Outdoor Activities, Parks, Spring and Summer Activities

Dirksen Nature Park

We had heard about Dirksen Nature Park from several friends, so Nugget and I decided to go check it out one day while Chicken was at camp. We followed our trusty phone GPS and arrived at a tiny parking lot facing an empty field. I checked the address. Yep, we were at the right spot. What the heck was everyone so excited about? Then we noticed a small path and decided to follow it and see where it took us, which wound up being through a small wooded area that dumped us out in another big field.


As I was becoming convinced my friends are crazy, I noticed people people moving around off to our left. We walked in their direction and as we turned a corner, we saw a playground! Yay!

Dirksen turned out to be pretty cool. There were some small traditional play structures with the added bonus of built in scavenger hunts that Nugget and other kids there seemed to love. There were some large logs and small stumps to play on that generally got ignored.

But there were definitely some stand out features. There were several carved and painted elements that could be used for climbing and sitting. There was also a rock area with a short rope climb and a turf area perfect for sliding on. There was a large tree stump with wall climbing grips that slightly older kids seemed to enjoy.

We did notice that there were two paved paths most people seemed to be coming from that appeared to be closely connected to civilization. So I’m guessing there are more logical places to park and my GPS was just having a little fun at my expense.

What it’s not: accessible for those with mobility issues, shaded at the time of day we were there

What it is: creative, pretty, clean bathrooms (hallelujah!), open space to play, unique

Do we recommend it? Yes! I don’t know that it will climb to the top of our list or become a family favorite, but it is a very cool park and is definitely worth checking out.

Adventure Box, Day Trips, Parks, Spring and Summer Activities, Vacations

Wildlife Safari- Winston, Oregon

Nugget got licked by a giraffe!  No, really!  I was so excited!  Him, not so much.  Turns out his obsession with, adoration of, and fascination with all things giraffes does not extend to their slobber.  You win some, you lose some.

The highlight of our spring break was their adventure box gift that included a day trip to Wildlife Safari.  We had gone a couple of summers ago and all had a blast, so this time I added a cheetah encounter and a giraffe encounter to add to the magic.  It was totally worth it!

We began by leaving the Portland area bright and early and treating the kids to hot chocolate.  That’s code for “mom’s going to need coffee if she is going to make it through this day.”  Once caffeinated and sugared up, we were really on our way.  Wildlife Safari is in Winston, Oregon, near Roseburg, about 3 hours from Portland.  But armed with musical soundtracks, coloring books, and story prompt cards, it really wasn’t that bad.  It’s just a few minutes off of I-5, making it a perfect way to break up a long road trip.

When we got there, I checked us in for both encounters, which was a quick and painless process.  Then we spent some time checking out the Children’s Zoo.  I tried to convince Chicken and Nugget that meant it was a zoo where the children were kept, but they didn’t buy it.  This area has goats, donkeys, jack rabbits, animals like that.  You can buy cups of feed for $.25 for a little added fun.   Outside of the Children’s zoo, there are flamingos, reptiles, little tiny monkeys, and a bald eagle.  There is also currently an exhibit with a baby cheetah and his puppy buddy.  Except for the feed, all of these areas are free and you can visit without entry to the driving portion of the park.  Parking is also free.  There is also the requisite gift shop (which doubles as guest services and the place where you check in for encounters), snack stand, and cafeteria.

Then it was time to head to our first encounter- the cheetahs.  We were loaded onto a school bus and driven to the cheetah area.  After unloading we were lead to a grassy field.  Staff members brought out a portion of a cheetah pelt since you aren’t allowed to actually touch the cheetah.  Another staff member gave an informational presentation about cheetah’s and the cheetah program.  Then each family was pulled aside to have their picture take with the cheetah.  You are required to give the cheetah a ten foot radius.  You can pay extra to get prints of the pictures the staff member takes, or they are happy to use your own camera or cell phone.  After everyone has their turn, there is more time for questions.  They also have the cheetah lay down for you to see and take additional pictures of before loading back on the bus and returning to the drop off point.

We enjoyed the experience.  Cheetah’s are Chicken’s favorite animals and I was able to find a Groupon for half off.  The staff were very knowledgeable.  However, I think if we had paid full price and if Chicken wasn’t so into cheetah’s we may have been a bit disappointed by the level of interaction.  The group was also much larger than I had been told the max group size was.  I don’t think it really negatively impacted the experience, but just be forewarned that can apparently happen.

After the cheetah encounter, we stopped for lunch at the cafe.  It has the typical park fare- burgers, chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, veggie burgers, and the like.  Prices are comparable to what you would expect for the type of location, and while the food was nothing to write home about, it was adequate.  Since we were there right at lunch time, the lines were pretty long.  We began to get nervous that we were not going to get the food in time for the next encounter, but it all worked out in the end.  Yay!

And off we went to the giraffe encounter.  This time we rode in a vehicle that reminded me a of a hay bale ride at the pumpkin patch.  Except instead of hay bales it has bench seats.  The driver takes you through a portion of the park, which is an added bonus.  Once we arrived where the giraffes were, the giraffes immediately saw us and headed toward the truck, clearly in hopes of a snack.  We were given information about each giraffe, Erin, Maya, and 1-year-old Sally.  And may I just say, baby giraffes are adorable.  We were instructed on how to feed the giraffes and what to do if the giraffes became overly enthusiastic in their search for snack.

We formed a line and took turns feeding the giraffes until all of the food was gone.  The giraffes were calm, friendly, and stunning.  Of course, in a moment of parenting failure, right before it was Nuggets turn, I reached to put my hand on his shoulder and accidentally scratched his neck.  It scared him and he cried, missing one of his turns.  Sigh.  But we all rallied and he was finally up.  He was wide eyed and stunned as he got his chance.  It was so adorable.  And then the giraffe licked him.  He was not impressed.  Despite all his drama, he loved it and it fulfilled a lifelong dream.

The giraffe encounter was 100% worth it.  You get extra time in the park, and couldn’t get any closer to the giraffes.  They are incredible and majestic creatures, and having interaction with them felt like a once in a lifetime moment.  We didn’t feel rushed and we would absolutely do it again the next time we go.

After a quick snack, it was time to enter the drive through portion.  The idea of Wildlife Safari is that you are enclosed and the animals roam free.  Basically this means you stay in your car and the animals wander around.  It take an hour to an hour and a half to make your way through the park.  Along the way you will see zebras, elephants, tigers, bears, turkeys, buffalos, giraffes, dear, ostriches, and many others.  It’s truly amazing.  The animals are not afraid and often come quite close to the vehicles.

Near the end of the driving loop, you have the option of buying a cup of animal feed for $5.  Should you choose to do so, you will be incredibly popular with the deer, ostriches, and other animals in the area.  We bought one cup for the kids to share, and it it kept them plenty busy and definitely felt like enough.  Beware the ostrich- they can be a bit aggressive!

All in all, it was a wonderful day.  We arrived at the park at 10 in the morning, and left around 3.  We were busy the whole time and probably could have stayed longer if we weren’t facing the drive home.

Admission to each encounter and to the driving portion is by person and can add up pretty quickly.  Luckily, Groupon regularly has deals for admission, the cheetah encounter, and the elephant encounter (which is on our to-do list for next time), dropping the cost by about half.  So always check there first!  If you are lucky, you can sometime catch an additional discount if Groupon is running a special on Local Deals.

What it is: a drive through zoo, beautiful, a unique opportunity to see animals close-up in a setting closer to their natural habitat than a zoo, fun, a perfect stop to break up the drive from northern Oregon to southern Oregon or California

What it’s not: cheap, close to the Portland area

Do we recommend it? The park itself and the giraffe encounter- whole heartedly!!  The cheetah encounter- if cheetahs are totally your thing and you have ample budget, go for it.  Otherwise, I would save your money for one of the other opportunities.

More information about the park, encounters, events, and everything else can be found here:  https://wildlifesafari.net/



Fall Activities, Parks, Spring and Summer Activities

Tualatin Hills Nature Park

According to Nugget- no play structure, no park.  He corrects me everytime I say “let’s go the park” and I mean Tualatin Hills Nature Park.  “It’s not a park, mom.  There’s not a playground.”  Or, “a real one, or the walking one?”  That said, he always has a blast once we get there.

Tualatin Hills Nature Park actually has a lot going on.  When you first arrive, you see the visitors center.  There is a small garden in the front and kids (or grownups), can look at plants through a telescope/microscope.  My kids love that.  Inside, they can use microscopes to look at different things like snake skin, a birds nest, honey comb, things like that.  There are cards kids can use to write their favorite thing about nature and add it to the collection on the designated wall.  There are books to look at, animal pelts and skeletons to check out, and a fireplace to sit by on a cold day.  We always take a lingering look.  Also while here, check out their upcoming events.  They are often hosting day camps, evening activities, the nature mobile, or have other fun activities for kids of all ages as well as adults. This is also the home of the bathroom, so make sure those littles have a visit!

One of the cool things kids can do is approach the staff member and ask for a letter boxing map.  For those not in the know, letter boxing is kind of like simplified geocaching.  The map has clues and you follow them to specific locations in the park.  There you will find a little box containing paper, pencils, and a stamp.  You can sign the papers with your name or leave a little note for others.  You use the stamp to mark your map.  When you are done, the kids can turn the completed map in and get a pocket sized journal as a prize.  This activity totally makes my kids feel like real explorers.  And man can they get competitive about solving the clues and finding the boxes!

There are multiple trails that take you through the nature park.  The main path is flat and paved, while the side trails can be dirt and have stumps or roots protruding.  None of them are steep and as long as your little is a stable walker, they should be fine on any of them

If you look closely, you will see birds, bugs, squirrels, rabbits, and even beavers.  The whole area is shaded, making it perfect for a summer afternoon.  The air is clean, the foliage is beautiful, and entry and parking are free.  What more could you ask for?

What it is: shady, pretty, fun, free, active

What it’s not: a playground.  🙂

Do we recommend it?  Totally!

You can find their address and other information here: http://www.thprd.org/parks-and-trails/detail/tualatin-hills-nature-park




Spring Garden Park

It was spring break this past week, and we didn’t have a lot of big plans.  It’s Oregon, so weather was a bit hit or miss.  So, we took advantage of the sunny bits to explore outside places we either had never been to or hadn’t been to in a while.  First up was Spring Garden park.

Spring Garden is a newish park built in the last year or so and is located near Multnomah Village.  It’s lovely!  It has a large grassy hill, picnic tables (one of which is covered), and fun play equipment.  There are a couple rope climbing structures, logs and rocks to climb on, small slides, swings- including an accessible one, structures that make music, one of those stick house things you can go inside, a climbing structure complete with telescopes, and other small pieces of equipment.  All of the area, with the exception of the area surrounding the ropes, is either pavement or padded, meaning a majority of it is accessible for strollers, wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility devices.  I love that!

One of the features Chicken and Nugget are most excited about was one we didn’t get to use yet.  They have an area that appears to involve water.  It hasn’t been turned out yet for the season so I don’t know exactly what it will look like, but it looks like it will have a small “stream” and possible a small area of low reaching fountains.  A great way to cool off in the summer!

Chicken and Nugget loved this park and we wound up going twice over the course of the week. It’s pretty, the elements are well spaced out, there are places for eating, and it just feels peaceful.

Note to the wise- map programs take you to the Spring Garden address, which is at the bottom of a rather large hill.  There is a paved path as well as bark chip cut throughs, but it’s still a bit of a trek.  Much to my chagrin, when we arrived at the top of the hill, there is street parking up at the top that is right next to the play structure!  Waaayyyy easier access, especially with strollers or multiple littles.  Since the kids really enjoyed that park, we went back a few days later.  I followed Spring Garden road around and discovered that the park level parking is on Dolph Court.  There!  I just saved you a climb!

What it is: pretty, relaxing, accessible, nice mix of structures, some sort of water feature(!), one covered picnic table

What it’s not: shaded on a hot, sunny day

Info about the park and it’s location can be found here: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/67420


Parks, Uncategorized

Mountain View Champions Park

When it’s sunny in December in the Pacific Northwest, you take advantage.  So this weekend we put on our coats and made the trek to one of our favorite local parks- Mountain View Champions Park in Beaverton.  Apart from its sign, there is not much to see from the road.  But take a moment to pull into the entrance, and you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise.  It is a joint effort between the Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation Department and the Portland Timbers/Thorns, and it’s a great addition the the community.

We did exactly that about a year ago, after noticing indications of construction that had been going on for a while.  It’s been a favorite ever since.  There are two playgrounds.  The one closest to the entrance is newer and is one of the more accessible playgrounds for children with physical limitations.  It uses that bouncy turf stuff instead of bark chips, making it easier for children to navigate the area.  It has large disc swings that kids can sit or lay on.  There is a strip of easily reachable plastic “instruments” and a merry-go-round thing with seats to sit in.  There are also rocks to climb on, small slides to go down, structures to climb on and short concrete paths to go down.

Go past the first play structure and through a few trees, and you are at a second play structure.  It is a more typical play area with traditional swings, bark chips, and things to climb on.

There are multiple sports fields- a smaller one with the Timbers and Thorns logos designed into the turf (making Timber fan Nugget feel like a super star), and a large one that appears to get used for everything from soccer to football.  Tournaments are frequently held, so parking can get tricky during weekends of sports season, although there is additional parking available at a nearby school.  The field are lit at night only for tournaments. There is a concession stand we have found in use during larger events, and there are plenty of bathrooms.  There is a small covered area with tables, as well as a couple stand alone picnic tables.

On any given day, you will find kids running, riding bikes, climbing, swinging, playing sports, and laughing.  There are walking paths around the sports fields, so it is common to see parents walking laps while their kid has whatever practice they are there for. It is a free lunch program location during the summer, and last year there was an attempt at a very tiny farm’s market- although market is a bit of a strong term.  Sports teams practice there, birthday parties happen there, there is always something going on.  We love it.

What it is: a fun community park with lots of different activities, more accessible than most parks.

What it is not: surprisingly, not a great place for picnics. For as big of a park as it is, there are very few picnic tables, and they are usually taken in the summer. That being said, if you don’t mind sitting on the ground, bleachers, or the concrete borders, picnic away!

You can find out the location and more information about amenities here:  http://www.thprd.org/parks-and-trails/detail/mountain-view-champions-park