Great Big Water Fun
Come summer time, Northwesterners go wild over water – as if we don’t get enough of the stuff during the other nine months of the year. Our region offers water parks that go well beyond your average pool, with enormous slides, family-size rafts, shooting “geysers” and “splashketball.”
“If you like the energy of a crowd and the excitement of water, you’ll love a water park,” says Julia Rudden, a Seattle mom and hydro aficionado.
A few things to keep in mind: These water theme parks are filled with fun rides that a lot of kids love, but many of them are also filled with fast food and pricey extras – some that you can avoid and some that you can’t. Call the park in advance and ask whether you’ll need cash for parking, lockers and other must-haves.
To get the most out of your water park adventure, eat a full meal before you head out and make sure you bring all the gear you’ll need (aquatic footwear, goggles, nose plugs, hair bands, swim diapers and towels) and eat a full meal before heading out. Be cautious about buying tickets too far in advance as some parks close during stormy weather – and if you do buy in advance, make sure you can score a rain check if the park closes.
All that taken care of, dive in and have fun. Here’s a sampling of our region’s destination water parks, where your kiddos are virtually guaranteed a splashing good time.
Wild Waves Theme Park. Federal Way, Wash.
Splish, splash, you’re there in a flash. Only 30 minutes south of Seattle, Wild Waves is a popular Puget Sound pick. Over 60 attractions cluster on 70 acres, including 20 waterslides and the 50-foot Zooma Falls family raft ride. Prefer a slower approach? Enjoy the lazy river or the 24,000-square-foot wave pool. Warming tubs relieve goose bumps, even on the chilliest of days. The hydrophobic can have fun too – the park is home to Washington’s biggest roller coaster (TimberHawk). Facts: Open this summer through Sept. 11. http://wildwaves.com. General admission $39.99 plus tax, under 48 inches $29.99, kids under 3 free; save by buying tickets online or showing up at 4 p.m.
Silverwood Theme Park and Boulder Beach Waterpark. Athol, Idaho.
Located just over the Washington/Idaho border, Silverwood is the largest theme park in the Pacific Northwest, with over 200 acres of water and dryland options, including 65 rides, shows and attractions. The 16-acre Boulder Beach Water Park offers high-speed chutes and slides, family-size rafts, wave pools, toddler-friendly geysers and fountains – and a shady area on Cabana Island for parents. Landlubbers buzz over the two wooden roller coasters and a 191-foot tall steel coaster aptly named “Aftershock.” Facts: Open daily through Labor Day, then weekends until the end of September. General admission $41.99 plus tax, children 3-7 $21.99, kids under 3 free; save money by buying tickets online or after 5 p.m. www.silverwoodthemepark.com.
Slidewaters. Lake Chelan, Wash.
Pack the sunglasses. This water park offers a solid bet for summerlike weather, and it’s only a three-hour drive from Seattle. Lake Chelan’s dry, warm central Washington climate is the perfect setting for one version of H2O heaven. Shoot through the Slidewaters’ Thunder Rapids on inner tubes, slip down curlicue slides into cool pools, compete against your kid on the Downhill Racer and perfect your horror-movie scream through 420 feet of darkness on the “Purple Haze” slide. Facts: Open through Labor Day. General admission $17, kids under 4 feet tall $14, children 2 and under free. Take $3 off if you arrive three hours before closing. www.slidewaters.com.
Birch Bay Waterslides. Blaine, Wash.
This 10-slide North Washington attraction is a low-key, less-costly introduction to the water park plunge. Big kids can slither down the twist-and-turn Snake, while smaller (or more concerned) kids can splash down a wide ramp-style slide or just play in an 84-degree pool. For true terror, try the Hydrocliff, which invites daredevils to cannonball straight down a 60-foot drop. Unlike some water slide attractions in our area, Birch Bay is open even on soggy, wet summer days. Facts: Open through Sept. 5. Ages 6 and up $17.95, ages 3-5 $11.95, 2 and under free. Save by arriving three hours before closing. www.birchbaywaterslides.net/.
Great Wolf Lodge. Grand Mound, Wash.
Don’t want the glamorous lobster glow bestowed by too much summer sun? At Great Wolf Lodge, you’ll find the super-cool slides, pools and activities – indoors. Families flock to Great Wolf (about two hours south of Seattle) for pint-size splash areas, big-kid-approved chutes and teen-ready tubes. Kids dry out while enjoying an evening story time, the teen game room or the MagicQuest wand game. Water features are reserved for paying hotel guests, and GWL isn’t cheap. However, in-room mini-fridges and microwaves make it easy to pop up to your suite for a snack and no one has to drive home after a day of waterlogged fun. Facts: Open year-round. Summer room rates start at around $239, pools inclusive. Check website for deals. www.greatwolf.com/grandmound.
Bridal Falls Water Park. Rosedale, B.C.
In British Columbia’s sunny Fraser Valley –located about three hours northeast of Seattle – this water park features 80-degree water filling four advanced slides, two intermediate slides, one tube slide and a kids’ pool and slides for younger swimmers. Non-sliders can play a round of mini-golf, and don’t have to pay full admission. Bonus: The park is located near the popular Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa (http://harrisonresort.com), so you could work two watery attractions into one B.C. vacation. Facts: Open until Sept. 6. Admission: $19.64 general admission, $13.84 for the last three hours of the day, $9.82 for non-sliders, ages 3 and under free. www.bridalfallswaterpark.com.
Splash Down Family Waterpark. Spokane Valley, Wash.
If you want to count on roasting-warm summer days, drive east to Spokane Valley, a suburb east of Spokane. This Eastern Washington, family-owned water park offers simple fun that allows everyone to get soaked – the 400-foot long Spokane Falls, a four-story flume slide, a water balloon launcher, a toddler-friendly lagoon and a new water sport – “splashketball.” Open through Labor Day. A money-saving tip: Splash Down is one of the few water parks that allow you to bring your own food and sealed drinks into the park. Take advantage. Facts: Open through Labor Day. Admission: 48” and under $13.99 plus tax, 48” and over $16.99 plus tax, ages 3 and under free. www.splashdownwaterpark.net.
The area’s hot springs offer a different kind of watery vacation – more peaceful, with resort accommodations. If wild water adventure isn’t your speed, try one of these.
Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. Olympic National Park, Wash.
Feeling freaked by all this talk of chilly thrills? It’s perfectly normal, particularly if you (or your child) possess a more sensitive disposition. To escape the shrieks and chutes, head into the mystical, moss-draped Olympic National Park and Forest. Sol Duc Hot Springs resort offers cabins and suites nestled amid evergreens, along with three naturally-fed mineral pools ranging from 50F-104F. A freshwater pool, small wading pools and a large fountain pool round out the resort. Unlike many hot spring resorts, Sol Duc does permit day use only. Facts: Open until Oct. 23. Day use: Adults $12.25, children 4-12 $9.25, children 1-3 free (with limited pool access). www.olympicnationalparks.com.
Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa. Agassiz, BC.
As we all know, warm weekends aren’t a given in our area. On summer days when the sun’s skipped town (headed for Mexico, again?) drive three hours north for an overnight stay at Harrison Hot Springs Resort. At this 337-room resort, two naturally occurring hot springs are chlorinated and cooled, then fed into two indoor and three outdoor mineral pools decked out with a cascading waterfall and bordered with rocks and plants. The family pool is a just-right 95 F – so no one has to give up the summer splash fest, even during a bout of our region’s infamous “liquid sunshine.” Facts: Open year-round. Room rates start at $179 per night. To save, check the website for deals. www.harrisonresort.com.
Bonneville Hot Springs. North Bonneville, Wash.
If your summer plans include a trip to Portland, Ore., consider driving an hour east to North Bonneville, in the Columbia Gorge. Families fall in love with Bonneville Resort’s award-winning mineral pools, a kids’ menu in the dining room, on-site mini golf, in-room video games, and plenty of hiking in the surrounding area. More adventurous kids can try white water rafting (ages 5 and up) or windsurfing lessons (ages 8 and up). A European-style spa pampers mom and dad. Facts: Open year-round. Admission: A three-hour day use pass (all ages over 2) are $15 plus tax Monday through Thursday, $25 Friday through Sunday. Room rates start at $179 per night, pool inclusive. www.bonnevilleresort.com.
Soap Lake. Soap Lake, Wash.
OK, so this isn’t really a hot spring, but it’s one of Washington state’s most undeniably odd pit stops. Located halfway between Seattle and Spokane, this lake is laden with over 20 minerals, which create frothy bubble-bath-like white foam on windy days. Soap Lake offers a sensory adventure for kids and grown-ups alike – jump into the (slick-textured) water or slop in the thick-creamy black mud. Pack your tent for on-site camping or stay at one of the local inns or motels in the tiny lakeside town; many hotels pump the soapy water right into your bathtub. Facts: Free and open year-round. www.soaplakewa.com.