Day Trips, Outdoor Activities, Vacations

Sand Dunes in Florence, Oregon

Earlier this summer, our area had a few heat waves that were beyond anything I have experienced in my lifetime living in Oregon. So we decided to get out of our area. Knowing the beach closest to us would be flooded with people with the exact same idea, I crossed my fingers and we headed south. And we lucked out! It was 109 degrees at home, and a perfect 72 degrees in Florence. Bliss!

Our main destination was to ride the dunes. If you’re not familiar with the area, Florence has miles of beautiful sand dunes that are used for all sorts of recreation. We chose a giant dune buggy tour through Sandland Adventure Tours and pre-booked our tickets.

Check in was easy, and we were given a ticket with our assigned seats and told where to wait. Then the buggies pulled into the parking lot and we started to get even more excited. We climbed in and staff made sure everyone was buckled in appropriately. Then we were off!

The journey has a bit of a strage start- getting onto the highway. In a big ‘ole buggy. We didn’t have to go far before we turned onto a small road and entered a recreational area. We drove up and down dunes, bumped along on trails through the forest, and cruised along the beach. The driver provided interesting narration about the history of the area, the wildlife, formation of the dunes, navigating the dunes, and the vegetation. Each of us heard something we found quite interesting! They also stop a couple of places for you to take pictures of the beautiful views from the buggies.

The ride itself is fun, but not scary. You go down a few dunes, but not particularly fast. It was exciting enough to to elicit lots of giggles from all of us, but neither of the kids ever got scared. In fact, by the end, they wished we were going faster!

Their website does note to bring a jacket as it can be chilly. They were right! Although it was a beautiful, sunny day, the closer we got to the water’s edge, the foggier and colder it became.

Sandland also has a mini golf course, go karts, and bumper boats you can enjoy before of after your tour. Or you could go just for those activities!

The giant tour is $18 per person and lasts about an hour. It runs March through December. Pre-booking is recommended. You can also find prices and information for their more adventurous tours on their website.

There are other dune tour providers in the area that we have not tried. You can also rent various vehicles to zip around on your own. This is not recommended for novice riders.

What it’s not: scary, a thrill ride

What it is: fun, a unique beach activity, beautiful scenery, family friendly

Do we recommend it? Yes! We may even try the faster tour next time!

Additional tips: If you are looking to add even more fun to your trip, try checking out Sea Lion Caves, Honeyman State Park, Heceta Head, and the Hobbit trail, all of which are nearby. Florence also has an adorable downtown area, full of cute shops and yummy restaurants.

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/