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Monday, August 5, 2013

Seven Great Educational & Fun Summer Trips in the Northwest

by Catherine Pittman

When it comes to educational tourist attractions, you automatically think of museums.  There are science, history and art museums located throughout the world, but when one thinks of a summer vacation, you don’t want to spend it visiting museums. While museums serve a very important educational tool, there are plenty of vacations that can also incorporate education, without having to spend your entire vacation visiting museums!

As parents, we know the importance of continuing our kid’s education even when school lets out for the summer. Education is the farthest thing from any child’s mind! An educational vacation or summer day trip can provide great fun, and encourage kids to continue their education during the long, lazy days of summer. 

Northwest Ecological & Natural Wonders

The whale watching season is April through September, and summer months offer a time of year when the scenery is beautiful and whale watching can be great fun.  A visit to Washington’s San Juan Islands offers a great opportunity to watch whales and birds in their natural habitat, as well as kayaking, kite flying, bicycling, boating and shopping for the shop-a-holic in the family.

The Columbia River Gorge is an 80-mile geological wonder that should not be missed. Glacial floods that occurred thousands of years ago carry this beautiful 1,200 mile-long river, which is the only sea-level passage to cross the Cascade Mountains.

Waterfalls abound and are easily accessible, and there are a multitude of other fun activities including camping, nature hikes, wind surfing, kayaking, wineries, music festivals, and river cruises.  It is a local source of phenomenal beauty, providing a wonderful playground for just about every kind of natural wonder and recreation there is.

Camping in the gorge offers an ideal setting for education, as well as an appreciation of the splendor of nature. There are numerous bed and breakfasts, inns, and hotels that offer accommodations for those who do not like to camp.

One cannot possibly live in the northwest without at least one visit to Mount St. Helens. When visiting it today, it is hard to imagine the serenity of the surrounding forest erupting in a cataclysmic and devastating event that shattered the area, as it was the morning of May 18, 1980.  The area’s plant and animal life has made a truly incredible comeback, and it provides a spectacular educational opportunity for your family. The area boasts three visitor centers: Mount Ct. Helens, Coldwater Ridge and Johnston Ridge Observatory.

The Johnston Ridge Observatory offers grand views of much of the 1980 blast zone, and is the closest you can get to the volcano by car. Here your children can see the lava dome, crater, pumice plain the landslide deposit, and discover the art and science of monitoring an active volcano. The observatory includes a wide-screen theater presentation that is a “must see” video that depict the sequence of geologic events, and the curtain finale should not be missed!

The Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center offers views of the volcano, as well as new lakes that have recently formed, and the debris-filled Toutle River Valley, while the St. Helens Visitor Center offers a fantastic walk-through volcano model that is very popular with kids of all ages. Your kids will learn a great deal with the interactive exhibits at both centers, and not far from the St. Helens center is a one-mile nature trail and the Silver Lake wetlands. They provide further opportunities for your child to learn about and observe waterfowl, wildlife and native plants.

Wolf Haven International, located in Tenino, Washington, is an educational wolf sanctuary that includes guided tours, group activities, and seasonal programs and events. Since its inception in 1982, it has rescued captive-born wolves that would have otherwise not survived. It is a wonderful local resource for teaching your child about wolf biology, ecology, and recovery efforts.

During the summer months, the facility offers “Howl-Ins,” a time-honored native family tradition, “Stargazers Night Out,” an astronomer and telescope program with overnight camping available, “Movies and Moonlight,” an outdoor classic movie night.

Just a little beyond Washington and Oregon in what use to be part of the Oregon Territory, is the state of Montana, which offers additional scenery and wildlife experiences.

Located under the big skies of Montana lies the Bison Range, one of the best-kept secrets in Montana, and one of the richest wildlife experiences that the northwest has to offer. It is 18,000 plus acres filled with bison and other wildlife in their natural habitat. The range includes a visitor’s center, where your kids can learn about the history of bison. The range has beautiful rolling hills filled with flora and fauna scenery that is stunning, and your family can experience close encounters with elk, pronghorn antelope, deer, which often wander tamely near the picnic tables, bighorn sheep and mountain goats.

Historical Vacation Wonders

If you and your family are looking for a more lengthy vacation and you would like an opportunity for your children to learn about American history, then consider a road trip along the east cost and visit such historical places as Williamsburg and Jamestown located in Virginia, Boston, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania or Washington, DC.

Some of America’s deepest roots and richest history is located on the east coast. You and your family will glean aspects of colonial life, turbulent times, and see and feel the history of how our country was founded. And if you do visit the east cost, don’t forget at least one museum trip while you are there: The Smithsonian, particularly its National Museum of Natural History.

Want to experience reliving the old west? Covered wagon trips offer a unique vacation idea that provides an unusual educational and vacation experience into America’s past. They are a fun way to experience what our ancestors experienced so long ago, and an opportunity to enjoy campfires, horseback riding, old timers spinning a tale or two, and sleeping in a tent under the stars…all while providing the thrill of reliving a piece of our past. They also provide opportunities to further your child’s math skills, by calculating how far they have gone in a single day and life without computers and gadgets!

Hidden Trails, located in Wyoming, offers a Grand Teton covered wagon trek that will allow your children to have one of the most memorable and fun trips of their life (  JB Ranch also offers authentic historical wagon trains out of northern California’s gold country (, and there are wagon train vacation trips in several other states, such as Montana, Idaho, and Nebraska, that will allow you and your family an experience of a lifetime. Your children will never forget their old west adventures!

The lazy days of summer offer the perfect time for family vacations or day trips, creating a wonderful environment for education, fun, and life-long memories that will be cherished by you and your children for years to come. With careful planning, you and your family can have an exciting and enriching trip, whether it is here in the great northwest or beyond!

About the Author
Catherine currently resides in Oregon and is the owner, songwriter and main vocalist for her children's music production company, Pitter Patter Productions. The company has specialized in original award-winning music for children from newborn through kindergarten since 1992. Our children's music is available on CD at, and available for download at: CD Baby,, and iTunes.

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