For those of us with the kids in tow, keeping the interest of a wandering and curious mind is a challenge that only the right outdoor destination can meet. In a perfect world, we could predict the bauble that captures their interest, but children don’t work that way. Honestly, it isn’t entirely clear how they work. But that’s the greatest part of the outdoors: vast and varying landscapes full of unknown and knowable things.
In each of these places is a chance to learn about a huge world. There are bugs, birds, and beasts to light the mind at every age—which is an added benefit for you. What you need is a narrative and abundant opportunity, and you will find those here, whether you are inspiring their imagination with tales of old ships and grizzly captains, showing them the amazing diversity of plants and animals that they can find, or carrying them through inconceivable stretches of time when the land they walk looked completely different.
Lace up their shoes and put on their glasses for an outdoor adventure the whole family will learn from.
Nestled in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park Campground is a great place to stay and learn about an active lighthouse on the Pacific coast that is also more than a century old. Tours are available and include a close-up of the Fresnel lens that shines the Umpqua River Lighthouse's beam 24 miles over the ocean.
While the Lake Marie Loop in Skyline Park offers miles of serene Napa Valley forest to explore, the Martha Walker Native Habitat Garden gets the nod here. There are 3 acres of native plants to explore here, and access is free with park admission. Take a walk on the grounds and count the plants and butterflies you can identify!
In the Ochoco Mountains of Oregon, the Independent Mine on the Baneberry Trail is a walk into Oregon’s mining history. Like many places in the West, boomtowns sprouted near the base of Lookout Mountain, where mining activity found mercury in the soil. The area is completely safe today, and the quick quarter-mile loop with interpretive signs and old mine buildings is a perfect place for the family to explore Oregon’s mining past.
Outside of Salt Lake City, Rock Cliff Nature Center in Jordanelle State Park is picturesque and ideal for kids. A hotspot for fish and bird wildlife, more than 100 species can be found here, and this side of the Jordanelle Reservoir is quieter—perfect for the explorations and observations of a budding naturalist.
One of the best beaches on the Washington coast for scenery and tide pools, Second Beach at La Push is about as good as it gets for a toddling explorer. Its waves, sandy shore, and abundant and diverse sea wildlife—urchins, sea stars, and fish, among others—will engage the little ones for hours. Plus, this is a haven for sea lion and sea otter populations, which live on the island clusters offshore. Access is an easy 0.7-mile hike.
While most of the action in Colorado takes place in the Rockies, Paint Mines Interpretive Park boasts geological formations on the Great Plains that you might expect on the West Slope. Top to bottom, the canyons at Paint Mines span 55 million years of geological time. The kids will love to see how each colorful layer coats another—and so will you. This is one of the most unique destinations in Colorado east of the Front Range.
The above was produced with our friends at L.L.Bean, who believe that on the inside, we’re all outsiders.