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Free Day At Washington State Parks Today!

Looking for free fun today?

Free days at washington state parks 2014

If you’re up for some wild adventure, find those boots and raincoats I see sunshine!! and hit your favorite state park. Admission is Free today-no Discover WA pass required-in celebration of the park system’s anniversary. Thanks to Dana at IloveKent (a great resource for Kent friends), for the reminder this morning!

The rest of the free days for 2014 are below! There are several spring Saturdays, which is new this year. You might want to mark them on your calendar! More information on the Discover Pass is here. [Read more...]

Great Places To Play Today!

Let’s get out and play this sunny day!

Best playgrounds

Here is my list of Top South Sound playgrounds

Here is a list of Ten Nature Walks perfect for explorers young and old.

You’ll find lots more ideas in the Outdoor Adventures tab in the menu bar!

The rain is supposed be headed back tomorrow, so don’t waste it!

I do have some other fun posts coming up later, too, so when you get your fill of Vitamin D, be sure to check back in!

 

Snowmygoodness! A Round-up of Snow Day Links

This is a snow day kind of post, friends. Low on content, but lots of link love to help you with whatever you need today! Word is the snow will melt later today, so get out there while you can!

 

 Need a recipe for snow ice cream? Try this one.

Want warmer fun? Try my snowflake making post!

You’re looking for something different to do? If the kids are already tired of snowballs and sledding, I have some creative ideas that are especially good for little ones in my post on new ideas for snow play.

Want to know where to sled? [Read more...]

Join in the Great Backyard Bird Count

Here’s an event that will help your children explore math, science, and the environment right in your own backyard. It’s the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual event where citizens take 15 minutes to count birds. This year’s count is going on February 14th-17th.   The official website has printable sheets to help you identify the flying friends who visit you. When you’re finished, you can upload your results, which will be used by scientists and researchers around the world. What a cool way to be part of something big without leaving home!

Backyard Bird Count

I know you’re thinking it must be more complicated, but it’s really not: Count, Tally, Submit! [Read more...]

Where to Play in the Snow Around Here!

This time of year, I start to get questions about where South Sound area families can head for snow play.

So far, Mother Nature is being pretty stingy with the white stuff, but we’ve finally gotten enough for the snow play area at Paradise to open. Here’s a rundown of your closest area options for snow play. Note that I’ve put some big, ‘ol screaming capital letters to let you know that some of these are not yet good ideas.

Option One:  The snow play area at Paradise.  Get your fill of sledding and snow play Thursdays-Mondays. Note that there are some very specific rules about the kinds of sleds permitted, and this is the only area in MRNP where sledding is permitted. The link also has information on snowshoe walks. It’s open! Lots of snow-there have been some road closures on 2/12 due to downed branches, but it sounds like it’s clear now. Never a bad idea to call for a report before you go.

Option Two:  Do it Yourself! Drive towards Crystal on 410 heading past Bonney Lake and Enumclaw. Before you get to Crystal Mountain, you will find several areas where you can pull off and make a snow angel and throw some snowballs. SFM safety note: My legal team wants you to know that I am Not advising any sledding or similar activity in an ungroomed area, and that any of these spots could have hidden rocks, stumps, etc…. Consider yourself warned! Try the pull out view points/ picnic areas between Forest Service Road  72 and 73.

Option Three: Tubing at Snoqualmie  Not frugal, but fun! Read an article all about it via our friends at Parent Map.

Option Four: Check your parks departments. Many local parks departments offer organized trips for snow shoeing or snow play. This is a nice option if it all sounds fun to you except the drive! Here is the link to registration for Metro Parks Tacoma Family Snow Play and Snowshoe Outings. These do fill fast. Right now the snow play sessions look full, but there are spaces in the snowshoe walks. You might call and ask about a wait list or future dates. Check with other local parks departments as well.

Option Five: Your local ski resort. While this is in NO WAY a frugal activity, all the area ski resorts do offer ski and snowboarding lessons and lift packages. Note that these spots generally prohibit other kinds of snow play-and really-do you want to go sledding in the middle of a bunch of boarders? I think not! If you’re new to the area, most folks in the Tacoma area go to Crystal.

Option Six: Chill out indoors. If our one snow day was enough for you, stay warm  make some snowflakes instead!This little project uses coffee filters and food coloring. It may be the most Pinterest worthy project on this site! :)

Got another good option for families who can’t wait for snow days? Leave a comment and let us know! If you do head out, don’t forget to take snacks, chains, and warm clothes.  Hungry, stuck, and cold is no fun at all!

Let’s Go Salmon Spotting: Where to Take the Kids to See Salmon Returning to Spawn

Here’s a frugal fall outing for the kids that has to be unique to the Northwest! Take the kids to one of many area parks or trails where they can spot salmon returning to spawn.

I’ve rounded up your best bets for viewing, but if you know of another good one, please let me know!

First, let’s be clear that when a salmon is returning to spawn, it’s returning to the place where it was born to deposit eggs. This is the end of its life, and a remarkable natural process. It also means that while you’re catching sight of the salmon heading to spawn, you might end up seeing a dead one. If this would alarm your children, choose another activity!

South King County/Eastside/ Seattle Every weekend, through the end of the month, trained naturalists will be on hand to help you spot them at 5 sites along the Cedar River. You can get all the locations and details here from the Friends of the Cedar River Watershed.  These are all King County locations, beginning with the Renton library with spots all the way up to the Ballard Locks in Seattle. Here is a list of other spots in Seattle and on the Eastside. If you’re up for road tripping, the hatchery in Issaquah just might be the fanciest in America. They even host birthday parties!

Puyallup The fish in the tanks at the Puyallup hatchery are trout, but a small section of Clark’s Creek runs by, where you might be able to see winter run chum beginning in November or a few coho or chinook earlier. If you go straight behind the hatchery and to the left, you’ll find a trail, and the best viewing is from a little bridge over the creek. The boys and I found a lot on our trip last year, but we didn’t time it right, and they were Really, Really dead. Bleah! Naturally, the boys thought it was fantastic! The trout at the hatchery are interesting to look at, and there are a few, weathered informational signs. Our boys consider this the best of do-it-yourself fun! The hatchery is on the corner of an otherwise residential street, but you really can’t miss it. Here’s more information on the Puyallup hatchery and Clark’s Creek.

Thurston County/Olympia If you’re one of my Thurston County readers, you have a tremendous salmon watching resource in Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail. It doesn’t open until November 2nd, but when it does, there will be weekend viewing with naturalists on hand. I can’t wait to check it out.

Another option is Tumwater Falls. I’ve somehow never been here, but it looks really cool. Jen, of ThriftyNWMom, did a review of this park.

Key Peninsula The Minter Creek hatchery on the Key Peninsula

*I haven’t had a chance to phone here this year, but this info. was from almost the same exact time last year. You may just want to call and check open hours before you go. I’ll try to get a hold of them later today to update this.

You’ll see the creek with a ladder and a plunge pool where they pile up. Right now, the Coho run is dwindling, but Chum will be picking up soon. They’re a bit hard to spot right now due to rain muddying up the water, but it sounds like your odds are still pretty good.

Kitsap-The clever folks with the tourism department have created a whole list of spots on what they call the Salmon Run Loop. These are all wild spots, so it’s far from a sure thing, but it would be a fun afternoon adventure.

For a good, kid friendly explanation of the life cycle of salmon go here. For tips on how to watch salmon in the wild go here.

There is a very cool, downloadable book with coloring pictures here. This is a large, pdf file. Consider yourself warned.

Do wear boots for any of these adventures, because if your kiddos are anything like mine, they will Immediately step in the grossest puddles imaginable.

Do you have a great way to have outdoor fun this time of year? I’d love to hear about it!

End of Summer Day Trip Idea: Riding the Gondola at Crystal Mountain

If you’d like to squeeze in one last summer day trip this weekend, I’ve got a great suggestion!

Crystal collage

Take a ride on the Crystal Mountain gondola! While Crystal is known as a place to ski and snowboard, this time of year you can take a gondola ride to the top and enjoy mountain views and late blooming wildflowers. The gondola operates on weekends through September 22nd, so don’t wait long!

A few things to know before you go:

  • The gondolas are fully enclosed, and the ride is smooth. I think most kids will love it! I have some heights issues, but I was fine with it, except for one moment when we were stopped as they had to assist someone at the top. They do close in case of big winds. If you have serious fears of high places you probably don’t want to ride to the top of a mountain.
  • Tickets are a pretty spendy 20.00 for adults and 15.00 for kids 11 and up. Kids o-10 are just 5.00.  Moral? Go before your kids turn 11! :) Tickets are round trip.
  • Once you get to the top, you can enjoy the views or eat a picnic. There are some tables right as you get off, or you can hike down a bit and find a spot you like.  There is also a restaurant at the top, but you will definitely need reservations. I think the do-it-yourself option is more fun with kids, and it’s definitely cheaper! Note that mountain weather is unpredictable-there were lots of pretty views on the day we went, but the mountain was mostly hiding around a cloud bank.
  • After you’ve looked around or enjoyed your lunch, you can catch a ride down, or do what we did and hike down. There is a map at the top showing several routes, and there are walking sticks to borrow at the bottom or the top. Since you’re going down hill,  you don’t exert yourself much, but it is hard on your knees, and there are lots of loose stones and gravel. Even though it’s downhill, I’d probably classify this as a moderate hike. I think most school age kids would do fine, but I would not take preschoolers or younger children because of the tripping potential.
  • If you’re really up for a workout, tickets are only checked on the way up-so you could hike to the top and ride down! You’d burn plenty of calories and save some money! Obviously, hiking up a mountain is not for everyone!
  • Leashed dogs are allowed on the gondola, and we did take the rescue lab. We somewhat regretted it because he was antsy the whole ride, and when we got to the top he almost launched off the mountain after a squirrel. Once we were away from the crowds, it was better.
  • Remember that mountains make their own weather, so bring layers. It was sunny at home when we headed up, but rainy at the base. You will still want sunscreen, too, and even on short trips near civilization, I think it’s a good idea to bring the 10 essentials.

You might also be interested in one of these fun day trip ideas:

The Pioneer Farm Museum in Eatonville

Fox Hollow Farm in Issaquah

And a whole round-up of great day trip ideas from our last series!

 

Hidden Beach Trail and Hidden Beach: A Pretty Walk and Quiet Beach by Tacoma’s Titlow Park!

Did you know there is a Hidden Beach right by Tacoma’s Titlow Park? No, I don’t mean the beach right by Steamers, though that’s a great spot, especially for tide pooling! I’m talking about an extra slice at the end of that one that you can access through a charming, woodsy walk.

It’s actually called Hidden Beach, and the trail is the Hidden Beach Trail, so don’t feel bad if you haven’t stumbled on it before!

There are three ways to get there.

Bridge on trail to Hidden Beach in Tacoma

Option One: Park on Hidden Beach Road in front of the white posts. It’s on your right hand side off 6th before you get to the parking lot for Titlow. The blue sign says, “Private Road,” but that just means it isn’t maintained by the city. You will be out of sight of the car almost immediately, and I saw some broken glass, so do secure your valuables out of view.  Park there and take the unpaved road right in front of you. You’ll see a Metro Parks sign. This is a wide, easy road that quickly comes to a bridge over railroad tracks. If you want, hang out until a train passes underneath and feel the vibrations as it rumbles beneath you. Just over the bridge is a private club. Stay on the path (It’s still park’s property, I promise), and you’ll quickly come to the woods. You can follow any number of paths through the woods or down to the beach. There are high bluffs, so be mindful of the kiddos, and take one of the sets of actual steps to the beach.

Option Two: Just behind the sprayground in front of the lagoon that is to your right if you’re facing the water, there is a trail. If you take this, it will connect you to the trail above (I haven’t tried this route, but this is the scoop I got from Metro Parks).

Option Three: Park at the playground for Titlow Park (don’t accidentally park in a Steamers spot), cross the train tracks carefully, and take the sidewalk all the way down. If you’re facing the water, go right. There is a pinkish house in the woods at the end of the sidewalk commonly called Kay’s house. Take the trail up past this house and into the woods. From here, you’ll see several paths you can follow, and you’ll fairly quickly come across one of two sets of steps to the beach.

Picture of trail to Hidden Beach in Tacoma

A fourth option, if the tide is low enough, is to go down to the beach right in front of the signage/picnic tables, and just keep walking it around the corner.

Why bother? Well, as you can see, you’ll be treated to beautiful, shaded trails, and forested paths to the water that look like something out of The Secret Garden (Yes, I’ve probably read it one too many times)! If you go in the day, you’ll also likely  have the beach-the only Metro Parks property with western exposure-to yourself! The boys and I felt like we’d found our own treasure, and they would totally have spent the day playing if I hadn’t forgotten the sunscreen. Oops!

Trail to beach by Titlow Park

Now, I will tell you we came back here in the evening, and the vibe was really different. In my husband’s words: Creepy. There were a couple of odd looking guys walking around, and there were groups of teenagers arriving to party (Oh, youth)! Melissa with Metro Parks told me they haven’t had many problems with crime since they took down the old Scout buildings that had decayed and become nuisances, but there are pretty frequent bonfires and kids looking for romance. Henry busted up the one couple we saw pretty effectively. Kids-the best birth control-amiright?

There are also long term plans for more development in this area-including some kind of educational building where Kay’s house is now.

So, pack up a bag and grab a friend and go in the day when the vibe is charming and the crowd is small. I think you’ll be glad you found it, too!  If you’ve been here before, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Know another spot we should discover? Leave a comment and let us know about it!

Playground Report: Loyalty Park in Sumner

If you’re one of my Sumner area readers, you’re probably already a regular at Loyalty Park.

If you haven’t been, it’s worth the drive for friends near Puyallup and Auburn, especially on a hot day when you can enjoy the shade from one of many lovely, old trees.

 

Picture of Sumner's Loyalty Park

Sumner’s Loyalty Park features lovely lawns and beautiful old trees with great shade on a hot day.

The play area features three nice structures, swings, a ride-on toy, and some sand diggers. Henry Loved these (an old favorite from his preschool years), and I can’t think of another park in the area with them.

 

Playground at Loyalty Park

One of several nice play structures. The biggest has a fun, dinosaur theme.

For grown-ups, the highlights include lovely lawns, ample picnic space, and cool places to sit under those trees I mentioned. It would be a great place for a picnic meetup on a hot day when you can’t make it to any water.  If you’ve got a, “Runner,” you should know that it’s open on all sides, but the visibility is excellent, and you’re in a quiet, residential neighborhood.

 

Picture of sand toys at Sumner WA loyalty park

The play area also includes two digger toys, a unique feature.

Downsides? It’s a fairly popular spot, so you will have company. I also don’t think there is much here to interest kids over 8, although all that grassy space invites a game of tag or frisbee. If you have big kids coming along, just bring some gear or a couple of pals and let them race around while the little ones enjoy the playground.

The park is on the corner of Park St. and Sumner and it’s easy to find. Here’s the listing from the city’s website.  You’ll need to park on street and do be mindful of signage. Not near your ‘hood? I have several posts planned for today, including the scoop on a hidden beach and trail in Tacoma, and previews of weekend activities for readers all over! Have you got a park or playground you’d like to see on Sounds Fun Mom? Want to submit your own review, or tip me off to your favorite spots? I’d love to read them!  Oh, and it is Wednesday-the most jam packed of all the summer weekdays. Check the calendar for a complete guide to your options today.

Sandy Beaches in the South Sound!

Word is we’re supposed to get up to 80 tomorrow. I know….I’ll believe when I see it, too, but let’s be ready just in case!

Over the sprayground? Had it with barnacles?

Here’s a round up of area parks and beaches where you can find actual sand!

Sand Collage

One note: You won’t find as much sand at lake front parks these days. Fish and other creatures need those native, grassy plants, which is why many parks have less sand than you might remember.

Ruston Way, Tacoma Most Tacoma area beaches are better for beach combing than sand play, unless the tide is out. The section of Ruston Way next to Jack Hyde park (where the sundial is) almost always has some sand.

American Lake, Lakewood  Boat launch, swimming area with small section of sand, picnicing, playground   Busy, popular park  There is also a swimming beach with a lifeguard on duty at Harry Todd. Link will take you to all Lakewood City Parks options.

Spanaway Lake-Swimming area with a small section of sandy beach (much smaller than you may remember if you went here as a child). Parks and rec staffers suggest parking in the D or C lot. Playground, paddle boat rentals, and trails. There are parking fees in the summer.

Dash Point Here it is, friends. If you want a “going to the beach,” experience worthy of your sand buckets, head to Federal Way to this glorious spot. Read more in my Best Beach Outings post. This is a state park, so you’ll need to invest in a Discover WA Pass.

Dash Point Wait? Two Dash Points? Yes. This one is a MetroParks Tacoma park. Not quite as expansive as the state park but plenty fun.

Dumas Bay Sanctuary Also in Federal Way Almost as good as Dash Point, and it’s hidden away in a neighborhood, so it’s super private. You may also get to watch skim borders. Downside: It’s more tide dependent. If it’s high, you’ll have much less to work with. Also, after this post ran originally, a reader pointed out that it is a heron sanctuary, so you’re not supposed to dig. If you just want the feel between your toes, go for it!  You wind through a neighborhood to get here-past a dead end sign. Keep going!

Redondo Des Moines Unless the tide is up, you can find some sand on both sides of the fishing peer. The boardwalk is also fun to walk.

I think some other Des Moines area parks must have good beach, but I don’t know. If you do, leave a comment for me!

Steel Lake Federal Way   Popular park with kids’ playground and a swimming area with some sand.

Lake Tapps North Sumner Roped off swimming beach  A small area of sand is near the concession area. You’ll have to pay to park. Very popular place. Allan Yorke Park is on the south side of Lake Tapps and also has a swimming area, but I think the amount of sand is very small. Let me know if you know different.

Isaac Evans Auburn Access to a swimmable (well, splashable) area of Green River with a small area of sand.  The water reminded me a bit of splashing in a mud puddle, but the boys enjoyed it. Lovely, shaded picnic areas and trails. Small but fun play structure. Downsides: Folks seem to come here in noisy groups, and the loaner life jackets seem to have all gone “missing.”

Lake Meridian Kent  Large swimming area with a sand and gravel beach

Fb reader Cindy recommends Lake Wilderness near Covington/Maple Valley

If you’re one of my Thurston County readers, I could use some help her. I know Long Lake has great swimming. Does it have any sand? I’ve also heard you can find some sand at Tolmie, but I suspect it’s more NW gravel style.

If you want a Guarantee of sand fun, you’ll want to mark your calendars for the Sand in the City event in Olympia, the Hands on Children’s Museum’s signature event, and a sandventure not to be missed.

If you’re willing to go a bit out of my usual territory, you might consider Gene Coulon Beach in Renton. If you want to day-trip it to Seattle, it’s hard to argue with Alki Beach, or heck-load everyone up and head out to the Washington coast. It’s not quite Maui, but there is plenty of ocean and plenty of sandy beach.

It’s totally possible I’ve missed somewhere sandtastic, so please don’t be shy about leaving a comment and letting me know.

Update: Reader Suzanne recommends Des Monies Creek Beach, Reader Melony says one of the beaches at Tolmie has great sand, and reader Rachel wants me to remind you that Lake Meridian has a great playground (I have a post on it coming up soon)! Several Facebook readers also recommend Sunnyside Beach in Steilacoom (You do have to pay 5.00) to park in the city owned lot, and it’s gated.