What to do between Portland and Spokane: Road trip with kids

In the late spring, my younger sister had a beautiful baby girl. I tried to be all level-headed about giving her new family space, not crowding her with visitors, etc etc etc but on the inside I was all, OMG LET ME AT THAT BABY!

We planned a road trip to Spokane to visit just as soon as we could. I booked an AirBnB and sent an exclamation-point heavy series of texts to my sister. Then—I realized I’d have to drive nearly six hours from Portland to Spokane. With two kids.

Me: …

All my googling found, well, not a whole lot between here and there. But if you happen to make that road trip, here’s what to do between Portland and Spokane, especially if you have kids.

Going on a family road trip in Oregon and Washington this summer? Here's what to do between Portland and Spokane - especially with kids! Ten Thousand Hour Mama


When your kids have been cooped up in car seats for several hours, it’s an exercise in insanity to try to force them to sit in a chair for an entire meal. So pick your road trip restaurants strategically: Your best bet for a happy crew is a casual, family-friendly restaurant—preferably with a play area.

Between Portland and Spokane, try:

pFriem Family Brewery in Hood River, OR. Just off I-205, this brewery serves pub fare on the nicer side along with a kid’s menu. Parents frazzled from backseat driving/crying can try their Belgium-inspired beers; kids can get their wiggles out in the small play area.

Big Jim’s Drive In in The Dalles, OR. An outdoor patio lets antsy kids roam a bit—and makes you feel less guilty when they drip melted ice cream from the restaurant’s handmade cones.

Farmer’s Markets. Depending on the day, you can hit up farmer’s markets—and eat really locally—in the Tri Cities, Hood River and The Dalles.


My two kids are antsy active as heck in normal circumstances. Sticking them in a car seat for hours is like shaking up a pop bottle: When you let that cap off, they are ready to go.

So when it came to planning what to do between Portland and Seattle, I knew getting them a chance to move around, get silly and run would be good for everyone.

Bonus: Building in chances for kids to spend all that pent-up energy makes the likelihood of their napping a lot higher.

When you're planning a family road trip in Oregon and Washington, here's what to do between Portland and Spokane. Ten Thousand Hour Mama
Earl Snell Memorial Park in Arlington, Oregon

Here are some great places for kids and families to get out and move in a Portland to Spokane road trip.

The Children’s Park in Hood River, Oregon. Kids can climb, swing and sprint in this giant wonderland. The enormous wooden fort is sure to inspire imaginative play—just be prepared to talk in old-timey king and queen accents to get your prince and princesses back in the car.

Earl Snell Memorial Park in Arlington, Oregon. We happened across this just-off-the-highway park by pure luck—Kiwi was screaming in the back seat, and Arlington was the closest town. But boy we were happy. The girls played on the jungle gym and got progressively sandier and more soaked in the calm waters of the Columbia. FYI, the southern part of the park is off-limits to dogs (head to the northern side for pooch-friendly spots). You can also visit the caboose during summer hours, which holds historical documents—and it’s part of a train for kids who love that kind of thing.

The Playground of Dreams in Richland, Washington. This park had me at its name. As part of a long park that runs along the Columbia, this section includes a giant turreted play structure that looks just like a make-believe castle. (FYI, keep a close eye on little ones here: It can be easy to lose sight of tinies!) There’s also a splash pad that’s packed with kids in the summer.


When kids get stir-crazy, having something to look forward to can stem a backseat revolt. So if you already ate and you already played, mentioning another destination can keep kids occupied. Try these kid-friendly stops between Portland and Spokane.

Stopping at the fish ladder at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River will entertain the kids on a summer road trip between Portland and Spokane. Ten Thousand Hour Mama
Photo by Don Graham, creative commons

Bonneville Dam and Fish Hatchery, Oregon. It’s not every day you can visit a working hydroelectric dam, where energy we use to power toasters and charge phones is actually produced. Kids will love Bonneville Dam‘s underwater windows to watch fish make their way up the fish ladders. Meanwhile, the Bonneville Fish Hatchery has ponds where kids can feed trout and viewing spots to watch spawning salmon (in October and November).

Country Mercantile in Pasco, Washington. This produce/knickknack/ohmygoshthechocolate stand just off Highway 395 is impossible to miss. Fair warning: It may also be impossible to leave without a sugar high. Promise your kids they can spend $2 however they want and prepare yourself for the resulting chocolate stains in the back seat. And don’t forget to buy some local peaches (or whatever’s in season) to make you feel a little less guilty.

Planning a Portland to Spokane road trip

The drive between Portland and Spokane isn’t the most scenic or action-packed stretch of highway in the US. But with lunch stops, parks to play in, special destinations and of course a whole lot of car games, you can make this family road trip one to remember—for all the right reasons.

Do you have recommendations on what to do between Portland and Spokane? Please share!

6 thoughts on “What to do between Portland and Spokane: Road trip with kids

  • August 9, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    This is a great roundup of stops to make with kids and can be useful when planning road trips elsewhere too! We don’t really travel to Spokane, but we do have family in the tri-cities so I pinned this to reference for our next visit. 🙂 Thanks for the ideas, Catherine!

    PS. Whenever we do long road trips, I make my kids race back and forth, back and forth, wherever we are right before we all pile back in the car. It seems to help for a little while, but I totally know what you’re talking about with the pent-up energy!

    • August 9, 2016 at 4:45 pm

      Monica, the sprinting idea is brilliant! I’m definitely stealing that for the next road trip.

    • August 9, 2016 at 4:46 pm

      We *knew* we’d have to build in stops with the kiddos. My husband and I are usually the drive-til-you-drop types, but having kids definitely changes the road trip equation!

  • August 9, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    That Hood River waterfront park is THE BEST for kids and adults alike! Love that it’s right across from so many great restaurants and breweries. Between The Dalles and the Spokane/Tri-Cities area, though… that’s a tough empty drive. You have some great suggestions!

    • August 9, 2016 at 4:47 pm

      Haha, you’ll notice my suggestions between Tri-Cities and Spokane are a little thin. There’s not a lot! Unless you count a gas station or two, ha!


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