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Planning a vacation? Make yours a grand and glorious family getaway.

Here are five ideas to consider.  

 El tovar grand canyon

1 The Grand Canyon.

Hike, photograph, raft or paint this wonder of the world. Hikers like the Bright Angel Trail for great views of the inner canyon. Choose day hikes to the Three-Mile Rest-house or to Indian Garden. Better yet, reserve a campsite at the Bright Angel campground (9.3 miles one way) or bunks at Phantom Ranch (9.8 miles one way) for a full experience. Plan well in advance. Reservations for Phantom Ranch can only be made by mail, phone or fax.

Contact: nps.gov, recreation.gov, grandcanyonlodges.com/phantom-ranch 

Grand Lake Colorado

2 Grand Lake, Colo.

Visit this old-school Western town for a lakeside getaway that will charm every member of your family. Stroll the boardwalk with an ice-cream cone, play minigolf and dip your toes into the state’s largest natural lake. Hike, fish or ride horseback through stunning high mountain scenery. A western gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake is known for frequent wildlife sightings. Stay in a rustic, pet-friendly cabin for a relaxed holiday. 

Contact: rockymountainnational park.com, www.davenhavenlodge.com  

grand tetons

3 The Grand Tetons.

Fill your lungs with pine-scented air. Raft the rivers, marvel at the wildlife or travel by horseback into the backcountry. A visit to this historic mountain destination offers families the best of the great outdoors paired with a glimpse into our Western heritage. Stay in the tony town of Jackson Hole, Wyo., or in more rustic quarters within Grand Teton National Park. Take in the rodeo and a cowboy cookout, and visit the hot springs and the local museums. 

Contact: 1-888-838-6606; jacksonholewy.com 

Grand Cayman family travel

4 Grand Cayman Island.

The largest of three Cayman Islands, this popular Caribbean beach destination pairs sandy relaxation with underwater exploration. Stow yourselves away inside the lush grounds of the Ritz-Carlton or spill onto the famous Seven Mile Beach where snorkeling, beach walking and sand-castle building can engulf the day. The hotel’s Cousteau-inspired Ambassadors of the Environment program offers dozens of learning programs each week, designed to send family members home with a greater understanding of the islands.  

Contact: 1-800-241-3333; ritzcarlton.com/grandcayman  

family travel with grandparents

5 The grandparents.

Learn about your family history, tell stories and pursue mutual interests. Ask questions, laugh, take pictures and share

your favorite foods. Combine the generations for a memorable family getaway soon.

Time flies.

Movie Night:  Summer Brain-Power Boost

After a day in the summer sun, take a break with the family. Curl up on the couch and learn something new. You'll find these titles on Netflix. For your big kids:

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1. Lewis & Clark: The Journey Out West
2. Walking with Dinosaurs
3. Secret Yellowstone
4. The Blue Planet
5. When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions

Find out what's bubbling in Yellowstone. Then discover more brain-boosting titles. The folks at Common Sense Media shared 12 age-appropriate documentaries that encourage kids to explore worlds they may not normally encounter, all currently streaming on Netflix – check out the list here.

yellowstone soupy and steamy?

What's this about a super volcano turning the roads inside our treasured national park into a "soupy mess"?

Park officials have closed a 3.3 mile long stretch of Firehole Lake Drive because the pavement has become too soft for vehicle traffic.

A spokesperson for the park explained that Yellowstone, our first national park, sits on top of the caldera of an ancient super volcano. That's the source of the heat that spews steam from geysers like Old Faithful. That same heat has melted the roadway. Last year, geologists discovered that the volcano was more than twice as large as previously determined.

Established in 1872, Yellowstone is the wonderous home to grizzly bears, wolves, and herds of bison and elk. It is the core of one of the last, nearly intact, natural ecosystems in the Earth’s temperate zone.

Visitors can find travel and other Park updates here.

320 Guest Ranch Post Card

Wish you were here to join us for a horseback ride under these great Montana skies.

There is so much to do here at the historic 320 Guest Ranch. Families are hiking, fly-fishing, checking out the zip line over at Big Sky and heading into Yellowstone Park for the day. Our favorite National Park is just a few miles down the road!

We enjoyed a pig roast the other night, are planning on a hay ride and fuel it all with a hearty ranch-style breakfast each morning. 

We love our riverside cabin. It’s great to fall off to sleep to the sound of water tumbling over rocks.

Next time, you’ll have to join us!

Montana ranch country

At home on the open range, self-reliant and hard working, the American Cowboy remains an iconic figure.  With spurs jangling and hat tipped against the wind, he continues to symbolize the free-thinking, rugged individualism that, in part, defines the American West and much of our country’s history.

The first cowboys or vequeros came from Mexico in the late 1500s, hired to move cattle into what is now Texas and New Mexico. In the centuries that followed, the cowboy played a crucial role in the development of the West.  Working hard for low wages, breaking trail through dangerous country and enduring long, lonely days and nights sleeping under the stars, cowboys helped establish the new frontier.

Despite fewer numbers and changes in ranch management, the cowboy’s work still must be done. Throughout the West, you’ll find men and women on horseback, protected by hats, chaps and boots, riding into the far reaches of the backcountry to round up errant cattle, mend fences and doctor a sick calf.  You’ll also find them on the rodeo circuit showing off their skills, often including tricks of their trade passed down through the centuries.

ft branding day main resized 6-11-2011 1-19-35 pm

For many who are part of today’s Baby Boomer generation, childhood play might have meant donning a pretend holster, hat and cowboy boots before heading out, fully outfitted for a Wild West adventure. Then came watching Roy Rogers and Dale Evans on television and perhaps catching a John Wayne movie on the weekend.

Yet, free time for modern day kids is more likely to include high tech pursuits ranging from globally-themed video games to text-heavy “conversations” with friends or organized athletic pursuits.

“Unplugging from our busy lives can benefit everyone. “ That, according to Tyler Beckley who owns and operates the Three Bar Ranch in Cranbrook, BC and coordinates the efforts of the Spur Alliance, a group of ten, like-minded guest ranches in the West.  “We see what it means for families when the kids are able to run free, there is little focus on time or technology and adults and children are able to connect with animals, nature and each other. “

For those interested in savoring the rich flavor of the old West and tapping into the compelling culture of the cowboy, the options remain plentiful. Even if the name “Trigger” doesn’t ring any bells, grab your boots and a bandana and hit the trail. Here are five places to consider:

cowboys round up FamlyTravel.com Lynn ORourke Hayes

Santa Fe: Cowboys Real and Imagined.

The storied Santa Fe Trail comes to end in the heart of Santa Fe, NM, just steps from modern day museums, shops and galleries. What was once a challenging, 900-mile trade route brought many a weary cowboy into town. There he would tie his horse to the hitch rail and seek refreshment, grateful for a break from the dusty trail where rattlesnakes, weather and the threat of Native American attack kept him on high alert.

The city of Santa Fe  has celebrated this beloved aspect of their local history with a multi-faceted exhibit, Cowboys Real and Imagined, at the New Mexico History Museum.

Drawing on photos and artifacts from its extensive collections as well as loans from more than 100 individuals and museums, Cowboys Real and Imagined seeks to answer the question: Who is a real cowboy?

“One of the reasons the cowboy myth has been so pervasive and long-lasting is because anybody could become a cowboy of sorts,” said guest curator B. Byron Price, director of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West at the University of Oklahoma and director of the University of Oklahoma Press.

In its search for an answer, Price said, the exhibit discovers that cowboy “is a verb, an adjective, a noun, an adverb.”

The interactive cowboy extravaganza will offer plenty for visitors to see, touch and hear from recreations of a saddle shop to cowboy movie nights. Popcorn, a palomino horse character, will offer his take on the cowboy story in kid-friendly language. Children will also have the opportunity to try on cowboy costumes and participate in hands-on activities.

The annual family-friendly Wild West Weekend, (check the web site for dates) features cowgirls and cowboys in full dress, music, saddle and boot makers, plus cowboy cooking and roping demonstrations.

Contact: (505) 476-5100; nmhistorymuseum.org/

Cody Rodeo Family Travel

Cody, Wyoming

Cowboy culture is alive and well in this Wyoming town, founded in 1896 by Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Thanks to the legendary showman’s traveling Wild West shows, Cody was once bestowed and now retains the title of  Rodeo Capital of the World more than a century after he put an entertaining twist on the skills local cowboys used in their daily endeavors. The Cody Stampede Rodeo attracts topnotch talent and also serves up classic rodeo entertainment, parades and a craft fair.

From June 1st through August 31st, Cody’s night rodeo, the longest running in the country gets underway at 8:00pm. Operating for more than 60 years, expect fan favorites including riding, roping, and bull and bronc exhibitions.

The musically inclined will want to tune it to Dan Miller and his "Empty Saddles Band" at the historic Cody Theatre across from the famed Irma Hotel. The Cowboy Music review offers up music, comedy and poetry throughout the summer months.

Also outside the Irma, catch a nightly Wild West street performance where the good guys and bad guys battle it out to the delight of visitors.

Make your way to Old Trail Town on the original site of Cody City to see 26 authentic frontier buildings dating back to 1879.

The onsite Museum of the Old West features artifacts that offer insight into how trappers, frontier folks and cowboys lived in the era as well as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids’ “Hole in the Wall” cabin and the gravesites of mountain men including Jeremiah “Liver Eating” Johnston. (Contact: YellowstoneCountry.org.)

Livingston MT

Livingston, MT

Once home to the likes of Calamity Jane and her cohorts, Livingston, Mt rests on the outside edge of a lazy eastward bend in the legendary Yellowstone River. Just fifty miles north of Yellowstone Park’s Gardiner Gate entrance, the former railroad town’s main street and historic buildings still stand as a testament to the ways of the old west. Their authentic turn-of the century charm cast the town as the perfect backdrop for movies like A River Runs Through it and The Horse whisper.

Today, the region’s cowboys still mix it up with local artists, writers and visitors, all of whom pay homage to the area’s blue-ribbon fly fishing and the rugged Bridger, Crazy, Absaroka and Gallatin Mountain Ranges that beckon many into the backcountry.

Each year over the Independence Day holiday, top-ranked PRCA cowboys and cowgirls gather for the Livingston Roundup, one of the country’s top paying rodeos. The festivities kick off on July 2 with an old-fashioned parade, complete with tossed candy, costumed Shriners, themed floats and crusty wranglers pulling mule-trains along the parade route.  After three sold out nights of barrel racing, team roping and bronc riding, the festivities come to an end on July 4th when fireworks light up the western sky and a patriotic sound track gets the flags waving.

Extend your experience with a stay on a nearby guest ranch or the historic Chico Hot Springs Resort.

Contact: 406.222.0850;  www.VisitMT.com; www.livingston-chamber.com/rodeo.html; MtnSky.com.

ft branding boot ts 6-11-2011 1-17-00 pm

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Oklahoma City, OK.

Founded in 1955, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum has shared its extraordinary western art and artifacts collection as well as a wealth of history with more than 10 million visitors from around the world.

The stories told through the works of famed artists Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell and James Earle Fraser combine with interactive history galleries to illuminate the enduring legacy of the American cowboy, rodeos, western performers and the region’s frontiersmen.

“There is nothing more American than the American cowboy,” explains Don Reeves, the Curator and McCasland Chair of Cowboy Culture at the museum. “People can really relate to the Code of the West and everything the cowboy stands for. We get a lot of young families in the museum who talk about integrating those values into their lifestyle.”

Throughout the year, families can enjoy the Children’s Cowboy Corral and interactive exhibits. Over Memorial Day weekend, the annual Chuck Wagon Gathering & Children’s Cowboy Festival gets underway. Expect authentic cowboy grub served from a chuck wagon as well as stagecoach and covered wagon rides, weaving and roping demonstrations and a range of western stage entertainment.

Contact: 405-478-2250; www.nationalcowboymuseum.org 

Visit a Dude Ranch.

Mountain Sky Guest Ranch

High-profile families flock to Big Sky Country where there are more buffalo than paparazzi. From Ted Turner and Dennis Quaid to the recent arrival of singer John Mayer, Montana offers a chance to unplug from a pressure-filled existence and enjoy the wide open spaces. Local guest ranches, such as Mountain Sky in vista-rich Paradise Valley, treat all their guests like celebrities, according to general manager Yancy Arterburn. “Whether they choose to sit on the porch reading a book or load the kids into helicopter for a day of private fly fishing or Yellowstone sightseeing, we just want everyone to have a good time.” Contact: visitmontana.com; 1-800-548-3392; www.mtnsky.comH

 Hunewill Ranch Established in 1861 by Napoleon Bonaparte Hunewill and his wife Esther, the Hunewill Ranch, is the oldest working guest ranch in California and home to 1200 head of cattle, 190 horses, and an assortment of llamas, goats, and sheep. “The fact that we are one of the oldest continuously owned family cattle ranches in the American West means our guests have the benefit of all that history. We are the real deal,” explains Betsy Hunewill, the great, great granddaughter of the founder, who was known as “NB”.

 “Some of our guests show up wound pretty tight,” adds Hunewill, “but by the time they leave they are different people.”  It makes perfect sense. Guests have the option to disconnect from their daily stressors and enjoy outdoor adventures on the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park in the shadow of the Sierra Nevadas. Days begin with a cool morning breakfast ride through a lush meadow.

Later guests can saddle up and help move cattle, fly fish, watch as young foals or yearlings are worked in the corral, or explore a corner of the 26,000 acre expanse on which five generations of Hunewills have shared their western ways. Riding programs are crafted to match the skill and interests of each rider, explained Hunewill. Wranglers have designed games to help beginners learn horsemanship, activities that Hunewill says are as enjoyable for adults as they are for the youngsters. Following a home-style dinner in “NB”’s original Victorian ranch house, families gather for talent night, square dancing, stories around a campfire or a little roping practice before retiring to their comfortable cottage-style accommodations.

 “We get a lot of repeat guests and many families have been coming generation after generation,” said Hunewill. “One mom recently told me she had offered to take the kids to a popular theme park. But the kids insisted on returning to the ranch. It’s kind of neat to hear that.” 

Contact: BestDudeRanches.com; www.Hunewillranch.com;   

Happy trails to you until we meet again. Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then. Who cares about the clouds when we're together? Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather. Happy trails to you 'till we meet again.   Dale Evans – 1950.

Hiking in Montana FamilyTravel.com

Do you love to hike?

Taking to the trails is a great way to introduce youngsters to the benefits of fresh air and the natural world.

Here are five hikes to enjoy together: 

1 Sioux Charley Lake, Nye, Mont.

This 6-mile round-trip hike is scenic from start to finish. The initial views include tumbling waterfalls through a canyon-walled section of the Stillwater River known locally as the washtubs. The river braids and the canyon widens as hikers move toward the Beartooth Mountain peaks, ambling through forest and meadows dotted with wildflowers. The lake area or the nearby rock outcroppings provide the perfect setting for a picnic.  

Contact: visitmt.com; MTHikes.com 

2 Lory State Park, Fort Collins, Colo.

A popular northern Front Range destination, Lory State Park offers 26 miles of hiking (and biking) trails, which are rich in wildflowers during the summer. Wind your way through rocky hills and green valleys. Savor the aroma of the ponderosa pine forest. Opt for ranger-led hikes under the full or almost full moon during the year’s warmest stretch, for a memorable family outing. 

Contact: cpw.state.co.us  

3 Washington, D.C., and Virginia, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.

Take a break from hiking between museums and galleries and stretch your legs on a scenic path just 20 minutes from the Capitol. The trail begins at the Angler’s Inn and follows the canal towpath for 2.3 miles to the Great Falls Tavern, passing old locks along the way. The outing provides an opportunity to discuss the way locks once lifted boats 600 feet during the years — from the 1830s until 1924 — it was in use. On weekends, the park service offers rides on canal boats pulled by mules. 

Contact: nps.gov/choh/index.htm 

4 Grotto Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn.

Does your family love waterfalls? If so, Trillium Gap Trail will be a hit. The trail provides access behind the 25 feet of falling water where salamanders scamper about, to the delight of trekkers. The 3-mile round trip takes families through an old-growth hemlock forest. Caution is advised on slippery rocks near the cooling waterfall. 

Contact: nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/grotto-falls.htm  

5 Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

The kids will feel like real mountaineers when they venture along the Sourdough Ridge Trail, located in the subalpine zone of this northwestern park. The 21/2-mile loop trail offers stunning vistas of deep green valleys and snow-capped peaks. With only a 400-foot elevation gain, the hard-packed route provides high-altitude ambience with relatively little effort. Be on the lookout for mountain goats and the occasional elk herd in the distance.  

Contact: nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/day-hiking-at-mount-rainier.htm

There is plenty of family fun to be found in mountain towns during the summer. Cool temperatures. Hiking, biking and fly fishing abound. 

Ready to rodeo in Steamboat Springs, Co.?

Your whole crew will enjoy witnessing the American tradition where the rough and tough iconic cowboy meets good, old-fashioned family fun.

Check out these epic mountain towns while you are in the mood for high altitude fun.

USA TODAY Top Bloggers list!

It's our lucky day!

We are among a small group nominated for USA Today's Ten Best Family Travel Bloggers list.

Our adventure and outdoor focus, combined with a commitment to provide healthy, smart and off-the-beaten path family travel options, is a passion we hold dear.

Thank you, dear readers, for your ongoing support!

Feel like casting a vote? You can do so here. Thanks so much. 

Family Travel Curtain Bluff

Single parents looking for time with the kids might welcome the chance to connect with other adults while traveling.

Here are five ideas to consider: 

1 Check out a dude ranch. 

. Join a cattle drive, learn to rope a calf, play games or enjoy a picnic in the hills. You’ll savor time together in a pristine setting with as much activity as suits your personal style. Join other families at mealtime or around an evening campfire to share stories and plan the next day’s adventures. Many ranches have kids-only programs that give grown-ups a chance to learn a new skill or recharge on their own. 

Contact: bestduderanches.com.   

 2 Stay in an all-inclusive.

Leave the credit cards behind and feel comfortable on the beach, at dinner, and pursuing paddle boating, water-skiing, sailing and snorkeling with and without the kids. At Curtain Bluff, a relaxed yet luxurious family-owned resort in Antigua, you can pamper yourself at the spa or sway under the palms in your hammock while the youngsters enjoy a tennis clinic or Creative Camp. 

Contact: 1-888-289-9898; curtainbluff.com 

 3 Raft a river.

Cast a line in the water in between rapids in on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Warm up in hot springs along the way and check out Indian pictographs. Join other parents and kids in camp for a short hike, organic seasonal fare and conversation around the campfire. For a luxury-in-the-wilderness experience , parents can treat themselves to a riverside massage.

Contact: 832-755-7661; far-away.com

4 Volunteer together.

Forge a parent-child bond while giving back to others. Learn about community-based tourism through a cross-cultural exchange that includes home stays, family-style meals, exploration, adventure and time with locals in indigenous communities. Opportunities include building schools as well as assisting with the pressing need of the moment in Peru, Guatemala, Kenya, India and beyond. Closer to home, venture into America’s breathtaking backcountry to rebuild or create trails, shelters and cabins in more than 50 locations with the American Hiking Society.

Contact: crookedtrails.com; americanhiking.org  

 5 Plan an adventure.

Interested in exploring the rain forest in Costa Rica? Perhaps you’d rather cycle together through Ireland, see lions and leopards in Africa, or learn about the natural world in Yellowstone. When joining small-group family adventure trips, the details are handled and you can enjoy time with the kids, other families and the destination at hand.

Contact: austinadventures.com; tauck.com

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