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Visiting The Dalles, OR
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Out building at Columbia Gorge Discovery CenterWhat’s to Love:  We’ve lived in Portland since 1999, and we just visited The Dalles for the first time.  Of course, we had driven by it on our way to other adventures, but never had the inclination to stop and check it out.  Well parents, I’m happy to report there are several adventures in and around The Dalles that are definitely worth experiencing.

For example, there are two VERY nice museums:  Maryhill Museum of Art (20 minutes away in Washington) and the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center/Wasco County Historical Museum (CGDC).  Want a bit more physical activity?  Bring your bikes and ride The Dalles Riverfront Trail, which is a paved, bike path from the CGDC to Riverfront Park (10 miles round trip), or visit Sorosis (yes, that really is the name) Park, and play on the awesome playstructure.  Sorosis Park also has an 18-hole, disc golf course.  Too much to do in one day, plan on staying overnight at Cousins Country Inn.  Let’s take a closer look at these activities.

Maryhill MuseumMaryhill Museum:  If you have active children, an art museum is definitely a risky “adventure.”  You won’t find too many five year old children interested in art appreciation.  I know my son is more interested in jumping on and off the benches inside the museums.  When asked to visit Maryhill, I was a bit concerned that my son would be bored.  Luckily, that was not the case at all, and we had a great time.  We highly recommend taking the beautiful drive out past The Dalles, over The Dalles’ bridge and onto highway 14 in Washington.  Maryhill Museum is actually located in Goldendale, Washington, which is about 20 miles east of The Dalles.

Kids' area at Maryhill MuseumMaryhill is perched-up high above the Columbia River, and the entire facility is beautiful.  There are 3 floors of exhibits, and the 3rd floor has a small children’s area offering several prepackaged activities for kids.  We built our own canoe out of paper and decorated it with colored pencils and crayons.  There were blocks, magnets, and a peacock puppet that we used to entertain our 10 month old baby.  This room was a nice diversion from walking around looking at art.  Here is a short video clip of our visit to Maryhill.

The lower-level of the museum contains a nice exhibit of chess sets from around the world and an excellent collection of Native American art.  The lower-level also has “Cafe Maryhill,” which has the best food I’ve ever had at a museum.  This is not prepackaged junk.  They have a nice menu of sandwiches, salads, and soups, which is supplemented with some tasty specials.  My son had the salmon and corn chowder soup, and I had a pastrami on ciabatta bread with some incredible potato salad.

Sculpture at Maryhill Museum of ArtOutside, you’ll find a sculpture garden planted in the middle of some lovely green space.  If your kids are on the verge of losing it, take them outside to stretch their legs and run around a bit.  This area has a nice picnic area with plenty of tables and peacocks.  Yes…there are MANY peacocks to entertain your kids.  Please make sure to not crowd their space and keep food away as much as possible.  I know the Oregon Zoo had to stop their peacocks from roaming the grounds due to some incidents involving children with food.  Finally, check out the “Family Tips” section below for a link to Maryhill’s family activities.

Columbia Gorge Discovery CenterColumbia Gorge Discovery Center (CGDC): Modeled after a Native American Longhouse, the CGDC is one of the most beautiful museums you’ll ever see.  Architecturally, this museum makes a big statement, even before you walk through the exhibits.  Standing at the reception desk, frankly, I was stunned by the aesthetic beauty of the facility itself.  Thus, when we walked into the exhibits, our expectations were quite high.  Were the exhibits going to be as amazing as the building itself?  Before I answer, here is a short video clip of our time at the CGDC.

Inside the Columbia Gorge Discovery CenterYes!  The exhibits are just as incredible as the structure housing them.  I do not want to detail these exhibits because inevitably, they will change and this article will then be out-of-date.  However, as a parent, I know you’re most interested in the question, “Is this a good place for kids?”  Of course, it’s not the Portland Children’s Museum, but just like Maryhill Museum of Art, the CGDC offers a very nice kids’ area.  Specifically, our 5 year old loved hiding bones in the sand and then digging them up like a paleontologist.  There is a very cool mastodon next to a small cave for exploration.  However, most likely, toddlers and elementary-aged-kids will just sort of shuffle through the different exhibits.  See “Recommended Ages” below for more information.

Old Steam Fire EngineThe CGDC offers a bunch of programs/events that are open to the pubic.  Click here for more information about their upcoming events.  Planning your trip with a corresponding event might be a good idea to engage the whole family in all the museum has to offer.


Sorosis ParkSorosis Park: If you’re a regular reader of my work here at Portland Family Adventures, then you know how much I like to be (pleasantly) surprised by a destination or activity.  I don’t know if it was the name, but I wasn’t expecting too much on the drive up to see Sorosis Park.  High up above the Columbia River, the park features a spectacular view.  While spectacular, the view did not compare to my reaction when seeing one of the most incredible playstructures I’ve ever seen.  It’s doesn’t have the flash of some made with plastic; however, this is all solidly built out of wood – you will definitely appreciate the design.   Here is a short clip of the park.

Playstructure at Sorosis ParkAs you can see, there are many twists, turns, mini-castles, and agility-type features that are common to most playstructures.  Although, I would not rate this structure as “common.”  It has excellent separation between toddlers and older kids.  This allowed me to play with our 10-month old in peace.  Big props to the designers of the toddler slides!  These slides – and the steps to get to them – were perfectly designed for an active, crawling baby.  If you’re visiting The Dalles, it would be a BIG mistake to miss out on spending an hour or two at Sorosis Park.

Biking in the DallesThe Dalles Riverfront Trail: SURPRISED AGAIN!!!  This was the 2nd surprise on this trip, and we enjoyed this ride so much, that we’ll probably go back there again just to ride the whole trail.  I had never heard of this trail, and we just happened to notice some bikers using the trail to access the CGDC.  While inside the museum, I asked about the trail.  The receptionist handed me a map from 2004 with the title “The Dalles Riverfront Trail.”  Here is a short clip.

The map was a bit hard to read.  The trail (as viewed on the 2004 map) was proposed to link the CGDC with the Dalles Dam.  This would eventually provide upwards of 15 miles (roundtrip) of paved biking trail.  Unfortunately, we only rode about 3 miles (roundtrip) from the CGDC; thus, we only saw about 1.5 miles of trail.  When I contacted the city about the trail, I could not get a straight answer as to what sections are complete and/or incomplete.  Therefore, this is going to take a bit of exploration in the near future.  If you have any information about the trail (as of April 2009), please add your comments to the bottom of this article.

UPDATE (3/2011) NOTE: Northern Wasco County Park & Recreation District maintains The Dalles Riverfront Trail. Call the District office at (541)296-9533 and ask to speak to Scott Green the Executive Director 🙂

Despite the uncertainty, I highly recommend this trail for biking families!  It’s practically brand new featuring some easy hills by the CGDC, a tunnel and some nice twists and turns.  The path is in excellent condition and perfectly smooth.

Caveats:  Maryhill is a relatively small museum, so don’t plan on an entire day there with the family.  2-3 hours is probably sufficient including lunch; unless, there is a planned family event that will entertain for a longer period of time.  If you plan on having a picnic on the grass, make sure you bring a blanket, because the lawn is littered here and there with peacock droppings.  Of course, there are plenty of picnic tables, but as you’ll see in the video, the peacocks like the tables as well.

At the CGDC, watch out for a friendly skunk that likes to sleep in the trash outside the CGDC museum!  It’s the trash can located right next to the picnic area (surprise, surprise).  My son threw some trash in and even peaked over the side of the can (not knowing there was a skunk in the trash), and he only got a friendly look from the skunk.  I don’t think there has ever been a problem, but I did want to make you aware of  this.  Please be kind to their guest!

The Dalles Riverfront Trail is very nice, but I wouldn’t want to bike it during a hot summer day.  There is definitely a lack of shade on the route; therefore, bike it early morning or after 7PM.

WebsitesThe Dalles Chamber of Commerce / Cousins Country Inn / Maryhill Museum of Art / Columbia Gorge Discovery Center / The Dalles Riverfront Trail

Distance from Portland:  The Dalles (map) is about 85 miles from Portland.  Cousins Country Inn (map) is located on 6th Street right off 84.  The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center is just west of downtown (map).  Maryhill Museum of Art is located 20 miles east of The Dalles on the Washington side of the Columbia river (map).

Recommended Ages:  Both Maryhill Museum of Art and the CGDC have children’s areas; however, even with this resource, you’ll only need an hour or two (per site) with small children.  Older kids will certainly get into the exhibits more than kids 5 and younger.  Doing both museums in a day (with lunch in between) is no problem whatsoever.

The Riverfront biking trail is great for beginning riders.  It’s mostly flat, except for some hills right near the CGDC.  Beginning riders will either need to walk this section, or you may have to perfect your ride-while-you’re-pushing-technique!  It’s the perfect trail for hauling kids in a Burley-type cart or in a baby bike seat.

Parental Stress Factor:  For the most part, visiting these museums was low stress.  Both museums were pretty slow on the day we visited, which made it less stressful when our 10-month old started crying.  In general, the folks working at the museums were very kind and helpful.  Cousins restaurant is an excellent choice for kids and is very family friendly.  They hand out some wax sticks to children that can be molded into various objects.  My son was very entertained with these.

Physical Difficulty:  All museums are handicap-accessible.  Getting around the grounds at Maryhill would be problematic in a wheelchair.  Since the CGDC is a newer building, accessibility is not an issue, even outside.  The biking trail is easy with only a short uphill section near the CGDC.

Family Fun Factor:  Medium…again, these are not museums that were built specifically for small children.  However, if you’re creative (see Family Tips below) and add Sorosis Park and the biking trail to your list, the family fun factor moves into the medium range.

Pet Friendly:  Cousins Country Inn is pet friendly.  I recommend calling and talking things over with them, because I’m sure there is probably a deposit required.  Dogs are not a good option, if you’re planning on visiting the museums.  Certainly, Sorosis Park is a great destination for leashed dogs.

Weather Considerations:  The Dalles gets hot in the summer!  Spring and early fall are the best times to visit.  Of course, during the rainy months, it might be dry and sunny in The Dalles.  Check the forecast before you head out!

Cousins Country InnInsider Info:  If you want to spend the night, Portland Family Adventures recommends Cousins Country Inn.  They are in the process of a remodel, and a bunch of brand new rooms will be opening this summer.  However, the existing rooms are clean and comfortable, and there is a big bonus of having a good, family-friendly restaurant on site.  If you have 2 or more kids, you’ll probably want to book a suite where two adjacent rooms can be accessed from the inside.  Here is a clip of the hotel.

Inside of Cousins RestaurantNext to the Inn, you’ll find Cousins Restaurant and Lounge.  This is the epitome of a friendly, small-town joint featuring comfort food in big portions.  The desserts are all homemade and very good!  Our family sat down for a dinner (right next to a tractor!) and breakfast.  Both meals hit the spot, and there were no complaints from anyone!  Of course, the kids’ menu features a lot of the same fare you’ll find at most restaurants.  Breakfast was definitely the highlight for me.  They served monster pancakes that were delicious.  Again, there were only smiles and full bellies at this destination.  The wait staff is excellent and very on the ball.  You will be served quickly and efficiently, and always with their friendly “Hi Cousin!” greeting.  Here is a quick clip of the restaurant.

Cafe at Maryhill MuseumWhile Marylhill has some nice grounds and tables for a picnic lunch, don’t miss the food that’s available in their cafe.  Rarely would I ever recommend “museum food,” but the Maryhill Cafe uses fresh, local ingredients when they can, and offer several homemade options (e.g., great potato salad).  They can package the food up for you to bring outside. The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center has the Basalt Rock Cafe.  Unfortunately, it was closed when we visited; however it looked very nice with some outdoor/patio seating.  The menu looked good featuring sandwiches, wraps, salads and soups.

Cousins RestaurantFamily Tips: Maryhill Museum offers a bunch of activities for families.  I recommend checking out their family program page before you schedule a visit.  That way, your kids will have even more fun things to do while visiting the museum. When visiting museums, let your kids take pictures that help document the experience.  If they have something to do, it will help make the experience more meaningful.  Plus, they won’t get bored as easily.  Our son not only took pictures, but created some video clips as well.

Tractor inside Cousins RestaurantCreativity also helps engage your kids in the experience of viewing art.  Ask them questions like, “What do you think they used that tool for?  Or, What do you see when you look at that painting?”

If the weather is nice when visiting, bring any and all sports equipment up to Sorosis Park.  I wish we would have had a Frisbee, soccer ball, baseball, etc…to play with while we were there.  If you’re into disc golf, make sure to bring your gear because they have a very cool, 18-hole course ready for your enjoyment.

Technorati Tags: The Dalles, Oregon, Columbia, River, Gorge, biking, family, friendly, Discovery, Center, Museum, Maryhill, Wasco County, Sorosis Park, Riverfront, bike, trail, Cousins Country Inn, restaurant


  1. I am so happy that you enjoyed your visit to The Dalles. Stop by the Chamber of Commerce on your next visit and we can tell you about our other "hidden gems" that are not only family friendly but created especially for families, such as our geocaching opportunities and the Fort Dalles Museum (I know another museum but it dates back to the mid-19th century when The Dalles was actually a fort with a garrison of soldiers — lots of room for kids, big and small) among others.

    I did want to let you know that the Riverfront Trail is mostly finished. The section between Riverfront Park and The Dalles Dam is not complete. Presently, you can ride from the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum to downtown The Dalles — a roundtrip distance of 10 miles — and beyond to Riverfront Park using streets. Each year we complete a bit more.

    Dana Schmidling, Executive Director
    The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce

    • Thanks for the comment Dana! We will definitely take a return trip – my son is fascinated by all the wind turbines going up around the area. Plus, I know there are some state parks around there (Oregon and Washington) that we should check-out.

      We have been into \”Letterboxing\” in the past – it's like low-tech geocaching. I think it's something we'd definitely like to try in the near future. We'll definitely be back soon to ride the 10 miles of Riverfront trail.


  2. That is a very neat and creative video and good for people that have never visited The Dalles before!

    • Thank you very much! When I started the site, I asked myself, \”What would I want to see as a parent?\” I knew that video is exactly what I'd want to see, so that's why I started posting them. I'm glad you found it useful.

  3. Northern Wasco County Park & Recreation District maintains The Dalles Riverfront Trail. Call the District office at (541)296-9533 and ask to speak to Scott Green the Executive Director 🙂

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