Tip #40: Be Enchanted Beside I-5 – Tips for your visit to the Enchanted Forest

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Enchanted Forest
Salem, Oregon’s Enchanted Forest: Right beside Interstate 5, but a world away from the back seat.
Salem, OR – Anyone who has ever held fast to his own vision against all reason and odds can appreciate the story of how Roger Tofte’s Enchanted Forest came to be (read it here). And most families traveling the I-5 corridor through Oregon with toddlers through tweens will find much to appreciate in this one-of-a-kind–and refreshingly uncommercial–theme park that has continued to evolve over the past thirty-seven years.First of all, you have to appreciate that, unlike most theme parks that land in the middle of enormous paved lots, the Enchanted Forest really exists in a forest of evergreens, maples, rhododendron, and ferns. Then there’s the realization that this place was created by two generations of the Tofte family–which you’ll still see making the rounds and maintaining the park in person today. Hand-sculpted cement works, hand-painted murals, and even the music and lyrics you’ll hear at shows within the park were all created by members of the Tofte Family.

Upon entering the park, you’ll pass through Sleeping Beauty’s castle (shown above with Rivoli cousins) and start up the original Storybook Lane, where Roger Tofte’s unique creations still tell the tales of favorite fairytale heroes and nursery rhyme characters. You’ll notice the personal touches on everything from the Three Bears’ real log cabin to the Seven Dwarves’ diamond mine–both of which you’ll get to enter and explore on your own two feet. Stagger through he Crooked Man’s house (though not for a crooked mile!), find your way through a maze, step into a witch’s mouth and slide out her ear. The adventurous can even crawl through Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole (not for the claustrophobic). At the end of Storybook Lane awaits the glorious shoe slide, where the old woman watches over the giggly parade of kids and adults who shoot down the slope on blankets. With no extra fee or tickets required, the shoe slide keeps many kids busy (and burning energy hiking back up to the top) for quite some time.

When you’re ready to move on, ramble into Tofteville, an old west town with raised wooden sidewalks to stroll along and enjoy the comical displays of shops and wild west dental offices within, plus a shooting gallery, remote control boats, a fort to explore with Indian caves and another great ticketless slide (must be 3 yrs for this slide). You can even pop on some costumes and take your photo with Abe Lincoln. At the far end of “town,” you’ll find the haunted house–one scary enough that you’ll sometimes see people exit right back through the front door! (You have been warned.)

Then it’s on to the rides, where you’ll find everything from a collection of kiddie rides (some with no height requirement when accompanied by adult) on up to the Ice Mountain bobsled coaster and Big Timber Log Ride. Extra tickets must be purchased for these rides. Little tikes love the baby bumper boats, which have no height requirement (just under 80 lbs!) and are attended by an in-pool helper wearing waders. Again, Ice Mountain and the Big Timber Log Ride are incorporated right into the landscape. In fact, the log ride even takes you through an old lumber mill in the trees (created by Tofte) before switching to a brief section of roller coaster track, then plunging riders down an exhilarating watery drop off (ponchos provided, if desired). Kids must be 36″ to ride on Ice Mountain, and 40″ to go on the log ride with an adult or 48″ to go it alone.

The Challenge of Mondor is the Enchanted Forest’s newest ride, and this is the one part of the park that I have to admit has me scratching my head. Don’t get me wrong, it’s quite a popular ride, and people seem to enjoy it. But something about its description as a “beautiful and slow moving ride” where you glide along in your trackless car listening to new age music–all the while shooting your infrared gun as fast as you possibly can at targets on “evil creatures” gaining points for each time you connect even with the same target, well it strikes me as a little surreal. However, I admit I was feeling quite proud after scoring higher than my NRA-card-carrying brother-in-law on my maiden trek through Mondor (hee-hee).

There is still more to see and explore after the rides, including the summer comedy theater featuring original musical productions by Tofte’s talented daughter Susan (since 1973), and the humorous mechanized English Village featuring animatronic gossipy neighbors created by Tofte’s son Ken and more original hand-cement sculpture by Roger Tofte. Here you won’t want to miss Pinnochio’s workshop (head up the stairs into the village buildings) or the Fantasy Fountains Water & Light Show where you can enjoy a slice of pizza while you watch the show, if you like.

At the bottom of the English Village, near the entrance and exit, you’ll find hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, and ice cream, with picnicking areas–guests are welcome to bring their own picnics as well.

Good to know:
The Enchanted Forest is open year round, but is closed during weekdays from September (day after Labor Day) until May 1st each year. You can push a stroller through the park’s meandering trails, but once your child is a good walker, you may be happiest leaving the stroller behind and traversing the park and exhibits on foot. Restrooms with diaper changing tables are located in Tofteville and near the entrance/exit. Ride tickets can be purchased individually, or ride bracelets can be purchased for kids 36″ tall / 3 years and older (kids under 36″ are better off getting individual tickets for the few rides they’ll go on). General admission is $9.50 adults, $8.50 seniors 62+, $8.50 children 3 to 12 yrs, and children 2 years and younger are free.

When you go:
The Enchanted Forest is a worthy attraction on its own, but it definitely makes a great 2-3 hour break during family road trips. It is located right beside I-5 at 8462 Enchanted Way in what is technically Turner, Oregon. The Enchanted Forest is approximately 1 hour south of Portland, 1 hour north of Eugene, and 4 hours north of Ashland, all via I-5. From Newport, plan on 1.5 to 2 hours via Highway 20, and from Bend you will drive about 2.5 hours via Highway 22. Whether arriving from north or south, you will take the Sunnyside-Turner Exit and jog on Delaney St. to Enchanted Way. Parking is free and easy. For more information call 503-371-4242 or visit http://www.enchantedforest.com/.

Explore some more:
If you’ll be spending more time in the area, two other great Salem sights with children are the Riverfront Park with its carousel of hand-carved horses and A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village where kids may explore and experiment for hours between the bubble room, recycling reality theater (where you watch yourself on TV), follow the Magic School Bus characters on a journey through the human body, learn how to create toys from common household goods, go on a “Children’s Trip to China,” take turns shopping and ringing up friends in a pint-size grocery store, and that’s just the beginning of the activities you’ll find here. Babies and toddlers under 3 years will find a quiet play space designed just for them in the Toddler Room–also a peaceful place to stop and nurse a younger sibling while the big kids continue their discoveries.

Stay and play:
For a little extra pampering and space to sprawl, families might consider the Phoenix Inn Suites at either Albany (for those continuing south) or North Salem locations (each is just off I-5 and within 20 minutes of the park). Both hotels are all-suite with indoor swimming pools and jacuzzis, nightly fresh-baked complimentary cookies, and complimentary continental breakfasts (check their guaranteed best rates and specials here). More economical hotels and motels can be found all along the I-5 corridor, or check the list at Salem’s Chamber of Commerce site (click here).

Safe journey,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
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