Young Explorers Relive History in Astoria and Warrenton
Bustling Astoria and its picturesque oceanfront neighbor Warrenton abound with kid-approved attractions that take advantage of the region’s breathtaking setting at the confluence two iconic Oregon geographical features: the spectacular Pacific Ocean and the mighty Columbia River. Here at the mouth of the Columbia, intrepid explorers Lewis and Clark completed their journey west from the nation’s interior. Astoria later grew into an important center of salmon canning and timber harvesting, a legacy that’s preserved today by several well-designed museums packed with interactive, youngster-friendly exhibits. It’s no surprise that these cities on Oregon’s North Coast have become a top draw for families.
You can explore the very stomping grounds staked out by the Corps of Discovery at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, which comprises several units on both the Oregon and Washington sides of the Columbia. At Fort Clatsop, nestled between Astoria and Warrenton, you can watch films, check out the selection of children’s books in the visitor center store, and sign up for the national park service’s Junior Ranger program — participants receive 16-page activity books packed with entertaining games and exercises, from a plant-identification bingo to interactive bird-watching quizzes.
One of the best ways to appreciate the heroic efforts of Lewis and Clark’s dedicated team is to climb inside the replica of primitive Fort Clatsop. Here during peak season, rangers clad in period buckskin present demonstrations on loading and shooting muzzles, candle-making, and other endeavors that the state’s early explorers practiced in order to thrive here.
A short drive west in the coastal community of Warrenton, spend some time strolling along the sweeping beach at Fort Stevens State Park, where you’ll discover the eerie rusted-steel remains of the Peter Iredale, a wrecked 1906 sailing vessel that you can walk right up to at low tide (it’s a terrific family photo op). The surrounding 542-acre park makes a wonderful destination for hiking, biking, swimming and fishing at two small lakes, and family camping — children especially enjoy overnighting in the 15 yurts.
At downtown Astoria’s outstanding Columbia River Maritime Museum, kids enjoy touring the decks of the Columbia lightship, which served an invaluable role as a floating beacon at the mouth of the river during its three-decade run from 1951 to 1979. It’s docked behind this light-filled, contemporary museum with a theater that screens exhilarating 3-D nature films and exhibits that include an actual 44-foot Coast Guard rescue boat and a massive wall map pinpointing the many shipwrecks that have occurred at the mouth of the Columbia.
Make getting around downtown Astoria into an enjoyable adventure by riding the vintage Astoria Riverfront Trolley, a 1913 vehicle that operates seasonally along a 3-mile line along the Columbia waterfront. You can also walk or bike along the adjacent asphalt trail — an excellent spot for watching bird life and gazing at the huge freighters plying the river. A good place to catch the trolley is the depot just across from the maritime museum.
Other absorbing draws for younger visitors include the Oregon Film Museum, set inside the old county jail that appeared prominently in the famed jail break scene in the ‘80s classic “The Goonies.” Near Youngs Bay on the west side of downtown, Tapiola Park comprises ball fields, picnic areas, a skate park, and a huge 15,000-square-foot playground containing models of many local attractions, including the Astoria-Megler Bridge and Fort Clatsop.
However many family-popular sites and activities you’re able to enjoy on your trip, end your visit at the soaring Astoria Column, which dates to 1926 and rises some 125 feet above the grassy 30-acre park surrounding it. Active kids love scampering up the spiral staircase to the observation deck at the top — you add to the adventure by having each person in your group guess how many steps there are. The big pay off? From this impressive tower you’re treated to a bird’s-eye view of all the attractions in Astoria, Warrenton, and beyond that you’ve had the chance to visit in person.
Photo by Paul Quesnell