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Portland Field Trips: 15 Must-See Destinations

by Iris Price
Online Education Columnist

Oregon's environmentally friendly reputation precedes it, so it should be no surprise that among the top 15 field trip spots in Portland, there are quite a few natural wonders in addition to cultural and historical sites. They are just the thing to bring out your or your child's inner-student. Group tours and activities usually must be arranged in advance. You can link to these websites for more details.

Audubon Society of Portland (5151 NW Cornell Rd, Portland, OR 97210) -- Enjoy a six- to eight-hour, nature-study tour, fully escorted by a naturalist from the Audubon Society of Portland. Choose from a coastal itinerary featuring birds like cormorants and puffins and exploration of the shore; an educational spelunking adventure in Ape Cave, Mt. St. Helens, where you'll have a chance to study about molten rock in a world below ground; a trip through Columbia Gorge to learn how it was formed; or a day at the Beacon Rock monolith and surrounding natural landmarks, where you'll hear about the geological events that formed these natural attractions.

Zenger Farm (11741 SE Foster Rd., Portland, OR 97266) -- This urban, non-profit, working farm instructs groups from pre-school through adult in the ways of environmental stewardship and sustainable food systems, as well as promoting community development and access to locally grown food. Summer field trips run either 1½ or 3½ hours and include a choice of programs: farm tours or service learning (hands-on seasonal farm work) for pre-school through adult; plant studies or wetland ecology appreciation for elementary school children; and a kindergarten-through-third-grade exploration of which insect "crop critters" are helpful and which are harmful.

Oregon Humane Society (1067 NE Columbia Blvd., Portland, OR 97211) -- These one- to two-hour educational tours put the "human" in the Oregon Humane Society. School kids to seniors have an opportunity to visit the dog kennels, cattery, small animal room -- and even witness surgery in progress, when possible. Over one hundred years old, the OHS boasts the oldest animal cemetery west of the Mississippi, which you can see during the outdoor portion of the tour, weather permitting. Bringing appropriate treats to feed the animals is encouraged: You're sure to make some new friends.

OMSI (1945 SE Water Ave., Portland, OR 97214) -- The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, better-known as OMSI, is an outstanding resource for science education and exploration. Located just south of downtown Portland, the museum campus caters to all ages and includes a planetarium, an IMAX theater, a U.S. submarine and eight science labs for students' hands-on use. In addition to indoor field trips, camp experiences, submarine tours and classes are available. Or you can arrange six-hour, OMSI instructor-escorted trips to Mt. St. Helens, the coastal tide pools or Columbia Gorge.

Oregon Historical Society (1200 SW Park Ave. Portland, OR 97205) -- History buffs will have a "field day." Age-appropriate programs from 45 minutes to 1½ hours are designed for preschool- through high school- students and introduce not only state and local history topics but also interrelated subjects like geography, government, Native American culture and economics. From simple crafts to complex controversial issues -- there's something for every student.

Oregon Ballet Theatre (818 SE Sixth Ave., Portland, OR 97214) -- Kindergartners through high school seniors can attend live ballet programs during the school day and gain a better appreciation of the creative process of dance and music. OBT supplies materials to teachers prior to the day of the performance that help them prepare their classes to get the most out of the experience. One-hour, behind-the-scene tours of the theater introduce students to dance by letting them observe the company in rehearsals and visit the costume and production departments.

Portland Art Museum (1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205) -- What better place to learn about art than a museum where you can see the real thing? Pre-arranged, docent-guided tours for student groups are available during the school year and are free for students K-12; $2.50 for college students. Museum tours are geared to the age, interests and studies of each class and can be planned around existing collections and/or special exhibits. Show me the Monet!

Oregon Zoo (4001 SW Canyon Rd., Portland, OR 97221) -- Bring the class to the zoo for a close encounter with all sorts of creatures. The "Zoo School" has programs for every grade level that include touchable species for a true hands-on experience. Youngest students are introduced to the basics -- from birds to bugs, and from backyard bunny rabbits to tiny jungle predators. Older students have an opportunity to help train animals as well as gain awareness and insight into conservation issues.

Tillamook Cheese Factory (4175 Highway 101 North, Tillamook, OR 97141) -- If you live in Oregon, you don't have to go all the way to Europe or even Wisconsin to oversee cheese in the making. Tillamook has been producing cheese, butter, ice cream, yogurt and sour cream for over 100 years. Take a self-guided tour any day of the week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from mid-June to Labor Day and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. the rest of the year.

Portland Children's Museum (4015 SW Canyon Rd., Portland, OR 97221) -- Did you ever wish you could be a child again? The Portland Children's Museum is not just for kids, although it's an amazing place uniquely designed for them. Field trips encourage adults and children to get down-and-dirty exploring the interactive exhibits and participating in play activities together. "Arts in Focus," an optional add-on for field trip attendees, provides a studio and materials for artistic expression.

Lan Su Chinese Garden (239 NW Everett, Portland, OR 97209) -- Opened in 2000, the Garden was conceived as a place to learn about Chinese culture, history, art and philosophy. The garden itself is a microcosm of native Chinese plants and flowers in the space of one square city block. Guided tours for school classes are 30 to 45 minutes long.

Oaks Park (7805 SE Oaks Park Way, Portland, OR 97202) -- Amusement park rides, a roller rink, dance pavilion, miniature golf course and picnic grounds all at one destination; Oaks Park has something for everyone and has entertained Portlanders for almost one hundred years. Plan a class outing for a round of mini golf, a picnic or a skate event.

World Forestry Center (4033 SW Canyon Rd., Portland, OR 97221) -- Portland is home to the Discovery Museum, two working tree farms and the World Forest Institute that comprise the World Forestry Center, a non-profit educational institution. The museum space in Washington Park offers hands-on interactive exhibits that promote forest sustainability worldwide. Indoor field trips can be scheduled at the museum, or outdoor educational hikes can be arranged at Magness Memorial Tree Farm near Wilsonville, Ore.

Portland's Rose Gardens (850 SW Rose Garden Way, Portland, OR 97205) -- Operated by Portland Parks and Recreation, the 4.5 acres of gardens, now with over 10,000 rose plants, have been delighting Portlanders for nearly 100 years. Admission is free. The gift shop carries local, cottage-industry products and crafts. Guided tours for groups of more than 10 can be arranged for a small fee.

Powell's City of Books (1005 W Burnside, Portland, OR 97209) -- Electronic books might be convenient, but nothing beats the wonder and joy of browsing a good old-fashioned bookstore. Powell's, one of the few remaining independent booksellers, boasts over one million titles in this one city-block-square store. (They recently expanded, and you literally need a map to find your way around the store.) If you don't instill in kids the thrill of hunting down that perfect read, the next generation might be taking a field trip to a book museum!