Low-cost summertime camps and activities for your Portland-area child

smiling sun with sunglasses

Is the warmer spring time temperatures telling you something? Here at 211info, we're getting the message that summer is almost here! With the flirtatious April weather offering small promises of glorious days of sun and blue skies, comes the call of the outdoors for kids and adults alike. While we’d all like to head outdoors and stay there the whole day, unfortunately parents still need to go to work on the weekdays at least. But Northwest summers should NOT be wasted. Seriously, someone's got to enjoy it for the rest of us—and, why not let that be our children?

Fact is, the Portland Metro Area has an amazing abundance of outdoor and adventure-packed programs to keep all kids entertained. And before you argue that it’s summer school or complete brain mushiness come September, consider this 211info-curated list of educational, yet fun and low cost summertime resources.


OMSI: For the young scientist in the field

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is a sure bet year-round for hands-on discovery through its state-of-the-art planetarium and numerous interactive exhibits. The summer though, sees the museum kick into high gear, taking the exploration of the region’s geology, ecosystems and astral aspects into the outdoors–where they can be experienced best. During week-long excursions designed for kids in grades 3-12, expert staff and chaperones expose participants to unique wildlife and geological features as they, for example, walk among ancient Redwood giants, observe mountain habitats en route to Canadian glaciers, or travel through time among prehistoric fossils. 

All programs are age-specific, making sure not only that participants are with their peers, but that learning material and concepts are age-appropriate too. Browse OMSI’s vast selection  of day camp, rafting, and backpacking programs to discover what adventures await your child this summer. Program fees include transportation from Portland, meals, and lodging unless otherwise specified in the program description. Visit the Summer program’s FAQ’s  for more details. 

Financial aid is available for qualifying families. Submit a financial aid application and registration form accompanied by a $75 deposit per camp. All applications must be submitted at least one month prior to start of camp.

Adventures Without Limits: Where will you end up when you overcome your barriers?

For adventure-seekers looking for outdoor escapes lasting an afternoon or a weekend, Adventures Without Limits (AWL) is a wonderful option, with a focus on inclusion and a fulfilling time for all regardless of ability. Able-bodied or disabled, experienced or beginner, AWL’s guided kayaking, hiking, and backpacking outings promise beautiful vistas and fun. Sample itineraries include kayaking Sauvie Island waterways, rafting the Sandy River, or backpacking the Cascades Crest Trail. 

All are welcome on AWL’s open enrollment trips, because time in the outdoors presents benefits for everyone. The nonprofit distinguishes itself by making their trips accessible to non-traditional participants including those with disabilities and homeless or at-risk youth through a staff of not only outdoor recreation professionals, but experts in engineering, teaching, occupational and physical therapy, physiology, and health care too. 

AWL offers open enrollment outings throughout the summer for beginner to intermediate level participants. Trip fees include all equipment and instruction expenses. 

Full and partial scholarships are available on all trips for those needing financial assistance. However, there are only so many per trip so call the Adventures Without Limits office soon at (503) 359-2568 to receive a scholarship application and to reserve a spot on the trip you want.

Zenger Farm: Rooted in sustainability education

Maybe your child is not the wandering type, preferring to learn from what his or her hands can teach through sustained and steady toil. Zenger Farm in Southeast Portland gives young Farm Camp participants a glimpse into the rewards of responsible environmental stewardship as they see what their hard work produces. 

Getting hands in the dirt is the key to learning valuable lessons at this urban farm. On one hand, camp participants tend to vegetables and farm animals, and harvest produce. On the other, campers engage in cooking challenges and craft with plant materials. Add scavenger hunts and daydreaming with dragonflies to the itinerary, and an appreciation of nature’s bounty through one’s own hard work is unlocked. 

Summer Farm camp is now enrolling for participants entering grades K-9. Camp runs from June 15—August 28. Need-based scholarships are available. If you have questions, want to apply for a scholarship, or want to be put on the camp email notification list, please contact Education Director Allison O’Sullivan at osullivan@zengerfarm.org.

In the community

At the park

Portland’s green spaces are superb in both their quantity and quality. A visit to one of Portland’s many community parks to relax or play is a wonderful way to spend a leisurely day. At your neighborhood park, in addition to the normal suspects like basketball, swimming, and tennis, did you know you could learn a language, fingerpaint or sing and dance? Area Parks & Recreation departments offer a range of day programs and workshops throughout the summer (fees vary). Find a park and a program in Portland, Tualatin Hills, Hillsboro or North Clackamas.

Or, for a weekend family activity, walk, roll, or pedal between several Portland parks during Sunday Parkways. These events get Portlanders out onto city streets to mingle while winding their way through various neighborhoods. Stops along the route at neighborhood parks showcase neighborhood businesses, restaurants, and artisans. 

At the library

Portland area libraries offer so much more than just fodder for your little bookworm, (though being libraries foremost, there is a HUGE selection to keep any speed reader happy all summer long). Come to the library for summer story time, children’s learning programs, and a full calendar of kid and family friendly events. Check out the event pages for a library near you; in Multnomah County, Clackamas County, Washington County, Milwaukie, and Willsonville. While there this summer, make sure to ask about cultural passes, which give free or reduced admission to some of the area's most interesting cultural spots.

checklist with green checkmarks

There is so much going on this summer, with these resources simply meant as a starting point. For more summertime options or other social services and healthcare needs, 211info is a short call away. Dial 2-1-1 to connect with thousands of resources across Oregon and Southwest Washington today.