Family Fun in the Sun at Kah-Nee-Ta
It was my own fault, yelling out vacation ideas from the living room to my wife while she was upstairs getting ready for the day.
“No, honey, I said teepee. Tanner would love to stay in a teepee.”
After she found he was nowhere near the couch and her concern over possible furniture puddles passed, I told her a little more about the unique, adventure-filled, culturally-rich family trip I thought up to Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and Spa in Central Oregon.
It has everything, I said: A spa for her, hot spring-fed swimming pools for the boy, an amazing museum for all of us and a golf course for me. And lots of sunshine.
It’s right off Highway 97 about 11 miles from the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and just two hours from Portland. It sits among 10 miles of sagebrush and High Desert hills and when you throw in the Warm Springs River, some beautiful grassy park areas, it truly is a Central Oregon oasis.
And the perfect place for a short, but very productive, family trip.
Selling my son on the idea of staying in a giant canvas teepee, complete with its own fire pit inside, was easy.
Selling it to my wife, who was now well aware a luxurious full-service lodge and spa was just a half mile down the road, was a little more difficult.
I promised it’d only be for one night – just one night in sleeping bags on our air mattresses. (The teepee, while rustic, did come equipped with wifi. A fact I’m sure parents conveniently keep from the kids.)
“Nope, sorry, no internet out here,” I said as we walked to the horseshoe pits nearby. “Do you think the Native Americans and settlers had wifi when they were forging onward west!?”
(The natives also didn’t have working toilets and heated showers in a building nearby, but I digress.)
After a quick introduction to a game my father taught me, my son was hooked, asking how hard would it be to pound a couple of one inch metal stakes into the ground of our backyard for a horseshoe pit of our own.
We put down our sleeping bags and started to make the fire that would keep us warm for the night and heat our dinner. Don’t hot dogs always taste better when pierced by the end of a whittled stick and burned to a crisp by a campfire? Maybe it’s just me.
Baked beans cooked right in the can and some foil-wrapped veggies made for perfect side dishes and we capped the meal, of course, with s’mores cooked right inside our “room.” We sat around and stared that that fire for a good couple of hours talking and laughing like we hadn’t done in months. Only once did my son even reach for his iPhone.
Even with the heat, the teepee area wasn’t too busy, so it proved to be a quiet night’s stay in a little piece of history – sheltered from the elements but one with the sounds of nature.
By morning, we were ready to “wash off” in the hot springs mineral pool just a short walk from our teepee. It’s a cool reprieve during the scorching high desert summer, but even on a cool Central Oregon morning the pool was just right – as was hot tub on site.
We spent a couple of hours playing around at the pool, and making more than a few trips up and down the stairs of the 184-foot-long waterslide before heading down the road to the resort lodge to check in. I could already see the stress fall away from my wife’s face as we got the key and opened the door to our Parlor suite with private balcony.
The boy immediately turned on the TV while we took a seat out on the balcony to take in the views and talk about plans for the rest of our trip.
On Day 2, the plan was for me to go on a little road bike ride while the wife and son did some big time relaxing at the Madras Aquatic Center, an expansive and brand new facility that’s quickly become a community hub for the small town about 30 minutes from Kah-Nee-Ta and Warm Springs.
For just a few bucks the family can soak up the sun outside, tube down a man-made lazy river or barrel down a 300-foot water slide. With summer and the swim season still months away from happening for us over in the valley, the kids couldn’t get enough of the pool time.
As for me, I had in mind something a little more challenging – but relaxing just the same: The Madras Mountain Views Scenic Bikeway.
This 30-mile loop begins and ends in Madras so the family dropped me off before they headed over to the aquatics center. With virtually no traffic, the ride allowed me to look up and take in the breathtaking scenery as I pedaled through the high desert and basalt palisades.
And at just over two-hours, it was the perfect amount of time for my own little spinning vacation from vacation.
But after the ride I was eager to meet back up with the family and return back to the lodge to hang out in the room for a little while before dinner, some billiards and arcade games at the Warm Spring Grill.
On Day 3 we left Kah-Nee-Ta early for a tour of The Museum at Warm Springs, home to one of the nation’s largest collections of Native American art and artifacts. It was a neat to see the kids really get into the experience and see in detail the history of a culture my family knows so little about.
They especially liked learning about the “rites of passage” ceremonies passed down to children from the tribal elders and learning and seeing more on the teepees like the one we stayed in earlier.
We could have stayed much longer at the museum and taken a walk on one of the interpretive paths outside, but we heading about 40 minutes south for another walk at Smith Rock State Park, one of the true geological gems in Oregon.
Majestic, sheer rock walls rise straight up from the winding Crooked River making this one of the most photographed features in the state. Known as the birthplace of sport climbing, Smith Rock offers miles of hiking and biking trails as well, including the “worse-than-it-sounds” Misery Ridge hike.
It’s a challenging hike for sure, about two hours round trip if you keep a good pace. But the views are something your family will be talking about forever.
A full day already, we finished it off with dinner at the Terrebonne Depot, a renovated 100-year-old train station in the tiny town that leads to the state park.
I started Day 4 early with a sunrise tee time at the golf course across the street from the lodge. Early morning rounds are a win-win: Being the first one out means pure greens and a fast round that can get me back home to the family before they’re usually even up and about for the day.
By the time I got back this time though, everyone was up, fed and ready for more adventures. (Well, the boy was ready for adventure. My wife was ready for a visit to the Spa Wanapine and her native hot stone therapy massage, whatever that is. )
While she pampered herself, Tanner and I unleashed our inner cowboy with a short but scenic horseback ride near the resort before hitting up the mini-golf course.
We all finished the day together back at the pool relaxing in the warm water putting off packing for as long as we could.
We planned to be back to the real world in time for dinner…which was the toughest sell of all.