenic Jet Boat Tours, based out of nearby Harrisburg. 

An Oregon icon since the 1970s, this family-owned theme park is full of classic rides for young and old. Courtesy of Enchanted Forest

Exit 248, Turner

If fairy tales could come to life, they would be played out in the Enchanted Forest, a magical place of cottages and gingerbread houses nestled on the side of a mountain. The 20-acre theme park is a labor of love for the local Tofte family, who have been steadily adding attractions since the park opened in 1971. The original attraction is still the favorite: Storybook Lane, where kids can crawl through Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole and stagger through the crooked house (where the crooked man lives). Next door is Willamette Valley Vineyards, where you can sip a flight of pinot with views on the dog-friendly patio. Looking for more whimsy here? Try these wacky Willamette Valley detours. 

Exit 253, Salem

On the banks of the Willamette River under the Marion Street Bridge awaits a two-for-one treat for visitors that could easily take up your entire day: Salem Riverfront Park and Gilbert House Children’s Museum. The enclosed Riverfront Carousel is an old-fashioned treat for all ages. The Historic Downtown Salem cycling route lets you explore the city’s cultural and historic sites on two wheels. Teach the kids about civic engagement with a tour of the Oregon State Capitol (through late November). Stroll or ride your bike along 29 miles of trails at Minto-Brown Island Park, the city’s largest park, with a 30-acre off-leash park for pups too. 

Exit 283, Wilsonville

It’s no accident that Bullwinkle’s Entertainment — and its brightly colored miniature golf course, complete with pennants flying from a teeny-tiny castle — is conveniently next to the freeway. The mini-golf may be the reason to stop, but it’s just one of the reasons to stay. The 6-acre complex includes go-karts, bumper boats and batting cages outside, as well as a new 16-lane bowling center and two-story arcade inside. Everyone in the family will find something to do at World of Speed, a large museum that showcases the history of auto culture along with interactive STEM-based displays for kids. And the Farm Stand at the Kitchen at Middleground Farms in Wilsonville is a great place to pick up local granola, honey, salt or olive oil; they have cooking classes too. 

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