STEM, outdoors & fun: 17 ideas for a Washington Tri-Cities family vacation

Clear skies, one of the country’s mightiest rivers, and lots of family attractions for your vacation

On the mighty Columbia River, the cities of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland offer a beautiful space for a Washington Tri-Cities family vacation. This inland, riverside region offers a huge array of easy-to-get-to family friendly attractions, from STEM to the outdoors. Here are a few things that impressed us—not to mention some family travel to-do’s for future trips to the Tri-Cities with our kids (plus a few bonus fun activities in Tri-Cities for parents).

What makes Tri-Cities a great family vacation destination in Washington State?

 Just a few hours drive from Portland, Seattle, and Spokane, Washington’s Tri-Cities area surprised us parents in the best ways:

Think the Pacific Northwest is all rain?

Located on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, the Tri-Cities boast a more arid climate and about 300 days of sun a year.

Over 200 wineries in a 50-mile radius

Sure, this one isn’t necessarily for the kids. But if a wine outing, tasting, or case stock-up are on your grownup travel list, Tri-Cities puts you right in the heart of Washington wine country destinations like the Yakima Valley and Red Mountain, with plenty of opportunities for winery day trips.

Chill vibe and a family friendly atmosphere

Tri-Cities struck us with a family friendly feeling that was so welcoming. There’s a workaday sense of life here, an atmosphere that people stay down to earth and focus on the simple, good things, while celebrating a perfect place they know is special. That’s a big appeal to us, and makes it easy to plan kid friendly activities that fit our family culture. It’s an incredible region that can inspire many Washington Tri-Cities family vacation ideas or weekend getaways.

STEM and homeschool activities in Washington Tri-Cities

Indoors and outside, the REACH Center combines museum and ampitheatre, all by the Columbia River.
Indoors and outside, the REACH Center combines museum and ampitheatre, all by the Columbia River.

One of the great things about homeschooling? Any family trip can easily become a field trip! Science has a big footprint in the Tri-Cities, and there are lots of STEM-focused activities and attractions too. Here are is the top STEM destination we can’t wait to show the kids (and learn lots ourselves) plus some others that are big on our homeschool travel list:

REACH Center

Located on the bank of the Columbia River, the REACH Museum combines an interpretive science center with a beautiful outdoor performing arts amphitheater. Animal life, indigenous cultures, Ice Age floods, and more—we parents were enthralled with the immersive exhibits and know this will be a wonderful place to while away an afternoon.

Manhattan Project National Historical Park

A lot of World War II’s Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb happened in this part of the country, and the MPNHP lays out that history with stories and artifacts.

Bechtel National Planetarium

Whenever we need an indoor break and a chance to sit, we look to a planetarium for entertaining and fascinating shows about space and more. We’re also keeping an eye on when the Robert & Elisabeth Moore Observatory will reopen to the public…

LIGO Hanford Observatory

Scientists weren’t sure if gravitational waves existed, until this facility first detected them in 2015. Understanding gravitational waves gives us new ways to observe the universe. Plus, families can be part of LIGO’s field trips for homeschoolers.

Pasco Aviation Museum

Airplanes and other aircraft look so cool, and the history of aviation is amazing, full of innovation, fearlessness, and science. The Pasco Aviation Museum will helps us take a closer look at the power and impact of aviation in the region’s history.

Coyote Canyon Mammoth Site

South of Kennewick, the Coyote Canyon Mammoth Site gives families an on-the-ground—or rather, in-the-ground—look at an Ice Age paleontological excavation. The dig is managed by MCBONES Research Center Foundation, an all-volunteer educational non-profit organization. The public tours require reservations and are available monthly April through October.

BONUS for the parents: Take a lunch or dinner cruise on the Columbia River with Water2Wine Cruises

We love taking our kids on adventures—but sometimes we busy parents need a little grownups-only date too. During our spring trip to the Tri-Cities area, the folks at Water2Wine Cruises hosted us for a stunning lunch cruise on the Columbia River. Aboard Water2Wine’s 74-foot luxury yacht, we sipped luscious cocktails and watched the river go by over a delicious lunch, followed by dessert and rich, roasted coffee. In addition to lunch, you can also join Water2Wine for dinner or weekend brunch, as well as sightseeing-only cruises. Our lunch cruise was a serene start to a beautiful Tri-Cities trip.

Outdoors recreation and adventure in and around Washington Tri-Cities

Experiencing the beauty of the Tri-Cities area is easy, enjoyable, and relaxing during a Columbia River cruise with Water2Wine Cruises.
Experiencing the beauty of the Tri-Cities area is easy, enjoyable, and relaxing during a Columbia River cruise with Water2Wine Cruises.

The 2,942 square miles of the Tri-Cities region give visitors access to eight National Wildlife Refuges and Reserves. There are so many opportunities for outdoor recreation and adventure at state parks and local parks, plus other public lands, such as year-round bird watching, paddlesports, and hiking.

Water recreation especially abounds. Tri-Cities is also a land of three rivers: The area sits where the Columbia, Snake, and Yakima Rivers meet. Combined with the region’s sunny days and more arid climate, water and outdoor recreation opportunities are available throughout the year.

Bateman Island

This easy, anytime hiking and biking trail isn’t just right on the Columbia River at Richland. A pedestrian land bridge connects the mainland (and nearby parking lot) to Bateman Island. An initial gate prevents this from being an accessible trail, though hopefully that will change in the future. Once through and on the island, Bateman opens up into a mostly level trail, low woods, grasslands, and vista views of the Columbia—not to mention lots of birdlife.

Audubon Nature Trail

For a more accessible trail with lots of opportunities for wildlife spotting, Audubon Nature Trail offers a paved loop that can accommodate wheelchairs and strollers. Located in Columbia Park by the Columbia River, the flat, 1-mile trail winds along Russian olive trees, a pond, side trails, and viewing platforms.

Tapteal Greenway & Chamna Natural Preserve

Along 30 miles of the Yakima River, this signed interpretive trail offers families as much riverside nature as you desire. Trail maps at trailheads aid with planning and navigation—always handy for knowing when to call a snack break or turnaround point. The 276-acre Chamna Natural Preserve packs in a further 11 miles of trail—great for spotting river otters or black-tailed jackrabbits. Along with hiking, this area can also be wonderful for cycling and kayaking.

Badger Mountain

Lone, rolling mountains dot the landscape around the Tri-Cities area. Thousands of years ago, massive Ice Age floods—in some areas over a thousand feet deep—tore through this region. The waters carved out the Columbia Basin, laid down mineral deposits that make the area a hub for agriculture and viniculture, and created mountains such as Badger Mountain. Today, a 574-acre preserve keeps intact native shrub-steppe habitats. Motorized vehicles aren’t allowed, so you can wander and explore in peace, yet not far from the city. Unlike many hill hikes in the Northwest, Badger Mountain’s tallest plants aren’t trees, but sagebrush, so your adventures on the mountains will have unimpeded views of the surrounding area.

Tri-Cities family fun

Donuts made with potato flour? Yup! Spudnut also makes potato donuts with your familiar and favorite combos and toppings.
Donuts made with potato flour? Yup! Spudnut also makes potato donuts with your familiar and favorite combos and toppings.

While the Tri-Cities area abounds with family friendly activities, restaurants, and more, here are a few we especially wanted to call out for being fun spots to check out with kids.

Spudnut

Donuts made with potato flour? Since 1948, this little place in Richland’s Uptown Shopping Center has been frying up these light-on-the-tongue local faves. You can get all the fixins you might expect too, including chocolate covered, cinnamon apple fritters, sprinkles, and a maple. A lunch menu is also available.

Thai Elephant

The elephant-themed Thai decor alone will have the kids fascinated. And no, not everything is spicy—though if heat is your treat, then you can perk things up your way, too. This Kennewick staple serves up a rib-sticking larb salad (with your choice of ground meat) and a tangy panang curry.

Farmers’ Markets

Throughout the year, the Tri-Cities area hosts multiple farmers’ markets and food festivals, each celebrating the region’s agricultural abundance, innovation, and diversity. Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland each have their own regular Farmers’ Market. In addition to fresh-picked produce, you can also find everything from farm-made preserves to fresh bread, along with local crafts.

Gesa Carousel of Dreams

Recently restored, renovated, and reopened, this century-old carousel in Kennewick is open year round. Spark glee in the kiddos, and the young at heart, as you choose from 45 hand-carved wooden horses. Also keep an eye out for three chariots—not to mention a husky and a cougar that just might be a nod to some state sports teams.

iplay Experience

Sometimes everyone needs some time in the Great Indoors too. For some wonder, romping space, and an array of family friendly activities, the iplay Experience in Kennewick offers obstacle courses, a 3-level playground, a virtual reality arena, and more.

BONUS for the parents: Wine Social

Wine Social is your Tri-Cities hub for down-to-earth tastings of some of the world's best wines
Wine Social is your Tri-Cities hub for down-to-earth tastings of some of the world’s best wines

At a hosted private event, Wine Social founder Marc Newman raised his saber. “Remember,” he said, “it’s only fermented grape juice.”

Then he swung the saber—and knocked the top off a bottle of prosecco.

Wine experiences can be serious. They can be fun. Wine Social is serious about having fun—and sourcing incredible wines from all over Washington and around the world. Our 8-wine global tasting included a refreshing cocktail made with that sabered prosecco. During our lovely afternoon date, we learned how fun it could be to make such a fuss over fermented grape juice.

Where to stay in Tri-Cities Washington: Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland

Quality hotels, inns, rentals, and other accommodation abound throughout the area. Plus, the region’s footprint makes it easy to base wherever works for you, and get around to most destinations in less than 20 minutes during your Washington Tri-Cities family vacation.

Tri-Cities is an amazing family vacation destination

There are so many fun family things to do in Tri-Cities, Washington. When you find somewhere that combines amazing visitor activities with a clear pride in the place they love, you know you’ve come to somewhere special. A Washington Tri-Cities family vacation can be your perfect opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, family activities, local joy, and even a bit of learning, in a region created by people who care, for people who care.

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

Leave a Comment