Lynn O'Rourke Hayes

Lynn O'Rourke Hayes

If you don’t have children of your own or yours have left the nest, it’s still possible to experience the joys of travel through the eyes of a child. 

Plan a trip to any of these five places with a niece, nephew, grandchild or young cousin and you’ll forever be a rock star relative:

For an update on ash, lava, steam and smoke, visit a volcano. These five destinations provide a multifaceted opportunity to get outside and learn more about planet Earth.

1 Arenal Observatory Lodge, Costa Rica.

Wake to a chorus of tropical wildlife on this volcanic wonder. The majestic centerpiece of a rich rainforest setting can be observed from most guest rooms, the dining room and an expansive deck. Horseback riding, biking and hiking trails wind through old lava fields and soft jungle trails where howling monkeys, slithering snakes, butterflies and colorful birds beckon visitors. The last major eruption of Arenal took place in 1968. Austin Lehman Adventures offers great family tours to the region. 


2 Mount St. Helens, Washington.

 On March 20, 1980, an earthquake of 4.2 magnitude reawakened this volcano, leading to the May 18 collapse and eruption. Today, families visiting the National Volcanic Monument can learn more about the geologic and biologic history of the area though interpretive talks, walks and theater presentations. Hiking, biking and helicopter tours also provide an expansive view of the region’s recovery. Ask about the Music on the Mountain series scheduled for this summer at the Johnson Ridge Observatory. 

Contact: sthelens/home?cid=stelprdb 5160336 

3 Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

  Accessible only by float plane or boat, this remote park is located on the Alaskan Peninsula near Kodiak Island. Spanning nearly 5 million acres, the protected region is the site of the Novarupta volcano’s 1912 eruption, considered to be the 20th century’s most powerful and heard as far away as Juneau. Today, visitors come to observe the dense population of brown bears and to fish for trophy rainbow trout, salmon and Dolly Varden trout that run in Katmai’s streams and rivers. During the summer months, meals and lodging are available at Brooks Lodge, a popular spot for bear viewing. The National Park Service also staffs a visitor center and offers interpretive programs. 


4 Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii.

The historic Volcano House reopens this summer after a recent renovation, offering families the opportunity to wake to a magnificent sunrise over one of the world’s most active volcanoes. The only lodging option within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii Island, the hotel rests on the rim of Kilauea caldera with a view toward Halemaumau crater. Learn about active volcanism, the region’s biological diversity and Hawaiian culture through driving and walking tours as well as the Junior Ranger program. Ask about helicopter and boat tours. 

Contact: 1-866-536-7972; 

5 Yellowstone National Park.

The landscape that became America’s first national park in 1872 experienced the first of three volcanic eruptions 2.1 million years ago. More than 640,000 years have passed since the most recent blowup. Although not currently erupting, the molten rock beneath the surface of the park is active and has recently caused the closure of roads near the most famous geysers. Visit this wonderland to learn more about what bubbles below and to see the herds of bison, elk, grizzly bears and wolves that make this park so popular. 

Contact:; 1-866-439-7375


It's fun to spend the night in a less than ordinary kind of space.

And yurts, a Mongolian original, fit the bill. 

Family golf offers youngsters the chance to develop skills in a sport that can be played for a lifetime.

Here are seven places where your crew can tee it up together.

1. Kingsmill Resort. Williamsburg, VA.

Families can play three championship caliber 18-hole courses that offer rolling hills, tree-lined tracks and coastal play along the James River. Children 7-16 can sign up for Junior Golf Camps that teach fundamentals while making sure youngsters enjoy the game. They'll experience play on courses designed by legendary players including Arnold Palmer and Curtis Strange. The family-friendly resort also offers hiking, biking, Segway tours, and fishing as well as organized kids activities. 

Contact: 800.832.5665; 

2. Marriott Golf Resorts.

A yearlong series of one-day family golf events is under way at 32 Marriott golf destinations around the world. The sixth annual International Family Golf Festival encourages family members of all experience and age levels to join. Free golf instruction, clinics, interactive games and the chance to win prizes are all part of the program. Families can play at no charge after 3 p.m. as part of Marriott’s Kids Golf-4-Free program. Children staying at the J.W. Marriott San Antonio Hill Country also have access to instruction as part of the TOURAcademy Junior Golf Camps program. Check the website for festival dates and locations.


3. Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Kids can make their way to the junior tees on three nine-hole tracks in a resort town where sun-drenched golf attracts professionals and part-time players. Youngsters age 15 and younger play free with a paying adult. Junior clubs, lessons and course activities are also available. Take a break from play to ride a gondola around the lake, take a two-wheeled spin through the nearby greenbelt or cool off in the water playground. Send your clubs directly to the pro shop via Shipsticks.

Contact: 480-444-1234;;

4. Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, N.C.

 The largest golf resort in America, Pinehurst sports junior tee markers and scorecards on all but one of eight courses. During the summer and holiday weeks, course No. 8 is reserved for families after 5 p.m. Ask about family clinics and free rentals for juniors.

Contact: 1-800-487-4653;

5. Hershey, Pa.

 Warm up on the miniature course before heading to the nine-hole Spring Creek Golf Course or the Hershey Country Club. Ask about family golf packages that include accommodations, play and sunset admission to Hersheypark. In addition to golf and theme park fun, consider a visit to ZooAmerica, a chocolate-theme spa experience or relaxing time by the pool.

Contact: 1-800-437-7439;

6. Resort at Squaw Creek, Olympic Valley, Calif.

Your clan can swing away on the resort’s Robert Trent Jones-designed course as part of the family golf program. Play a quick and no-stress round on the front nine from the family tees, located just 150 yards from the green. Kids can spend time in the Mountain Buddies program enjoying active pursuits while grown-ups take time for a full 18 holes.

Contact: 530-583-6300;

7. Oasis at Death Valley Resort. Furnace Creek, CA. At 214 feet below sea level, the rolling 18-hole, par 70 course scores points as the world’s lowest elevation golf course. Palm trees frame the fairways and majestic mountains provide arresting vistas throughout the course.  Water comes into play on nine holes and multiple sets of tees provide a challenge for every member of the family. Located at Death Valley National Park.



Sit on a dock. Watch the waves roll in.

Here are five ways you can take a bay vacation.

1 Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

The largest estuary in the United States is 200 miles long and bordered by the Susquehanna River on the North and the Atlantic Ocean on the south. Visitors to Maryland and Virginia will find their way to the bay for kayaking, sailing, windsurfing and feasting on the region’s famous blue crabs, oysters and clams. Stay in Annapolis — home of the U.S. Naval Academy as well as restaurants, shops and museums — or in one of dozens of small, historic towns that dot the shoreline.


Bay of Fundy, Canada.

You’ll find this stretch of water on the northeast end of the Gulf of Maine between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Known as home to the highest tidal range in the world, you’ll learn about what it means when the seawater flow from one tide cycle equals the combined flow of the world’s freshwater rivers. Expect a dramatic coastline with scenic hiking trails, national and provincial parks, lighthouses and cozy harbors. Visit museums and artist studios and feast on a bounty of local seafood.

Contact: 1-800-895-1177;

San Francisco Bay.

What is being called the world’s largest light sculpture now shines nightly above the famous bay that shelters one of the country’s most exuberant cities. As part of a 75th anniversary celebration, the 1.8-mile west span of the Bay Bridge has been dressed up with 25,000 LED lights that will entertain locals and visitors for the next two years. The public art installation, designed by Leo Villareal, can be turned on and off from his laptop and gives new life to the span that has long played second fiddle to the flashier Golden Gate Bridge nearby. The free light show is visible from boat tours, parks and restaurants along the shoreline.


Biscayne Bay, Florida.

In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon sailed into what he called a “bright, great bay.” He would certainly be in awe of how the region has developed. The largest estuary on the coast of southeastern Florida is now home to the Port of Miami and Biscayne National Park, and it is a popular location for sailing, boating, snorkeling, fishing, sunbathing and swimming. A visit to this sunny destination offers families the chance to blend the best that nature has to offer with the big-city vibe and variety of Miami.


Half Moon Bay, California.

This small California enclave is an ideal spot for a relaxing getaway. Appreciate the surf crashing on a craggy coastline. Visit the historic main street for shopping, galleries and restaurants where nearby farms showcase their fresh offerings. The state’s magnificent redwood forest is a short drive away. There, you and your family can hike and picnic under the canopy of awe-inspiring trees. Stay in small seaside inns or more luxurious cliff-side digs.


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Small towns offer charm, history and an opportunity for adventure.

Here are five communities east of the Mississippi with special experiences of interest to families on vacation.

Princeton, NJ.

This college town is home to more prizewinners than any other community – as in Pulitzers, Nobels and Medals of Honor.  The leafy enclave offers miles of bike paths, canals for paddling and festivals for every season.  The university’s extraordinary cultural offerings include an art museum best known for their Chinese collection and impressive theatre known to showcase pre-Broadway productions.  Take a walking tour, shop in Palmer Square and visit the free Einstein Museum to learn more about another of the town’s bright lights.


Annapolis, MD.

  Work up an appetite kayaking, windsurfing or sailing on the Chesapeake Bay before an evening feast of the region’s famous crabs. Home to the U.S. Naval Academy, this history-rich state capital offers charming restaurants, shops, museums, lighthouses and the opportunity to enjoy watching water-worthy vessels, large and small, slip out to sea. Contact: 888.302.2852;

Ocracoke, NC.

  Revel in the old world charm of this small coastal village, where you’ll walk in the footsteps of Blackbeard the pirate, an early resident of the area. Amble along cobblestone streets, past clapboard houses, art galleries and colorful eateries before heading out for a kayak tour on the waters where the buccaneers once battled.  Feed the local herd of ponies, likely descendants of Spanish mustangs, before spending the day on a pristine 16-mile stretch of protected beach.

Contact: 252-928-6711;

Stowe, VT.

 Do you favor Phish Food or Chunky Monkey? Schedule a family taste test when you tour the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory in this scenic New England town. Take a sled dog tour, find out how apple cider is made or consider a stroll on the five-mile long Stowe Recreation path.

Check into the Trapp Family Lodge and Resort to enjoy their 2,400 acre natural wonderland, where hiking, rock climbing, cross country skiing and snowshoeing are tailored to family travelers.


Brunswick, ME Visit this small fishing village where artists and writers have found inspiration for decades. Winslow Homer painted his famous seascapes nearby and Harriet Beecher Stowe crafted Uncle Tom’s Cabin in town. Each year, the Brunswick Outdoor Arts Festival keeps the creative vibe alive offering theatre, music and crafts. Enjoy riverside views from the paved Androscoggin Bicycle and Pedestrian Path enroute to the 150-year old Topsham Fair where family fun includes animal pull events, crafts and harness racing. Contact: 888-624-6345;;

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 The simple pleasures of family life can be found at lakeside retreats.

Here are five places to enjoy gentle breezes and a book on the porch:

Key Largo Family Vacation

You’ll find Key Largo nestled between the watery wilderness of the Everglades National Park to the west and the fish-rich coral formations of North America's only living coral barrier reef to the east.

Six miles offshore in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary you will find the wreck of the Spiegel Grove, a 510-foot former US Navy ship intentionally scuttled in 2002 as the backbone for a new coral reef. 

Locals consider their home the Diving Capital of the World and it is a great snorkeling spot, but the island is nearly as famous as a sport-fishing destination.

Some of the best charter captains and fishing guides in the world work out of Key Largo.  Hire a guide and sailfish offshore, bonefish along the Atlantic shallows, or redfish and tarpon in Florida Bay.

Key Largo's proximity to the Everglades makes it a premier family vacation destination for kayakers, birders and other eco-tourists. All this beauty, not to mention the island's rich history, has inspired a vibrant community of artists who show their work at several local galleries.

When the day is done, you can trade stories at any of a full-range of restaurants, bars, hotels, motels and resorts. Each is as unique as Key Largo itself.

Key Largo Map

Fly rod in hand, I eased into the warm waters of the storied Madison River. My son, Ben, was just steps behind me, eager to wet his line. Despite my felt-bottomed shoes, I faltered slightly, slipping off the rounded, moss-covered rocks below my feet.

"Here, take my hand," Ben said softly behind me. "I'll help you."

Steadied by his strength, together we pushed forward, bolstered against the rippling current.

At 6'3", my oldest son towers over me now. This should come as no surprise. Mothers with children older than mine had long presaged it would happen like this; a fast-forward blur of growth spurts, sporting events, back-to-school nights and prom dates.

But, really, wasn't it just yesterday that I took his small hand in mine and walked him into pre-school? And just last week that I steadied him on skis as he slipped down a snowy pathway during a family ski holiday?

And now, some 20 years later, he is holding me upright as we wade into these braided waters under the wide Montana sky.

A Special Time

This was more than a casual weekend. He had called to suggest we meet for a few days of mother-son fly-fishing, an interest we have shared since his boyhood. Our destination would be the mountains and rivers of Big Sky country, a landscape we both love. After, we would both head to Northern Idaho for the big event. In just seven days, he would wait at the end of yet another pathway, to catch that first glimpse of his beautiful bride.

Throughout the weekend, we fished favorite streams and crossed canyons via zip line, joking about the next "big leap" he would soon take. We walked through the woods with his two Golden Retrievers, Bridger and Jackson, and reminisced about our family life. We both ordered curried chicken for lunch and lamented our mutual metabolism that required us to leave the banana bread at the counter. Particularly now, the weekend before the wedding.

I wondered if there wasn't something important, meaningful I should say. Some kind of pre-nuptial, motherly advice I could offer. But it wasn't required.

Someone asked if I felt that sense of loss some women suffer; a heart-splitting notion that marriage somehow meant losing your son to another woman. For us, there is none of that. I know that I will always be his mom and she will always be his girl.

Each evening we retreated to our room at the Big Sky Lodge, curled up with the dogs, reviewed the days' events and planned for the next. We shared our individual enthusiasm for the upcoming wedding festivities. I smiled with deep pleasure when he spoke with confidence of his decision to marry Lyndsay and how special and strong he believed their relationship to be. There was no hesitation. Only eager anticipation.

Visions of Youth

From time to time, I would catch glimpses of a much younger Ben. A familiar, silly grin. A childlike glance in a moment of indecision. But mostly, I saw a sure-footed man, eager to embark on this next chapter of his life.

On our last afternoon, we made one more stop along the Gallatin, hoping to improve our luck. While we both knew this weekend wasn't just about the fish, a little more action would have been welcome. Once again, Ben provided a steady hand as we waded into the water. As the sun dropped behind the cliff and soft evening light prevailed, we took turns casting, attempting to lure the wily trout from its safe hideout.

At one point, my line became hopelessly entangled. Without hesitation or frustration Ben quietly took my rod and said, "Not to worry. I can help." It's what I might have whispered two decades ago when he fell off the jungle gym or scraped his knee in a roller blade spill. But now, somehow it seemed just right that he would be the problem solver, the one to take the lead.

What I Believe

As the weekend came to a close, he said, "Mom, your baby boy is getting married. Can you believe it? "

What I believe is that time mysteriously evaporates and in the blink of an eye, that once mischievous toddler strides back into the room as a confident, young man. A man insightful and caring enough to create this eddy in time, in the scant hours before dozens of friends, family and a long list of last-minute details, would vie for his attention.

Knowing he has become this measure of a man provides soul-satisfying comfort. I am certain he will be a fine husband and father, locking arms with his wife through rough waters and calm seas. He'll be present when their child takes that first shaky step, hesitates on the first day of school or ties the first fly.

And with this knowing, I will shed tears of pride and joy as he reaches for the hand of his lovely bride, closes his own around hers, and before family and friends, promises to love her and hold her steady.

For always.

If you are looking for a great summer road trip, consider this iconic drive inside one of America's most stunning National Parks. 

Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road was completed in 1932 and is a spectacular 50 mile, paved two-lane highway that bisects this magnificent Montana park east and west.

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