Displaying items by tag: Active Travel

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Planning a family trip can be overwhelming. So many options, so little time!  

Here are a handful of tips from travel industry experts with children of their own. They’ve spent their careers helping other families enjoy the wonder of the world.  

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.

That’s the advice of Kurt Kutay, owner of Wildland Adventures. Include activities that allow all family members to participate together and learn more about themselves, he advises. Do things you never imagined. Discover your inner source of strength. On a Wildland Family Adventure, you can walk with elephants in Botswana, learn the secrets of survival with Maasai warriors near the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, or deliver school supplies to children in the mountains of Panama.

Contact: www.wildland.com; (800) 345-4453.  

Have Fun. Be Happy.

In their all inclusive, family-focused resorts around the world, children are encouraged to explore, play and…..well, be happy. Henri Giscard d'Estaing, CEO of Club Med, brightens with enthusiasm when he talks about the mini-clubs and the wide range of activities available to children of all ages. Swing from a trapeze, try new water sports, become a Petit Chef, and learn about the local communities. Parents are equally enthused to hear about the multitude of kid’s stay free, free nights and discounted packages currently available.

Contact: www.ClubMed.us; (800) CLUBMED.  

Restore in nature.

Peter Grubb and his wife Betsy have raised two kids in the adventure travel business and believe there is no better place to spend meaningful time with your kids than on a river. Fresh air, active days and peaceful nights make for great family memories. Kayak, float and splash through rapids in Idaho, Oregon and Montana.

Contact: www.ROWAdventures.com; (800) 451-6034

 

Redefine Your Family Values

On this fourth generation family-owned ranch you’ll get a chance to see how hard work and commitment pay off for one Montana clan. Ride, wrangle and mend fences amid breathtaking scenery on the Lazy E-L Ranch. Join in the thrill of a 2300-head cattle drive. Why? Being on horseback allows time to listen to your soul and remember what really matters, says owner Jael Kampfe.

Contact: www.LazyEL.com; (406)328-6858.

 

Think globally.

Praveen Moman has been at the forefront of ecotourism development in Uganda. He urges parents to educate their children about global issues and sees travel as an essential element in that process. His company specializes in mountain gorilla safaris and puts the spotlight on the importance of protecting their natural habitat. Contact: www.volcanoessafaris.com ; (866) 599-APES (2737)

Published in Plan

 

Mineral hot springs offer the chance to soak in healing waters and to learn about their ancient origins. Here are five places where you and your family can enjoy the warm water. 

Strawberry Hot Springs has three main pools of varying temperatures to delight all visitors.

1.Steamboat Springs, CO.

In the late 1880s fur trappers passing through this Colorado enclave, heard an odd noise resembling a steamboat. They were pleasantly surprised to find more than 150 geothermal steamy, bubbling springs that today soothe tired muscles après ski or after a long days’ hike. The centrally-located Old Town Hot Springs offers swimming pools, a full-service fitness center and a waterslide for the kids. Just seven miles from town, the Strawberry Park Hot Springs offers a unique experience, with hand-built stone pools of varying temperatures, tepee changing rooms and a natural and serene environment. Note: Children are welcome during the day. Once the sun goes down, you must be 18 or older and clothing is optional.

Contact: (970) 879-0342; www.StrawberryHotSprings.com
(970) 879-1828; www.SteamboatHotSprings.com


2. Thermopolis, Wy

Visit the world’s largest mineral hot spring in this western town where the whole family can swim, slide, soak and steam inside or outdoors. See the mineral-formed rainbow terraces and other natural creations as well as the local buffalo herd at the Hot Springs State Park. Learn how paleontologists work, participate in a real dig or wander through the museum at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. Don’t miss the 108 foot Supersaurus stretching overhead.

Contact: 1 (877) 864-3192; www.Thermopolis.com


3. Glenwood Springs, CO.

Royals, presidents and Ute Indians have all found these steamy pools to provide great respite from the rest of the world. Two blocks long, the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool complex includes a kiddy pool with water slide, a diving pool and a therapy pool. Relax in the warm waters and enjoy the Rocky Mountain scenery. Later, step next door to the Yampah Spa & Vapor Caves for a natural sauna in rock caves. Spend the night in nearby geothermal-heated hotel rooms.

Contact: (970) 945-6571; www.hotspringspool.com


4. Calistoga, CA

The Palisade Mountains provide a picturesque backdrop to a day spent relaxing in this comfortable, family-run spa in Napa Valley. Warm up in an 80-foot-long lap pool, a 90-degree kiddie pool with a waterfall or the 100-degree pool. The steamy therapy pool is for adults only. Mud baths, massages and a fitness facility are also available. A multi-generational favorite, rooms with kitchenettes make a family overnight easy to handle.

Contact: 866-822-5772; www.calistogaspa.com


5. Rio Grande Village, TX.

Soak in the scenery as well as the warm water within Big Bend National Park. Look for painted pictographs on the cliff walls as you enjoy the one mile loop hike past historic buildings and the area where various Indian groups lived and traveled. The large hot spring on the bank of the Rio Grande River gushes with steamy water that fills the foundation of an old bathhouse creating a popular natural hot tub.

Contact: (432)477-2251; www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/soakinthesprings.htm


 

Published in Hike

For some, venturing off the road most traveled doesn’t come easy. Here are several programs designed to help you get where you and your family really want to go: beyond the beaten path.

Lodging and Learning Programs 
This is your chance to journey into the wild. But you won’t have to go it alone!

The Yellowstone Association, the official educational partner of the National Park Service founded in 1933 to foster the public’s understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of Yellowstone National Park and its surrounding ecosystem, provides programs almost year-round that enable parents and children to delve deeper into this amazing natural environment.

During the winter, small groups head out with guides, on foot, skis, snowcat or snowmobiles. They’ll learn more about the first national park in the United States and the wildlife that lives within the park's boundaries.  

You can choose to head out at sunrise to catch the wolves in action or observe the bison warming themselves near the spouting geysers. Another program takes visitors on cross country skis deep into the interior of the park for a glimpse of reclusive wildlife and vistas seen by few. Yet another group sets off into the Northern Range, where the bears are most plentiful.

Bear wanders through the snow at Yellowstone National Park.

Each evening, adventurers return to the hotel or lodge and can participate in spirited educational sessions led by the Park Service before a welcoming soak in the hot tub.

During the spring, summer and fall, additional four- to six-day programs highlight the best each season brings forth.

Scenic overview of the Lower Falls at Yellowstone National Park Grand Canyon. jimbowen0306Choose the Trails Through Yellowstone program and hike throughout the park with an expert guide who will provide insight into the habitat and teach explorers how to travel safely in grizzly country.

  • Opt for the new Essential Yellowstone program and an Institute naturalist will help you explore off the beaten path and lead you to the hidden gems that lie beyond the main roads.
  • Or join the Roosevelt Rendezvous group and learn how to capture the beauty of the natural world—including the annual raptor migration—with your camera.
  • Yellowstone for Families
  • The park offers two programs—one in winter, one in summer—designed specifically for families with children 8 to 12 years old.
  • In winter, kids and their parents will take photographs, learn animal tracking skills and take to the snow on skis or snow shoes.
  • In summer—mid-June through mid-August—the days are active. Families learn about the more than 300 geysers and mud pots, explore the trail system and check out the many species—elk, bison, wolves, bears, coyotes—that are enjoying the summer sun. So many creatures to count, so little time!
  • Both programs enable kids to earn the Junior Ranger badge (read more about ranger programs here). They also provide the opportunity to learn about the area’s ecosystem from the experts at an early age. 

Family poses for a picture in front of Old Faithful. midimanYellowstone Ed-Ventures

  • Yet another alternative for those eager to sink deeper into Yellowstone’s rich history and amazing eco-system is the Ed-venture program.
  • The eight-hour trips provide a private and personalized introduction to the wonders of Yellowstone. Programs focus on the diverse and abundant wildlife of Yellowstone’s Northern Range, natural history and geology in the Canyon and Lake Yellowstone areas, and the thermal features in the Old Faithful area.
  • Families or small groups can also craft programs to suit their knowledge levels or specific interests. Head into the backcountry or learn to use a spotting scope to get closer to nature than you thought possible. The idea is to deepen the visitor’s knowledge and understanding of all things Yellowstone.
Published in National Parks

Located nearly 7,000 feet above sea level in Colorado’s Northern Rockies, this picturesque town boasts six mountains and nearly 3,000 acres of luscious ski- and board-friendly terrain. You won’t find jagged peaks. Rather, they’re oversized “hills,” as I heard one visitor call them, coated with an abundance of champagne powder—the dry, smooth snow for which the Rockies are renowned—and backed by a 75-year Olympic heritage. The combination of rugged authenticity and serious skiing makes for one of the most extraordinary resort destinations on the planet

Never far from its ranching roots, Steamboat Springs, CO remains solidly linked to a western tradition that sets it apart, in a most refreshing way, from other mountain resorts that dot the Rocky Mountain landscape. Fur-swaddled tourists are few and far between. This is a town where ranchers, clad in boots and brand-boasting belt buckles, still go about their business. It’s a laid-back landscape.

 

I made my first trek to Steamboat while still in college. My only prior ski experience had been on small slopes, the kind commonly found in the Midwest. For me, this Rocky Mountain high country was the big time. The bright western sunshine and the thrill of the famously fluffy powder were exhilarating. I remember thinking: “This is perfection.”


Decades later, Steamboat is still perfect; a perfect vacation destination for families, winter or summer.  

Winter Activities in Steamboat

According to local Yampa Valley ranchers, the true measure of a Routt County winter’s severity is determined by how high the snow piles up against their four fence wires. Steamboat enjoys more than its fair share of “three-wire winters.” As Sureva Towler writes in her book, The History of Skiing at Steamboat Springs, “By January or February of a typical winter, snow will cover the third fence wire, usually thirty inches high.” Four-wire winters, generally more than 35 inches at the resort’s mid-mountain location, are not uncommon. That is very good news for those who like to strap on the skis and experience the legendary white stuff.

Families First

Steamboat wrote the book on children and family programs, and the resort area continues to innovate. While holding armloads of accolades from magazines and Web sites, its leading edge position has been solidified by providing an array of deals over the past few decades where kids and grandkids fly, ski, rent and/or stay free.

Not wanting to rest on their laurels, the resort added a technological twist to its family-friendly programming with the Mountain Watch program. My friends with young children, who sampled the program during an early visit, described the concept as “Star Wars meets Big Brother.”

Now more commonly used to relieve parent angst, the Steamboat Mountain Watch uses wristband-tracking devices to allow the grownups to keep tabs on their children. By scanning your own watch at kiosks located around the resort, you can zero in on your child’s location on the mountain or know they are tucked safely inside the Kid’s Vacation Center.

“We were able to enjoy our time and have peace of mind just knowing where our son and daughter were,” explained my friends. “When we met at the end of the day, we could ask specific questions about the places we knew they visited while we were relishing a long-awaited day on the slopes.”

Olympic Style Skiing

Steamboat has produced more winter Olympians that any other town in North America, a record 69 and counting. In fact, Steamboat sent more athletes to recent Olympic Games than many small countries. Your kids can hear the story and gather inspiration straight from 1964 Olympic Silver medalist Billy Kidd. He serves as the Steamboat Ski Area’s Director of Skiing and is often available on the mountain.

Those who want a little instruction can also opt for Family Private ski or board lessons. Offered for a half or full day, the whole gang can learn together. Instructors will customize your family clinic to meet the specific needs and goals of your group. I’m told it works best if all participants share a similar level of expertise. Children must be in first grade or older to participate.

Once you’ve brushed up on your skill set, you will be ready to learn the secret of Steamboat: “the goods are in the woods!” If you are game for glade skiing—which involves skiing through trees, rather than on an open slope—this is the place to be, even if you are not a black diamond daredevil. There is a perfect pitch for every ability. I was happy with the tame terrain off the Sunshine Express, while my boys went for the steeper stuff.

Hot Springs Give Steamboat Steam

We took a break from the slopes to visit one of the more than 150 geothermal springs that give Steamboat its name. In the late 1880s when fur trappers were passing through the area, they heard an odd noise they thought sounded like a steamboat. They were pleasantly surprised, much as today’s visitors are, to find the steamy, bubbling springs that soothe tired muscles après ski or after a long days’ hike.

Guests who want to experience the springs can choose from two facilities. The centrally-located Old Town Hot Springs offers swimming pools, a full-service fitness center and a waterslide for the kids. We ventured just seven miles from town, to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs. This venue offers a unique experience, with hand-built stone pools of varying temperatures, tepee changing rooms and a natural and serene environment. Children are welcome during the day. Once the sun goes down, you must be 18 or older and clothing is optional.  

Summer Activities in Steamboat

When the warm, western sun once again reveals the fence lines, the games change. Steamboat has received nearly as much acclaim for its summer beauty and vitality as for its world famous snow.

  • Strawberry Hot Springs has three main pools of varying temperatures to delight all visitors.

Our warm weather visits have included fly-fishing,, hiking, rafting, attending Steamboat’s famous rodeo and simply admiring the colorful hot air balloons that often dot the sky.

On Thunderhead Peak

Hopping on the Steamboat gondola to the top of Thunderhead Peak makes it easy for the whole family to explore the area by mountain bike, hike along the nature trails, or just relax and take in the breathtaking views.

  • Strings in the Mountains presents Music on the Green, a free concert in Yampa River Botanic Park weekly during the summer.

The gondola operates daily from mid-June through Labor Day. Uphill operations run from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Mon. to Sat., and 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Sun. (weather permitting), with the last downhill trip at 4:30 p.m.

With small kids or less able family members in tow, try the Vista Nature Trail. It’s a one-mile, handicapped-accessible loop that begins near the top of the gondola. A wide, graded, gravel path meanders for the first half-mile then turns into a traditional hiking trail for the second half-mile.

Mountain Biking on the Slopes

Steamboat’s mountain bike trail network has gained an international reputation, but you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy many of the more than 50 miles of trails at the ski area and countless more in the nearby wilderness areas. If you don’t have your own bike, rentals are readily available. The Steamboat Mountain Bike School offers private and semi-private clinics for those looking to improve their bike handling skills throughout the summer.

Camping and Wilderness Areas

With more than 1,000 square miles of public lands, including Routt National Forest several Colorado State Parks and two wilderness areas surrounding Steamboat Springs, the area is nirvana if you love getting into the backcountry for hiking, camping and adventure.

There also are plenty of options for day hikes and excursions. We loved our outing to the easily accessible Fish Creek Falls; the breathtaking 280-foot waterfall spills just four miles from downtown.

Steamboat barn on FamilyTravel.com

Something About That Barn

Years ago, when I left Steamboat after my champagne powder initiation, I returned to my college dorm room with a treasured Steamboat poster depicting two skiers on horseback making first tracks in front of a picturesque, western-style barn.

Nearly three decades later, I walked into my son’s college dorm room. We had never skied Steamboat together, yet he had the same poster on his wall.

We weren’t the only two taken by the beauty of this famous Steamboat landmark. Shot in 1973 by Minneapolis–based photographer, Gerald Brimacombe, the Steamboat Barn poster features Rusty Chandler and Jo Semotan riding, skis shouldered, in front of the Barn. You will see the Barn poster on the walls of the Stanley Hotel in Steven King’s miniseries version of The Shining. It also made SKI Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Ski Photographs, and variations on the image are featured on much of the resort area’s promotional materials.

Getting There

Steamboat Springs is located 157 miles northwest of Denver, and visitors to this mountain Mecca can fly into the mile-high city and drive, or take advantage of increasing nonstop jet service offered from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Newark/NYC, New York-JFK, New York-LaGuardia or Salt Lake City on American, Continental, Delta, Northwest and United Airlines. All service is direct into the Steamboat/Hayden Airport (HDN), 22 miles/35kms from the ski area..

For first-timers and returning visitors alike, the Steamboat tourist site www.steamboat.com is a great resource.

                                             Get Your Gear Here!

Published in Adventure

The take-off is amazing. But, it’s the sound that stays with you, I’d been told. Still, I couldn’t imagine the impending glory of the moment.

I was too cold.  

This was my first visit to Willcox, Ariz., for the town’s annual celebration of the sandhill cranes’ migration to their southern Arizona winter home.

Wings Over Willcox Sand Hill Crane Convention

The sandhills’ stop in the Southwest is perhaps their most famous performance. Scouting for a suitable mate, the birds spend nearly a month entertaining avid birders and the casually curious. The crane population peaks around St Patrick’s Day, before they depart en masse for the Arctic, where a demanding breeding season ensues.
I had heard about Wings Over Willcox and had been eager to introduce the birding extravaganza to my sons.

My own interest in the cranes began when I first read A Sand County Almanac (Oxford University, 1970) in my 20s. Aldo Leopold, the late Wisconsin naturalist, wrote of his fondness for the sandhills in his 1949 classic.
Each year this farming community in Cochise County, roughly 80 miles east of Tucson, welcomes winter visitors of multiple species. Plenty of heat-seeking humans show up from places like Vancouver and Kansas. And as many as 30,000 sandhill cranes find their way to a 60-sq.-mile roosting site near Willcox. The Arizona Game and Fish Department owns the land where the birds roost and makes sure it is flooded each year to create the six-inch deep pool the cranes find so appealing.

Nature Calls
In an era when social media and sporting events are mainstays for the modern teen, it is not easy to arouse enthusiasm for a weekend spent in a small Arizona town, where the adventure’s highlight is a predawn excursion to see a mass of long-necked, pointy-billed, spindly-legged birds take flight.

I am fortunate to have raised nature lovers. When journalist and youth advocate Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder (Algonquin Books, 2005), sparked a national discussion about the lack of time children spend in the natural world, I have felt grateful my sons have grown up exposed to desert wild flowers, the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River, and now, the dance of the sandhill cranes.

Ancient Wisdom
There is much to be learned from these ancient birds that live long lives, up to 25 years, despite an arduous lifestyle; some are known to commute as far as Siberia. The cranes also are monogamous, have several offspring and even dance for their mates. They will mightily defend their loved ones and their territory. Their young even go through voice changes, just as humans do, says Michael Forsberg, a nature photographer and expert on crane migration and social behaviors.

National Geographic considers this avian traveling show one of the continents two greatest wildlife events, sharing honors with the great caribou migration. The residents of Willcox must be proud.

Lift Off

So it was that we found ourselves in the cold, dark Arizona morning, swaddled in warm layers to ward off the chill, waiting for lift off.
Then we heard it. As the rising sun spewed light on the shallows, a jarring whoosh filled the air and washed over us like a wave over sand. In that moment, thousands of birds, with five- to six-foot wingspans, and weighing as much as 14 pounds, took flight. They were embarking on a day that would include lollygagging in nearby cornfields and flying in V formation to the delight of mesmerized onlookers. Later they would return, to roost once again, in this Sulphur Springs Valley sanctuary.
Thankfully, the rising sun, and the somehow haunting ritual, warmed us as well.
As we settled into a welcome breakfast of eggs over easy and piles of pancakes, we spoke of the birds’ flight.

And of the sound.

The amazing sound of the sandhill cranes, in unison, breaking the sacred silence of morning.

If You Go

  • Each year, the Wings Over Willcox Birding & Nature Festival (WOW) takes place during January’s Martin Luther King weekend. While the cranes are the stars of the show, the festival offers tours and educational programs that also explore photography, geology, archeology, history, botany, agriculture and ranching. Visit the Web site to review the seminars and tours that interest you and your family.
  • Reserve early.
  • Just for kids
    Children can explore a nature expo in the community center, which features educational booths, live animal displays, and a wide variety of vendors with nature-related crafts and activities. Free seminars on various topics are offered throughout the day.
  • Be prepared
    Mornings are cold with temperatures dipping well below freezing. (Think 15 degrees Fahrenheit.) Wear gloves, hats and layers. Rain is unlikely, but possible.
  • Bring your camera.
  • Where to stay
    The WOW Web site lists most available lodging options, including chain motels, local B&Bs and guest ranches. Top pick: Muleshoe Ranch. Run by the Nature Conservancy, its simple casitas in a birding sanctuary are ideal for nature-loving families.

Guided Tours
Every winter, tens of thousands of sandhill cranes come to roost around the town of Willcox, 83 miles east of Tucson off I-10. For several years now, the town has decided to celebrate this event by staging a major festival during the third weekend of January, with birding tours and field trips to Willcox Playa, Cochise lake and the Apache Station Wildlife Area (the main habitats of the famous cranes). Other excursions take visitors to see raptors, sparrows and waterfowl wintering in the mild Southern Arizona climate. Inquire about tour dates and prices. Seminars and presentations on local wildlife are free. Due to limited seating, registration is required for all tours.

For more information, visit www.wingsoverwillcox.com;
1.800.200.2272

Published in Travel Essays
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