My kids come to work with me here at the Northwest Nature Shop. They have a blast doing laps inside the shop in the plasma car, setting up elaborate nature scenes with our animal replicas, or sitting up at the counter “helping” customers. Towards the end of the day though they get restless so luckily Ashland has a wealth of wonderful activities for kids. Although Ashland is known for being an art and theatre town, this doesn’t mean it isn’t kid-friendly. There are many fun activities to do with kids from hiking, fishing, swimming to great playgrounds and the local science museum. I grew up in Ashland and now my husband and I are raising our three kids here so I remember all the fun things I did as a kid growing up in Southern Oregon and now I get to relive it with my family.
Lithia Park, located in the heart of Ashland, surrounds beautiful Ashland Creek starting at the Plaza, and goes a mile or so up to a reservoir swimming area. It includes a Japanese garden, tennis courts, sand volleyball pit, two ponds, picnic areas, and the band shell where summer concerts are held, a playground and many hiking trails. In the winter months there is a public ice-skating rink across the street from the playground. Lithia Park is where we spend a majority of our free time for its beauty, location and the number of things to do within the park. The first stop when you are with kids in Lithia Park is the duck pond, then a few minutes up the trail is the playground and a wading area in the creek. In the hot summer months, dip your feet in the creek at the small wading pool. The swimming reservoir at the top of the park is a local’s favorite. There is a rope swing and the water comes from the bottom of Reeder Reservoir so it is toe-numbing cold even on the hottest days. The trails are a fun place for hiking and birding with the kids. On a recent walk through the park we saw wood ducks, a downy woodpecker, western kingfisher, mallards and lots of deer. At the playground look up and see if you can spot the Western Screech Owl that has taken residence in a tree overlooking the playground.
A very fun science museum with activities for kids of all ages. Have fun in the bubble room where you can be inside an enormous bubble, sit on a pulley and lift yourself up or peddle a bike to propel a train around the track. There is a new exhibit for kids five and under with water tables, a shipwreck playhouse and an area to launch air powered balls to different spots on the island. They offer science classes ranging from storytelling for the smaller kids to astronomy and engineering classes for the older ones, so look on the calendar on their website for the days and times. Science Works is a couple miles from downtown Ashland at 1500 East Main St., there is lots of parking, but ride your bike if you can.
Green Show at OSF
Free 30 minute performances on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival courtyard before the evening theatre performance occur every day except Monday between June and September. The performances range from opera and orchestra to salsa, hip hop and vaudeville style juggling acts. It is very kid friendly – you will see kids dancing and singing during the show and afterwards when all the theatre goers go their play, families stay on the courtyard and chat while the kids run around. Show up at least 15 minutes early to get a good spot and bring a blanket to sit on.
Hiking in Oredson Todd Woods
Oredson-Todd Woods is a beautifully preserved natural area accessed from a residential area in South Ashland. The trail is well established, follows a babbling brook and leads to a small secluded waterfall. My kids love to put on their backpacks loaded with snacks and head off down this trail. Even at 2 years old my youngest can easily walk the mellow mile or so trail there and back. To access the trail go south on Siskiyou, turn right on Tolman Rd (at the flashing yellow light), then right on Greenmeadows Way. Turn left on Lupine and there is parking area on the right. Park and follow the signs towards the wooded area until you hear the creek. We have trail maps at the Northwest Nature Shop; stop by before you embark on a hiking adventure.
Ashland Farmer’s Market
A balloon man making balloons into swords and flowers, Banjo Bill picking bluegrass tunes, doughnuts popping fresh out of the doughnut maker, delicious fruits and vegetables grown right here in the Valley make the Ashland Farmer’s Market one of our family’s favorite things to do. Introduce your kids to our hardworking farmers. See the bounty of our incredible valley. Go, go, go – don’t miss it. Tuesdays from 8:30-1:30 at the Ashland Armory on the corner of East Main and Wightman St. from March through November. Starting in June there are TWO farmer’s markets in Ashland. The second is in front of the post office on Lithia Way on Saturday mornings from 9 am – 1 pm. Ride your bike and bring your own bags.
Ashland Food Cooperative
A grocery store doesn’t seem like it would be a ‘favorite’ for kids but trust me. Packed with delicious, local organic food, the Coop is where Ashland kids learn that healthy eating is delicious. My kids beg for baskets of juicy, local in-season strawberries, Ashland-made cream cheese stuffed bagels, local, smoked salmon, and if they are really good, they get an organic popsicle. Eat in their front courtyard, listen to the musicians who play on sunny days, and you’ll see an entire cross section of Ashland pass by.
Located on the corner of Hersey and Water St just three blocks from downtown, the skate park has three bowls to allow you to jump and do stunts. My brother is an avid skateboarder and this is one of his favorite spots or at least used to be, now that he is over 40 he opts for dirt boarding on the trails above Ashland – but he can tell you about that…Helmets are required at the skate park.
Ice cream shops and walking around downtown
Any time of year, it is fun to walk through downtown Ashland, visit one of the many fun shops (my favorite of course being the Northwest Nature Shop 154 Oak St., a block and a half from Main St.) and enjoy the vibrant ambiance of my favorite American small town. My children I have a sweet tooth and luckily there are a couple great ice cream shops to satisfy our cravings. Mix is my favorite, on the plaza, and the kids like Yogurt Hut, on Lithia Way between 1st St and Pioneer, with self serve frozen yogurt with so many toppings my kid’s eyes get huge trying to decide which ones to top their yogurt.
In the summer or winter, Mt. Ashland is a beautiful sub alpine escape from the Rogue Valley. In the winter months, you can downhill, snowboard or cross country ski on Mt. Ashland. The views are gorgeous of Mt. Shasta to the south and the Rogue Valley to the north. In the summer, when the snow has melted, hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. During the August meteor showers we like to camp near Grouse Gap and watch the meteor light show (the elevation is approx. 7000 ft. and it gets cold at night no matter what month it is- bring your warm jacket even if you are roasting down in town!) Stop by the Northwest Nature Shop to get a map of the trails and roads of Mt. Ashland.
For a short, quick excursion, we hop on our bikes from the NW Nature Shop, and head down the bike path off of A St., next to the railroad tracks and ride the ½ mile or so to Garfield Park. Garfield Park is located on the corner of East Main and Garfield St. There is a water play area with fountains of spraying water and a playground, plus a field great for flying kites.
Bike rides along Bear creek Greenway
The Bear Creek Greenway, starting in the northeast corner of Ashland is a paved bike path along Bear Creek beginning in Ashland and going 21 miles north to Central Point. My husband likes to ride his bike all the way to Central Point and back but when we are with the kids we opt to go just a couple miles, looking for birds, admiring the llamas and enjoying the flat, protected area of the bike path. River otters have even been spotted recently in Bear Creek so keep your eyes open for these cute playful critters in the water next to the bike path. Start either at the dog park off of Nevada St. or we like to start off of Oak St almost all the way down, right before the bridge crosses Bear Creek. You will see a parking area next to a farm on the left-hand side. If you cross Bear Creek, you have gone too far.
These are just a few activities for children in Ashland Oregon and as I write them, I think of more and more! So look for more Northwest Nature Shop blog posts of fun things to do with kids in southern Oregon and remember to always stop by the shop, say hello and let us know of YOUR favorite activities in Ashland.