Literary Field Trips

Reading isn’t just about the words on the page. Often there are real people and places behind the story. And when I read, I tend to rabbit-trail on all the fun and fascinating things I learn as I’m meandering through the pages. As a homeschool mom, I tend to want to “make all things educational,” which sometimes makes my kids groan. But even they would have to admit that visiting some of these roads less traveled adds life to those reading assignments.

What better way to bring a story, particularly those rooted in history and real places, to life than a field trip! Here are a few Pacific Northwest places to visit based on books I have read.

Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens, Woodland, WA

Located in Woodland, WA, not too far off I5, this lovely farmhouse and property with acres of lilacs and other gorgeous spring blooms is open to the public mid-April through Mother’s Day for Lilac Days (except, alas in 2020). The story, Where Lilacs Still Bloom, by one of my favorites, Jane Kirkpatrick, led me to this site. I dragged the kids on the four-hour round-trip drive last year, and they actually enjoyed it. We picked out a lilac to bring home that bloomed just last month. We will go back when it is open next year.

Fort Clatsop, Astoria, OR

I am very embarrassed to say that although I was born in the 1960s in Oregon and lived there over 24 years, I didn’t actually visit Fort Clatsop until I was 51. The re-creation of Lewis and Clark’s winter home is located just south of Astoria. We went there on the last day of my son’s 4th grade National Parks pass! We have read a ton about Lewis and Clark in homeschool, but seeing the actual location and setting of the fort adjusted my thinking. The visitor center is full of great information and exhibits. Please don’t wait until you are 51 to visit.

Fort Vancouver, Vancouver, WA

Again, I’m embarrassed to say that I was in my 30s before I ever visited this site, but now I’ve been there about 20 times as it’s right off I5, close to the Columbia River. A working blacksmith shop volunteer made a leaf for my kids on a rainy day when there were no other visitors. Great historic site to visit. A bakery, woodshop, blacksmith shop, chief factor’s home, gardens, etc. We had seen Fort Vancouver mentioned in a few Oregon Trail and early settler-type stories. 

Dismal Nitch, north side of the Columbia River in WA, east of the Astoria-Megler Bridge

Again, where have I been that I had never visited the Columbia River wayside of Dismal Nitch!! In the Lewis and Clark saga, Clark recorded how they spent several miserable, stormy days here  in this “nitch” before they finally reached the Pacific. If you are going to Fort Clatsop, you might as well visit this too.

End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Oregon City, OR

We have many favorite Oregon Trail stories we have read aloud, among them Moccasin Trail (fiction) by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. This great museum will fill in the visual blanks for you and your kids as they see how small those prairie schooners really were.

The Panama Hotel, Seattle, WA

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford (fiction) led me to investigate the Panama Hotel in Seattle. Decades after the Japanese-American internment, belongings of these people stored in the basement were discovered–obviously never retrieved from their 1942 exile. The cafe attached to the hotel now has a see-through floor section where you can view these somber reminders. Related is Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki (non-fiction) and James D. Houston. I hope to visit the Manzanar site in CA one day.

UW Shellhouse, Seattle, WA

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown was one of my favorite reads a few years ago. On a recent boat trip through Lake Union and the Montlake Cut, I got a glimpse of the famous shellhouse, and found out they give tours! This is on my bucket list. 

I would love to hear your recommendations for other great literary field trips.


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