Road Trip: Enchanted Forest

With summer closing in, many families are planning vacations to fill the long, hot months before school starts up again.  For families with younger kids, most theme parks don’t work very well- too scary, too grown-up, not too good for little ones.  But if you have kids under 8, you are in luck.  Just 4 hours drive from the Seattle/Eastside area is a beautiful theme park that is perfect for preschool and early elementary aged kids:  Enchanted Forest in Salem, OR.

Enchanted Forest is a sweet and for the most part gentle park aimed at younger kids.  The park is literally inside a forest, with trees and branches dipping down, making it feel like you have stumbled upon a secret place.  It is divided into themed areas: fairytales, the Wild West, and Old Europe.  While this is no Disneyland with it’s perfectly manufactured scenes, the areas are well-crafted, clean, and fun.  In the fairytale area, called Storybook Lane, a path leads you through sculptures depicting traditional poems and tales, like Little Miss Muffet, Hansel and Gretal, and Alice in Wonderland.  Many of the scenes are just for looking at, some with robotic characters recreating the stories.  Tucked into several of the stories, however, are things for kids to do- a tunnel in the Alice in Wonderland area let’s kids disappear under the path only to reappear quite a distance away through a child-sized keyhole.  A slide through Old Mother Hubbard’s shoe gives a safe thrill for young children.  The very popular Crooked Man’s House is a feat of optical illusions and slanted floors- prepare to lose your balance in this attraction!

The Old Europe and Wild West sections of the park have similar fun.  Some stories are told, like Pinnochio and the blackbirds baked into a pie.  The Challenge of Mondor is a seated ride that allows riders to shoot laser guns at targets during a story about a wizard quest.  There are also more tunnels and caves for wandering through- a teepee in the Wild West has a cement fire pit that hides another tunnel to crawl through, bringing kids up in unexpected places.  A haunted house at the end of the Wild West is chilling, though not gory- this one is probably best for kids about 6 and up.

For those wanting to get a bit more thrill, there are two ride areas, one for young kids and one for older kids and adults.  The Kiddie Ride area contains a small train, bumper boats, a mini-ferris wheel and bumper cars.  The older rides include bumper cars, and two coaster style rides:  Big Timber Log Ride and Ice Mountain Bobsleds.  All the rides, including the Challenge of Mondor, require tickets sold separately from admission prices.

The roadtrip from the Seattle area is about 4 hours of driving in clear conditions.  Traffic and construction will delay your travels.  If Enchanted Forest is your only destination, drive down on one day, spend the night in a hotel in Salem, then visit the park in the morning.  The park can easily be experienced in a few hours, allowing plenty of time to drive home in the afternoon.  As an alternative, this would make a great add-on to a longer trip to the Portland area;  the park is about 1 hour from Portland.

The park was built by Roger Tofte, who constructed it in his backyard with the help of his family.  It was a labor of love, and it continues to be a family-owned park, with Roger still at the helm.  This family touch is evident in the simple style of the park, and the way the park is run- prices remain low for everything, including food (which is very basic) and admission.  Enchanted Forest is an unexpected surprise:  from its perch next to Interstate 5, just south of Salem, it is hidden in the trees.  Once you enter, you may find yourself to be just as the name suggests:  enchanted.

Note: Because this park was constructed into the side of a hill over many decades, it has not been built to modern standards of accessibility.  The paths are very steep, which make difficult to use for people in wheelchairs, people with mobility issues, and strollers; the park will provide someone to push wheelchairs, when possible.  In addition, many of the tunnel and cave attractions are small and dimly lit, making it difficult for larger people or people vision disabilities.  However, there are still plenty of other attractions that can accommodate these visitors.
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Enchanted Forest
Address:
8462 Enchanted Way SE, Turner OR  97392 (7 miles south of Salem)
Website:
http://enchantedforest.com/enchanted_forest.html

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