Grab the kids, load up your bike, and cool off at a local watering hole

Bikes and summer: just add water.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

We love biking to water in the summer — whether it’s to a beach, lake, river, spray park, or swimming pool. Summer days are long and free activities that hold the kids’ attention for long periods of time are my favorites. I can’t be the only parent who happily hangs out in the shade while my kids dig in the sand or throw rocks into water for hours on end, with the occasional break from my book to play catch or help with sandcastle building.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

The main things I pack for the beach are snacks, swimsuits, towels, beach toys, and shade (if we’re not heading to a site with its own shade). I strive to demonstrate family biking as fun and easily replicated, but I also tend to fill all available storage space with stuff. Once on our way to the beach a couple flagged us down to ask if we were at the tail end of a cross-country bike tour. Beach stuff is bulky but light so it looks impressive, but is still easy to lug around.

Whether your plans call for a quick jaunt to your local park’s splash pad, the new Poet’s Beach downtown, or a more ambitious destination like Broughton Beach on the Columbia River, here are some tips to help make the day go smoother.

Bag of snacks, bag of toys, bag of swimwear, and popup shade tent.
I get enough sun en route and hide in the tent as quick as I can.

My favorite beach accessory is the bulkiest: my pop up shade tent. It doesn’t have a bottom layer so I also bring a picnic blanket. It’s easiest to carry by cargo bike, and was most easiest when I had a toddler seat on the back of my cargo bike to attach it to. But I’ve strapped it to my back and even lashed it to our trailer bike. I don’t last very long at the beach if I’m not in the shade and it’s great for kids to snack in and get a break from the sun.

If you can tote a balance bike, you can tote a ShadeShack.

There are numerous ways to transport inflatable rings.
Beach toys

Sticks and rocks at the beach make great toys if you head over empty handed. But inflatable beach toys are tiny when uninflated and look awesome on your bike (or body) when blown up. Bucket straps and plastic truck windows are just asking to be threaded with a bungee cord and dangled from the outside of a pannier or kid seat. Smaller toys like scoops and sand molds (and we tend to bring lots of “decoy scoops” to share with new beach friends) go in bags or panniers. Pool noodles are fairly easy to lash to various parts of the bike and many people already use them daily on their bikes as sleep rolls in front of toddlers in front seats or sticking out to the side of a rear rack as a three-feet indicators.

Ride in swimsuits to save time and hassle.

It pays to always have swimsuits along in the summer. The other day we went to a friend’s house just to play with guinea pigs, but then ended up lunching at a pool. Unfortunately I hadn’t yet made this always-bring-swimsuits rule so we hit a playground while our friends stayed to swim. Furthermore, if you know you’re headed to the beach you may as well bike over in swimsuits to save time and save yourself an argument with a kid who thinks he doesn’t want to splash around — because he’s going to end up splashing around in his regular clothes. Biking in swimsuits is also good if you have a kid who likes to pour water (or even worse, juice) over his head when he gets hot, as well as for protecting clothing when eating sticky, drippy ice pops.

Hitting the beach in street clothes may result in a kid tripping in a lake and then sitting down in a wading pool.

Biking home in a damp swimsuit is a good way to beat the heat. For pedaling kids this might only work for short distances lest they experience chafing, but passengers are usually comfortable hanging out in swimwear all day long.

Wet bag full of sandy swimsuits on the back of my bike.

I transport our swimsuits (or rather, our backup clothes when we go out in swimwear) in a wet bag. I bought mine from a cloth diapering company years ago and it’s great for keeping wet and sandy swimsuits away from other stuff, plus mine has a snapping handle so I can attach it to various places on my bike. Plain old plastic bags work great for this, too, of course, but might not last 11 years (and counting).


I have to admit I don’t have advice on the best sand-resistant snacks. I hate to waste drinking water to wash hands so I’ve been know to feed my kids berries and chips one by one with my own clean hands.

When the beach is far from home it’s nice to break up the ride back with a stop for food. Food truck pods are always excellent for families on bikes since there’s usually lots of bike parking within sight of the tables, a plethora of choices for food, and it’s more acceptable to be sandy and barefoot than in a traditional food establishment.

No cargo bike, no problem.
No, you don’t need a cargo bike

While my cargo bike makes it easy to bring everything we could possibly need for a day at the beach, it’s definitely possible to have a big beach day with a little bike.

Pictured is a trip to the wading pool when my kids were three and one. My brown picnic blanket and a canvas bag of snacks hang on the windscreen, my three-year old is carrying two big toys, the backpack is crammed full of our swim stuff, and my ring sling baby carrier is draped over my shoulder.

Fun in the shade at Poet’s Beach.

Where to hit the beach
I love this map from the Oregonian, The best beaches in Portland: 12 places to get sun in the city:

It pairs well with Portland Parks & Recreation’s Swimming in the Willamette and Columbia Rivers safety tips and Check the Rec bacteria sampling.

Our last beach trip was to Poet’s Beach, a fairly central location — with shade! I locked our bikes at the rack above the beach (also in the shade!) but we sat near a man who wheeled his cargo bike all the way down. My kids loved reading the poetry on the rocks lining the walkway…though I would have preferred to rush straight for the shade.

For a great beach trip farther north, check out BikePortland’s Kelley Point Park trip from last summer.

Salmon Springs Fountain has exciting jets and is close to everything.

Other water
The beach isn’t the only place to enjoy summer in a swimsuit. All area wading pools were closed in 2010, much to the dismay of their toddler fans, but spray parks are pretty cool, too, and they appeal to a broader age range (not to mention they’re cheaper and safer). Find them all at Portland Parks & Recreation’s Interactive Fountains and Splash Pads. Jamison Park and Peninsula Park Fountain are the most wading pool-esque of the bunch.

After our recent visit to Poet’s Beach we went by Salmon Springs Fountain for even more fun (so thought the kids) and for preliminary sand removal (so thought I).

Do you have a favorite splashing spot or know of places not listed on the beach map and splash pad list? I’d love to learn about them! Bonus points if you provide information about closest drinking fountains and restrooms.

Heart full of love, face full of sand.

Thanks for reading. Feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

Get this and other BikePortland posts delivered directly to your inbox.

BikePortland needs your support.

Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson (@familyride on Twitter) wrote our Family Biking column from February 2018 to November 2019. She's the author of Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living (Mountaineers Books). In her former home of Seattle, Madi was the Board President of Familybike Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting bicycling as a means for moving towards sustainable lifestyles and communities. She founded Critical Lass Seattle, an easy social group ride for new and experienced bicyclists who identify as women and was the Director of Seattle's Kidical Mass organization, a monthly ride for families. While she primarily bikes for transportation, Madi also likes racing cyclocross, all-women alleycats, and the Disaster Relief Trials. She has been profiled in the Associated Press, Outdoors NW magazine, CoolMom, and ParentMap, and she contributed to Everyday Bicycling by Elly Blue.

Notify of

newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Alex Reedin
Alex Reedin
5 years ago

My favorite off-the-radar bike-friendly water-play spot is Butler Creek in Gresham. There’s a spot or two to play in the creek between Butler Creek Park and SW Binford Lake Parkway along the Butler Creek Greenway. It’s a small, shallow creek, but it tends to run all summer, and it’s in a beautifully shady little creek canyon. Plus, there’s a playground nearby at Butler Creek Park, and a pond with ducks and geese the other way at SW Binford Lake Parkway, so it’s a pretty great little outing. And you can get to it easily from the Springwater.

Not to be confused with Portland greenways, this Greenway is a wide-singletrack-width dirt trail with no technical elements. It does have a short, steep hill or two, plus is sort of uphill the whole way from the Springwater. All of which is to say, it was a fun-adventure blast on my e-assisted cargo bike (a Bionx’d Bullitt) but I would advise taking streets for the steep bit up from the Springwater rather than the Greenway if you have essentially any other little-kid-transportation setup. (The biggest hill is just north of Binford Lake Parkway, so that’s the part to skip.)

Alex Reedin
Alex Reedin
5 years ago
Reply to  Madi Carlson

Yeah, the trail is pretty awesome and gorgeous. Kids on their own bikes or adults on non-kid-loaded longtails or Bullitts should be fine (worst case is a little bit of getting off and pushing).

Kyle Banerjee
5 years ago

Regarding snacks, you don’t need to bring any to the beach because of all the “sandwhichis” there (ba-dum tsssssss)

But seriously, just avoid stuff with juice or oil on the surface that sand can adhere to (which is admittedly most things). Some drier types of veggies such as carrots, celery, broccoli, radishes won’t attract sand and it can easily be brushed off. Same can be said for some kinds of seeds and nuts. If you do snack foods, baked chips attract less sand than fried, and pretzels are better than either.

If the kids don’t like that sort of thing, it might be easier to just let them eat a bit of sand as it won’t hurt anything.

I personally just dunk fruit and vegetables in the water before eating. Technically unsanitary, but it’s impossible to be in the water without drinking at least some of it. If anyone gives you guff, tell ’em they’re getting their probiotics…

5 years ago

Taking the Springwater and connecting to the Trolley Trail toward Oregon City gives you access to swimming holes on a route that is almost entirely away from cars!

chasing backon
chasing backon
5 years ago
Reply to  SafeStreetsNow

Besides Elk Rock and Down near the High Rocks Bridge, what else is out that way? thanks

Alex Reedin
Alex Reedin
5 years ago

For those considering a Broughton Beach excursion, there’s a nice spot accessible via bike like 1/2 mile east of the main beach. Great for those who value solitude over sand quality (it was a little clay-ey compared to the main beach when I went there last year).,-122.6034943,147m/data=!3m1!1e3

Be sure to take a look at the wind forecast though, the headwinds can be no joke on the Marine Drive path, and littleses are more in the path of wind-blown sand on the beach than adults are!

5 years ago

Important note regarding Kelley Point – you can’t go in the water.

Sad face.

Gary B
Gary B
5 years ago
Reply to  pdxpaul

And Cathedral Park

5 years ago

These are great ideas! I was a student at PSU for last couple years and my kiddos and I would ride to the Rec Center there and the Fountains. You can also stop by Poet’s Beach.