1). Mount St. Helens
Drive Time: 2 Hours | Miles: 90
Summer is a fantastic time of year to make it out to Johnston Ridge Observatory and soak in the spectacular views of this volcanic mountain. Take some time to learn about this active volcano’s history as the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history, then walk the trails, explore lava tubes, and (for the most adventurous) pitch a tent in one of the many campgrounds surrounding the mountain.
Harry’s Ridge Trail – A classic trail that departs from Johnston Ridge Observatory and provides unbeatable views of the area. This trail is about 8 miles round trip, with modest elevation gain and level, well-trodden pathways. On a clear day, hikers will enjoy views of Spirit Lake, Coldwater Peak, Mount Adams, the pumice plains, and blast damage from the explosion.
Ape Caves Lava Tubes – Explore the fascinating pitch-black lava tubes carved underground by the 1980 eruption. Choose from the ¾-mile lower cave route for an easy and relatively family-friendly trail, or opt for the 1.5-mile upper cave that leads to an eight-foot rock wall climb and rock pile scramble. This cave is the third longest lava tube in North America and remains a chilly 42 degrees Farenheight year round! Be sure to reserve tickets in advance at www.recreation.gov and bring flashlights, sturdy shoes, and warm clothes for this underground adventure.
Earn A Junior Ranger Badge – Start your day at Johnston Ridge Observatory where kids have the option to attend a one-hour program to become a Junior Ranger! The program takes about an hour and is perfect for school-aged kids. Parents are welcome to stay or explore the monument on their own during the program.
Eruption Trail – This ½-mile paved trail begins at the Johnston Ridge Observatory and includes interpretive kiosks, 360 views of Mount Saint Helens and surrounding blast zones, and fields of wildflowers and meadows along the way. It’s great for all ages and is wheelchair accessible!
While there are some lovely hikes near the monument that allow dogs on leash, this might be a trip that we recommend leaving the pups at home. To protect fragile plant and animal life within the monument’s restricted ecological area, pets are strictly prohibited which limits how much you will be able to explore the area. In addition, on the pet-friendly trails, the volcanic rock can be particularly hard on paws and having your dogs wear booties may inhibit their ability to cool off on hot days.
If you are certain you’d like to bring your dog, you can see which areas are open to pets on the monument map.
2). Oregon Coast
Drive Time: 2 Hours | Miles: 90
If you’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for any time at all, you likely already know what a treasure the Oregon coast is. Thanks to the 1967 Oregon Beach Bill, all 363 miles of coastline are free and open to the public, making it chock full of spectacular beaches to explore.
Cannon Beach – Perhaps one of the most famous beaches along the coast, Cannon Beach will keep you coming back again and again throughout the summer. Home to the famous Haystack Rock, long stretches of sandy beaches, an adorable beach town, and more, this is the perfect site for a day or weekend getaway.
Astoria Beach – For a unique visit, drive past Cannon Beach and head onto nearby Astoria Beach, where you’ll be met by panoramic views of the region, the Columbia River Maritime Museum, and (at low tide) ample tide pools and rock formations to explore. Before you head home, be sure to hop over to Fort Stevens State Park, where you can see the eerie remains of a 1906 shipwreck washed directly onto the main beach.
Hug Point State Recreation Area – Another unique and distinct spot very much worth adding to your Oregon coast bucket list, is this gorgeous slice of beach just a few minutes south of Cannon Beach. Visit Hug Point at low tide for incredible sea caves carved into the sandstone, a beachside waterfall, and teeming tide pools.
Pretty much all of the beach adventures to be had along the Oregon Coast can be family-friendly! Be sure to keep an eye on beaches that have high tide restrictions, or rock formations that may be more difficult for children to navigate, but as long as you’ve packed the sunscreen and sand toys there’s nearly limitless fun to be had for kids of all ages. For a couple of extra-special family trips, consider looking into whale tours at Depoe Bay then stopping by The Oregon Coast Aquarium, or tire the kids out by climbing The Astoria Column or one of the eleven lighthouses scattered along the coast.
Almost all of the 363 miles of the Oregon coastline are pet friendly! A favorite beach for dog lovers is Manzanita Beach, where dogs are permitted to roam off leash (and there are usually fewer crowds than its ever-popular sister, Cannon Beach). Nearby Nehalem Bay State Park has several dog-friendly walking trails to explore as well. If you happen to visit in September, keep an eye out for the annual Muttzanita dog festival which raises money for local animal fescues with a Chuckit toss, fashion show, pet parade, and more!
3). Sauvie Island
Drive Time: 40 Minutes | Miles: 25
For an easy day trip without a long drive, try exploring all that nearby Sauvie Island has to offer! With over 24,000 acres, this Manhattan-size island sits at the confluence of the Columbia River and Willamette River. It is one of the largest river islands in the country and is chock full of activities perfect for all ages.
Sauvie Island Beaches – You don’t need to drive to the coast to enjoy sandy beaches and dip your toes in cool refreshing waters! On the north and east coast of the island, you will find Reeder, North Unit, Walton, Collins, and Warrior Point public beaches. Enjoy a picnic on the sand, or choose to take a dip in the waist-deep waters of the Columbia River.
Fishing on Sauvie Island – A popular destination for recreational fishers, there are lots of spots to enjoy a quiet day of fishing on the island. Finding the best fishing hole is usually a matter of timing, as the various spots around the island have specific ideal windows of time for particular fish. It’s a good idea to call the Sauvie Island Wildlife Visitors Center to get the inside scoop on where to cast your line. The lakes on the island are chock full of warm water fish such as catfish, perch, and crappie perfect for a quiet day of fishing while The Columbia and Willamette river provides an opportunity to catch Salmon and Steelhead Trout during the open season. Be sure to always check the most up-to-date fishing regulations before planning your trip!
Sauvie Island U-Pick farms – If you are visiting the island in the summertime, there will be ripe strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, marionberries, and more waiting for you! Let the kids find the freshest berries to take home while the adults can kick back with a glass of local wine, cider, or beer. Before you head home for the day, be sure to stop by the local markets to take home a country of fresh farm-to-table food. Then, schedule your fall visit for the fall harvest party, haunted corn maze, and u-pick pumpkin patch.
Wapato Greenway State Park Trail – This trail is a perfect two-mile loop that tours a seasonal lake and local flora and fauna. Sauvie Island is home to a plethora of migrating ducks, geese, cranes, and waterfowl that you can spot along the trail as you walk under mammoth bigleaf maples and Douglas firs. If you’d like a slightly longer hike, check out Oak Island Nature Trail which cuts through tall island grasses and winds through fields near Steelman and Sturgeon Lakes.
Lucky for pet owners, lots of Sauvie Island is dog friendly! You can enjoy most of the nature trails and all of the public beaches with your four-legged family as long as they are leashed throughout your visit. Unfortunately, you may want to strike berry picking off your list if you’re planning to visit the island with a pet as most do not allow animals on their property.
4). Hood River
Drive Time: 1 Hour | Miles: 65
Of course, no getaway guide from Vancouver, WA would be complete without the absolute gem that is Hood River. Whether you’d like to spend a weekend relaxing and soaking in picturesque views, or if you’re ready to jump in the water and try your hand at kite surfing, this absolutely lovely town has something for everyone.
Hood River Fruit Loop – Hop in the car for a scenic drive and tour of all the local farms have to offer. The fruit loop is a string of 27 local fruit stands, wineries, breweries, cideries, and fields upon fields of flowers that starts and ends in the downtown area. Download the map and stop along the way at each of the farms (or “cherry pick” your favorites) for a day full of fresh pears, apples, cherries, wines, beer, and more, all framed by the spectacular backdrop of Mout Hood.
Take A Kitesurfing Lesson – With beautiful clear waters and powerful winds, kitesurfing and windsurfing are two hugely popular outdoor activities in Hood River. Many visitors will choose to wander down to the beaches and watch the kitesurfers whip around and fly about, but if you’re feeling adventurous you can sign up for a lesson with Cascade Kiteboarding or Gorge Kiteboard School. Or, if you’d like to get in the water but perhaps not at the mercy of the winds, you can rent a stand-up paddleboard or kayak and get out and explore the river at a bit of a slower pace.
Little Zigzag Falls Trail – There are over 1,000 miles of hiking trails in and around the Hood River Area, so there is an ideal trail option for every age. One favorite kid-friendly trail full of lots of beautiful sights is Little Zigzag Falls Trail. This hiking path follows Little Zigzag River up to Little Zigzag Falls. This short 1.1km out and back trail stays cool in the small canyon and is perfect for young kids. It is very popular in the summer, so it’s a good idea to get there earlier in the day to avoid any crowds.
Horseback Riding & Trail Riding – Many of the stables around the Hood River area offer trail riding and horseback lessons for all ages. Joe Graham Horse Camp and Riley Horse Camp are two popular spots that offer trail rides in Mount Hood National Forest. Get there in the early evening to enjoy the sunset over Mount Hood on horseback, or book a day-long trek.
Tamanawas Falls: A wonderful pet-friendly hike worth exploring at any time of the year. Located right off Oregon Highway 35, this 3.5-mile loop features the stunning Tamanawas Falls, where water from Cold Spring Creek pours over a lava cliff near the eastern base of Mount Hood. Dogs are required to remain on a leash at all times.
Pine Street Bakery & Kitchen: This locally owned bakery in The Heights neighborhood of Hood River is chock full of dog-friendly amenities including dog “parking” out front, homemade biscuits, water bowls, and resident dog “Lucky” who will happily greet any four legged visitors.
Living in such a spectacular part of the world, there are nearly limitless getaways a short drive away from Vancouver. Honorable mentions for this list include Willamette Valley wine tasting, nature adventures of Silver Falls State Park, water sports in Gig Harbor at the base of Mount Rainier and so much more. We’d love to hear about your favorite day and weekend getaway spots from Vancouver, or if you have any cherished spots found in any of our above recommendations!