Kids love waves. Teens don’t seem to mind them much, either. If you’re ready to take on a more involved sojourn, consider traveling down I-5 (with a stop at Great Wolf Lodge) for a Long Beach Peninsula road trip in Pacific County, currently in Phase 3 of reopening.

Discover more great Washington road trips

Head south on I-5, at Exit 88 you’ll encounter Great Wolf Lodge, in Grand Mound — a hallowed Northwest water park destination for families. Great Wolf Lodge’s 84-degree water park has reopened at 30% capacity, which means shorter lines at the six-story Howlin’ Tornado and more room in the wave pool. Kids love the themed suites (log cabin or wolf den), but families don’t have to stay overnight. Great Wolf Lodge now sells half-day and full-day passes on a limited basis, which you can purchase online — but may be more available on weekdays.

Of course, the Lodge opened with some changes. Everyone 5 and older must wear nose- and mouth-covering masks when not in the pool or dining, and “pack members” (employees) will give you one if you forgot yours. The 6-feet rule is encouraged inside, too, with markers, floor squares and seating, and the Lodge has increased cleaning and sanitizing surfaces.

The Lodge sells plenty of add-ons; two standouts include the MagiQuest interactive game involving a tech-boosted plastic wand and lodge exploration. Howler’s Quest is an engaging ropes course perfect for older kids but is only open seasonally.

Caveats: Bring your own food or eat in nearby Centralia, as dining options are on the expensive side. The majority of the entire multilevel facility is interior-only. Some TripAdvisor users have complained about mask-slackers — which can be an issue wherever you go, including the grocery store.

Whether you visit Great Wolf Lodge for a half-day, full-day or overnight, your journey next takes you to the Washington Coast. From Centralia, drive south to Kelso, then head west on the 62-mile Washington SR-4, a gorgeous byway running parallel to the Columbia River. Count cows and farms as you pass lush, rolling green mounds and mountains until you reach the Long Beach Peninsula.

The Long Beach Peninsula juts northward like a crochet hook at Washington’s southwestern tip, named for a beach that stretches for 28 miles. At the southern end is Cape Disappointment State Park, named for the emotional state of 18th-century Captain John Meares. Approaching from the sea, Meares somehow managed to miss the Columbia River, although it meets Pacific right at the park’s front door in a raging collision. Tell the kids how the area became known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific,” taking down more than 2,000 vessels.  

Today, it’s anything but disappointing, and a fine place to fly a kite, go crabbing or fishing, or visit the North Head Lighthouse, which has fantastic Columbia-crashes-into-the-Pacific views. If you love the park, overnight stay options include cabins, yurts, and even the Victorian-era lighthouse keeper’s home

Moving north along SR-103, you pass the quiet village of Ilwaco and busier town of Long Beach, minimalist Ocean Park and historic Oysterville. At the needle’s hooked top, Leadbetter Point State Park and Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge, rich with more than 200 species of birdlife.

Long Beach and environs are known for their range of family-friendly, seafood-centric pubs with outdoor seating. At the Ilwaco waterfront, Salt Pub gives good pub grub. The acclaimed, upscale The Depot Restaurant offers evening dining and a children’s menu. North Beach Tavern offers delicious pizza to go (dining areas are adult-only). Lost Roo has an enclosed deck for year-round outdoor dining, a kids’ menu, and sea-themed pub options like Columbia River steelhead sandwiches.

Spend the night in downtown Long Beach (where the action is, according to most kids). Boardwalk Cottages offers 12 self-contained, family-friendly cottages, including bunk-bed-equipped rooms. In the quieter town of Ilwaco, Salt Hotel is a more contemporary take on the traditional waterside motor inn, and even has double-bunk rooms suitable for larger families. 

The next morning, pick up applesauce doughnuts and Texas doughnuts (doughnuts the size of a dinner plate) at Dylan’s Cottage Bakery and Deli. Then, visit the dunes or ride bikes along the 8.5-mile Discovery Trail. Just remember, this isn’t Long Beach, California — pack wool, rain- and windproof clothing, and hats. However, the stormy coastline is also enjoyable in cool weather, and sunny days often bring gales and gusts perfect for kite flying.


If you visit on a school day (which can take place anywhere, now), get some afternoon out-of-school learning done about kites in history and from around the world at the World Kite Museum. Or go on a self-guided bog tour in autumn, when berries ripen at the Cranberry Museum and Demonstration Bogs.

And even if your kids claim to hate museums, know that Marsh’s Free Museum isn’t really a museum — more of an old-timey trinket-and-souvenir shop. But Marsh’s is where Northwest Kids see the half-man, half-alligator Jake the Alligator Man, perhaps the original Florida Man. 

For families with teens, the Fun Beach Speedway offers go-karting for kids 12 and up, and double Go-Karts for parents with kids under age 12. Something quieter? On your way back to the Seattle area, take a different route home, along US-101. Stop in the town of Raymond, where Willapa Paddle Adventures both rents kayaks and guides trips on the nearby Willapa River for 13 and older.

Didn’t get to do it all? There’s always next time.

Note: This route takes you on a three- to four-hour drive from Seattle. Many rural communities lack the medical infrastructure to take care of tourists and locals. When going on a lengthy family road trip, bring masks, a thermometer and other emergency medical supplies, noncash or contactless payment. Always make reservations or call ahead to hotels, restaurants and attractions to avoid disappointment. Pack substantial snacks, as restaurants are at limited capacity and waits for a meal can be longer than kids have the patience for. Of course, don’t travel while sick, and make plans to turn back if someone falls ill.

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