Wildwood Recreational Site (Mt. Hood)
Whenever we start to get an urge to explore the wilderness with our young twins, Wildwood Recreation Site on Mt. Hood is near the top of our list. We discovered it about three years ago and we find new things to enjoy each time we take the trip. The Cascade Streamwatch and Wetland Boardwalk Trails are well worth the trip and there are plenty of other attractions there, too.
Just 16 miles east of Sandy on Highway 26 lies the town of Welches. A crossroads to people heading to Government Camp or higher, Welches is home to Wildwood Recreation Site. We usually stop at the Thriftway just a mile past the park entrance for a soda or pit stop (although there are multiple maintained bathrooms in Wildwood, my sweetie just can’t use anything more primitive than a commercial flush toilet!) and to grab some essential item we haven’t packed.
Back down the highway now, the entrance to Wildwood is marked with a wooden Forest Service-type sign on the south side of the road. Pay the $5 per vehicle entrance fee and decide on your first adventure: a walk along the Salmon River, or a picnic in the woods. The road to the parking area splits right after the pay station and veering to the left will take you to the main parking lot for the trail. The road to the right leads to the playground, outdoor kitchens, and sports fields.
We have taken the twins on the Cascade Streamwatch Trail half a dozen times, starting as tiny tykes in strollers.
The entire length of the path is wheelchair- and stroller-friendly, nice and wide with mild inclines and a boardwalk. The trail winds through dense woods with flora and fauna right at your fingertips — it is easy to forget you are on a paved trail. If you have a guide to Oregon plants and birds, bring it along!
There are markers throughout the park describing the area and there is even a 3-D diorama of the Mt. Hood watershed. It’s fun to trace the painted rivers down the mountain and see where they travel. We love the sculptures at Wildwood – from the giant salmon to the many hand-carved benches, a lot of care has been put into making this wilderness inviting and accessible.
With so many things to see, keeping the kids interested is no problem. “I spy… a red (blue/white) flower! How many leaves does that Trillium have?” Older kids will love learning to skip rocks from the pebbly banks along the Salmon River or trying to figure out how one tree seems to have grown from another.
At one point, the trail dips down into a cement-walled viewing area. The giant glass pane gives a nice view into a small stream (“Streamwatch Trail” gets its name here) and we like looking for fingerling fish and other creatures under the water. A little further on, there is a small bridge over a stream that is reminiscent of those in many childhood stories (a game of Pooh sticks, anyone?).
The Wetland Boardwalk Trail can be done the same day and some families will be able to do both the Streamwatch and Wetland trails before lunch. The Wetland Boardwalk starts from the north end of the parking lot near the restrooms. The wide path carries you over a large marshy area complete with skunk cabbages, evidence of beavers and beaver dams and even a “ghost forest” stranded in the middle.
We have only done this part once and the kids were at their limit before we got too far (we had already done the other trail first). I think older children would be more likely to appreciate the beaver-chewed trees and cool forest wetlands and the grownups in our group wanted to stay longer, too.
If the trail leaves you hungry and needing a break, sit at one of the picnic tables or benches scattered along the Cascade Streamwatch trail. If you have more time or a large group, picnic shelters are also available. As mentioned earlier, there is a playground area with outdoor kitchens and picnic areas on the other side of Wildwood. We haven’t explored that side of the site yet, so I’ll leave that for you to discover with your family!
Wildwood has so much to offer that it’s hard to find too many downsides. The distance might seem far for a day trip, but it’s only about an hour’s drive from Portland and Vancouver. A couple of walks, a snack, a picnic and some running-around time in the park would fill up the day.
There are a number of restaurants in Welches, so it may be nice to stop for a filling dinner and then head home. One of the best things about being a kid is getting carried out of the car, asleep – and a day at Wildwood will wear out those bodies and minds. I can hardly wait to plan our next visit!
Susan is a veterinary technician and hospital manager and writes a pet care blog for the clinic website. She lives with her family in Vancouver, and they are always looking for fun day trips.
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