Zoom into Zion for Family Fun in Utah

Explore Zion National Park with kids
Take a hike over the Virgin River when you explore Zion National Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Standing in the shadow of the Court of the Patriarchs, the Navajo Sandstone peaks mesmerize me. As I hike through Zion National Park, it dominates my senses with its bold rock formations. Looking over the edge of the bridge, I realize the tame-looking Virgin River carved and molded it all.

The summer monsoon season shapes and erodes the rock. An afternoon storm turns a tickle of water into a torrent of debris and rushing water that shapes Zion’s landscape.

See goats while exploring Zion National Park with kids.
The goats of Zion National Park frolic alongside the road. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Zion is a part of the Grand Staircase, a geologic survey where over 500 million years can be studied in rock layers. The Grand Canyon represents the bottom layer, Zion represents the middle layer and Bryce Canyon National Park represents the top layer.

Zion National Park Must-Dos

Don’t have a ton of time? I explored Zion National Park with kids in just a few hours. Visit the following if limited on time.

Checkerboard Mesa

Just inside of the eastern entrance along the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, the Checkerboard Mesa offers an example of stone fracturing and Zion’s ancient sand dunes.

 Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel

Drive through the Mt Carmel Tunnel when touring Zion National Park with kids.
Catching a photo from the windows of the Mt. Carmel Window is part of the fun. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel is a favorite with kids, unless your kiddo is afraid of the dark. As a one-mile long tunnel with several windows bored through the walls, I wish I could stop the car to savor the beauty framed by the tunnel’s windows.

Enter or Exit through the East Entrance of Zion National Park along Zion Mount Carmel Highway to drive through the Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel.

The Watchmen and West Temple

At the southern entrance, the Watchmen and West Temple offer inspiring peaks close to the Zion Human History Museum.

The Zion Lodge

The historic Zion Lodge offers a lunch break and a couple of family-friendly trails. I hiked the Emerald Pools Trail. Located right across the bridge and the Virgin River, it’s a 1.2-mile round trip hike with a paved, mostly flat trail.

The Grotto Trail, a 1.0-mile round trip hike, ends at the hanging gardens. And can be combined with the Emerald Pools Trail for a longer hike for kids up for more hiking.

The Temple of Sinawava

Take the Riverside Walk, a 2.2-mile round trip trail that’s accessible with assistance, along the Virgin River. An option for families with older kids looking for longer hikes. Take this trail to reach The Narrows, the all-day, strenuous hike along the Virgin River.

Zion National Park Family Fun

Hiking is on my kids, 13, 12 and 8, must-do list for every park we explore as a family. I choose popular trails less that two miles long for my 8-year old.

Hike in Zion National Park with kids.
Hike the Lower Emerald Pools Trail for a desert oasis and a waterfall. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Lower Emerald Pool Trail offers families with school-age kids a semi-shaded 1.2-mile paved round-trip trail to a 100-foot water fall. The trail slips under the rim and the water tumbles down from above.

Tilting my head up, a drop of the waterfall lands on my cheek as I absorb my surroundings. The indigo sky draws my eyes upward while the red sandstone walls radiates warmth and the emerald moss clinging to rock fills me with a sense of vitality. Only a hike under a waterfall can transform a moment into a memory.

Explore the rock formations when exploring Zion National Park with kids.
The sandstone rock formations come in all sizes. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For families with strollers, try the Riverside Walk at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop. I found an accessible 2.2-mile roundtrip trail from the Virgin River to the Narrows.

To explore Zion National Park at a slower pace, try a guided scenic tour aboard a bus to see all the photo-worthy sights and maybe some of the Zion’s mountain goats too. Afternoon tours depart from Zion Lodge, three times a week.

For the adventurous families, Zion National Park offers guided horseback rides. With a one-hour and three-hour tour to choose from, families ride in the shadow of the peaks.

Zion National Park with Kids

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Zion National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the patches that the Rangers present them after completing their booklets.

Explore Zion National Park with kids.
My kids were fascinated by the windows in the Zion Mt Carmel Tunnel. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For kids who yearn for more, Zion National Park offers a seasonal resource for families. Zion Nature Center (open 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Memorial Day to Labor Day) offers families a chance to play games, look at exhibits and read books. Located north of the South Campground, it’s minutes from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

Zion National Park offers the Junior Paleontologist Program as well.

Cool Facts about  Zion National Park

It all began as a windswept desert 180-million-years ago. Time slowly compressed the sand into the Navajo Sandstone that rises up 2000 feet today. With the reoccurring floods of the region, water sculpted the canyon with the eye of an artist.

Archaeologists excavated evidence of human existence from 7,000-years ago. The Ancestral Puebloans cultivated corn and squash in the area.

Explore Zion National Park in half a day with five must-dos during your trip. Got all the details to plan a trip with kids.

 

The Mormons settled in Utah during the 1850s and Isaac Behunin named the area Zion, or Kingdom of Heaven. Though a Methodist minister, Frederick Fisher, named the Three Patriarchs, the Great White Throne, Angels Landing and the Organ rock features and continued with the religious theme.

Zion National Park earned its national park status in 1919. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed the Mount Carmel Tunnel in the 1920s and the switchbacks of the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.

Where to Stay in Zion National Park 

Stay in a cabin in Zion National Park
Kids love cabins so reserved a Western Cabin in Zion National Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Inside of the park, Zion Lodge offers a main building that sits on the spot of the original lodge that burned in the 1960s. Modern hotel rooms and historic western cabins from the 1930s flank the lodge building that houses a restaurant, a café, a coffee bar, a gift shop and an outdoor patio.

The cottonwood trees shade the lawn in front of the lodge is a favorite gathering place. Situated next to the Virgin River, guests are steps away from hiking.

Where’s Zion National Park

Zion National Park is located 160 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada, the closest international airport. Springdale, Utah, Zion’s gateway town to the South Entrance, offers services for travelers.

Utah’s Route 9 is the Zion National Park Scenic Byway from the Interstate 15 turnoff. If continuing to Bryce Canyon National Park, exit through Zion Mount Carmel Highway for a stunning drive.

Zion National Park is part of the Grand Staircase and included in many national park itineraries. It’s located 85 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is 122 miles away.

Zion National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $30 per private vehicle.

Zion National Park offers a free seasonal shuttle bus (Spring through Fall) that departs from the visitor center stopping all the major destinations along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive like, Canyon Junction, Zion Lodge, The Grotto and Temple of Sinawava.

Know Before You Go: 

  • Temperatures in the summer can reach 100F, carry water at all times. I stop and make my kids toast the mountains so we remember to drink water.
  • Wear a hat and apply the sunscreen.
  • Monsoon season is late June through September where flash flooding can occur with little warning.
  • Consult a Park Ranger before hiking The Narrows Trail to see if flash flooding is predicted.
  • Cell service is weak within the park.

Oregon Goes Boom at Newberry Volcano in Bend

What to do in Bend with kids, walk on a volcano.
Kids love volcanoes so add Newberry National Volcanic Monument to your Oregon road trip. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

What to do in Bend with Kids

In-between Crater Lake and Columbia River Gorge, I found Bend, Oregon, located where the ponderosa pine forest transitions to the high desert. I did a little research and found Bend is a favorite outdoor destination throughout the seasons. Then I found a national park site where my kids could climb a volcano. Sold!

After we arrived in Bend, we spent the day at the Newberry Volcanic National Monument. With two different locations, it features lakes, hot springs, lava flows, a lava cave and a cinder cone in the middle of the Deschutes National Forest.

What to do at the Newberry Volcano

The Newberry National Volcanic Monument is divided into two areas, each with it’s own visitor center with seasonal hours and staffed with U.S. Forest Rangers.

Lava Lands Visitor Center

If limited on time start at the Lava Lands Visitor Center, located at the northern end of the monument closest to Bend. Conveniently located of U.S Route 97. It features a 3-D topographic map and introductory movie.

What to do in Bend with kids, hike to the Newberry Fire lookout.
Hike to the Newberry Fire Lookout when exploring the volcano. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During our visit, we hopped the shuttle bus ($2 per person, round trip) to the top of Lava Butte, a 500-foot tall cinder cone volcano. A must-do for the family, we hiked up to the Lava Butte Lookout, an historic and active U.S. Forest Service fire lookout since 1913.

Staffed by an official fire lookout that scans the forest for tiny columns of smoke before they turn into raging infernos. During our visit, a volunteer Forest Ranger told us about the eruption 7,000 years ago that formed the butte and its crater. On the way back to the shuttle bus stop, we hiked the easy .25-mile hike along the Lava Butte Rim.

Climb a Volcano with your kids when you explore Oregon. Got all the family fun in the outdoors conveniently located between major destinations.

If visiting the Newberry National Volcanic Monument during the summer season (May 1 to Labor Day), explore the Lava River Cave, Oregon’s longest lava tube. An unguided tour that descends 55 steps into an unlit one-mile long cavity created by a massive lava flow.

Lava River Cave requires a 2-mile roundtrip hike and you must carry two light sources. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the season. A ranger-led tour starts at 3 p.m. and reservations are made day of the tour.

Newberry Caldera

Located in a historic Forest Service guard station, Paulina Visitor Center is at the southern end of the monument, off Paulina Lake Road or County Road 21. During the summer season a forest ranger hands out maps and Junior Forest Ranger booklets. Staffed weekends only during the spring and fall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and during the summer most days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

What to do in Bend with kids, visit Paulina Cabin.
Stop off at Paulina Cabin for more information when you visit. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During our visit, we hiked to the Big Obsidian Flow, a 1-mile loop moderate trail with a 500-foot elevation gain. The obsidian, or Black Glass, was formed 1,300 years ago and is the youngest lava flow in Oregon. This area has a vault toilet and picnic tables along with seasonal (summer) interpretive rangers.

Another hike for families, and especially waterfall-loving Moms, is the Paulina Falls trail. A .25-mile easy trail leads to an 80-foot twin falls. Both hikes have parking areas.

Within the the Newberry caldera, I found two lakes with hot springs, Paulina Lake and East Lake. Boating is permitted though both lakes have a 10-mph speed limit. Kayaks and paddle boards can be rented nearby.

What to do in Bend with kids, hike the big obsidian flow.
Hike a big pile of obsidian at Newberry Volcanic National Monument. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Newberry National Volcanic Monument with Kids

Since the Newberry National Volcanic Monument is managed by the United States Forest Service, kids can earn a Junior Forest Ranger badge. Pick up a booklet at the Lava Lands Visitor Center or the Paulina Visitor Center. The booklet focuses on activities for kids 7 to 12, though I always help my younger kids.

The Junior Forest Ranger badge is rather painless, with a few easy to complete activities. Most kids (my two boys 8 and 12 did it with no real complaints) should finish it under an hour. It doesn’t require attending a ranger program but kids have to interview a ranger.

Cool Facts about Newberry 

Located on the eastern edge of the Cascade mountain range and known for its volcanic activity, the Newberry Caldera is a 1,200 square mile volcano. About the size of Rhode Island, the Newberry Caldera is still active with seismic and geothermal activity. Ordinarily kids would snooze through this but mention seismic anything when standing next to a volcano and they start to listen.

The Newberry Caldera is thought to be 500,000 years old when the top layer of the earth collapsed and formed the crater. Subsequent eruptions formed cinder cones and lava flows.

Named after John Newberry, who explored the area in 1855 for the Pacific Railroad, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument was dedicated in 1990. Astronauts trained at Newberry during NASA’s Apollo program.

Where to Stay in Bend

I found lots of options in dining, lodging and camping in Bend. During my visit, I stayed at the Riverhouse on the Deschutes ($$-$$$), located at 3075 N. Business 97 in Bend.

Stay at Riverhouse on the Deschutes and what to do in Bend with kids.
During our visit we stayed at Riverhouse on the Deschutes. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Riverhouse on the Deschutes offers the ultimate base. The newly renovated rooms feature sophisticated, modern details with a convenient location perfect for family travelers. Centrally located, the Riverhouse on the Deschutes offers quick access to enjoy Bend’s outdoor adventures.

I found six campgrounds in the Deschutes National Forest, some of the sites are reservable.

Where’s Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Located 95 miles east from Crater Lake National Park and 140 miles south from Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Lava Lands Visitor Center is 12 miles south of Bend, Oregon. During my visit, I stayed in Bend, with the largest selection of lodging and dining in central Oregon.

Newberry National Volcanic is open year-round though the visitor centers are open seasonally from May 1 to October 31. The monument requires admission, use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a day use pass for $5 per vehicle, good at all designated parking lots.

Bats and White-Nose Syndrome

If you plan on exploring Lava River Cave, the lava tube, you will be asked if you have visited a cave, like Oregon Caves National Monument in southern Oregon. You can not wear any clothing, including shoes, that’s been in another cave due to White-Nose Syndrome.

White-Nose Syndrome kills hibernating bat colonies across the U.S. and Canada. A fungus that thrives in low temperatures and high humidity that’s killed 6 million bats since it’s discovery in 2006. Since the fungus can survive in the soil for years, rangers forbid visitors from entering the cave with the same clothing or shoes from another cave.

Know Before You Go:

  • Wear appropriate shoes for hiking on the lava flows, like hiking or athletic shoes. I slipped a couple of times even with hiking sandals.
  • The lava flows offer little in shade. Wear a hat, light-colored clothing and bring plenty of water if hiking in the summer.
  • The shuttle bus to the top of Lava Butte takes exact change only and kids under 2 ride for free.
  • Kids under 6 earn a Smokey Bear pin by completing the Smokey’s Helper Booklet.

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Discover Utah’s Bryce Canyon to Share Fun and Adventure

Discover Utah's Bryce Canyon with kids
Discover the pink spires at Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo Credit: National Park Service

Discover Utah’s technicolor show where the delicate pink of a sunrise pops into vermillion red then rusts into a sunset orange. Bryce Canyon National Park offers expansive views at every turn in the trail. The Paunsaugunt Plateau’s dramatic scenery is a hiker’s dream and draws visitors from around the world.

History of Bryce Canyon National Park

What started as an inland sea approximately 40 million years ago until 20 million years ago when the Colorado Plateau began to rise and dry out. Bryce Canyon’s rainbow-colored limestone layers actually represent different eras of time.

Explore the Bryce Canyon River when you explore Bryce Canyon with kids.
Catch the Bryce Canyon River as it snakes through the firs at the bottom of the canyon. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Bryce Canyon is located on the top portion of the Grand Staircase, a sequence of sedimentary rock layers in northern Arizona and southern Utah. It offers a geologic survey of 525 million years displayed in exposed rock. Where Grand Canyon National Park represents the bottom of the Grand Staircase, Zion National Park offers a glimpse of the center.

Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon Pioneer and Bryce Canyon’s namesake, settled in the area and at times seemed obvious to its haunting beauty. Bryce Canyon National Park earned its national park designation in 1928.

What to do in 2 hours

On my first visit, I had limited time so after grabbing a map at the Visitor Center I hopped a complimentary park shuttle. At the Sunrise Point stop, I headed to the Rim Trail, a paved path running next to the edge. To walk from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point is an easy 1.0-mile hike.

NOTE: This path doesn’t feature a fence next to the canyon but is approximately 10 feet off the rim’s edge.

Walk through Bryce Canyon Lodge when you explore Bryce Canyon with kids.
The historic Bryce Canyon Lodge offers guests rooms steps away from the rim of the canyon. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For more adventurous families, the Navajo Trail offers an up-close look at Bryce’s rock formations as the trail takes hikers into Bryce Amphitheater’s slot canyon. It starts at Sunset Point and is a 1.3-mile moderate trail.

I walked over to the Bryce Canyon Lodge to tour the historic park building. Inside I found restrooms along with a large gift shop, a restaurant and a ballroom that hosts ranger programs.

Explore Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park for family fun and adventure. With cabins, hikes and horseback rides, families can make memories together as they discover the pink spires of Utah.

After exploring from Sunrise to Sunset Points, I headed for Inspiration Point. Close but yet another vantage point of the Bryce Amphitheater then boarded the shuttle bus for the roundtrip ride back to the visitor center.

Family Fun in Bryce Canyon National Park

For older kids who love adventure, explore Bryce Canyon by horseback with a one-and-half hour guided tour that takes small groups to Fairy Castle and back. A three-hour tour explores the Peek-a-Boo Loop by horseback as well.

Take a hike when you explore Bryce Canyon with kids.
Kids love to hike and Bryce Canyon National Park offers several family hiking trails. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Bryce Canyon National Park hosts two summer festivals. An Annual Astronomy Festival in June and an Annual Geology Festival in July for visitors looking for specialized programming.

Bryce Canyon National Park features night sky programming. The park’s dark rangers, who specialize in the night sky, host programs to see a world beyond the naked eye.

Outfitted with high-powered telescopes, dark rangers point viewfinders on the Milky Way and nursery nebulae. On full moons, dark sky rangers guide visitors through Bryce Canyon on moonlit hikes.

Bryce Canyon with Kids

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Bryce Canyon National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the patches that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

Lodging in Bryce Canyon National Park

Stay in a historic cabin when you explore Bryce Canyon with kids.
Reserve a cabin steps from Bryce Canyon’s rim to make memories with your kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For lodging in the park, the rustic Bryce Canyon Lodge offers rooms in the 1925 historic lodge listed on the Register of Historic Places. The Bryce Canyon Lodge features a restaurant, a pizzeria along with lodge rooms and a few suites.

For guests looking for more space, western cabins are located steps from the canyon’s edge and the lodge. They offer rustic elegance in a more private setting.

Where’s Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is located approximately 270 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada, to the south and 270 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah, to the north. Both cities offer international airports.

Bryce Canyon National Park offers a difference landscape and included in national park itineraries. It’s located 85 miles from Zion National Park. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is 158 miles away.

Bryce Canyon National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $30 per private vehicle.

Bryce Canyon National Park offers a free seasonal shuttle bus from the visitor center every 15 minutes and stops at the lodge, the campgrounds and Sunset, Bryce, Inspiration and Sunset Points.

Know Before You Go:

  • Bryce Canyon has frequent thunderstorms during Monsoon season, June through August. For your safety, when thunder roars, head indoors.
  • Bryce Canyon doesn’t have a partial fence around the canyon like Grand Canyon. Hike with the kids within arm’s reach.
  • Take it easy at Bryce Canyon, elevations range from 6,600 to 9,100 ft
  • Seasonal road closure can occur during the winter.

Take Your Kids to Prison for Family Fun

Alcatraz with Kids
On a clear day, Alcatraz doesn’t look that creepy but of course looks can be deceiving. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Why would you visit Alcatraz with kids? Well, Alcatraz topped the San Francisco to-do list for my kids, 9, 13 and 14. ALL DAY they asked, when are we going to Alcatraz. Seriously. And it was their favorite national park site of the summer after stopping at most of the national park sites on the West Coast, like Redwoods, Death Valley, Olympic, Mount St. Helens, Oregon Caves, Lassen Volcanic and Mt. Rainier.

A Prison with Kids?

I have boys and my boys are fascinated by prisons, along with a list of other things that most Moms don’t want to talk about. So I decided to tour the prison that defines hard-core prison life.

Explore Alcatraz with kids.
A walk through Alcatraz at twilight defines creepy for me. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

As a kid of the 80s, I’m all about scaring a couple of kids straight.  A walk through Alcatraz at twilight is creepy and borderline scary.But tweens and teens love to walk the line of scary and creepy so it’s perfect for them.

Though it’s not all creepy. The views of downtown San Francisco can’t be beat, really stunning. I booked the evening tour and the ferry ride along with the sunset were top-notch. Though I think we were lucky, remember that San Francisco fog!

Take a ferry to Alcatraz with kids.
On a clear afternoon, the view of downtown San Francisco can’t be beat. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I had to see it for myself. Alcatraz is one of the places you have to visit to understand. Pictures can be haunting but walking through the cell block as the dabbled light casts a ghostly glow is eerie.

Alcatraz–What’s behind the name

Derived from the Spanish word alcatraces, or seabirds, the birds have called the island home for generations. In the 1850s, the island became a military fortress due to its strategic positioning in the San Francisco Bay.

Since the shipping traffic increased from San Francisco after the gold rush, a lighthouse was needed. In 1854 the Alacatraz Island Light became the first lighthouse on the West Coast.

During the Civil War, Alcatraz Island housed 400 soldiers and numerous cannons to protect the port. However, in 1907 the U.S. Army decommissioned Alcatraz.

The island always housed prisoners from the early days as a military fort. And soon after its decommission as a fort, military guards built a cellhouse.

Explore Alcatraz with kids and walk through the cell block.
A few of the cells on the tour feature personal belongings of the prisoners. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In 1915, Alcatraz was renamed the United States Disciplinary Barracks, Pacific Branch, a military prison. During the Great Depression, Alcatraz transferred from the War Department to the Department of Justice. Soon after, it became a high-profile, maximum-security federal penitentiary.

Home to the worst of the worst, infamous inmates like Al Capone, along with others with nicknames like Creepy, Doc, Machine Gun, and Birdman of Alcatraz were all incarcerated on The Rock. Inmates that caused problems in other prisons, came to Alcatraz too.

Explore Alcatraz with kids during your trip to San Francisco.
Alcatraz offers few windows so the light is dim and spooky. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After the prison closed in 1963, Native Americans occupied the island in effort to claim it for all tribes. Support dwindled and in 1972, Alcatraz became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Explore Alcatraz with Kids

Alcatraz is creepy and eerie in the evening so the younger kids might be frightened by the night tour. My kids, 9, 13 and 14, loved this tour but tweens and teens love to be freaked out a bit. Actually Alcatraz was their favorite national park site from the entire summer.

Explore Alcatraz with Kids when you visit San Francisco.
My kids, 9, 13 and 14, loved this tour because its was equal parts eery and creepy. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Hard to believe, yet kids lived on Alcatraz as prison guards lived on the island and brought their families with them. The kids of Alcatraz played in the gardens and Moms rarely locked their doors.

Stop by the Ranger Station at the dock and pick up a Junior Ranger booklet. Take the tour, finish the booklet and turn it back in to the park ranger for a special badge.

Night Tour

Tour Alcatraz with kids during your trip to San Francisco.
The hospital ward creeps out adults and younger kids might want to skip it. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

We explored Alcatraz during the twilight hours for the Night Tour. A special feature of this tour is the cell house lock-down where a Park Ranger unlocks then locks all the cell doors on the cell block at once. A must if you take the Night Tour.

This tour is especially creepy since the setting sun casts deep shadows throughout the prison. The lighting is limited and the hospital ward is particularly eery in the evening. It might be too scary for younger kids, my 9-year-old decided to skip this portion of the tour.

Lock the kids up when you tour Alcatraz with kids.
Sometimes good kids go bad. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Birds of Alcatraz

The birds came first, though moved on after humans occupied the island in the 1850s. When the prison closed in the 1963, the birds returned to the protected location that lacked natural predators.

The island offers refuge for over 5,000 birds today. The waterbirds include Pigeon Guillemots, Snowy Egrets, Western Gulls, Black-crowned Night-Herons and Brandt’s Cormorants. Some areas of the island may close to protect nesting birds that will abandon their nest if humans come too close.

Is a tour of Alcatraz Prison right for your kids? Find out the best time to visit and what to except for one of the most popular tours in San Francisco.

Birders, remember your binoculars and grab the brochure, Waterbirds of Alcatraz, at the kiosk after disembarking the ferry.

The Gardens of Alcatraz

The gardens that still bloom off the most surprising feature of the former high-security prison. Sprinkled throughout the property, residents first planted the gardens in the late 1800s.

Visit the gardens when you explore Alcatraz with kids.
Gardens sprinkle Alcatraz Island, planted and maintained by former inmates. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With the help of reclaimed water, green houses and specially-trained inmates, the gardens flourished until 1963, when the prison closed. Over 230 species of ornamental plants still flourish on Alcatraz, including roses, calla lilies, bearded irises, agapanthus and hydrangeas.

Garden lovers, grab the brochure, The Gardens of Alcatraz, at the kiosk after disembarking the ferry for more information.

Get the App!

The National Park Service developed an NPS Golden Gate App, covering Alcatraz Island among other NPS sites around San Francisco. The app includes an interactive map, hidden stories and up-to-date ranger information.

Where to eat at Alcatraz

Got hungry kids? The Landing at Alcatraz, the ticketing and boarding area off The Embarcadero, offers a cafeteria with options for families along with rain ponchos and souvenirs. Food service is not available on Alcatraz Island.

Picnics are allowed near the docks when you disembark the ferry. Only bottled water is permitted on the tour.

Getting to Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is located in the San Francisco Bay and reached by ferry only. The Alcatraz Ferry Terminal is located at Pier 33 on The Embarcadero.

Parking is an issue while visiting Downtown San Francisco. During my trip, I used public transportation and left my car at my hotel.

Alcatraz Cruises 2017 Tickets

Ages Day Tours Night Tour
Adult 18 to 61 37.25 44.25
Senior 62 + 35.25 41.25
Junior 12 to 17 37.25 43.25
Child 5 to 11 23.00 26.50
Toddler 0 to 4 Free Free
Family Pack 2 Adults + 2 Kids 112.75 Not Available

 

The Behind-the-Scenes Tour is 4 to 5 hours long and not available for kids under 12-years-old.

More Information about Alcatraz and San Francisco:

If you need more information about Alcatraz or San Francisco with kids, I recommend the Lonely Planet Guides, like the following.

 

Disclosure:

Consideration for brands mentioned. This post includes affiliate links.

Know Before You Go:

  • Tickets go on sale 90 days in advance.
  • Parking is an issue for San Francisco. I used public transportation during my visit.
  • Alcatraz Island, or ‘The Rock”, is hilly and requires climbing. Motorized transportation is limited.
  • Luggage larger than a standard backpack is not allowed.
  • Photo ID required for the purchaser of the tickets.
  • Give yourself at least 2-and-a-half hours for the tour.
  • Bring a jacket and rain gear since the weather is unpredictable.
  • Make reservations for this popular tour months in advance, especially for the evening tour.
  • In Mid-August flies that hatch from the bird colonies and swarm.
  • The Self-Guided booklet, Discover Alcatraz – A Tour of the Rock, costs $1.
  • The cost of the tour includes an audio tour headset.

 

Discover a Land of Destruction at Mount St. Helens

 

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids.
Explore Mount St. Helens with kids to learn about the 1980 eruption that blew off a mountaintop. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Mount St. Helens, once a recreational playground for Washington, until one quiet Sunday morning in 1980 when the snowcapped mountain vaporized. A mudslide decimated a forest and a crater remained where a peak once stood. A scar in the landscape recovers and a trip to Mount St. Helens with kids is a must for your Washington road trip.

What happened at Mount St. Helens 

In 1792 British explorer Captain George Vancouver officially named Mount St. Helens after Baron St. Helens, an ambassador. Though the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and Yakama Nation’s name translates into the smoker, suggesting a history of volcanic activity.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids while in Washington.
A one-mile wide crater dominates the landscape at Mount St. Helens. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

On March 20, 1980, a 4.2-magnitude earthquake rocked Mount St. Helens and jumpstarted the volcanic activity. The next week, steam started to vent. Volcanologists flew in from around the world to watch Mount St. Helens from every vantage point. By the end of April, a bulge appeared on the north side of the mountain.

After weeks intense monitoring, Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, in a fury that geologists compared to Mount Vesuvius. Another earthquake, a 5.1-magnitude, melted the snowpack into a violent mudslide and pulverized the top of the stratovolcano into a cloud of black ash.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids and learn about the 1980 eruption.
During our visit, we attended a ranger program to learn about the fateful day in May 1980. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For the next 9 hours, a plume of ash soared 12 to 16 miles into the atmosphere that turned day into night. The eruption generated 3.9 million cubic yards of material, like ash, pumice, trees and boulders, that rushed 17 miles downstream.

In all, the eruption of Mount St. Helens killed 57 people. In its wrath, it destroyed 47 bridges, 15 miles of railroad, 185 miles of highway and 250 homes. It was the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history.

Explore Washington's Mount St. Helens with your kids to learn about the 1980 eruption along with the continued volcanic activity that rocks the area. Top of your adventure with a stay in a cozy off-the-grid cabin to ignite the imagination of your kids.

After the eruption, Mount St. Helens went from a 9,677-foot snow-capped peak to a 8,363-foot mountain with a one-mile wide, horseshoe-shaped crater. Since the 1980 eruption, Mount St. Helens continues to rumble, with intermittent episodes of venting steam and erupting lava domes. The majority of the area is closed to visitors so scientists can continue to monitor the volcanic activity.

What to do in 3 hours at Mount St. Helens 

Drive to the Johnston Ridge Observatory’s visitor center, at the end of State Route 504 (Spirit Lake Highway) and walk through the exhibits detailing the eruption. Watch one of the dramatic films and attend a ranger program, if available. Our program offered amazing historic photos of the eruption.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids.
Take a hike and see how the landscape recovers at Mount St. Helens. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kids need to move so we hiked the Eruption Trail, a .5-mile trail from the Visitor Center. See the lava dome and the crater along with a pumice plain and landslide deposit. If time permits, stop at the Loowit Viewpoint, just west of the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Mount St. Helens with Kids

The Johnston Ridge Observatory is a must for school-age kids with geologic exhibits and live seismographs. The visitor center offers two different films, perfect for school-age kids. Though the movies might be intense for preschoolers and too loud for babies.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids during your vacation to Washington.
My kids earned a Junior Ranger badge during our visit to Mount St. Helens with special Junior Ranger programming. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During our visit to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, my kids attended a Junior Ranger program that explained the eruption in a way a kid could understand. The program took less than an hour and parents are welcome to stay or explore the monument on their own.

Family Fun at Mount St. Helens 

Due to the delicate nature of the recovering landscape and the continued seismic activity, I found limited recreational activities at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument’s Johnston Ridge Observatory. Visit other nearby locations.

  • Coldwater Lake Recreation Area offers a picnic area, an interpretive trail and a boat launch.
  • Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake is a Washington State Park that offers exhibits on the 1980 eruption. Located 6 miles from Castle Rock along State Route 504, it’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer season.
  • Try the eastside or southside of Mount St. Helens for more recreational activities, like Lava Canyon, Ape Cave or Spirit Lake viewpoints.
  • Eco Park Resorts offers horseback tours, the closest to Mount St. Helens, that ride through the blast zone.

Camping near Mount St. Helens 

For my visit to Mount St. Helens, I decided to stay as close as possible. At Eco Park Resort, just 25 miles west from the Johnston Ridge Observatory, I found several cozy, off-the-grid cabins along with tent and RV camping that unplugged my kids and recharged my spirit.

Visit Mount St. Helens with kids and stay in a nearby cabin.
We stayed in an off-the-grid cabin, minutes from the Johnston Visitor Center. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With a flicker of the gas-powered lights, my kids, 9, 13 and 14, and I settled in for the night under our cozy patchwork quilts. Set in a pristine landscape in the shadow of Mount St. Helens, it’s hard to believe the destruction that happened here 37 years ago.

Our cabin featured a pair of bunk beds that’s my boys fought over (in a good way) and a full-sized bed, each dressed with a cozy quilts for the brisk Washington nights. Since the cabins lack electricity, two gas-powered, wall-mounted lamps lighted our cabin. The flickering glow ignited my boys’ pioneering imaginations.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids and stay in a cozy cabin.
Inside our cabin, I found a pair of bunk beds along with a full-size bed, dressed with cozy quilts. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Inside our cabin, I found a table with four chairs, perfect for games after dinner. The long counter on one side of the cabin offered amble space for organizing camping equipment.

Outside our cabin, I made dinner on my gas camp stove, while my daughter swung on the cabin’s back porch swing. As we looked across the grassy meadow, we saw the first flickers of the nightly fire in Eco Park’s fire pit while my boys played in the late summer sun.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids and stay at a cabin.
Steps from our cabin, the newly renovated bathroom had lots of hot water with a locking door and a flushing toilet. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The owners of Eco Park Resort, Dawn and Mark Smith, offer their personal experiences of the day that Mount St. Helens erupted. The Smith family resort, Spirit Lake Lodge fell victim to 500-feet of ash that day. As the land recovered, the Smith family returned and opened Eco Park Resort in 1995 at 14000 Spirit Lake Highway.

Where’s Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

The Johnston Ridge Observatory is located 52 miles east of Castle Rock, Washington, along State Route 504 (Spirit Lake Highway). It’s located 110 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon, and 150 miles southeast of Seattle, Washington.

Both cities offer international airports. The closest towns with traveler’s services are Castle Rock or Kelso, both along Interstate 5. Public transportation is not available to the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area offers a scenic drive, just 165 miles away. Astoria and the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks offers more national park fun, 120 miles west.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is open 7 days a week from mid-May until the end of October, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase an adult admission for $8 per person, kids 15 and under enter for free.

Know Before You Go: 

  • Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument’s Johnston Ridge Observatory is closed from the end of October until mid-May.
  • Mount St. Helens includes levels of restricted areas for the safety and protection of the recovering landscape.
  • Pets, bikes and horses are prohibited to protect the recovering landscape. Though a few bike trails are open.
  • Camping is prohibited at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
  • Eco Park Resort is open from May until November and reservations are required.
  • Bring a battery-operated lantern for your stay at Eco Park Resort for additional lighting in the cabin and making after-dark runs to the potty.
  • Individual ground fires aren’t allowed at Eco Park Resort, though they light a fire pit that guests can enjoy. Remember the marshmallows!
  • Due to the remote location, Wi-Fi is not available at Eco Park Resort, though I had reliable cell service.
  • Since the cabin is off-grid, no electrical outlets are available in the cabin. Remember to charge the phone before arriving.
  • The cabins are heated though I didn’t turn of the heat for my stay.
  • The hot water is on a timer and the bathrooms contain showers only. The doors lock and if you have little kids, I recommend staying with them.

Take Epic Expedition with Explorers in the Pacific Northwest

Explore Fort Clatsop with Kids.
Discover the Columbia River like the legendary explorers, Lewis and Clark. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After exploring the U.S. and the majority of Canada with my three kids, 9, 13 and 14, I’m still amazed by what fascinates them. I thought historical sites about explorers would be a hard sell.

Not so. My boys, 9 and 13, knew more about Lewis and Clark than I did. Of course, they were hooked after the park ranger fired off an antique musket at our first stop.

Who are Lewis and Clark?

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids.
Retrace the steps of Lewis and Clark’s expedition at Fort Clatsop in Oregon. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The famous explorers that charted the western U.S. after the Louisiana Purchase. President Thomas Jefferson dispatched Merriweather Lewis and William Clark, both in their early 30s, to discover a water passage to the Pacific Ocean.

Starting in 1804, Lewis and Clark along with the other men of the Corps of Discovery, set out from St. Louis, Missouri, headed west to the Pacific Ocean. Not until November 1805 did the Lewis and Clark Expedition plus Sacagawea and her baby reach the Pacific Ocean across uncharted territory.

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids.
Explore Fort Clatsop at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park with your kids to learn about fur trading and the Corps of Discovery. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Needing a place to spend the winter, they built Fort Clatsop at the mouth of the Columbia River. For three months, the Corps of Discovery sewed moccasins, hunted and made salt in preparation for the trip back. In March 1806, they left for St. Louis.

Family Fun at the Lewis & Clark National Historical Park

During our visit we stopped by the visitor center at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park at Fort Clatsop first. With an introductory movie and an interpretive area, my kids got the basic history of the expedition.

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids.
Kids learn about primitive fort life in 1800s at Fort Clatsop. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Next we hiked to the replica of the wooden Fort Clatsop that features living history demonstrations. We explored the fort to see how the Corps of Discovery lived, learned about fur trading and the woolen Hudson Bay blankets used in trading.

To my boys’ delight, our costumed ranger loaded up an antique musket. With a blast of fire and a boom that rumbled through the forest, the ranger fired off the rifle. My boys wanted to enlist as explorers on the spot, instead we explored more Lewis and Clark sites.

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids.
The costumed Park Ranger demonstrated the firing of an antique musket during our visit. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During the summer, ranger programming is offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. most days at the fort. Several different programs are offered and the schedule is available at the visitor center.

Fort Clatsop with Kids

Discover Fort Clatsop with kids.
My kids knew more about Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery than I did. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Park Rangers present them after completing their booklets.

To earn the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks Junior Ranger patch, grab an age-based booklet at the visitor center and complete required activities. The Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks Junior Ranger patches comes with rank patches based on the number of Lewis and Clark sites kids visit.

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids and earn a Junior Ranger badge.
Explore Lewis and Clark sites in Oregon and Washington to earn a Junior Ranger patch with a special rank patch. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Complete seven activities in the Junior Ranger booklet and visit one site to earn the rank of Private. Visit two sites to earn the rank of Sergeant, three sites to earn the rank of Captain and visit four sites to earn the rank of President. Some of the sites are in Washington, across the Astoria Bridge.

Hiking at the Lewis and Clark Parks

Fort-to-Sea Trail offers a 6.5-mile path from Fort Clatsop to the Pacific Ocean. It retraces the route that the Corps of Discovery took from Fort Clatsop to the ocean and to Netul Landing along the river.

Fort Stevens State Park offers hiking paths north of the Lewis and Clark National and State Parks. Sunset Beach State Recreation area offers hiking as well, both in Oregon.

Cape Disappointment in State Park in Washington offers hiking. I found hiking at Fort Columbia State Park in Washington as well.

Other sites to explore about Lewis and Clark

Explore the Pacific Northwest to retrace the steps of the legendary explorers, Lewis and Clark, with your kids with eight sites across Oregon and Washington.

The Lewis and Clark National and State Parks is a collection of national and state park sites dedicated to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Located on both sides of the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon, start at the main visitor center at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in Astoria, Oregon, or Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington.

Though several Lewis and Clark Expedition sites preserve the history across the western U.S. Along with the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail that retraces the route from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean across present-day Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Explore the Lewis and Clark sites with kids in Washington.
Members of the Corps of Discovery made salt from ocean water with this oven to preserve meat. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Oregon:

  • Fort Clatsop at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park—one of the main visitor centers
  • Netul Landing—along the Lewis and Clark River
  • Fort Stevens State Park—visit the 1906 wreck of the Peter Iredale along the beach.
  • Salt Works—where the Corps of Discovery made salt from ocean water to preserve meat.
  • Ecola State Park—Captain Clark and Sacagawea trekked to this area.
Explore Fort Clatsop with kids along with the beaches of the Pacific.
A safe and navigable route to the Pacific Ocean lead Lewis and Clark across the continent in the early 1800s. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Washington:

  • Cape Disappointment State Park— one of the main visitor centers and offers a full-service state park.
  • Fort Columbia State Park—home to the Chinook Indians and the coastal defense fort.
  • Dismal Notch—a landing spot for the Corps of Discovery along the Columbia River.

Where’s Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Located at 92343 Fort Clatsop Road in Astoria, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is open seven days a week (closed December 25). Summer hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and until 5 p.m. during the rest of the year. Use an annual pass or pay $5 per person for adults, 16+ (kids under 15 are free).

Know Before You Go:

  • Be prepared for rain at any time.
  • Limited food service at the park sites so pack a picnic.

Hike like an Ewok in California’s Redwoods

Take a hike as one of the things to do with kids in the Redwoods.
Explore Redwood National and State Parks with your family to meet the tallest trees on the planet. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kids love records and it doesn’t matter if it’s tallest or shortest most days. On a recent road trip up the California coast from San Francisco, my kids discovered the tallest trees. Then we learned the ancient, or old growth redwoods, are tallest trees in the world and the tallest living things on our planet.

Redwood National and State Parks

Hike a trail as one of the things to do in the Redwoods with kids.
The redwood groves offer family-friendly hikes where Ewoks once played. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Until 1800, approximately 2 million acres of redwood forests covered California’s northern coast. Then the gold rush started to tarnish and logging became the next gold mine.

California preserved the remaining redwoods in 1923 when it created the first of three state parks. In 1968, Redwood National Park extended the area of protection to link all the state parks and in 1978, the park expanded further. In 1980, the United Nations designated Redwood National and State Parks as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hike the Lady Bird Johnson Grove as one of the things to do in the Redwoods with kids.
Explore the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a former first lady, during your trip. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Three types of redwoods exist yet only one type grows in the Redwood National and State Parks. With bark that measures 12-inches thick, redwoods have no known diseases or suffer from insect damage.

  • The Coast Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world and located along the northern California coast. They are the tallest variety with heights over 370 feet from a seed the size of a tomato’s.
  • The Giant Sequoias are located on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in Central California. They are bulkier with thicker trunks yet not as tall.
  • The Dawn Redwoods were thought to be extinct, yet discovered in 1944 in Central China.

6 Things to do in the Redwoods with Kids

Redwood National and State Parks offers lots of recreation options for families.

Take your family to a mysterious land where Ewoks once played. After that kids can spot a Roosevelt Elk or hop on their bikes in a favorite national park in northern California.

Scenic Drives

If limited on time, the scenic routes offer glimpses of the magnificent redwood forests. Drive down Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, a 10-mile paved road that parallels U.S. Route 101, for some of the best tree viewing. The Enderts Beach Road is a 2-mile road that offers amazing views of the coastline near Crescent Beach.

Family Hikes

Hiking always tops my list. During our visit, we hiked the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail, a 1-mile loop off Bald Hills Road. The path meanders through a fern-covered grove where the dedication of Redwood National Park took place.

For families with younger kids, try the Ah-Pah Interpretive Trail, a .3-mile walk off Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. This trail takes visitors through the rehabilitation process after logging.

Cycling

Redwood National Park offers back-country cycling on rehabilitated logging roads, one of just a few parks that allow this. Check in at the visitor center for a brochure and current conditions.

Widlife Viewing

The Roosevelt Elk herd graze in the Orick area. Catch a glimpse in the spring and fall, especially during the elk rut in the fall. The annual mating ritual when males battle each other for the right to mate.

Tide Pooling

Bring the water shoes and check out the tide charts so kids can explore a tiny marine world. The best place to find a tide pool is Enderts Beach, .5-mile hike from the Crescent Beach Overlook. Whale watching from the shore is best in November and March during the gray whale migration.

Organized Tours

Elk Meadows Cabins can arrange guided tours like family horseback riding and kayak tours. Rent mountain bikes and arrange a guided trip. Or reserve a fresh and salt water fishing excursion or a birding tour.

Redwoods with Kids

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Redwood National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the park rangers present them after completing their booklets.

The Redwood Junior Ranger booklet is the same for ages 4 and up. Kids complete the number of activities in the booklet based on their age. A ranger program is not required to earn this junior ranger badge though visiting a tide pool or taking a hike in the redwoods is encouraged.

The California State Parks offers a Junior Ranger program for kids visiting the Jedediah Smith Visitor Center or the Prairie Creek Visitor Center.

Lodging in the Redwood National and State Parks

Stay in a Cabin as one of the things to do in the Redwoods with kids.
Redwood National and State Parks offers limited lodging in the area so we stayed at the Elk Meadows Cabins. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During my visit to Redwood National and State Parks, I reserved a cabin at the Elk Meadow Cabins ($$-$$$). Located three miles north of Orick, California, Elk Meadow Cabins offers six three-bedroom, two-bath cabins that I would describe as a small house instead of a cabin. They line a short street right off U.S. Route 101 in an area that has a resident herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Outfitted with all the necessities a family needs, I found this house a charming place to stay for a couple of days. This area of California is remote and the Elk Meadow Cabins offers an excellent location to base your Redwood National and State Parks excursions.

Stay in a cabin as one of the things to do in Redwoods with kids
Stay in a cozy cabin in the Redwood State and National Park on the northern California Coast. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With homespun charm, my cabin featured two bedrooms with a queen bed each and one bedroom perfect for kids with a pair of twin beds. One bathroom included a tub for the kids who bath and the other bathroom had a shower and stackable washer and dryer.

Stay in a cabin as one of the things to do in Redwoods with kids.
My cabin offered three cozy bedrooms decorated with charming quilts. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The kitchen included all the necessary cooking equipment for a family, including a dishwasher. During our stay, I opted to grill outside since it’s a kid-pleaser and easy-to-clean up for Mom. I found a grill on the back deck along with a table for dining al fresco. Grab groceries before heading out to Redwood National Park.

Our cabin featured cable television and Wi-Fi but my kids played outside until dark. Bring the bikes or kayaks, the cabins feature a small garage for storing your toys. Elk Meadow Cabins offers a community fire pit and Jacuzzi.

Grill up some dinner as one of the things to do in the Redwoods with kids.
Stop by the grocery store and grill up dinner on the outside grill or use the fully-stocked kitchen. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Where’s Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks are located along U.S. Route 101 in Northern California. From the south, Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, 2 miles west from Orick, California, is 312 miles north of San Francisco. On the north side of the park, the Jedediah Smith Visitor Center in Crescent City, California, is 322 miles south of Portland, Oregon.

Redwood National and State Parks is 63 miles to Oregon Caves National Park, 170 miles to Crater Lake National Park and 185 miles to Lassen National Volcanic National Park.

Details for Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks are open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. The Redwood National Park is a fee-free area. Though Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park and Prairie Creek Redwood State Park collect day-use fees at their respective campgrounds.

U.S. Route 101 runs north and south though the Redwood National and State Parks. Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway offers a scenic drive and several unpaved roads offer beach access. Though trailers are prohibited.

More Information:

I recommend the Moon Guides if you need more information.

Disclosure: 

Consideration for brands mentioned. This post contains affiliate ads.

Know Before You Go: 

  • When exploring the beach, never turn your back to the ocean. Sneaker waves can occur at any time.
  • Rip currents are strong currents that can occur at anytime. Put the kids in life jackets.
  • If exploring the tide pools, remember rising tides can cut off access.
  • If you feel a strong earthquake, move to higher ground in case of Tsunami.
  • Ticks carrying Lyme disease have been found in the Redwood National and State Parks.
  • Know how to identify Poison Oak; it can be found along the trails.
  • Best places to restock: stop at Crescent City, California if driving down from the north and McKinleyville, California, if arriving from the south.
  • Give Roosevelt Elk space, they are unpredictable animals that weigh 1,000 pounds.

Stay with the Woodland Animals in a Charming Cedar Chateau

Spend the night at Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
Enjoy a night at Oregon Caves Chateau with kids after exploring its cave. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After exploring the marble halls of Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, we checked in to the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids, a National Historic Landmark and part of the PBS series, Great Lodges of the National Parks. Another charming addition to my collection of historic properties stays, I found this lodge packed with quaint woodland details and creatures.

Enjoy the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
Explore the cave then check in to the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids of the night. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

What I loved at the Oregon Caves Chateau

  • The sense of history with Monterey Furniture pieces throughout.
  • The lobby offers an evening respite and a place to meet fellow travelers.
  • The Northwest-inspired menu in the dining room exceeded my expectations.

What I wanted at the Oregon Caves Chateau

  • The restaurant needs a historic renovation.
  • Updated wall colors and carpet through the property

The Oregon Caves Chateau with kids

Enjoy the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
The lobby provides lots of seating for reading books, playing games and sharing a glass of wine and adventures. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After winding in and around a southern Oregon national forest for more than an hour, we see the rustic park sign announcing our destination, Oregon Caves National Monument. While my boys love climbing through mountain caves, I’m here for the historic hotel, The Oregon Caves Chateau. Another national park lodge to add to my collection of stays that include Bright Angel Lodge in Grand Canyon to Lake Quinault Lodge in Olympic and the Inn at Furnace Creek in Death Valley.

Built in 1934 by local contractor, Gust Lium, the cedar bark-covered, six-story building with 10 sides is part of the rustic picturesque architectural style. Set in a ravine, the building hugs the sides of the steep landscape with rock work completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Enjoy the Monterey Furniture antiques at Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
I sat down at the Monterey Furniture desk to write my postcards. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Throughout the Chateau, I found Monterey Furniture pieces. Made in California from the 1930s until the 1940s, their furniture used Oregon adler wood and design influences from Spanish Colonial and California Mission styles.

The Oregon Caves Chateau features the largest collection of Monterey Furniture from the early classic period. I found several pieces in the lobby and my room even included some pieces.

Enjoy Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
In our room we found a journal with guests’ entries including this kid’s plea. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The lobby’s fireplace dominates the space and offers a place to enjoy a book or board game after a day of exploring the caves. With a wall of cottage-inspired windows on the creekside of the lobby, natural light floods the room. Adjacent to the main lobby, I found a kids playroom stocked with games and books.

My Room at The Oregon Caves Chateau

Enjoy the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
I reserved a deluxe corner room with two double beds at the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I reserved a corner room overlooking the creek with two double beds. With a room packed with Monterey Furniture antiques and charming quilts, I instantly felt welcomed. We even spotted several deer from our room in the late afternoon.

The beds were comfy and reminded me of my grandmother’s house. My room included a dressing table along with a round table with a pair of chairs where my kids worked on their Junior Ranger booklets.

Enjoy a room at the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
The Deluxe rooms at the Oregon Caves Chateau feature Monterey Furniture antiques from the 1930s. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Though my room didn’t include air-conditioning, I felt comfortable during my July stay. My room didn’t feature a phone, TV or Wi-Fi and I didn’t miss them. After relaxing in our room for a bit we walked downstairs to enjoy the common areas.

My Bathroom at Oregon Caves Chateau

I live in a 95-year-old house, the terms vintage and original make me giddy. The bathroom transported me back in time but I’m a romantic.

I love the vintage bathroom at Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
I love a vintage bathroom with original fixtures though it’s not for everyone. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With original fixtures, I found the the bathroom quaint. It performs its duty instead of offering an island of relaxation. After all, I’m in the middle of a national forest over an hour from any towns.

I found enough towels from my family of four along with standard toiletries.

Dining at The Oregon Caves Chateau with kids

During my stay at the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids, we dined overlooking the creek in the historic property. From the large windows, I watched the sun slowly disappear into maze of fir trees. A perfect way to end a day of exploring.

Spend the night at Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
Since the Chateau features six floors, we walk downstairs to the Dining Room. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In a room that I thought needs a historic restoration, I found the entrees and service better than I expected.

With a menu infused with Northwest-inspired entrees, the flat iron steak, bison meatloaf and rainbow trout tempted me along with seasonal salads. The dining room also features Oregon wines and cheese.

Enjoy dinner in the Dining Room at the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
We split a Cave Rock Sundae since we hiked a few miles exploring Oregon Caves National Monument. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My kids enjoyed an Italian soda topped with a mountain of whip cream. The Oregon Caves Chateau’s dining room features a kids’ menu with options like natural grass-fed burgers and local-made hot dogs. I found vegetables, salad and fruit for sides for the kids’ meals too.

For families wanting a quick bite, I found a coffee shop at the Oregon Caves Chateau.

Family Fun at the Oregon Caves Chateau          

Cave Tours

Reserve a tour at Oregon Caves National Monument, the Discovery Tour lasts a 1 ½ hours or take the Candlelight Tour for a historic, evening tour. For the adventurous, the Off-Trail Tour scrambles and squeezes through the cave for 3 hours.

Explore Oregon Caves National Monument with kids.
Explore the mysterious marble halls of Oregon Caves National Monument. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Hiking

The cave isn’t the only landscape to discover in the Siskiyou Mountains. I found several shaded trails to explore.

  • Cliff Nature Trail, a .7-mile trail from the cave exit to the visitor center with a 75-foot elevation gain.
  • Old Growth Trail, a 1.0-mile loop from the main parking lot to the visitor center
  • Big Tree Trail, a 3.3-mile loop is an ambitious hike with a 1,125-foot elevation gain.
  • No Name Trail, a 1.3-mile trail features waterfalls.
Enjoy the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
Take a hike with the kids along one of the trails that start from the Chateau. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Staying at Historic Properties in National Parks

I adore historic properties. With quaint details, from the woodwork and original tile work to the sloping floors and creaking doors, I always book a room at a park’s lodge since each is unique.

I evaluate these properties differently than I would a new hotel property. Most are seasonal properties that are shuttered over the winter and many employ students. A few properties offer luxury in remote locations and others pack in charm along with a pool, though those are the exception.

Looking for a place to stay after exploring Oregon Caves National Monument, I stayed at the Oregon Caves Chateau next door. If you love historic National Park Lodge then add it to your list for its rustic charm.

Most lodges don’t offer air-conditioning though most feature ceiling fans and windows that open. TVs are hard to find and the Wi-Fi is for checking emails only. I know this and don’t expect the modern day conveniences in some of the most remote locations in the U.S.

Pools are rare but hiking is usually right out the front door. Other activities, like horseback riding can be found at many locations too. I always take the free historic tours of the properties.

Most historic National Park Lodges feature large lobbies for enjoying your evening. With my kids, I grab a board game, usually stacked in a corner of the room, and enjoy the simplicity of a game night. Many guests sit by the fire and read a book. Others grab a glass of wine and discuss what they experienced. Some special lodges even provide live music in the evening.

Where’s the Oregon Caves Chateau

Oregon Caves Chateau is located at 20000 Caves Highway, Caves Junction, in southern Oregon. Complimentary guest parking is outside of the Chateau.

Oregon Caves National Monument is 145 miles from Crater Lake, 240 miles from Bend, Oregon, and 75 miles from Redwood National Park in California. Oregon Caves National Monument is a fee-free park site, admission for cave tours.

More information: 

Looking for more information on Oregon, I recommend Moon Travel Guides, I own several.

Disclosure: 

This post contains an affiliate link.

Know before you go:

  • I remind my kids to be gentle with the furnishings and the original doors in historic properties.
  • If you plan on visiting Oregon Caves National Monument you can not wear any clothing, this includes shoes, that’s been in another cave due to White-Nose Syndrome.
  • From Cave Junction, along U.S. Route 199, it takes 45 minutes to get to the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve and the last few miles are a series of s-curves.
  • RV and travel trainers are not recommended beyond mile post 12 on Caves Highway.
  • Kids can’t be carried on cave tours.

Splish Splash in a Natural Pool in Chickasaw Oklahoma

Explore Chicksaw National Recreation Area as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
Explore the natural pools of Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur, Oklahoma, with your kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A few hours north of the Dallas and Ft. Worth, I found the Chickasaw National Recreation Area filled with natural pools and scenic mountain vistas. With a recreational lake open for boating, historic cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps along with a resident herd of bison, I found a ton of things to do in Sulphur for families.

Things to do in Sulphur with Kids

Explore Chickasaw National Recreation Area as one of the things to do in Sulphur with kids.
Explore the Chickasaw National Recreation Area for family fun in southern Oklahoma. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Sulphur offers oodles of outdoor family fun at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Once Platt National Park, Chickasaw features family hiking trails, swimming in the summer, national park programming and even a herd of bison.

Family Hiking in Chickasaw National Recreation Area

During our visit to Chickasaw National Recreation Area, we hiked on several of the trails. I suggest any of the following.

  • Antelope and Buffalo Springs—a 1.2-mile trail, labeled easy originates from the Travertine Nature Center.
  • Bison Pasture Trail—a 1.9-mile trail labeled moderate originates from the Bison Viewing Area.
  • Flower Park—a .5-mile trail labeled easy originates from the Vendome Well.
  • Travertine Creek Trail—1.5-mile trail labeled easy originates at the Travertine Nature Center.

Swimming in Chickasaw

Your family a fan of natural pools and springs? I found some amazing pools made by manmade dams in Southern Oklahoma's Chickasaw Natural Recreation Area perfect for kids to splash and swim.

Chickasaw National Recreation Area features natural swimming holes that excited my kids. Originally built by the CCC, Chickasaw features manmade dams along Travertine Creek perfect for splashing and wading.

Families can swim in several locations in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, like Lake of the Arbuckles, Veterans Lake, Travertine Creek and Rock Creek. Boating and fishing rules the lakes though kids can splash and even swim in Travertine Creek, near the nature center.

Kids at Chickasaw

Earn a Junior Ranger badge in Chickasaw National Recreation Area as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
Earn a Junior Ranger badge at Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Junior Ranger Program offers the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

Our first stop, the Travertine Nature Center, is the place to start with kids. With a creek running under the nature center, the building that resembles Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie-style architecture.

Explore the Travertine Nature Center in Chickasaw National Recreation Area as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
At the Travertine Nature Center, we found a  large interpretive area with displays and live animals. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My kids loved the interpretive area with live animals. With a live Barn Owl and several native snakes in aquariums, this space offers kids a place to learn. I also found displays on the geologic features of the area.

I picked up a map and the Junior Ranger booklets. The Chickasaw National Recreation Area offers Junior Ranger programming over the weekends to earn the badge and patch. Take a hike, or if the weather is warm, swim in the natural swimming areas created by CCC-built waterfalls.

Bison Viewing Area

Stop by and see the bison as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
I found a herd of bison in Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kids love animals so stop at the Bison Viewing Area located off U.S. Route 177, just south of Sulphur. A herd of 10 buffalo roam in Chickasaw Natural Recreation Area.

After several attempts at bison viewing, we caught the bison near twilight in the viewing area, including a couple of baby bison grazing near their mothers.

History of Platt National Park

Explore the Lincoln Bridge as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
My boys climbed all over the Lincoln Bridge in Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A little know fact about Sulphur, Oklahoma, it’s home to demoted Platt National Park. It doesn’t happen often, but national parks can loose their designation and it happened to Platt National Park (1906 to 1976).

The Federal Government purchased 33 mineral springs to protect the area from private overdevelopment in 1902 from the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. Tourists and bathers flocked to the renamed Sulphur Springs Reservation. At the time in the U.S., hydrotheraphy was fashionable along with Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Stop at Vendome Well as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
Stop by the Vendome Well on the edge of Chickasaw National Recreation Area to see how Sulphur got its name. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In 1904, the area enlarged and then in 1906 the area was renamed Platt National Park, after Congressman Orville Platt of Connecticut. Early in Platt National Park’s history, attendance at the small park exceeded the visitation at Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks.

In 1976, Platt National Park lost its national park designation and rolled into the newly-formed Chickasaw National Recreation Area. The original Platt National Park area is the Platt Historical District, right outside the town of Sulphur.

Civilian Conservation Corps in Platt National Park

Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, shortly after his inauguration. Nicknamed Roosevelt’s Tree Army, the New Deal program employed 3 million people over the term of the program from 1933 until 1942. In all, 4,500 CCC camps were established to restore or construct national parks, national forests, state and community parks across the country.

Explore Platt Historic District as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
Explore the Platt Historical District in Chickasaw National Recreation Area for Civilian Conservation Corps cabins. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Open to unmarried men from 18 to 25 whose parents were on assistance, participants earned $30 a month with $25 a month sent home. Initial enrollment was for 6 months and could be renewed for 2 years.

Like the work in most CCC projects, Platt National Park’s work is organic with a heavy use of local materials. The CCC constructed the majority of the small dams along the rivers to provide natural swimming areas and built trails, pavilions and bridges.

Lodging and Camping in Sulphur

Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center has a hiking trail.
The Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center offers a mile-long hiking trail on the grounds. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During my visit to Sulphur, Oklahoma, my family stayed at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center, located next the the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. With over 1,700 acres to explore, the Chickasaw Retreat offers the ultimate refuge for relaxing and reconnecting as a family.

Located next to the Platt Historical District in Sulphur, The Artisan Hotel offers families refined lodging, steps from all the sights. The original hotel opened in 1906 and included five stories and named after the mineral water found on the property during construction.

After an extensive rebuild in 2010, The Artesian offers visitors and locals a respite of refinement with upscale yet family-friendly dining, mineral bathing and notable spas for adults and kids alike.

For families wanting a rustic getaway, Chickasaw National Recreation Area provides six campgrounds with over 400 sites, some reservable and most seasonal.

Where’s Chickasaw National Recreational Area

Chickasaw National Recreation area features several units. The Platt Historic Unit, right outside of Sulphur, features the Travertine Nature Center and the CCC buildings and swimming area. Arbuckle District offers Lake of the Arbuckles access at each of its three campground areas, Guy Sandy, The Point and Buckhorn. An additional boat is located at Upper Guy Sandy area too.

Chickasaw National Recreation area is 140 miles north of Dallas/Ft. Worth and 75 miles south of Oklahoma City. Located near the town of Sulphur, 12 miles east of Interstate 35.

Details for Chickasaw National Recreational Area

Chickasaw National Recreation Area is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. This area is a fee-free area.

Travertine Nature Center is open every day, except Thanksgiving Day, December 25 and January 1 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m and 5:30 p.m. during the summer.

Disclosure:

Consideration for brands listed.

12 Out of this World Destinations in Northern Alabama

Little River Falls is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
I discovered several waterfalls in Alabama like Little River Falls. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Huntsville stands out as the hub of Northern Alabama, offering diverse options in dining, recreation and the arts. For visitors, NASA history and Space Camp top the list of must-dos though residents enjoy nearby recreational opportunities in the nearby Cumberland Plateau, part of the Appalachian Plateau. I’ve pulled together a list of 12 things to do in Huntsville and the surrounding areas.

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Explore the U.S. Space and Rocket Center as one of the things to do in Huntsville.
One the Saturn V rockets hangs from the ceiling of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A must for every visitor to Huntsville, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center features a sprawling complex where I found the largest collection of rockets and space memorabilia in the world. A day’s worth of discovery and learning awaits along with an IMAX theater and glimpse into Space Camp.

As a Smithsonian affiliate and the Official Visitor Center of NASA’s Marshal Space Flight Center, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center features a rocket park with 27 missiles and rockets that grew into the NASA program. I also found the Space Shuttle Pathfinder, a test simulator along with one of the original Saturn V rockets.

Explore Rocket Park as one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Walk through Rocket Park to see the largest collection of missiles and rockets in the world. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is located at One Tranquility Base and open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday. Adult admission is $24 and $16 for students 5 to 12 with kids 4 and under entering for free.

Space Camp for Families

With programs for kids as young as 9 all the way until high-school seniors, Space Camp offers STEM-based camps in a variety of topics ranging from two-day introductory mini-camps to week-long summer resident camps. For families that share a love of space, Space Camp offers family camp. In a three-day program, families work together to learn about rocket construction and use training simulators.

Space Camp is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Space Campers use mock-ups of the International Space Station at Space Camp. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Space Camp is located at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Meals and lodging are provided in camp-like dorms.

Marshall Space Flight Center Bus Tour

The Marshall Space Flight Center houses NASA’s research and development facility for programs like the mission to Mars. Take a guided bus tour of the facility that remains closed to the public.

The Marshall Space Flight Center is one the things to do in Huntsville.
Take a tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center when visiting Huntsville, Alabama. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A bus tour departs daily from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for a two-hour guided tour. Stops include the historic test site of former rockets, the International Space Station (ISS) payload operations and the Propulsion Research and Development Laboratory.

Tours are limited to U.S. citizens and a picture ID is required for all over 16. Tickets are $20 for all over 5-years-old and kids 4 and under are free.

Are you a NASA geek? Got a kid that's all about the rockets? Then you have to explore the World's Largest Collection of Rockets and Missiles. It's closer than you think. And I found a Space Shuttle too.

A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard

Dine on the patio of a restored 100-year-old lumberyard while enjoying live music. This complex features several restaurants and hosts special events. I found A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard at 108 Cleveland Ave.

Tour the craft breweries as one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Huntsville features a craft beer trail with 10 breweries located downtown. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Campus No. 805

Across 13-acres of a revitalized high school campus, I found a complex of craft breweries, restaurants, food trucks, retail shopping, live music and a speakeasy. Campus No. 805 is located at 2620 Clinton Ave. W.

DeSoto State Park

DeSoto Falls is one of the things to do in Huntsville
A stop by the 104-foot DeSoto Falls tops my list for DeSoto State Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, DeSoto State Park preserves the CCC-built Desoto Lodge and cabins. Though my favorite feature of the park, the 104-foot Desoto Falls is a must.

DeSoto State Park offers camping along with the lodge, cabins and restaurant. Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for the kids and take a hike to discover the rugged beauty of northern Alabama. DeSoto State Park adjoins the Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Located at 7104 DeSoto Parkway NE, 75 miles southeast of Huntsville, DeSoto State Park is free to enter.

Little River Canyon National Preserve

From Lookout Mountain, Little River flows through sandstone carving Little River Canyon as it passes over Little River Falls. One of the wildest and cleanest rivers in the Southeast, Little River offers recreational opportunities like rock climbing, kayaking and hiking.

Little River Falls is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
The waterfalls of Alabama enchant visitors, like Little River Falls. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Stop by the Little River Canyon Center for a map, a Junior Ranger booklet and an educational movie. Located at 4322 Little River Trail NE and open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Little River Canyon National Preserve is open from sunrise to sunset and is free to enter.

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

In the early 1800s, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole people were forcibly removed from their lands and relocated to the Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. Using several routes, including land and waterways, visitors can retrace the Trail of Tears.

The Benge Route passes through the Little River Canyon National Preserve where I found interpretive information.

Russell Cave National Monument

Near the Tennessee border, the Russell Cave National Monument offers a glimpse into the history of human civilization 1,000 years before European contact. Russell Cave provides one of the most extensive archeological records on the East Coast.

Explore Russell Cave from the boardwalk only. Located at 3729 County Road 98 in Bridgeport, 70 miles northeast of Huntsville. Russell Cave is free.

Find a treasure at Unclaimed Baggage Center

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Find a treasure at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In the tiny town of Scottsboro, I stumbled upon the final destination for lost baggage. After airlines spend 90 days looking for a bag’s rightful owner, unclaimed bags end up in Alabama.

Bargain hunters from across the country take a side trip from Interstate 59 to hunt through a retail space that spans several buildings. During my visit, I found wedding dresses, racks of men’s suits, a coat of armor and high-end watches like Rolex and Cartier.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Find a treasure at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Be prepared to dig, though I found clothing sized and grouped by color. I found dressing rooms and a café serving Starbucks along with gourmet sandwiches and pastries in the facility.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is located at 509 West Willow Street, Scottsboro, 40 miles southeast of Huntsville. Open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and closed on Sunday.

Brunch at the Wildflower Cafe

Tucked away in a woodland fairyland, I stumbled upon Wildflower Café. A charming eatery that appeals to grandmothers and grandchildren equally.

Brunch at Wildflower Café is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Sample southern cuisine favorites like Shrimp and Grits at Wildflower Café in a homespun dining room. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

As I meandered through the rooms of the old house, I stopped to enjoy the local artists’ work that covered the walls. My eyes darted around the dining room as I sat in a mismatched chair and I sipped on a glass of iced tea.

I sampled remakes of southern stables on flowered pottery that reminded me of my grandmother’s pattern. The standout at Wildflower Café, the Famous Tomato Pie, boasts a tender yet flaky crust with layers of tomato and cheese. Firm and flavorful, it’s a must. The Polenta Shrimp Grits topped my list as well, with an elevated remake of the southern favorite. I finished out my brunch with a ham and cheese quiche with a hearty mouth-feel and tender, savory crust.

The Wildflower Café is located at 6007 Alabama Highway 117 in Mentone, 70 miles southeast of Huntsville.

Savor the Arts

After a hearty brunch at Wildflower Café, walk next door to Kamama Gallery for a collection of local artists’ work. I found pottery, landscapes and sculpture in the cultural hub of Mentone. Grab a cup of coffee at the Kamama Gallery’s café, located at 5951 Alabama Highway 117.

Miracle Pottery is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Miracle Pottery teaches classes and features ceramics by Valinda Miracle in Mentone. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Another gallery, the Miracle Pottery, features the work of Valinda Miracle, who used ceramics as a form of physical therapy after a major car accident. In addition to a gallery, Miracle Pottery features classes in ceramics and located at 7811 Alabama Highway 117.

More Information:

I always suggest Lonely Planet Guides for more information, including this region.

Disclosure:

Consideration for some brands listed. This post uses affiliate links in which I receive a commission if a book is ordered.