It’s yet another year of the road trip!
With the omicron variant still circulating, most of my friends are looking for local escapes for their upcoming school breaks. It’s fun to plan lots of “local flair” on a family road trip, but sometimes kids just need a playground stop to break up a long drive (or give parents time to sit down).
If you’re headed on a Pacific Northwest road trip soon, here are five family-friendly getaways with destination-worthy road trip playgrounds:
The destination: Located just a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle, Bainbridge can be experienced as a day trip or enjoyed a bit longer with an overnight stay. Search for gnomes on the extensive network of kid-friendly trails, visit the perfectly sized Kids Discovery Museum and hang out in downtown Winslow for coffee, ice cream or a gourmet meal.
The playground: Keep the ferry theme going and head to the KidsUp! Playground at Battle Point Park, which was just finished at the end of last summer. Kids can scale a 47-foot tall ferry structure (which is also accessible via two ramps), search for an octopus lurking under the dock and take the We-Go-Round for a spin while spying climbable orcas.
Road trip playground: Whidbey Island
The destination: Whidbey has multiple state parks: You’ll find military history at Fort Casey, a bluffside walk at Ebey’s Landing (adjacent to Fort Ebey) and trails galore at the popular Deception Pass State Park. The Price Sculpture Forest is a hidden gem that mixes art and nature in a kid-friendly setting. Stop in Coupeville or Langley for ice cream and great restaurants (we love the Braeburn) before heading to your accommodations or back to the ferry.
The playground: Visit South Whidbey Community Park (near Langley) for its spectacular Castle Playground (similar to the one at St. Edward State Park). Scale the walls, traverse the tire-lined obstacle course and see eye-to-eye with your toddler in the expression swing. You’ll also find the area’s only skate park and pump track, so consider packing bikes or scooters.
Road trip playground: Hood Canal
The destination: Whether you cozy up in a room or spread out in a larger cottage at Alderbrook Resort, you’ll find plenty to do. As this reviewer found, you can choose from water craft, lawn games, nature trails and a heated pool and top all that activity off with an extra s’more or two. The resort is undergoing renovations to its restaurant, but has heated terrace dining that’s pandemic-perfect.
The playground: The route from Seattle through Tacoma leads right by one of the most unique options on this list: the aerospace-themed playground at Bremerton National Airport. Completed in 2016, this hidden gem is outdoors and open to the public. The main climbing structure resembles an air traffic control tower structure, while runways crafted from poured rubber and aircraft-shaped play equipment will delight any future aviator. The bonus here, of course, is that you get to pretend to fly planes while watching the real thing take off just steps away.
Road trip playground: Northern Olympic Peninsula
The destination: Port Angeles is a fantastic gateway town to the northern side of Olympic National Park. You’ll find yourself within 30 minutes of snow sports at Hurricane Ridge, water fun and hiking near Lake Crescent or Salt Creek Recreation Area and the lavender fields of Sequim. It might be too hard to leave, but this is also a great pausing point before continuing around the peninsula.
The playground: The Dream Playground at Port Angeles’ Erickson Park lives up to its name: It’s a dream come true! The community helped build this fantastic space, which features a plethora of slides (including one descending from a dragon’s mouth), colorful turf and a large climbing structure for older kids. Toddlers needn’t feel left out — a separate space for them hosts a rainbow-colored obstacle course, an adorable tugboat named the S/S Platypus and a general store for pretend ice cream sales.
SW Washington or Oregon
The destination: Why choose one when there are so many great options? Heading south on I-5 takes you to family favorites like Mount St. Helens (including the incredible Ape Cave, but be sure to book an entrance time in advance), the stunning waterfalls near the Columbia River Gorge and city fun in Portland.
The road trip playground: While all those southward bound destinations are fun, they also require longer drives and wiggly kids need somewhere to stretch their legs along the way. Penny Playground, located in Chehalis, is like a catalog of the latest and greatest in play structures. Tall climbing towers, accessible merry-go-rounds, multiple swing banks and three amazing ziplines will provide something for everyone to enjoy. The word is out, however, so while there’s space to spread out you should expect some crowds on sunny afternoons!
Road trip playgrounds, published March 5, 2022