Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Stay posted on what Oregon’s phased reopening means for you, and follow these steps for social distancing outdoors. Also, remember to bring your face covering, required for all of Oregon’s public indoor spaces and outdoors when keeping 6 feet of distance isn’t possible. Before you set out, check road and weather conditions and check travel alerts to make sure it’s safe to be outdoors amidst smoke and wildfire conditions.
I have a tween and a teenager now, but when they were younger, I loved nothing more than to head to a new destination in Oregon where I could easily — and I mean easily — keep them entertained for a whole weekend without the hassle of constantly moving around.
On my checklist would be someplace that’s fun for kids and grown-ups too, with indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy, great food and drink on-site, and even a bit of history and culture to soak up too (shh, don’t tell the kids they’re learning something).
Wildhorse Resort & Casino, situated at the foothills of Eastern Oregon’s scenic Blue Mountains, just over three hours east of Portland, is that kind of place. Owned and operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, this expansive property has nearly everything under one roof, including a brand-new Family FunPlex. Here’s how to spend a wild family weekend at Wildhorse.
Day 1: Road Trip, Bowling and Arcade Games
Buckle up for a short road trip. Packing is easy since you’ll be staying in comfortable, modern rooms and don’t have to bring anything other than your teddy bear and PJs. You could also rent a teepee or tent site at the casino’s RV park, for a more rugged option. In the casino, don’t forget your face coverings — like other lodging properties, Wildhorse has created strict COVID protocols to follow to ensure everyone’s health and safety.
Once you’re in your room, relax and unwind. You might be hungry, and you have your pick of a variety of on-site options for food and drink, from quick snacks to gourmet dinners. (That’s not counting room service, which is available too.) A great lunch choice is a grilled cheese or burger at the Food Court, which the kids will demand to come to again and again.
It’s time to hit the FunPlex! You can spend the entire day (or weekend) in this space alone. A state-of-the-art 24-lane bowling center lets you reconnect with your small party for hours of fun. The modernized bowling experience includes game options and mobile apps for a fully immersive environment. The FunPlex arcade features more than 30 new as well as classic games, along with a place to cash in your tokens for fun prizes. When the kids are tuckered out, it might be time to grab a quick bite before heading back to your room. The on-site food court features plenty of kid favorites, including hamburgers, noodles and ice cream, as well as fresh, local fish ‘n chips, wild-caught salmon and ceviche from the Native Brigham sisters, a spinoff of their Cascade Locks location. When the kids don’t want to leave, promise you’ll be back soon.
Day 2: Golf, Native History and a Movie
Today you’ll want to explore a bit, but let the kids know an afternoon movie is in the cards. Pick up coffee and breakfast sandwiches at Wild Roast Coffee & Deli on your way to the 18-hole golf course, where one grown-up may want to sneak off to play on the pristine greens while the other takes the kids into historic downtown Pendleton. Visit Hamley Western Store, one of the oldest saddle shops in the United States. The shop was recently purchased by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
It’s a great time to talk to the kids about how the Confederation is made up of three tribes — Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla — that have lived in this region for thousands of years. The tribes’ 1855 treaty with the United States government ceded more than 6.4 million acres of land to the U.S. while reserving the rights to fish, hunt and gather food and medicine within the ceded land. Games of skill and chance have always been part of the tribes’ culture, which is why casinos sprung up in 1988 after the U.S. passed a law allowing tribal gaming to support their nations. Wildhorse Resort & Casino is now celebrating its 25th anniversary, having been a favorite resort destination in Eastern Oregon for visitors young and old. Find out more about the region’s Native history and culture on a trip to Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, just a mile away.
Pop back into the FunPlex for another round of arcade games, and then meet up for lunch near the golf course at the Clubhouse Bar & Grill. Grab a soup and salad while the kids can take their pick from the classics or even a 6-ounce sirloin, for refined palates. It’s time for that movie you promised. The five-screen Cineplex features mega-hits like “The Avengers,” “Zootopia,” “The Greatest Showman,” “Aquaman” and “Trolls World Tour” in 2D and 3D at prices lower than most theaters, with plenty of matinee slots for early bedtimes. If you haven’t eaten too much popcorn and candy, it might be time for dinner. At Wildhorse Sports Bar you can get everything from tacos and wings to Pendleton bites (smoked beef brisket and spicy mac ’n cheese with Pendleton Whisky barbecue sauce) and a 10-ounce steak with fries along with a cocktail to celebrate. You’re in cowboy country, so live it up.
Day 3: Waffles, Slot Machines and Downtown Pendleton
Wake up to smiles and waffles with whipped cream and wild huckleberries at Traditions Dining, the on-site restaurant nearby the casino floor. Spend your last morning letting them get their wiggles out at the Children’s Entertainment Center, which includes gaming consoles, a play area, a karaoke machine, and arts and crafts to take home. You can pay an hourly rate to let kids ages 3 to 13 play here while you hit the slot machines or visit the hotel’s indoor pool, which connects to an outdoor patio for those who want to bask in the sun. Just down the road on Interstate 84, stop off in downtown Pendleton just a few miles west to explore the great family-friendly spaces before heading home.