Editor’s note: Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions have eased, but businesses may ask you to wear a face cover – bring one along and be patient and kind if asked to wear it. It’s also wildfire season – plan ahead and do your part to prevent wildfires.
Oregon’s blue skies and milder temperatures in March bring a chance for families to enjoy a much-needed break from the indoor routine: spring break. Oregon’s wide-open outdoor spaces offer a number of opportunities for adventure with built-in COVID-19 safety, and it’s amazing how putting yourself in nature can brighten your mood. Here are a handful of ways to make this week a special one without putting in too many extra miles.
Family-Friendly Nature Escapes in the Portland Region
You don’t have to go far from the city to unwind with lovely views. In Oregon City, Canemah Bluff Nature Park is a locals’ secret that encompasses a children’s park with picnic tables and several miles of unpaved trails that wind through diverse habitats for bird-watching and trees like the rare Oregon white oak and Pacific madrone. In spring look for purple camas and Brodiaea lilies. (Note that the parking lot is very small, so visit early or come with snacks and be prepared to wait.) Lake Oswego’s George Rogers Park stretches across 26 acres with river access, picnic areas and plenty of pet-friendly walking trails. Sherwood’s Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is a dynamic watershed known for ample birdlife, while Mary S. Young Park in West Linn features wooded trails and a large off-leash area for canine day-trippers. Wherever you go, set out midweek or early in the day for the fewest crowds, and remember to pack out all trash, including pet waste. Find more family-friendly hikes for your spring activity list.
Check Out Lesser-Known Campsites
If you’re up for an excursion that involves sleeping under the stars and roasting s’mores, it’s not too late to plan a family camping trip. Be open to finding a campsite in your county so you don’t travel far during COVID-19. Check the online reservation systems for the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon State Parks to see if they have any last-minute availability for campsites. Campgrounds in some parts of the state, like the Southern Oregon Coast or Eastern Oregon, are typically less crowded and have the added bonus of an off-the-beaten-path feel. If you don’t find any reservations available, don’t sweat it. A number of Oregon’s campgrounds offer first-come, first-served campsites. These sites exist all across the state, including Cottonwood Canyon State Park along the John Day River and Farewell Bend State Recreation Area, on the bank of the Snake River’s Brownlee Reservoir in Ontario. All you have to do is try to show up to the campsite a few hours before the official check-in time of 4 p.m. Wherever you set out, don’t forget to pack your Ten Essentials, and if you don’t have gear on hand, consider ordering an adventure to go.
Spend a Day at a Spring Event
The end of March marks the start of springtime events in Oregon, many of which took last year off and will return with new COVID-19 safety protocols in place. Fresh, seasonal produce is on display at Oregon Farmers Markets beginning to re-open across the state, with Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley Growers Market launching its Ashland Tuesday Market and Medford Thursday Market in March. One of Oregon’s most Instagram-worthy destinations, the Wooden Shoe Tulip Fest in Woodburn, is set on 80 acres with plenty of space to keep 6-feet distance from those outside your pod and orchestrate your most vibrant family photo yet. The event lasts from March 19 to May 2, 2021, with day passes available March 1. Tickets for timed entry are entirely online and capacity is limited, so plan ahead. Don’t leave without stopping in downtown Woodburn for a tasty plate of tacos or tortas at one of the many locally owned Mexican eateries like Trapala Restaurant or Luis’s Taqueria.
Fish or Bike in The Dalles
From age 2 to 102, everyone can fish. Here’s your chance to create a tradition — or at least a memory — the kids might remember forever, whether or not they land a catch. Many of Oregon’s waterways offer world-class fishing opportunities including The Dalles, the sunny town full of historic shops and funky new eateries. It’s also the eastern gateway to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, surrounded by the Deschutes, Columbia, John Day and Klickitat Rivers. Two great spots to start are The Dalles Marina and Heritage Landing. The area is known for its prized steelhead, salmon, sturgeon and small-mouth bass but especially its walleye, which sees peak season in March and April. Either bring your own gear and purchase your own fishing license, stop into a local shop or book a local expert guide. Or bring your bikes for some sunny pedaling through wide-open spaces and orchard-covered countryside. Take on a short loop through town or a more challenging route like the 16.7-mile Cherry Heights Loop, along farmland roads with several climbs and views of the Columbia River. Afterwards, reward yourself a tasty treat along the East Gorge Food Trail.
Classic Coastal Adventures
The Oregon Coast has been a favorite destination for families especially during COVID-19, with its broad shoreline and soothing sea breeze. The Southern Oregon Coast often has the fewest crowds, with pristine waterways that lend themselves to natural physical distancing. Coos Bay is home to the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, a protected area of land and estuary where you can find a trail map and friendly staff to guide you. While you’re near the ocean, keep a lookout for some massive visitors: gray whales on their spring migration north to Alaska. A great place to glimpse the giant beauties is the Cape Sebastian State Scenic Corridor near Brookings — don’t forget your binoculars and layer up, as coastal weather can be unpredictable. Farther north in Newport, the Oregon Coast Aquarium is newly reopened with one-way paths inside so you can keep at least 6 feet away from those outside your party. No reservations are necessary (purchase tickets online or at the gate). The Seaside Aquarium is also reopened, with its famous family of harbor seals and touch tank of underwater creatures. It’s located on the historic Seaside Promenade, which marks its centennial in August 2021.
Rocks Rule in Eastern Oregon
If you’re already in Eastern or Central Oregon, you can have a blast exploring your own backyard. Dive into the fascinating geology at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, made up of three separate but distinct visiting areas. The Sheep Rock Unit allows you to get a close-up look at layers of green, purple and brown earth, some of which dates back 33 million years. The Clarno Unit wows with its jagged-edged rock formations and mudflows that date back millions of years. The Painted Hills Unit is most accessible, with several short boardwalks for easy exploring. The unit earns its name from the stripes of red, tan, orange and black that appear as if they were painted on. (Note that the Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor Center is temporarily closed.) Always stay on designated trails, and follow more Don’t Hurt the Dirt rules to protect this delicate ecology. Each of these units offers trails of varying lengths for a build-your-own adventure.