Portland hike to the Witch’s Castle with kids

Lately Peeper has been on a mystery/spooky story kick—a predilection I could attribute to my own childhood love of scary stuff but is mostly due to her Grandpa Shempy’s long made-up mysteries about something called the Monkey’s Paw. So when I had a free morning and the kids miraculously ate their breakfast on time and without protest, I decided to try hiking Portland’s Witch’s Castle with the kids.

Hiking Portland Oregon's witch's castle with kids is a fun outdoor activity when you travel as a family - or if you live here in the Northwest! Ten Thousand Hour Mama

I originally heard of Portland’s Witch’s Castle in Forest Park from my blogging friend Renee. She wrote about hiking to the castle with her teens, and I’ve wanted to do it myself ever since then—but with my littler kids, of course.

Since the day’s forecast called for some rain, I wanted to choose a forested hike so we wouldn’t get totally drenched if it did drizzle. Forest Park, with its immense Douglas firs, provides quite a bit of shelter from the Oregon rain—but as luck would have it, the skies stayed mostly clear. (Thanks, weather!)

Rain or no rain, though, the hike was gorgeous—and the Witch’s Castle lived up to its spooky, and awesome, reputation!

Hiking Portland Oregon's witch's castle with kids is a fun outdoor activity when you travel as a family - or if you live here in the Northwest! Ten Thousand Hour MamaHiking Portland Oregon's witch's castle with kids is a fun outdoor activity when you travel as a family - or if you live here in the Northwest! Ten Thousand Hour Mama Read more

The best parks in West Linn, Oregon

Some people ask, why move to West Linn? Here’s one reason why: When we were getting ready to move two years ago, we were looking for a welcoming neighborhood in a family-friendly city. So when we began exploring West Linn, Oregon, we knew we found home. It has an incredible school district, access to the outdoors, a small-town feel outside Portland—and a wealth of parks. We love to spend time outdoors as a family, and as soon as we bought a home and moved, we began exploring the best parks in West Linn.

There are so many great outdoor spots to play, we could hardly choose a favorite. It’s just as well, because mixing it up keeps my kids happy! When I get the girls packed up and tell them we’re going to the playground, they ask, “Which park, Mama?” Will it be the one with the dinosaur skeleton? Or the one with the giant rocks you can climb in the splash pad? Or the one with the two-story high slide built into the hill?

So many choices!!!

The best parks in West Linn, Oregon, outside Portland // family travel // Ten Thousand Hour Mama Read more

7 ways to raise a conservationist: Kids + the environment

There has never been a more important time to raise a conservationist. Every day headlines bring more bad news about droughts, climate change, melting polar ice, threatened species and deforestation. I couldn’t blame you for being depressed.

Yet there is room for hope, and perhaps the best way to ensure a better world for our children is to raise a conservationist right in your own home.

It's more important than ever to raise a conservationist. Families and children can do good and protect the environment, too. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

After all, kids are more likely to teach each other lessons that will stick. (Have you ever heard a kid tell a peer to recycle something or turn out the lights? They’re way more likely to listen than to another parent’s lecture!)

Kids also encourage their families to make positive changes for the environment. I remember becoming a vegetarian in high school, largely because of environmental reasons, and sharing what I learned with my parents. I definitely didn’t convert anyone (nor was I trying to), but my parents started to serve more plant-based foods that had a smaller environmental impact.

Perhaps the most impactful (and easiest) way to raise a conservationist is to simply get outside: A study from Cornell University found that the more time a child under the age of 11 spent outdoors, the more likely he or she was to care about the environment as an adult. The impacts of Vitamin N, as outdoor time is sometimes called, translate into action, too: Adults who spent time outside when they were growing up were more likely to take action to protect the environment.

You don’t have to stop there, though. These 7 ways to raise a conservationist won’t take a ton of effort but can mean a world of difference for the planet.

It's more important than ever to raise a conservationist. Families and children can do good and protect the environment, too. Ten Thousand Hour Mama Read more

Camping crafts: Kids let their creativity go wild!

Back before we had kids, Eric and I camped regularly—and spontaneously. We’d throw the tent, sleeping bags and a cooler in our 1985 Volvo station wagon and head into the woods. These days, camping with kids requires a bit more preparation—including figuring out some kids activities that will keep them happy in the camp site. Since the girls love art so much, it made sense to come up with some camping crafts so they could create in nature.

Camping crafts like this nature collage art project keep kids happy when you're family camping—and require almost no prep or supplies! Ten Thousand Hour Mama

We haven’t gone camping with the kids yet this year, but we camped for Father’s Day last year—and the girls loved doing this camping craft. They did it one morning when they needed a little out-of-the-sun quiet time after hiking, sprinting around the campground, making friends and walking over hot coals. (Just kidding! We’re waiting until they’re at least 6 to walk on the camp fire.)

Camping crafts like this nature collage are a wonderful way to incorporate art into your family camping this summer. Read more

Dorris Ranch: Eugene, Oregon family friendly hikes

We travel to Eugene as a family every few months—my parents live there, so we drive the two hours from Portland often to visit the grandparents. When we brainstorm family friendly activities in Eugene, Oregon, we always come back to hiking Dorris Ranch, a great hike for kids and families.

Dorris Ranch is a 250-acre park in Eugene, Oregon, that is an operating hazelnut orchard. You can stick to the path, wander among the rows of hazelnut trees, eat a picnic along the Willamette River or hop on the multi-use Middle Fork Path, which runs to Clearwater Park and connects to the 8-mile-loop Mill Race Path.

The scenery is gorgeous any time of year, and this Eugene kid-friendly hike is easy for babies in strollers, toddlers and big kids ready to race ahead.

Eugene, Oregon kid and family friendly hikes: Hazelnut orchards of Dorris Ranch. Ten Thousand Hour Mama Read more

Hiking with little kids: Tips from one mom

I have logged a lot of miles hiking with little kids. My daughters have trekked all over the Pacific Northwest—sometimes on their own two feet, sometimes riding in a carrier. And as a mom who has weathered toddler meltdowns and reluctant preschoolers and little kids who just don’t want to hike anymore, I’ve learned a few tips along all those trails.

Yes, hiking with little kids can be challenging, and you won’t get to go at your pre-children pace. But hiking with little kids is also rewarding and super fun!

Learn from my many trips to plan a fun hike for the whole family—and avoid those mid-trail tantrums.

Hiking with little kids can be fun! Tips for family friendly hikes. Ten Thousand Hour Mama Read more

Mt. Hood family hike: Little Zigzag Falls

One of my favorite things to do as a family is head outside and walk around in the woods. Peeper, who is now 3 years old, loves it too—but she also loves to ride on Dad’s shoulders when she gets tired. (She’d be able to hike a lot farther if she didn’t ping pong back and forth on the trail so much: She’s like an overexcited dog who runs and runs and runs once she’s outdoors!)

The catch: If Eric doesn’t join us on the hike, I can’t carry her because I’m wearing Little Sister.

On a recent late-summer morning, though, we found a perfect compromise with a Mt. Hood family hike, without Dad. The girls’ grandparents and I took the kids to hike Little Zigzag Falls, just outside Government Camp, Oregon. It was the perfect short hike for kids.

Oregon's Little Zigzag Falls is short, easy and has a gorgeous waterfall: Perfect for kids and families on Mt. Hood! Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Small effort, big payoff

When it comes to hiking with kids, you can’t just walk up a mountain, motivated by the faraway view at the top. No matter what that now-legendary marshmallow experiment says about kids delaying gratification, no small child will hike miles and miles for the promise of a long-off scenic outlook. (Well, at least mine won’t.)

Just a half-mile from the parking area, you'll hike to Little Zigzag falls: a hike perfect for kids & families on Mt Hood! Ten Thousand Hour Mama A half-mile hike to Little Zigzag Falls on Mt Hood is easy for kids and the whole family in Oregon. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

The Little Zigzag Falls hike was the opposite of that: The Mt. Hood family hike is short and quickly comes to a beautiful, impressive waterfall.

Kid-friendly hiking trail

Turn left on the trail at the gravel parking lot (which also has a porta potty: another bonus for kids). This begins the hike, which is just a half-mile long each way: a perfect length for little kids and recent walkers.

Even Kiwi, who started walking just a few months ago, hiked much of it!

The trail is level without a ton of roots to trip over. It meanders up within sight of the creek but not so close that kids can easily fall in—an important factor for children who are a little wobbly.

The path also weaves under and around tons of deadfall. Kids will love walking beneath a giant fallen tree and spotting logs in the creek. Ask them why no one has removed the trees “blocking” the creek—you may be surprised what they think! This can be a wonderful opportunity to teach about ecology, how different animals like different habitats, and our hands-off relationship with nature in parks.

Reaching Little Zigzag Falls

At the top of the trail, you’ll reach Little Zigzag Falls, which crashes down just over 40 feet. A rustic wooden bench off the side of the trail is a great place to pause for a snack and rest. Once kids have regained their energy, they can clamber over logs to a mini-beach just below the falls to throw sticks into the creek.

Tip: This spot just below the main viewing area is a perfect vantage point to shoot a photo of the group still in the main clearing. You can capture the entire falls and the whole family!

Looking for a Mt Hood family hike? Little Zigzag Falls is short with a big waterfall payoff. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

The falls marks the point where you turn back toward the parking area. Adults and older kids can hike up above the falls on a little off-shoot just down-trail of the bench. Be careful, though: This trail isn’t well maintained and has muddy spots. You can, however, see the falls from up above: pretty cool!

Little Zigzag Falls hike: Details

Directions: To get to the Little Zigzag Falls Trailhead, head east out of Portland and Sandy toward Government Camp on Highway 26. Turn left (north) on Kiwanis Camp Road, just west of Government Camp. You’ll reach the parking area at the trailhead after about 2 miles.

Features: Waterfalls, shade, small canyon, creek, old growth forest

Good for: Families, kids, babies in carriers, rugged strollers

Must-know: A picnic table just off the trail several hundred feet from the trailhead makes a great place for a snack or lunch.

A short hike—and a picnic!—will get you to Mt. Hood, Oregon's Little Zigzag Falls. Gorgeous! Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Do you have recommendations for a Mt. Hood family hike? Have you ever been to Zigzag Falls?