written by Anna Bird | photo of Lava River Cave by Ryan Harvey
The school year is soon to be over, and these bouts of sunny days are making everyone anxious for summer. If you’re starting to piece together an agenda for summer break, consider tacking on these hikes that are short enough—and interesting enough—to hold kids’ interest.
Let the young ones channel Indiana Jones and explore this subterranean geological wonder. Central Oregon has about 400 lava tubes left over from its volcanic past, but you can only spelunk in a few of them. Lava River Cave is definitely the most popular, as it’s the longest lava tube open to adventurers. It’s a constant 45-degrees, so be sure to bring an extra layer, even in the summer. The U.S. Forest Service has brochures on the history and science of the cave, so this can be a fun science lesson, too.
Distance: 2 miles out-and-back
This 40-acre park is operated by the OSU College of Forestry and offers a range of interpretive hikes. There are more than 200 species of trees and shrubs—including unique species like Japanese Alder, American Hornbeam and Scotch Pine—as well as birds, wildlife and aquatic creatures hanging out in the lake. The OSU Logging Sports Team also practices here, so you can catch some real lumberjacks in action.
Distance: Up to 10 miles
The Columbia River Gorge is a treasure trove of waterfall hikes and stunning views. This hike has the option of viewing two waterfalls; you can stop and awe at the lower Latourell Falls, or continue to the upper falls for the full loop—depending on the kids’ attention spans and cooperation, of course. The lower Latourell Falls drops more than 220 feet over a wall of columnar basalt covered in vibrant lichen, and the Upper Latourell Falls is a smaller horsetail falls. To explore farther, Bridal Veil Falls, another impressive waterfall, is nearby, and so is Crown Point Vista.
Distance: 2.4-mile loop
Just outside of Ashland, Grizzly Peak is an easy summit to climb, offering great views of the city and the surrounding valley at the top. On a clear day you can see Diamond Peak, Mount McLoughlin and Mt. Shasta. On the way up, the trail meanders through stands of fir trees and meadows speckled with wildflowers. The area is home to a variety of wildlife—such as deer, eagles and other birds of prey—and there are mumblings about the sought-after Morel mushrooms nearby, depending on the time of year.
Distance: 3-mile roundtrip, with an option for more wandering at the summit
This is a perfect option for the budding anglers and mountain dwellers. Strawberry Lake is a popular jewel in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, perhaps because it is an easy mile from the trailhead. You can pack in a lunch or try to catch your own with some fishing gear. Not too far from Prairie City and John Day, the hike to Strawberry Lake also has an option to explore farther into the wilderness to Upper Strawberry Lake and Strawberry Falls. The Strawberry Campground is located by the trailhead, so this is a good option for an overnight adventure in the woods.
Distance: Up to 2.5 miles