The 600-acre park plays host to visitors who drive through the more than four miles of winding grounds to catch up-close glimpses of its inhabitants—over 550 wild animals from Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Bison, zebras, and giraffes roam the wide-open surroundings, living in harmony with tigers, lions, and bears. Founded by Frank Hart in 1972, the park has helped to protect endangered species while educating the public about them and their important roles in the fragile ecosystem. Visitors can make arrangements for private and personalized animal encounters as well as visit the safari village zoo, botanical gardens, and gift shop.
A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village is a hands-on children's museum spread across three historical houses that reside in Riverfront Park. It is named after A.C. Gilbert, a Salem native, toy magnate, and inventor of the Erector Set. True to a life spent creating educational and scientific toys, his namesake museum provides a place for kids to interact with exhibits that encourage play and provoke thought. From a giant model of an animal cell to a faux paleontological dig full of ancient bones to musical instruments like a South American rainwheel, the museum's stations encompass a number of scientific and cultural disciplines?though little ones might only interpret each activity as fun. Furthermore, youth can heal stuffed animals in the Village Vet Room or scale a 52-foot edifice that is one of the world's largest Erector Set towers, boasting three slides and a maze.
Named the top pumpkin patch in Willamette Valley in 2011 by The Statesman Journal, the Bauman family has been sharing the soil's annual harvest with locals since 1894 through pumpkin patches and family-friendly autumn activities. After picking through gourds in search of the next jack-o'-lantern or latest replacement mannequin head, guests can visit vivacious livestock at the animal barn, defy gravity at the ziplines, and race through the obstacle course. A rock wall challenges visitors’ nimbleness, and the corn tunnels, playground, and tire castle tickle tykes' imaginations. Outdoor adventurers can take the barnyard experience home by picking up a homemade apple-caramel pie and fresh produce (not included in today’s Groupon) or by painting cow udders under dad's car.
For John and Kristi Heiser, moving out to the farm in 1991 meant raising a family of self-sufficient kids. The farm began humbly enough, producing strawberries, melons, and a thriving pumpkin patch. Before long, folks in the surrounding area began to cotton on to the family-friendly atmosphere, and the homestead became a destination for school trips and weekend outings. With the recent acquisition and remodeling of a neighboring Dust Bowl-era barn, the Heisers started hosting social events.
During harvest time, the farm whirs into high gear. A nostalgic John Deere trundles by, towing a train of hay-filled wagons. The Grand Island Railroad carts around passengers on its miniature train cars, much to the chagrin of squirrel commuters stuck at its crossings. Visitors forage in the pumpkin patches in search of one to take home, while amateur cannoneers shoot the spherical squash from air-powered devices. To infuse the farm with macabre fun during Halloween, the Heisers transform the pastoral corn maze into the haunt of spooky spirits.
Some of the biggest heroes of WWII are on display inside the Erickson Aircraft Collection. In 1983, Jack Erickson started to collect rare but significant aircraft from aviation's history with a special emphasis placed on Navy and Air Force planes from WWII. Eventually, the collection grew to a size that warranted its own custom-built 64,00-square-foot hangar.
The woodland aviaries at Cascades Raptor Center provide a safe space for more than 60 resident raptors representing 30 native species including owls, hawks, falcons, bald and golden eagles, and vultures. Meet the intense gaze of these airborne hunters as you stroll through majestic aviary trails. Members can keep up with their favorite fowls with unlimited admission for an entire year. Proceeds benefit the center's on-site wildlife hospital for birds of prey, which has treated more than 2,500 birds suffering from broken wings or existential ennui. Expand your winged knowledge at informative handler talks in which feathered friends are allowed to preen for paparazzi and field questions from their perch on the handler’s glove. Avid avian watchers can explore the Cascades Raptor Center grounds Tuesday to Sunday and catch handler talks on weekends at 1 p.m.