When I’m traveling on my own or with family, I always learn something. That’s part of the thrill for me.
In an era where politics and history are playing an important role, why not fold the notion into your travel planning.
Here are a few places where you and your clan can learn about some of the people and events that shaped our nation.
Mount Rushmore, SD -
Tucked within the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is among the more famous monuments in the country. The whole family will
enjoy seeing the faces of four of the most important presidents -George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln -ever to hold the office, carved into rock for the ages. Hiking, biking, wildlife and other tourist sites are nearby.
Contact: www. www.nps.gov/moru/; 1 (800) 732-5682.
Monticello, the mountaintop home of Thomas Jefferson is the only home in America on the elite World Heritage List of the United Nations. There are numerous tours available including one designed for children ages 6 to 11. The 30-minute tours feature hands-on opportunities and a glimpse of what life was like for the children who lived at Monticello in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Contact: www.Monticello.org; 1(434) 984-9822.
In this historical city, known as the birthplace of democracy, the whole family can stand on the ground where the Liberty Bell first tolled and the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were signed. Visit Independence Hall, see the famous bell, George Washington’s chair, and check out the Betsy Ross house. Take in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Constitution Center.
Contact: www.philadelphiausa.travel; (215)636-3300.
Stop by for the Peanut Festival and get to know the town made famous by former President Jimmy Carter. Visit his boyhood farm, shop for antiques and learn about his Nobel Prize winning programs. Ride the SAM shortline excursion train.
Contact: www.PlainsGeorgia.com; (229) 824-5373.
Hyannis, MA – With miles of beautiful beaches and bike paths to explore, visitors will enjoy this community known by many as home to the Kennedy family, a clan famous for decades of political involvement. The picturesque coastal haven served as the backdrop for the now famous images of President John F. Kennedy sailing the local waters with his young family. Contact: www.Hyannis.com; 1 (877) 492-6647.
Adding a culinary twist to your cultural exploration, can provide the whole family with a fulfilling experience. Here is a sampling of mouth-watering ideas to consider:
Learning about a food’s origin and the many ways it can be prepared, can turn a curious green vegetable into something of grand interest. Visit this northern California town to discover all things asparagus . The annual festival offers music, amusement rides for kids, Tyson the skateboarding bulldog, a full lineup of canine entertainers performing amazing dog tricks and of course recipes, competitions, tastings and talk about the vegetable of honor. Check web site for dates.
Contact: 209-644-3740; www.AsparagusFest.com.
New Orleans, LA.
The kids will learn about more than just local cuisine when the family ventures to this coastal city that continues to survive against the odds. Snack on tasty beignets for breakfast. Savor po’boys or gumbo for lunch. Stroll through the French Quarter or visit the Children’s Museum to restore your appetite for dinner. Then sample from the wealth of Cajun or creole-style seafood that will be served with a smile in this friendly southern city. The adventuresome in your group might opt for alligator on a stick. Enjoy the flavorful food with the sound of local jazz as your backdrop.
Teach the kids about super foods while sharing the amazing history of the Andes people. This country is home to grain-like and nutrient-rich quinoa and purple spuds, both considered sacred and said to have been cultivated for Incan royalty. The color in the anti-oxidant laden potatoes comes from the same enzyme that gives blueberries their healthy hue. Mix these Peruvian diet staples in to your menu when planning a trek on the Inca trail enroute to Machu Piccu.
Artichokes in Albuquerque, NM.
Some go straight for the heart. Others enjoy dipping the leaves in tasty sauces. Learn how to eat artichokes every which way at the Artichoke Cafe, a charming dining spot set in this southwestern city’s historic east downtown neighborhood. Gather additional local intel by visiting the National Hispanic Cultural Center as well as the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Taste the local New Mexican cuisine, combining native chiles, corn, beans and squash, at one of many restaurants you’ll find in Old Town, Albuquerque’s 300 year old city center.
Eat Local. Experience Global.
Large U.S. cities are often home to cultural enclaves where small, family owned restaurants dish up healthy servings of authentic favorites, combined with a bit of history from the homeland. When traveling to cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco or Miami seek out dining options in Little Italy, Chinatown or Little Havana. There you can introduce the family to more than just a good meal.
When traveling between my Arizona and Montana home bases, I have the good fortune to wander through beautiful, Southern Utah.
Known as the gateway to the National Parks, Cedar City, Utah in south west Utah is a natural hub for visiting the Parks
Train travel combines a nod to history with a unique adventure. Here are five places to ride the rails:
Heber Valley Historic Railroad. Heber Valley, Utah.
Choose from sixteen specialty train excursions, designed by this non-profit organization to educate visitors about their railroad’s rich history. Opt for a dinner ride that includes a comedic whodunit or participate in a Wild West escapade. Some families will opt to hop off the train, climb aboard an ATV, and make a bee line for the recently added zip line adventure. Come Fall, go full steam ahead to a private pumpkin patch. Kids can choose their own pumpkin to carve and scamper through the hay maze, before returning to the Depot. In December, the North Pole Express promises a visit from Santa and his elves before hot cocoa is served in a souvenir holiday mug. Contact: 435-654-5601; www.hebervalleyrr.org
Virginia & Truckee Railroad. Carson City, NV.
As the vintage train rolls down the track and the sound of a steam whistle slices the air, you will likely mark the moment as a family favorite. For more than an hour, enjoy slipping through the Sierra Nevada’s, by old cemeteries, abandoned mines and through an occasional tunnel, just as prospectors did during the Comstock silver boom of the 1860s. Be on the look out for wild mustangs. Later spend time learning about the rich history of the 150 year old city through walking tours, and museum visits. Contact: 775-687-7410; www.VisitCarsonCity.com
Harry Potter fans, gather round. That special steam train that transported Harry to wizard training at Hogwarts, is available for boarding. In real life, the Jacobite Steam Train winds 42 miles through Ben Nevis, freshwater lochs, the stunning countryside of Glen Nevis and other sites you are sure to recognize from the film series. The unforgettable journey operates May through October.
In addition to jaw-dropping scenery from coast to coast, you’ll find plenty designed just for kids on board Canada’s national passenger rail service. Serving 450 communities, expect year round children’s discounts, kid’s menus and healthy snacks available. You’ll also find games, videos and mini-lectures crafted to assist young travelers in learning along the way. Contact: 1-888-VIA-RAIL; www.viarail.ca.
Durango & Silverton Train. Durango, CO.
For stunning vistas, climb aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in southwestern Colorado You’ll travel behind vintage steam locomotive engines that have been transporting gold diggers, silver miners, cowboys, explorers and family travelers through the picturesque San Juan Mountains since 1882. Themed packages include specials for hikers, bikers, and mining enthusiasts. Kids ride free on select dates during the summer. Contact: 1-888-TRAIN-07; www.durangotrain.com.
The Endless Summer.......
At the end of Rocky Mountain National Park's Trail Ridge Road, the 5,200 acre Snow Mountain Ranch is offering an end of summer special: stay 2 nights get the 3rd free. The discount applies to 2-5 bedroom cabins, hotel-style lodge rooms, and yurts. The deal is valid from now through November 30, excluding Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekends.
Atlantis, that sprawling seaside resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, organizes camps for kids of all ages.
Camps have included Fantasy Camps with Seventeen Magazine. The girls had the good fortune to spend five days with style, beauty, health and fitness experts offering plenty of great tips and ideas to encourage a healthy attitude toward mind, body and beauty.
Also on hand was the delightful Katherine Schwarzenegger. Author, student, and advocate for young women, Katherine shared strategies and insight in her book Rock What You’ve Got!
Find out more about Atlantis camps for kids and teens here:
Introduce your young children to the world of adventure travel.
Here are a few great places to get started:
Appalachian Mountain Club Adventures. New England.
Beginning at age five, kids can participate in pond studies, GPS treasure hunts, forest ecology lessons, and wildlife watching and tracking activities. It is all part of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s family camp and adventure programs. In beautiful outdoor settings in New Hampshire and Maine, the whole family will learn outdoor skills and safety tips. Also, participate in flat water canoeing, nature walks and even a day hike to a backcountry hut. Spend the night in a bunk room or your family’s own private quarters. Contact: (603)466-2727; www.outdoors.org/adventure_camps.
Wild West Train Ride. Horseshoe Bend, ID.
Add a little zest to a first train ride when you book Thunder Mountain Line’s Wild West Train Robbery ride through southwest Idaho. As the story goes, a sneaky con-man and his sidekicks set out to steal a chest of gold as it is transported on the rails. The US Cavalry is on board for protection, but passengers, young and old, experience the adventure, drama and suspense as the tale unfolds during the 3.5 hour round trip excursion. Available selected dates, July through November. Contact: 208-331-1184 www.thundermountainline.com/wildwest11.htm
Windjammer Landing Resort. St Lucia.
Children under six and their older family members can choose from a range of soft adventure opportunities while staying at this Caribbean island resort. Hop aboard for a banana boat ride, play on the floating trampoline or check out the inflatable climbing wall. Learn to snorkel or try a guided SNUBA experience, a kid-sized, first step toward learning to Scuba dive. Experience sailing on a Hobie Cat. Then visit a nearby volcano or take a rainforest tour. Contact: 1 (877)522-0722; www.windjammer-landing.com.
Four Seasons Resort, Jackson Hole, WY.
Park your family within exploring distance of Grand Teton National Park, the Bridger Teton National Forest, the National Elk Refuge and Yellowstone National Park. In this ideal Rocky Mountain setting for first time adventure, young nature lovers will enjoy scenic float trips, horseback riding, wall climbing and some of the most majestic scenery available within our nation’s boundaries. The resort’s resident wildlife biologist is on hand to answer questions. Ask about the National Parks Explorer package, designed to maximize your time in the area.
Contact: 1 (307) 732-5000; www.fourseasons.com/jacksonhole
Costa Rican Adventure.
Explore the rainforest with your junior adventurers where they will delight at spotting monkeys and sloths, plus color-rich birds and butterflies. Plan for easy walks through national parks and kid-friendly rafting on the Rio Penas Blancas. Learn about volcanoes and later explore tide pools and build sand castles at the beach. Sail and snorkel in the Gulf of Papagayo and scope for whales, dolphins, turtles, and rays.
Photo: Copyright Lynn O'Rourke Hayes. Yellowstone National Park, June 2011
Today’s teens have an expansive view of their world. Read about the travel dreams of six young people eager to explore.
Turn back the clock and enjoy camp-style activities with your family.
Here are places to consider for a naturally good time:
Surf Camp. Wrightsville Beach, NC
Travel to the warm waters and sandy beaches of the Cape Fear coast for a five-day adventure. Your family members (eight and older) will learn how to assess an incoming wave, improve balance, and surf barrier islands while enjoying this sea-faring sport together. During the personalized program, you will also learn about the coastal eco-systems and have the chance to bond with sea turtles during a visit to a turtle hospital. Family surf camps are also held in Costa Rica, Hawaii and the Virgin Islands. Contact: 1-866-844-7873; www.wbsurfcamp.com/camps/camp_family.asp.
Donohoe Outfitting’s River Camp. Nye, MT.
Join the Donohoe family on their 4000 acre, working cattle ranch for a customized, family camp experience. In the heart of the Beartooth Mountains, you’ll craft your own itinerary from a long list of options including top notch fly fishing on four miles of private water. Ride horses into the adjacent canyons, help out with ranch chores, or raft the nearby white-water. Sleep in comfortable, safari-style tents just steps from the Stillwater River. Homesteaded in 1915, the ranch and River Camp will provide your family with an authentic western adventure. Contact: 406-328-6291; www.donohoeoutfitting.com.
Marine Science Consortium. Wallops Island, VA.
While enjoying the beauty of Virginia’s eastern shore, your family can learn about the mysteries of marine science and the Mid-Atlantic eco-system. Kids will love the opportunity to take a mud bath in the marsh almost as much as kayaking through tidal creeks, and scoping for wild ponies and coastal birds. Climb aboard an ocean research vessel and marvel at the sea life treasure the trawler’s net will bring up from the depths. Visit a nearby NASA facility, enjoy nature hikes and dine on tasty seafood. Choose from three sessions each summer. Contact: 757-824-5636; www.msconsortium.org ; www.Virginia.org.
Alford Lake Camp. Hope, Maine.
For most of the summer, this pristine camp on the Maine coast, is reserved for girls eager to explore the outdoors and make new friends. For five days, near the end of the summer season, families are invited to enjoy the 400-acre campus and partake in the range of camp activities that include horseback riding, sailboarding, swimming, pottery, theatre and dance. Alford Lake campers have been sleeping in tents and enjoying family-style meals since 1907. . Contact: 207-785-2400; www.alfordlakecamp.com.
El Capitan Canyon. Santa Barbara, CA.
This beach-side camp encourages families to leave the stress of city life behind and enjoy their natural environment. Take a guided llama or botanical hike, enjoy a family yoga class, then stop by the campfire for story-telling. Challenge yourselves with a seaside bike ride or ropes course, then relax with a beach walk, sand castle building and evening stargazing. You’ll stay in creek-side cedar cabins, safari-style tents or a family-friendly yurt all tucked within ancient oak and sycamore trees. Ask about the family picnic package. Contact: 1-866-352-2729; www.elcapitancanyon.com.
Within this wonderland’s 2.2 million acres
you'll have plenty of opportunity to see
wildlife of all kinds - bear, elk, moose, buffalo, wolf, pelicans -- and some tourists
who get a wee bit too close to these untamed creatures.
I captured this image of a playful Grizz......with a telephoto lens.
Find out more about visiting Yellowstone and planning other national park adventures!