With anxieties heightening this week regarding the domestic spread of COVID-19, some parents may be feeling understandably more worried about joining group festivities with their families than they normally would. While in the Greater Portland area most public spaces and events have not yet been subject to closure, it is important to prepare for the possibility that some event spaces may be closed in the coming weeks to protect public health, and to plan accordingly.  

Fortunately for us living in this beautiful region of the world, there are plenty of healthy alternatives for family fun not involving crowds. We have some of the most beautiful public parks, some of the most stunning natural landscapes, and the days are growing longer and warmer. This week we will focus on a few fun things to do with the family in the coming days to welcome the spring in the great outdoors.

The Witch’s Castle: Forest Park, Portland OR 97231

If you have kiddos that love to hike, this is a historic (slightly difficult) half-mile hike from the Upper Macleay Parking lot near the Portland Audubon Society or a slightly longer (less strenuous) walk from the Lower Macleay Parking lot at NW 30th and Upshur. This moss-covered old building was built on the locally-famous Balch homestead, and was abandoned by Portland Parks and Rec in the 1960s to slowly crumble into the forest. Since then, it has become somewhat of a Portland landmark for local hikers, and while in reality it’s actually the ruins of an old ranger station, it comes as no surprise that local teenagers dubbed it “The Witch’s Castle” when you see it sitting solitary in the trees. A lovely spot to stir the imagination, and Forrest Park- the crown jewel of the Portland Park System- is one of the better places for family hikes in the Pacific Northwest. 

Sandy River Delta Park: (1000 Acre Dog Park) Troutdale OR 97024 

It took me eight years of living in Portland to discover this sprawling and absolutely splendid park which is like something out of a Winnie-the-Pooh storybook. Called “Thousand Acres” by locals, it’s a great place to run child and dog alike until they are tired, sweaty, and happy. Boasting 1,400 acres of wetlands, pastures, and wooded trails, it’s a little more than a mile from the parking lot down to the Sandy Delta, where you will find off-leash pups happily chasing sticks, families picnicking, children wading, and vast swaths of wildlife habitat. The park also happens to be a popular spot with birders, mountain bikers, and horseback riders, so it’s truly a little something for everyone! Dogs must remain on leash on Confluence Trail but are allowed on most other trails off-leash. The parking-lot can get pretty full on sunny weekend days, as the Columbia is also a popular spot for swimming and sunbathing. 

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden: 5801 SE 28th Ave. Portland OR 97202 

While the Rhododendrons don’t start blooming until late February, Crystal Springs is an absolutely delightful place to bring the kids nearly year-round. Set on almost ten acres right up against the Eastmoreland Golf Course, it’s a magical place to explore, especially for young children. There are ponds, small waterfalls, bridges and paths everywhere, and once the Rhododendrons are blooming it’s like walking through a painting. Added bonus, in the spring when the various water-foul start having babies, you will often come across small processions of baby birds scampering across your path, as well as the occasional sighting of a pair of nesting bald eagles. Children 6 and under are free to enter, and children ages 7-18 are $5.