Family Field Trips and Educational Outings Around the Willamette Valley

By Lynne Brown

As summer winds down, thoughts turn to September and the new school year ahead. The familiar excitement of meeting new teachers and seeing old friends in the classroom combines with apprehension about new routines and challenging classes.

What better way to start warming up for learning than with a few family field trips before the school year starts? The Willamette Valley is full of opportunities to explore, no matter your child’s favorite school subject.

Here are a few fun field trips (grouped by school subject) that will help rekindle love for learning—just in time for the new year.

Science Fun Around the Willamette Valley

Historic Carousel & Museum of Albany 

Albany historic carousel
The Historic Carousel & Museum of Albany

For an adventure that includes learning about aerodynamics, mechanical engineering, and a little history, visit the Historic Carousel & Museum of Albany. Learn how carousels work and the history of the beautiful wooden figures that adorn the attraction. 

Families can also take a guided tour through the workshop to see how blocks of wood are transformed, through hand-carving, into beautiful pieces of functional art. Visit the painting room and stroll through the museum, where you will learn how merry-go-rounds came to be called carousels. 

End your visit with a ride on the restored and renovated historic carousel. (Be sure to choose an outside mount for a chance to catch the brass ring during your ride.)

Eugene Science Center

Spark their imagination with some hands-on science exploration at the Eugene Science Center. Offering a daily planetarium show and hands-on exhibits, you can explore astronomy, mechanics, biology, nanotechnology and more in their frequently changing exhibits. Opening to the public on September 10, 2021, after a year-long closure due to COVID-19, the Eugene Science Center can help build enthusiasm for science in young and old alike.

P.E. and Botany at the Mount Pisgah Arboretum

Stately oak trees are a hallmark of the forests at the Mount Pisgah Arboretum. Photo by Jonathan Lidbeck / Flickr

Could you all use some physical exercise while learning a little biology and botany? The Mount Pisgah Arboretum is located on the west slope of Mt Pisgah, southeast of Eugene. The arboretum offers 210 acres of nature education covering the ecology of the southern Willamette Valley.

While there, take some time to hike to the summit of Mount Pisgah, an elevation change of 1,050 feet from the shores of the Willamette River. Time your visit with one of the many workshops offered at the arboretum, and enjoy guided, kid-friendly activities that cover snakes, lizards, frogs and Pacific Northwest trees.

Oregon History Lessons Throughout the Willamette Valley

Champoeg State Heritage Area

The sign for Champoeg State Park sits amid rolling green hills with a mix of green trees.
Champoeg State Heritage Area is a popular stop for lessons on Oregon history, as well as hiking and biking. Photo by Fred Chambers

Looking to explore Oregon history? The educational opportunities at Champoeg State Heritage Area include a visitors center and guided walks that describe life of the Kalapuya people and early settlers in the Willamette Valley. The nearby Manson Barn and Farmstead depicts the life of early homesteaders. 

While there, visit the Pioneer Memorial Building, which marks the site of the 1843 vote that formed the first government of the Northwest. Then spend the day enjoying the miles of hiking and biking trails at the park.

Benton County Historical Society’s Corvallis Museum

For more early Oregon history, the newly opened Benton County Historical Society’s Corvallis Museum offers hands-on discovery for children of all ages. Rotating exhibits and docent programs provide guided exploration of the early days in Benton County. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday and is free to children 18 and younger.

Art Exhibits at the Chehalem Cultural Center

The Chehalem Cultural Center is home to a variety of art exhibits in Newberg.

Fill your day with art at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, where you will find several galleries hosting a variety of exhibits. Visit Amanda Byah’s “The Outside Place” exhibit, which is an interactive, community-contributed sculpture using nature’s bounty of branches, flowers, and herbs.

In the Founders Lobby, you’ll find the “We Are Oregon” exhibit, which highlights a different segment of Oregon’s population each month. Visit the main gallery through September 30, 2021, to explore art by Yolanda Valdés, a Portland-based artist with ties to Baja, Mexico.

Geography and Ecosystems at National Wildlife Refuges Around the Willamette Valley

Rainbow over Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge
A rainbow appears over the wetlands at Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by Larry Clack / Photo courtesy Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex)

If hiking and the great outdoors is more your style, the Willamette Valley boasts numerous national wildlife refuges, where the whole family can enjoy being outdoors together while learning about the flora and fauna that cover our beautiful region. 

Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge

Hike the Ankeny Overlook Trail for a spectacular view of the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge’s wetlands. Interpretive panels help explain the history of the area and the different kinds of wildlife to look for. A walk along the Pintail & Egret Marsh Boardwalk ends at an observation blind, where bald eagles are often sighted in the winter months.

William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge

The William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge was created to provide the dusky Canada Goose a winter habitat. The refuge can be enjoyed both on foot and by car. Begin your exploration of the 5,325-acre wildlife refuge at the visitor center, where you can pick up a trail map and learn more about the variety of ecosystems, animals, and plant life that thrive in the refuge’s wetlands and oak savanna. Hike the trails, or drive Finley Refuge Road between 99W and Bellfountain Road, to see the elk that roam the oak savannah.

Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge

For bird and butterfly spotting, the Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge is the perfect field trip. Located in the farmland on the eastern edge of the Coast Range foothills, Baskett Slough offers a number of trails for hiking and exploration. The two-mile Rich Guadagno Memorial Trail loop trail is open year-round. More than 230 species of birds have been spotted on the refuge; watch for herons, bald eagles, great horned owls, red tailed hawks and more.