If you’re looking for adventure then the PNW is where you want to be. Nearly every type of outdoor adrenaline-pumping activity is right at your fingertips.
And then you have kids.
If you have some little gremlins running around it drastically changes the meaning of “adventure trip.”
Sure, I will introduce my kids to all my hobbies, but 3 years old might be a bit young to start base jumping.
So, in the meantime, we’ve had to adapt to more family-friendly adventures. While I won’t claim that all of these are appropriate for tiny kids, these are some of my favorite ways to get your family (who may not be pumped on the outdoors) off the couch and doing something active.
Best Family Adventures Trips In The PNW (Washington & Oregon)
1. River Rafting
In case you haven’t heard, Washington gets lots of rain. And what better place for that water to end up than in a river so you can shoot down them on a kayak or raft?
The PNW (and Washington in particular) is loaded with rafting opportunities. These run the entire gamut of intensity from day trips that are fun for any age to class 4 and 5+ rapids that will test anyone’s metal.
For families just looking to get their feet wet (pun intended) there are several companies to do level-appropriate excursions on many rivers within easy driving distance of Seattle.
One of the most popular destinations for family-friendly whitewater rafting in Washington State is the Skagit River, which offers a perfect blend of stunning natural scenery and exhilarating rapids. Trips along the Skagit River cater to beginners and families, focusing on safety, education, and fun.
Families can learn about rafting techniques, safety procedures, and the rich history of the area, all while marveling at the lush greenery, glacier-fed waters, and abundant wildlife. In addition to the Skagit River, the Wenatchee River and the Methow River are other excellent choices for family rafting adventures, with their exciting yet manageable rapids and the surrounding beauty of the North Cascades.
Our Recommendation – Skagit River with Triad River Tours
Triad River Tours offers an unparalleled whitewater rafting experience on the Skagit River, combining breathtaking natural scenery with a rich historical and archaeological past.
Their Skagit River tour is an ideal introduction to the sport and focuses on teaching and learning in a safe environment, making it perfect for families and first-timers.
Their highly trained guides follow strict safety protocols to ensure a memorable adventure for all. So, join them to explore the Upper Skagit River, where the pristine mountain river, lush greenery, and thrilling rapids create an unforgettable whitewater experience near Seattle, WA!
2. Book A Stay In A Fire Lookout
“Gondor calls for aid!”
You know in Lord of the Rings when the Beacon of Gondor is light and the signal fires are lit on mountain ranges across all of Middle Earth?
Well, what if I told you that you could pretty much relive that experience by staying in a fire lookout on an Oregon mountaintop?
Previously in Oregon, fire lookouts were used to do just what it sounds like, watch for forest fires. As such they are often in advantageous spots for viewing, never mind accessibility or remoteness.
This lends itself to a truly remarkable experience now that the state of Oregon has decided that you can book any of 17 different fire lookouts for an overnight stay (Washington also has 9, Idaho 10, and California 9).
You can book these fire lookouts online (for many PNW states) but just be aware that, if you’re just learning about these, you probably won’t be able to book them on a whim.
In, fact, you’ll probably need to look as far as six months out (and in the middle of the week) to find a vacancy. Many people actually are awake and online at 7:00 AM when new listings come available so they can get the best cabin at the time they want.
Now, these are hardly a luxury experience. While there are some serious glamping opportunities in the PNW, you’re paying for views here and should expect the “cabin” to be rather spartan and lacking in amenities.
But that’s what makes it an adventure, right?
Our Recommendation – Mount Spokane State Park Fire Lookout
The Quartz Mountain Fire Lookout in Mount Spokane State Park allows you to enjoy stunning views from a 5,129-foot elevation. The 14×14-foot wood-frame structure sleeps up to four guests, offering amenities such as a propane stove, a cabinet, beds, and more.
Accessible via a 2.7-mile hike or bike trail, the lookout requires a two-night minimum reservation and is open from June 15 to September 30. Guests should bring their own linens and blankets, as cooking is only allowed outside, and pets are not permitted. Visit the reservation website to book this unforgettable getaway.
3. Biking the San Juans
While there are tons of single-track and park options for biking in the PNW, one of my favorite family biking adventure destinations is the San Juan islands.
Pedaling a bike through the San Juans lets me fool myself that I’m actually in the Italian countryside as I pass over rolling hills, serene pastures, and seaside views.
Not to mention the majestic wildlife such as eagles, deer, and (if you’re lucky) a whale off in the distance.
There are several companies on the islands from which you can rent bikes suitable for the whole family.
In fact, several companies do all-inclusive bike tours of the island and provide you with not only the bikes and an itinerary but lodging when you reach the end of each day’s miles.
While you won’t throw quite as much dirt as you would at somewhere like Mt. Bachelor, biking in the San Juans is an excellent way to stay in shape and introduce your family to a fun sport! Ride on!
Our Recommendation – Self-Guided Tour Of Orcas Island
Head to Orcas Island and rent a bike from Wildlife Cycles. Then head off wherever you want to go on the island!
Personally, I’d opt for an electric bike to easily navigate the hilly terrain and ensure a comfortable, enjoyable ride without busting a gut.
4. Jetboats or River Cruises
One of the most tranquil ways to view the scenery of the PNW is by taking a cruise on the Columbia or Snake River. There are peaceful vessels that are specifically designed for close-to-shore sightseeing.
But that’s not what we’re here for.
If you’re looking for an awesome adventure, what you want is an excursion on a jetboat from Hellgate on Oregon’s Rogue River.
Hellgate Excursions rip down the river on a jetboat, blasting around rocks, spinning 360s (I’m not kidding), and generally providing all on board with an awesome time.
They even provide brunch.
If you choose to slower-paced cruise ship option, however, there are options for adventures there too as you can use kayaks to explore, see things you never could otherwise, etc.
It just all comes down to how, exactly, you and your family define adventure!
5. Cliff Diving & Sea Kayaking
With nearly 4,500 miles of coastline, you can bet that some adventurous souls have figured out some serious ways to extract fun from PNW’s beaches.
If you want to experience sea-kayaking without the fearful rush of almost getting run over by a drunk boater, the San Juans in NW Washington is the perfect spot.
You can rent sea kayaks (and a guide if you want one) and have them dropped on wherever you would like. Even if you can’t make it out to the islands, kayaking the Puget Sound around Seattle is always a good value.
If you are exceptionally lucky and go at the right time of year you might even luck your way into seeing an Orca (not the namesake of Orcas Island…)
If it’s important to you to go choose a fully guided trip with a well-stocked outfitter, Head to James Island Marine State Park on Lopez Island where you’ll be able to get an easy introduction to the hobby.
Our Recommendation – West Seattle Sunset Tour with Alki Kayak Tours
If you’re new to the area, I’ll assume that you are in Seattle. Probably not a great assumption but, in my opinion, the capital is actually the best place to get introduced to sea kayaking.
So join Alki Kayak Tours in West Seattle for a picturesque kayaking experience around Elliott Bay’s west side.
You’ll receive boat fitting and paddling instructions before exploring the mouth of the Duwamish River to spot wildlife, followed by a journey to Duwamish Head for breathtaking sunset views of the islands, Olympic Mountains, and Seattle skyline.
This popular daily tour requires reservations, with the busiest times during summer weekends. To expedite the check-in process, meet the guides beforehand and download the liability waiver in advance.
At the end of the day, finding an adventure trip in the PNW really isn’t that hard. Oregon and Washington are so full of outdoor activities so you can get your kicks in just about anything you choose.
We barely scratched the surface here but if your family is into base-jumping, paragliding, urban exploring, backpacking, fishing, or anything else you can think of you can probably find a place to do it in the PNW!