NW Kids: Family Road Trips that Bring History to Life

By Amy Whitley

Photo at right: The author’s son checks out a map at the End of the Oregon Trail museum in Oregon City. Photo by Amy Whitley

Summer ’tis the season to put aside schoolbooks, but that doesn’t mean the learning can’t continue incognito.

The following road trips through the Northwest are filled with educational destinations that will make history come alive for kids—but they won’t even realize they’re in “summer school”!

Follow the path of Lewis and Clark

Start: Great Falls, Mont.
Finish: Astoria, Ore.
Total miles: 1,028

Begin exploring at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center. Then drive Highway 200 to Lolo, Mont., where the Lolo Pass Visitor Center commemorates the most difficult part of the journey.

Continue west to Sacajawea State Park in Pasco, Wash., where the party camped at the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Walk part of the nearby Sacajawea Heritage Trail in Kennewick. Then drive to the coast at Cape Disappointment at Ilwaco, where kids will find great exhibits at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.

Next, cross the border into Oregon to visit the company’s winter quarters at Fort Clatsop. The Fort to Sea Trail is a great way to see the vistas of the ocean as the explorers did.

Take the Oregon Trail

Start: Glenns Ferry, Idaho
Finish: Oregon City, Ore.
Total miles: 590

Begin at Three Island Crossing State Park, where early pioneers on the Oregon Trail crossed the Snake River. The visitor’s center is worth a few hours of your time, and rustic cabins are available for overnights.

Drive northwest to Whitman Mission National Historic Site in Walla Walla, Wash. Then continue west along the Columbia to The Dalles, imagining the river journey of the pioneers.

Stop at Vancouver, Wash., the site of historic Fort Vancouver, then continue past Portland to historic Oregon City, where The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center will keep families entertained with interactive displays.

Learn about Northwest Native Culture

Start: Vancouver, B.C.
Finish: Warm Springs, Ore.
Total miles: 375

Begin by introducing kids to the First Nations tribes of coastal B.C. at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology. This excellent museum offers indoor and outdoor exhibits. Drive south to Seattle, stopping at the Burke Museum of History and Culture.

The next day, head south on I-5 to Highway 26 (at Gresham, Ore.) to arrive at Warm Springs, Ore. Spend time learning about the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs reservation at the Museum of Warm Springs. End with a stay at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort for a soak in hot springs!

Tailor your historical road trip to the interests of your kids, and plan hikes and other active pit stops along the way. Ample camping opportunities abound for families who want to stay close to nature en route.


Many of the trails and routes listed in the story can be found here: www.nps.gov/lecl
Sacajawea State Park: www.parks.wa.gov/575/Sacajawea
Sacajawea Heritage Trail: www.visittri-cities.com/visitors/heritage-&-eco-tourism
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center: www.funbeach.com/lewis-clark-interpretive-center
Three Island Crossing State Park: parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/three-island-crossing
The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center: www.historicoregoncity.org
University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology: www.moa.ubc.ca
Burke Museum of History and Culture: www.burkemuseum.org
Museum of Warm Springs: www.museumatwarmsprings.org
Kah-Nee-Ta Resort: www.kahneeta.com

Amy Whitley of Medford, Ore., writes about her family adventures in NW Kids every edition in OutdoorsNW. Miss a column? Log onto www.OutdoorsNW.com and search NW Kids. You can follow more of Amy’s adventures at www.PitStopsforKids.com

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