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Cool day trips from JBLM for families this summer

Get out!

Head southwest to Cannon Beach, Oregon, and leave your stress behind. This is a must visit. Photo credit: Melanie Casey

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Parents both love and loathe summertime. Gone are the alarm clocks and tight schedules; in their place are bored kids and stressed out parents.

What to do? If you live in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord area, take heed - there are plenty of opportunities to keep the kiddoes entertained this summer. There are local adventures like roller skating, hikes, pools and splash parks. But perhaps you fancy a longer excursion. Here are a few spots within an hour or two from JBLM to get kids out from behind the computer and help parents keep their sanity.


It seems like a no-brainer, but the city to our north has a lot to offer. Don't be intimidated or feel like you've done it all - there's lots to keep you - and the kids - occupied visit after visit.

If you've never tried a Duck Tour, Seattle offers one of the best. Found in nearly 40 locations around the world, these distinctive tours offer a combined land/water experience.

The vehicles are repurposed 1940s amphibious landing crafts known as DUKWs, which stands for: D-built in 1942; U-amphibious 2-ton truck; K-front-wheel-drive; W-rear-wheel drive. I know, the acronym doesn't really add up, but it's the Army. Enough said. Either way, the "Duck" is a unique and super-fun way to see the city.

Highlights of the roughly 20-mile, 90-minute ride around the Seattle area include Fremont, Pioneer Square and the downtown area as well as a ride into Lake Union (yes, these things are seaworthy).  

Kids will love the vantage point from the Duck as they travel around the city. The drivers (ahem, Captains - they actually are U.S. Coast Guard certified) keep you entertained with corny jokes, puns and an amazing amount of knowledge about the Emerald City.

The tour leaves from both the Seattle Center and Westlake; the route is the same regardless, and this is NOT one of those hop-on, hop-off type of deals. Regular price is $29 for adults and $18 for kids ages 3-12. Keep an eye out for specials and military discounts through leisure travel on base. For more information, visit

Want something a little more terrestrial? How about subterranean? Then head south on I-5 and hit the Mount St. Helens area. Yes, the mountain (or what's left of it) is interesting and educational. But what's even more fun is what lies underneath.


Therein lies the Ape Cave, a National Volcanic Monument Geologic Site featuring more than two miles of cool (literally, it averages a temperature of 42 degrees year round) lava tube featuring stalactites, stalagmites, tons of rocks, bats, cave crickets and more.

The reputed home of Bigfoot, the Ape Cave was discovered in the mid 20th century by a local logger. The name is actually a homage to the Boy Scout group who helped map the site - the Mount St. Helens Apes - so don't get your hopes up for a sasquatch sighting.

Kids will love turning into modern-day spelunkers as they descend the metal stairs at the entrance to the cave. Warning - it gets cold fast, so make sure to bring jackets, comfy hiking shoes and - very, very important - a light. Lots of flashlights - one per person, is even better. Trust me - you don't know the meaning of pitch black until you are in a cave deep underground with no source of light.

The lower cave is probably the route you want to take, as it is low-grade and perfect for families. It's rocky at places, but basically an easy go. Unless you like scrambling over and squeezing through rocks, stay away from the upper cave.

The main entrance is about an hour from the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center in Stevenson. There's no cost to hike the cave, but there's a $5 parking fee. No food, beverages or pets are allowed in the cave.

For more information, visit


Most people know it only as a winter-season place to ski and frolic in the snow, but Crystal Mountain also offers things to do in the warmer months. Pick a sunny day and take the scenic 75-mile or so drive east. Catch the Mt. Rainier Gondola and head up to the summit of the mountain. On your way up, check out the beauty of the Cascades (on your way back, stop for some local Rainier cherries at roadside stands).

When the gondola drops you off, either head for the Summit House restaurant (the highest elevation restaurant in the state) for a bite, unpack your picnic and soak in the sun at one of the picnic tables, or just plop in a chair and take it all in. There's no wrong answer here, truly. Stay a few minutes or a few hours to check out the beauty in our backyard. You can even take a yoga class (does it get any better than that?) on certain days.

Weekend gondola trips begin on Memorial Day; daily trips start running June 27. Crystal Mountain also offers summertime activities like horseback trail riding with Crystal Mountain Outfitters; interpretive Ranger walks and, of course, hiking trails galore. So even though the snow may be gone (most of it, anyway) don't write off this nearby gem.
For more information, visit


Yes, there are beaches to our west. If you are tired of Steilacoom's Sunnyside Beach (which works in a pinch), the closest beach to JBLM that's on the Pacific Ocean is Ocean Shores, a minimum two-hour drive. It can be a daytrip if you leave early enough. If you want to go to the beach, however, I would recommend the Oregon beaches. If you like touristy, try Seaside (about a three-hour drive). If you like artsy and refined, try Cannon Beach (about a half hour further), home of Haystack Rock and puffins. Incredible. With more than 360 miles of coastline, there are plenty of others as well. The drive down 101 is beautiful, and the beaches are spectacular. So worth it. For more information, visit

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