Road Trip: Oregon is the Coolest Classroom

2 dads and their boys embark on a fun — and educational — family adventure.
2 Travel Dads,  Photographer
May 13, 2019

If you’ve ever been hesitant about taking a long road trip with young kids (and what parent or grandparent hasn’t?), just check out @2TravelDads on Instagram. Rob and Chris Taylor’s enthusiasm for trekking with their sons, Oliver (7) and Elliott (4), is downright infectious. They leave no stone unturned, no bug unexamined, no question unanswered. That’s because for this adventurous family, the world is a classroom.

“You have to pack up the kids and go,” Rob writes on their travel blog, the first on the web dedicated to LGBTQ families. “Catch a plane. Jump on a boat. Hit the road. There is no better teacher than experience. There’s no better way to impact the world around you than to be out in it.”

That’s why the Taylors have built their life around taking their sons on adventures. “The less time they have on screens, the more they get into the trips,” says Rob. “We were careful not to let them get too immersed in movies and games. I know six hours in a car with kids is a lot of conversation, but it’s also a lot of fun to hear what your kids are thinking. As they get older, they become much more alert to where we are.”

Recently, the Seattle-based family put rubber to the road for an action-packed and educational trip in one of their favorite states: Oregon, of course. Follow their four-day family expedition south to Southern Oregon, then out to the gorgeous Oregon Coast. You’ll be inspired to retrace their steps to waterfalls, wildlife parks and cool underground caverns.

Toketee Falls

Will Brake for Waterfalls

Although the main goal was the Wildlife Safari park near Roseburg, the Taylors know from experience that kids are much happier when you break up the monotony of long car rides with pit stops for a short hike or to check out some cool scenery. Their first big stop in Oregon? The lovely and lush Silver Falls State Park, just southeast of Salem. The Trail of Ten Falls is a nearly 8-mile loop, though you can make it a much shorter hike by taking one of the several connecting trails.

“That was a great way for us to start the trip because it has easy hikes with a big bang,” says Rob. “You get to go behind a waterfall.”

From there they headed to Roseburg, the perfect home base for exploring even more waterfall hikes in Southern Oregon. They set out on the Thundering Waters route (check out a PDF of the itinerary here), just an hour outside of town. “It’s the highway that goes through the Umpqua National Forest to Crater Lake,” says Rob. “There are 15 different spots where you can do short or long hikes to waterfalls. It’s just corner after corner of mossy rocks, and huge and small waterfalls, and kid-friendly trails.”

Tour bus at the Wildlife Safari

Catching Up With a Cheetah

The kids could hardly contain their excitement at Wildlife Safari, just 10 minutes from Roseburg in the small town of Winston.

Known for its world-renowned cheetah conservation program in partnership with the Species Survival Plan, the Safari offers a one-and-a-half-hour drive-through experience, where you can spot animals as diverse as rhinos and lions, as well as the Cheetah Stroll Encounter, where visitors can get up close and personal with this threatened species.

“That was the most amazing part,” says Rob, “getting to meet with a cheetah and get close enough to hear it purr. It’s crazy loud.”

The boys loved it too, peppering the guides with an onslaught of questions. “They’re very scientific, smart kids,” says Rob. “They had so many questions, and the handlers and guides are very involved with all different aspects of managing the wildlife there, so they could really speak to everything.”

Cheetah at Wildlife Safari
Oregon Caves National Monument

Exploring the Oregon Caves

Leaving the big game and big waterfalls near Roseburg behind, the family hit the road south to charming, historic downtown Grants Pass for clam chowder at the Laughing Clam and a cozy night at the Weasku Inn. “It’s this really beautiful lodge directly on the Rogue River,” Rob says. “We stayed in an A-frame with a river-rock fireplace and a deck on the river. The kids had their own sleeping loft. It’s one of the coziest places I’ve ever been — and we travel a lot.”

In the morning, they fueled up with a home-cooked breakfast in the lodge, then headed to the Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve, southeast of Cave Junction, where the caves are ripe for exploration. “Both kids were wowed by everything. The rock formations are jaw-dropping, especially if you haven’t been to caves often,” says Rob. “It’s a marble cave; most others are limestone, so it looks very different.”

Keep in mind that exploring the caves requires climbing up ladder stairs, walking along slippery paths and crouching through narrow, low passageways. And it’s always a chilly 45 degrees, no matter what time of year. You can even join a ranger-guided tour specifically for younger kids.

Oregon Caves tour
Harris Beach State Park

Uncovering South Coast Secrets

The final leg of their trip was Oregon’s wild South Coast. They cruised up the iconic Highway 101, making a beeline for Brookings, where the kids spent the day peering into tide pools, ogling sea stacks and playing tag with the surf at Harris Beach State Park.

They took their time driving north to Gold Beach, stopping at turnouts along the way including Cape Blanco Lighthouse. “That’s one of the cool things about driving the Southern Oregon Coast,” says Rob. “There are viewpoints everywhere, and a lot of the viewpoints have beach access.” They settled in for the night at the SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western, where all the rooms have a private balcony and ocean views.

Their next day of adventure took them to the Charleston Marine Life Center in the harbor at Coos Bay to check out the tide-pool creatures in the touch tank, get up close to whale skeletons, spy on seals through telescopes and learn about all the cool aquatic life thriving along the Oregon Coast.

Another favorite spot was the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area in Reedsport. The dunes stretch for over 20 miles all the way to Florence, passing through Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park along the way. “We got to go kayaking there and do some dune hiking, which is the greatest workout of your life,” Rob says. “And we took the kids on a dune-buggy tour, which is great. It gives you the thrill of it while keeping you safe.”

If the kids have anything to say about it, they’ll clearly have to revisit this itinerary again. “The kids loved it. It’s so fun. It gives you that combination of thrills and sightseeing.”

Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park

If You Go

Rob and Chris Taylor pack most of their trips with plenty of outdoor adventure, bringing their own healthy, waste-free snacks to eat in the car along the way. They also make a habit of downloading offline maps with Google Maps. When exploring nature, be sure to take a page from their book by following these Leave No Trace tips — stay on the trails, and respect wildlife and other visitors.

Silver Falls State Park: Day-use parking is $5, and the park offers restrooms, picnic tables, a playground and even an off-leash area. (Dogs are not allowed on the Trail of Ten Falls.)

Thundering Waters Route: There are 11 waterfall hikes of varying lengths and difficulties to choose from, most with parking lots equipped with picnic tables and restrooms.

Wildlife Safari: The drive-through tour closes at 6 p.m., though no cars are admitted after 5 p.m. Pets aren’t allowed in the cars, but there are free on-site (but unsupervised) kennels for pets, and lock rental costs $5.

Harris Beach State Park: Sandy beaches, tide pools, restrooms and campsites available. Day-use parking is free.

Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve: Caves access is only available through a guided tour, available late March through early November, and participants must be 42 inches or taller. Tours fill up fast during spring and summer breaks, so reservations are recommended.

Charleston Marine Life Center: Explore the aquarium, touch tanks and exhibits all focused on the marine life and ecosystems off Oregon’s coast. Open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $5 adults, kids are free.

Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park: Day-use parking is $5.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area: During western snowy plover nesting season (March 15 to September 15), check for beach restrictions.

About The

Danielle Centoni
Danielle Centoni is a food and travel writer, editor and the author of numerous cookbooks. She has worked on staff for the Oakland Tribune, The Oregonian, Imbibe Magazine, MIX Magazine, and Eater Portland, where her work earned a James Beard Journalism Award in 2016. Her recipes and articles have also appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, Rachael Ray Everyday, and EatingWell, among others. Her latest cookbook, "Fried Rice: 50 Ways to Stir Up the World’s Favorite Grain," was published in August 2019.

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