There are family vacations. And, then there are epic adventures that may qualify as the experience of a lifetime.
Here are five to consider now.
Plan a family safari.
Visit northern Tanzania’s Serengeti for a wildlife viewing and cultural extravaganza. Home to more than 3,000 lions and1000 leopards as well as zebras, wildebeests, warthogs and waterbuck, it’s a magical sanctuary best known for the great migration.
With the Four Seasons Serengeti as your basecamp, choose to explore via half and full day jeep tours, walking safaris, or from the basket of a high-flying, hot air balloon. The excitement doesn’t end when you return to the Lodge, where a watering hole, just beyond the Infiniti pool, serves up hydrating sustenance to elephant families on a daily basis.
Dine on the veranda, with sweeping views of the plains, where giraffe, eland and topi graze in the distance. Kids can visit the on-site discovery center to learn about Maasai history and culture, the significance of the Serengeti Cheetah Project and life in the bush. Relax at the spa, take a family cooking class and be amazed by a live performance of tribal dance and song offered by local Maasai.
Contact: https://www.fourseasons.com/serengeti/ ;
Revel in a river cruise.
Unpack. Settle in and let the adventure begin.
Explore the Rhine, Danube or Seine river valleys with your family or multigenerational group from aboard a luxury AmaWaterways ship. With itineraries crafted to your family’s preferences, each day you’ll take part in active adventures or culturally immersive experiences in compelling destinations.
Well-trained and knowledgable Disney adventure guides, paired with local storytellers, combine talents to insure each member of the family gets maximum enjoyment from the trip. Wander through medieval castles, sample local cuisine, pedal along the river bank and enjoy private tours and insider access to popular attractions. Adventure guides are at the ready to engage youngsters in evening activities so the adults may opt for a fine dining experience or a musical performance. (Food and wine trips are also possible when it's time to leave the youngest travelers at home.)
Expect an all-inclusive, backstage pass-style adventure through the heart of Europe.
Our sparsely populated and endlessly captivating 49th state lures those who yearn for epic scenery, spouting whales and glaciers the size of small countries. Experience family travel in rugged Alaska via boutique yachts and expedition ships that set sail for adventure beginning each Spring.
Aboard smaller vessels you’ll have meaningful cultural experiences, find your way to natural nooks and crannies, opt for hiking and kayaking and discover rarely visited wilderness areas, increasing the chance for up-close wildlife viewing. Those who venture to America’s last frontier will be rewarded with Mother Nature in all her glory.
Discover Minnesota’s Boundary Waters.
Ease your canoes into the pristine water near Ely, MN and look forward to peaceful days of paddling amid a sparsely populated, one million-plus acre expanse of wilderness. Listen to the waves lapping against the shoreline and the haunting lullaby offered by local loons as you drift to sleep in one of 2,000 secluded campsites that dot the lake region. Wake to the sounds of birds chirping in the birch trees and enjoy breakfast over a campfire. Then set out to explore more of the 1,500 miles of canoe routes that crisscross the waterways.
Immerse in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.
Given the island’s location on the equator, air and water temperatures remain relatively stable, making the Galapagos Islands a desirable destination any time of the year. Within this pristine and diverse eco-system, your family will thrill to the site of cliff-diving blue-footed boobies and the waved albatross known for an elaborate courtship dance that can include 20 minutes of bowing, honking, whistling and bill clacking. You’ll want to know about Darwin’s 13 finches, creatures that were central to the scientist’s evolutionary theories. Learn more about the volcanic island’s winged population as well as the abundance of sharks, sea lions, mantas and iguanas via a live aboard vessel (popular with scuba divers), a cruise or a hotel-based tour.
A longtime backpacker, climber, and skier, author Michael Lanza, along with his nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter, embarked on a year-long trip through our National Parks.
It was an ambitious adventure, designed to immerse them in the natural world and to learn more about the effects climate change was having on these important landscapes.
He chronicled the journey in his book Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks.
Here, he shares five ways to encourage the next generation of outdoor adventurers.
1. Encourage outside play.
A slew of experts agree that regular, unstructured outside play is critical for a child’s healthy development.
To that end, “Kick them out of the house,” advises Lanza. “Kids today often want to play indoors where the electronics are. Insist they play outside—but also, give them the freedom to roam within boundaries appropriate for their ages. That way, they can explore and not get bored.”
It also helps to plan regular activity as a family: cross-country or downhill skiing, hiking on local trails, biking, even walking around your neighborhood or local community, Lanza advises.
2. Start slow.
When the time is right for adventure, take baby steps. “Begin with short hikes and gradually work up to longer outings,” advises Lanza, who gathered personal experience as a field editor with Backpacker magazine. “Evaluate your child’s readiness for something new based not just on its physical difficulty, but how well your child handled previous experiences that presented comparable stress.”
Lanza’s year–long trip included sea kayaking and wilderness camping in Glacier Bay, Alaska. He determined they were ready for such an outing because they had previously backpacked, rock climbed, floated and camped on a wilderness river, and cross-country skied through snowstorms.
“They had managed stressful situations well and understood the need to follow instructions and that trips have uncomfortable moments,” explained Lanza. “Despite how wet and raw it was, they loved Glacier Bay.”
Lanza believes in one important rule: no whining. “Tell your children they can talk about any situation they’re not happy with, but draw the line at complaining just to complain. Everyone will be happier.”
At the same time, he advises including them in the decision-making process, so they have a sense of control over their own fate, which, he says, goes a long way toward relieving stress, no matter what our age.
“Welcome their questions and address their concerns,” Lanza says. “Make sure they know that you won’t ask them to do anything they are not comfortable with, and that you will provide whatever help they need.”
According to Lanza, Grand Teton National Park, Yosemite, Zion, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Park all offer hiking and backpacking options that are ideal for beginners and families, with easy to moderately difficult days and simple logistics.
4. Be flexible.
Whether rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone or canoeing in the Everglades with his kids, Lanza made a point to be flexible.
Taking children on an outdoor adventure, especially younger ones, does not always go according to plan. Young kids want to throw rocks in a creek and play in the mud.
Lanza’s advice: “Let them. But, explain that there will be time for playing, but also a time for hiking.”
Meanwhile, parents should “focus on the journey rather than the destination,” advises Lanza. “And have Plan B at the ready.”
5. On the trail with teens.
No matter what kind of trip is planned, allowing a teenage son or daughter to invite a friend along is often a good strategy. It can be a little trickier when planning an outdoor adventure. “You want to make sure he or she is up to the challenges the trip may present,” explained Lanza. “It’s a good idea to talk with the parents ahead of time and perhaps plan a practice outing.”
Whether it’s a mountain climb or rafting a river, finding a shared goal that will challenge and excite your teen is a great way to open new doors within your relationship and to the natural world, offers Lanza.
Michael Lanza also offers outdoor adventure tips and strategies on his website The Big Outside.
Buckle up and cruise our scenic byways for exceptional beauty, wildlife and history.
Here are six to consider:
The Beartooth Highway.
Visitors who travel this extraordinary byway, experience the visual trifecta of Montana, Wyoming and Yellowstone Park, home to the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains. The windy, cliff-hugging 68-mile stretch introduces road explorers to one of the most diverse ecosystems accessible by auto. It’s also the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies. Stunningly beautiful, the All-American Road showcases wide, high alpine plateaus, painted with patches of ice blue glacial lakes, forested valleys, waterfalls and wildlife. Plan for many stops so the driver can take in the long views!
Seward Highway, Alaska.
The road that connects Anchorage to Seward is a 127-mile treasure trove of natural beauty, wildlife and stories of adventure, endurance and rugged ingenuity. Take a day or several to explore the region that has earned three-fold recognition as a Forest Service Scenic Byway, an Alaskan Scenic Byway and an All-American Road. The drive begins at the base of the Chugach Mountains, hugs the scenic shores of Turnagain Arm and winds through mining towns, national forests, and fishing villages as you imagine how explorers, fur traders and gold prospectors might have fared back in the day. Expect waterfalls, glaciers, eagles, moose and some good bear stories.
Trail Ridge Road. Estes Park, CO.
During a 48-mile, two to three hour drive through majestic Rocky National Mountain Park, marvel at the Park’s wildlife, crystalline lakes, and jagged peaks. The nearby Continental Divide, provides the opportunity to explain to the kids how the “roof of the continent” spills moisture to the east and the west from its apex. Consider a stop at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, which inspired Stephen King’s novel “The Shining.” Also, visit the charming town of Grand Lake, home of the largest natural lake in the state of Colorado.
Contact: Colorado.com; www.nps.gov/romo/
Lighthouse Tour. ME.
Travel the 375 miles between Kittery and Calais, ME, visiting lighthouses along the way, and learn about the dangers that seafaring vessels and their crew endured along the craggy Northeastern coast. Hear tales of shipwrecks and ghosts and of the difficult and lonely life led by those who kept the lights burning brightly. Visit the Maine Lighthouse Museum, where artifacts and hands-on exhibits for children provide an enticing break.
Monument Valley, AZ
You’ve seen the skyline in the movies and on television commercials. Your entire family will marvel at the 250 million year old red rock formations, the magical light, the starry night and the Native American history that infuses the iconic landscape.
Take in the 17-mile scenic loop road on your own or hire a guide to delve deeper into the storied region and to access off-limit sites. Overnight at The View hotel for the best chance to capture the incomparable sunrise and sunset hues. Don’t forget your cameras!
Skyline Drive. VA.
Meandering along the crest of the mountains through the woods and past spectacular vistas, Virginia’s Skyline Drive begins in Front Royal and twists and turns southwest through Shenandoah National Park. Hike in the shade of oak trees along the Appalachian Trail, discover the stories from Shenandoah’s past, or explore the wilderness at your leisure.
Warm up to the wonders of winter adventure. Here are five, high energy family travel ideas to consider:
1. Juneau, AK.
Visit this world-class winter destination and trade long lines and crowded restaurants for endless views and pristine solitude.
Pop on your skis and put things in perspective as you glide across Mendenhall Glacier Lake. With a massive glacier as your backdrop, your whole family will enjoy speeding across the flat terrain while taking in some of the most majestic scenery imaginable. Check out the groomed Nordic trails at Eaglecrest, a community-owned ski resort on Douglas Island just minutes from Juneau.
The most adventuresome families will find challenging terrain and untouched routes along with insider knowledge through experienced heli-skiing operators in the area.
2. Yellowstone National Park.
Discover the magic of our first National Park cloaked in her winter finery. New snowfall serves as the perfect backdrop for a Nordic adventure to a steaming backcountry geyser, a snowshoe around Old Faithful or wildlife viewing in the Lamar Valley. Venture to and from your overnight at the Snow Lodge via snow coach, stopping enroute to observe animals on the move, icy waterfall formations and the evening alpenglow on the mountains. Guided adventure and snowmobile tours are available.
3. Winter Park, CO.
Explore more than 60 miles of groomed trails on skate skis when you visit this family favorite in the Colorado Rockies. In addition to making the most of free skiing lessons offered by the Nordic Center at the YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch, expect good times ice skating, playing broomball, tubing, sledding, and creating arts and crafts. Get cozy for story time, with hot chocolate and s’mores by the fire. Contact: www.ymcarockies.org. www.visitGrandCounty.com ; www.Colorado.com.
4. McCall, ID.
Bring your favorite furry friends for a day of outdoor fun in this forested mountain town located two hours north of Boise. Dogs are welcome on Nordic trails in several locations throughout McCall, where views of Payette Lake are paired with fresh air and contagious enthusiasm for adventure. At Jug Mountain Ranch, discover the Lyle Nelson Nordic & Snowshoe Trail system, designed by the local Olympian. Skate ski tracks for all abilities send explorers through open meadows and pine scented forests. Fido will enjoy romping through the snow as you and the family navigate trails at the Tamarack Resort, where lessons and guided tours are also available.
5. Kingfield, ME.
Explore more than 80 miles of trails via cross-country skis or on snowshoes in the backcountry of western Maine. Enjoy your off-the-grid adventure by day and then relax in a comfortable hut over night where a warm bed and tasty meals await. Considered “boutique hostels”, the huts, run by a non-profit organization, feature state of the art green energy systems that generate and store their own power. Make tracks from hut-to-hut on your own or with a guide. Contact: www.mainehuts.org
A great read for kids to go with your winter adventures!