The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) protects and preserves significant and inspirational places around the world. Locations carrying the important designation of World Heritage site, provide an impressive history lesson as well as a virtual tour of many of the world’s most meaningful places.
Here are six you and your family won't want to miss:
The French city’s old town is an island – the Grande Ile – circled by canals and the River Ill. Families can get a unique view of this historic enclave by paddling a canoe through the canals, including the chance to maneuver through a lock with the help of a trusted guide from Adventures by Disney and AmaWaterways. You can’t miss the city’s Gothic cathedral which rises high above Strasbourg and was said to be the world’s tallest building until 1874. Climb 320 steps to a viewing platform for a bird’s eye view. And be sure to spend time inside the cathedral, taking note of the historic stained glass windows that survived many war-torn years. Also of interest is the world’s largest astronomical clock. Considered a Renaissance masterpiece, it was assembled by a team of artists, mathematicians, and technicians, and also shows signs of the zodiac, equinoxes, and leap years.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Family members who have seen the Tomb Raider films will particularly enjoy exploring the Angkor Archeological Park, unfolding deep within the Siem Reap province. While hundreds of archeological and artistic temples and ancient structures remain, the most familiar (it’s on the Cambodian flag) is Angkor Wat. Built in the 12thcentury to honor Vishnu, a Hindu God, the temple's bas relief galleries inform modern visitors of life in ancient times. Also of note is the remarkable water system, including moats, canals and reservoirs, that once provided water and crop assistance for the thriving communities. Visitors arrive via river cruises on the Mekong or a stop in Siem Riep where lodging and tours are plentiful. Contact: VikingCruises.com; TourismCambodia.com.
Amalfi Coast. Italy.
Nirvana for artists, photographers and foodies, the picturesque coastal area offers a sensual mix of cultural, natural and historic wonders. While the small communities were once only accessible by mule, modern day train travel makes it easy to visit the enchanting towns that spill toward the sea from their steep and craggy origins. During the warmer months, sail boats dot the watery landscape and boat taxis provide additional access. Contact: RailEurope.com; AmalfiCoast.com.
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia.
This iconic structure, comprised of interlocking concrete shells, anchors one of the world’s most famous harbors. Visually stimulating and home to a menu of family-friendly performances and programs, the architectural trendsetter debuted in 1973. Whether you take in a walking tour and observe the opera house glinting in the sunlight or aglow after nightfall, you’ll appreciate its artistic vibe and global significance. Contact: SydneyOperaHouse.com.
Machu Picchu. Peru.
Make your way to this extraordinary archeological site just as the Incas did. Choose from two or four day treks along the Inca Trail that culminate in stunning views of the “lost city” where palaces, terraces, walls and plazas cling to the mountainside. It was not until 1911, that a Peruvian guide led Yale Professor Hiram Bingham to the ancient site on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Mysteries remain as to how the Incas were able to construct the complex more than 500 years ago and why it was abandoned not long after. Train trips are also available from Cusco. Contact: www.AustinAdventures.com; www.FamilyAdventures.com.
Taos Pueblo. Taos, NM.
Continuously inhabited for more than 1000 years, this remarkable community remains a pristine example of Native American culture, tradition and architecture. UNESCO makes note of the Pueblo Indians’ ability to retain meaningful and long held traditions despite pressure from the outside world. Close to 1900 Pueblo Indians still live, full or part time within the community, in homes made of adobe bricks, vigas and latillas. Take a walking tour of the area and uncover a rich history, view native arts and crafts and observe a way of life rarely glimpsed in our otherwise high-tech world. Contact: (505 )758-1028; www.TaosPueblo.com; http://www.nps.gov/history/worldheritage/taos.htm
Take to the trails with your family. Here are five ways to enjoy the great outdoors.
1. Avalanche Lake Trail, Glacier National Park, West Glacier, MT.
Expect stunning scenery from start to finish when you head out on the Avalanche Lake Trail. Plan a half-day in which to enjoy the 4.6-mile trek through a scenic gorge, along a bubbling stream and through an inland Pacific rain forest teeming with cedar and hemlock trees. The payoff is mighty when you reach the pristine lake surrounded by sheer cliffs and glistening waterfalls. It’s a popular picnic spot so bring a snack to share. All of Glacier National Park is bear country, so travel in groups, make noise and carry bear spray.
Contact: www.VisitMT.com; www.NPS.gov/glac
2. Mount Rainier National Park, Ashford, Washington
The kids will feel like real mountaineers when they venture along the Sourdough Ridge Trail, located in the subalpine zone of the park. The 2.5-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.
3. Kekekabic Trail, Ely, MN.
The full length of the Kekekabic Trail, or the Kek as it is known to local hikers, winds almost 40 miles from Snowbank Road, east of Ely, through the heart of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, to the famed Gunflint Trail, west of Grand Marais. Take on a family-sized slice of this this wild trail to experience rocky outcroppings, pristine lakes, scenic bluffs, and eagles soaring overhead. Listen for the rich yodeling of resident loons in the distance.
Contact: www.Kek.org; www.ExploreMinnesota.com
4. Piney Lake, Vail, CO.
Your family will declare the 11-mile journey up the bumpy road “worth it!” when you arrive at this breathtaking, high-altitude location. With the pristine lake as foreground, the craggy Gore Range serves as your backdrop for the out and back hike to a waterfall. You’ll journey along a smooth path through low shrubs before reaching a set of switchbacks that wind through an evergreen forest and over bubbling creeks. Most families turn around at the cascades when water rushes through narrowing canyon walls. Plan to rent canoes, enjoy an ice cream cone or go horseback riding at the adjacent Piney River Ranch.
5. Sioux Charley Lake. Nye, MT.
This six-mile round trip hike provides of visual feast of nature’s bounty. 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 intermittent rock outcroppings provide the perfect setting for a family picnic.
Contact: visitmt.com; MTHikes.com.
When I was a kid, my mom would retain her sanity each summer by sending me off on a 10-day YMCA backpacking trip with a bunch of strangers (which, by the way, I highly recommend for all you over-protective parents out there). Not only did these hiking trips get me out of the house and into the mountains, they also taught me life-long lessons about ecology, weather, navigation, and self-reliance. So do your kids a confidence-building favor and take them hiking this summer—they’ll forgive you in the end.
Family adventures abound north of the US border. Visit Canada for outdoor adventure and yet another view of the natural world. Here are five places to explore with our northern neighbors:
Heli-hiking in British Columbia.
Chopper, chopper, chopper. The thrill begins when your crew boards the spacious helicopter bound for your high mountain lodge. Within just a few days every member of the family will push their high altitude limits while rock climbing with world-class mountain guides or simply enjoying colorful wildflowers aside stunning glacier lakes. Designed to engage children of all ages, families can choose to divide by ability and interest during the day and gather for the evening or choose to explore together for the week. CMH also offers heli-skiing adventures during the winter months. Contact: 1(800)661-0252; www.CanadianMountainHolidays.com.
Whistler/Blackcomb, British Columbia.
Olympic alpine ski coverage may have stoked your interest in this pair of charming ski resorts. Throughout the year, families will find plenty of activities to engage each member of the clan. In summer, enjoy kayaking, rafting, and horseback riding. Try out the bungee trampoline, the Core climbing center or just stroll through the village. When the snow falls there is plenty of downhill and cross-country skiing as well as snowboarding, snowshoeing and dog-sledding to keep an active family engaged. Check out deals, packages and last minute offers on the website.
Kids love the chance to ride the rails. A good option for reunions or multigenerational travel, this family owned company offers more than 70 Canadian train vacation packages through British Columbia, Alberta and the Canadian Rockies. Unplug and relax while taking in spectacular scenery from the comfort of your seat. Onboard attendants provide colorful commentary and make sure every member of the clan enjoys the ride. Best known for their two-day, all daylight train excursion and rail tour through the Canadian Rockies, this year the company celebrates their 20th year in business.
Contact: (800) 665-7245; www.Rocky Mountaineer.com
Find your way to the remote community of Churchill for a chance to see the magnificent polar bear, which migrates to this icy seaport on the Hudson Bay in search of the ringed seal. As night falls on the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”, glimpse the amazing aurora borealis or northern lights for an added thrill. During the summer months, Beluga whale-watching is possible in small boats or zodiacs.
Contact: 1(800)665-0040; www.travelmanitoba.com.;
Klondike Gold Rush Route, The Yukon.
Relive one of the most exciting and colorful eras in Canadian history when you step back in time along the route of the Klondike Gold Rush. Be sure to make time for Dawson City, where dusty streets lined with old-time boardwalks and historic buildings evoke a sense of what life was like in the Wild West. You’ll also learn about First Nations cultures, and have plentiful opportunities to view wildlife, fish and hike. Take advantage of visitor centers along the way to maximize your journey. Come winter, snowshoe, cross- country ski or join in a dog sled race.
Contact:1 (800) 661-0494; www.511yukon.ca/; www.TravelYukon.com.
I have always wanted to visit one of the 10th Mountain Division huts tucked high within Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Named to honor the men of the 10th Mountain Division of the US Army who trained during World War II in Central Colorado, the system of 29 backcountry huts are connected by 350 miles of suggested routes.
It’s a must see: stunning vistas, more than 200 lakes, 175 named mountains and 40 glaciers, tucked within one million acres of natural beauty. That’s Glacier National Park.
Established in 1910, by an act of Congress, this extraordinary recreational playground is also home to more than 350 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
With so much to see, if you go, it is important to plan in advance. Here are a few suggestions to help plan your visit:
Explore on foot.
With more than 800 miles of maintained hiking trails, there are plenty of opportunities for families to learn about the flora and fauna. A favorite among families, we enjoyed the beauty of the Avalanche Lake trail. Within four miles round trip, and a gain of just 500 feet in elevation, trekkers will enjoy a rich forest environment, tumbling waterfalls and a majestic lake with more waterfalls at the turnaround point. Take a picnic and enjoy. Easily accessible, the trailhead is five miles beyond the Lake McDonald Lodge.
Ride the Red Bus.
The historic red buses are a symbol of another age, providing a commanding overview of the park’s magnificent history and scenery. The vintage vehicle carries 17 passengers. Tours range from three hours to a full day. Children under 12 are half price. Contact: Glacier Park, Inc. ; www.GlacierParkInc.com; 406.892.2525.
Scenic Boat Tours.
Step aboard historic boats and glide across the pristine alpine lakes nestled amid majestic peaks. Enjoy the colorful commentary provided by the skilled crew. Available from four locations. Fares under $20. Children under four are free. Children 4-12 are half price. Contact: www.GlacierParkBoats.com; (406) 257-2426.
Float the River.
Venture down the wild and scenic middle and north forks of the Flathead River with professional guides who will share their knowledge of the river. Half and full day scenic floats or whitewater adventures. Paddle a raft or an inflatable kayak. Contact: www.GlacierRaftCo.com; 1 (800) 235-6781.
Glacier Outdoor Center’s log cabins provide a comfortable and well-located retreat just outside the gates at West Glacier. A great option for family reunions, one and two bedroom cabins sleep from six to fourteen people. Enjoy full kitchens, covered decks, a gas grill and full guide services on site. Contact: www.GlacierRaftCo.com; 1(800) 235-6781. For reservations inside the park contact: www.GlacierParkInc.com; (406) 892-2525.
For additional information about Glacier National Park contact: www.nps.gov/Glac; 1 (406) 888-7800.
Toddlers are travelers too. Your pint-sized family member just needs the right destination or activity to embrace his or her energy and curiosity.
Check out these places that embrace the junior set:
Disneyland. Anaheim, CA. Risk humming the song for weeks, but consider It’s a Small World, a family favorite first designed for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Climb aboard a boat that will cruise slowly past more than 100 dolls and animals dressed in international garb. Hear the well-known song in five languages. Young visitors will also enjoy Goofy’s Playhouse, Casey Jr. Circus Train and Big Thunder Ranch. The Disney web site allows parents to search for age-appropriate attractions, enabling strategic planning. Search the site for discounts and special packages.
Contact: (714) 781-4565; http://disneyland.disney.go.com
Club Med. Opt for quality time with the kids, paired with time to relax and recharge. Toddlers get the chance to play with other two and three years old in the Petit Club Med where they engage in age-appropriate water play, and indoor and outdoor games and crafts. Meanwhile, parents can relax on the beach, play tennis, kayak or unwind in the spa. When the sun goes down, babysitting services are available. Children’s club availability varies by Club Med locations.
Contact: 1-888-932-2582; www.clubmed.us
Visit the Zoo. Washington DC. Featuring more than 2,000 animals and a bounty of intriguing sights and sounds, young children will be amazed at the world that surrounds them. The Smithsonian National Zoological Park, often referred to as the National Zoo, is home to the exciting Giant Panda as well as two recent litters of lion cubs. Tucked within Rock Creek Park on more than 160 acres, the zoo is both walking and stroller friendly. Admission is free but parking can be challenging and pricey. Consider adding to the adventure by arriving via the Metro train.
Contact: 202-633-4800; http://nationalzoo.si.edu/
FDR Resort. Jamaica. There is nothing like an afternoon splashing in the surf and building sand castles to wear out an active toddler. At the FDR Resort in Runaway Bay, Jamaica, once Junior goes down, a Vacation Nanny is available to sit by his side, while you enjoy all the resort has to offer. Check in to this all-inclusive seaside getaway, and meet your Vacation Nanny who will assist you and your family in having the most relaxing time possible. Trained in child care and housekeeping, this professional staff member’s goal is to fill in where needed, whether by looking after youngsters in the pool, or making sure the kids’ favorite snacks are on hand in the room.
Contact: 1-800-654-1337; www.fdrholidays.com
On The Trail. Getting kids outside early and often is likely to instill a lifetime love of nature. Visit a local trail and watch as your child explores with wonder, turning over rocks and observing small animals and birds. Choose a loop trail or plan a scavenger hunt. Bring along a picnic and plenty of water or juice so that the whole family stays hydrated. After a few close-to-home practice rounds, include nature walks and hiking in your travel itineraries. In time, you’ll be scaling heights.
With opportunities from Montana to Malawi, there is a volunteer vacation to suit every family. Here are five organizations to consider when planning your next family voluntourism trip.
Help build a house in Mexico, save the turtles in Costa Rica or teach young children to read in Malawi. More than 61 million Americans dedicated 8.1 billion hours to volunteerism, according to a recent report from the Corporation for National & Community Service. And now Americans are increasingly taking their charity on the road.
Voluntourism, the concept of doing good while having a good time, is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry.During a recent trip to the Peruvian Amazon region, my school-aged sons and I, along with two family friends, traveled 90 miles by speedboat deep within the jungle. There we delivered much-needed school supplies to several communities along the river. In return, we enjoyed the students’ songs, dances and original poetry. Their creativity and energy were among the most memorable aspects of our adventure.
I-to-I offers volunteer vacation experiences in Honduras, India and Costa Rica working with sustainable, locally run community, educational and environmental projects. Its travel advisors will provide specific information about each country and project so that you can make the best decision for your family. Tel. 800-985-4852, www.i-to-i.com.
Founded in 1984, Global Volunteers offers short- and long-term opportunities in more than 20 countries. Popular family projects include working with the Blackfeet Indians in Montana, teaching conversational English, assisting in orphanages and working on building projects in Costa Rica. www.globalvolunteers.org
Craft your own family volunteer vacation from hundreds of opportunities provided on this Web site. You’ll find connections to projects and causes around the world. www.GiveSpot.com
Students gather for a group picture with their host families from the Tanzanian village of Itete.
American Hiking Society
On an American Hiking Society volunteer vacation, family members visit stunning backcountry locations to construct or rebuild footpaths, cabins and shelters. You’ll meet other volunteers while exploring and restoring some of the most beautiful outdoor places in America. American Hiking Society members qualify for discounts. www.americanhiking.org
Amazonia Expeditions subscribes to the philosophy that tourism companies have an obligation to invest in the well-being of the environment as well as native people. Dolores Arevalo Shapiama de Beaver, a native of the Amazon and the owner of a wilderness lodge, has worked to identify individuals with special needs who could benefit from medical or educational intervention. Visitors can provide and help distribute school and medical supplies, as well as clothing, while learning about the native people, conservation and the rainforest habitat.
What’s not to like about a town that serves up 300 days of sunshine, boasts an average annual temperature of 82 and continues to land on one “Best Place” list after another? That's Tucson.
It’s not surprising that this gem in the desert is tipping the population scale at close to one million people. Arizona’s second largest city, Tucson has had the collective good sense to hold on to its Wild West charm and rugged good looks while attaining status as a new sophisticate, boasting world class art, novel cuisine and luxury spas and resorts.
I am among the city’s legion of fans. For starters, how could anyone not be impressed with the neighborhood? Tucson is in a saguaro-strewn desert basin circled by five mountain ranges—the Santa Catalinas and Tortolitas to the north; the Rincons to the east; the Santa Ritas to the south; and the Tucson Mountains to the west. And if that weren’t bounty enough, three national parks lie just outside the city limits: Saguaro National Parks East and West, and the Coronado National Forest in the Catalina Mountains.
Certainly the natural beauty and conducive-to-almost-everything climate continues to attract weather-weary folks from other parts of the country. But among the city’s most appealing aspect is its authenticity.
The city’s Old Pueblo has a long and complex history that blends the cultures of the earliest Anglo frontiersmen, Native American peoples and Spanish explorers. That history and its remnants provides a richly textured backdrop for the natural playground that beckons outdoor adventurers as well as the modern-day amenities that lure other segments of today’s travelers.
So when you decide to visit Tucson, the hardest part will be narrowing your list of possibilities. As you begin to plan, know that it may be your first trip, but it won’t be your last.
Start by spending time on the Tucson Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s very thorough Web site, www.visittucson.org. There, you will find a wealth of information, including money saving deals and packages, and can request a visitor’s guide. You will also find information about the Tucson Attractions Passport ($15), which provides 2-for-1 offers and discounts to major attractions.
The first decision to make is where to stay. The options are all enticing: downtown historic hotel, rustic guest ranch, luxurious bed-and-breakfast, or world-class spa, golf and tennis resort. Which will it be? This time!
With the kids in tow, any of these resorts are good family-friendly choices:
Two of the world’s best-known spas are in Tucson. These relaxing enclaves may be best enjoyed when the youngsters are occupied elsewhere.
Guest ranch stays make for great family vacations and are an ideal way to sample the Tucson landscape.
Like much of Arizona, Tucson is an athlete and nature lover’s nirvana. There is a whole collection of people, from professional baseball players to serious cyclists, who make this desert oasis their home base for winter training. With so many ups and downs to keep the heart rate pumping, and so little rain in the forecast, you can count on staying in shape during your holiday.
From urban walks in town (take a walk through the University of Arizona campus!) to rugged canyon outings, you could strap on your boots every day of the year and never run short of trails to try. If you must choose one place to start, Sabino Canyon tops my list. For sheer beauty, a chance to see wildlife and plenty of easy to follow trails, this is a winner. And, no matter where you stay, you’ll likely find great hiking options out the front door. Ask for nearby suggestions. Also check www.localhikes.com.
My cycling friends concur: Tucson is a great place ride. With so many mountain trails and well-marked bike paths, it’s not surprising that Bicycling magazine has ranked Tucson as one of the country’s best bike-friendly cities. One example of the local attitude: free bicycle valet parking at Tucson special-events.
If you have even the slightest interest in birding, you will be mesmerized by the plentiful and colorful species that migrate through Southern Arizona. I saw my first Vermillion Flycatcher on a Tucson golf course. Rather than focus on my son’s tournament, I spent the day transfixed by these red-chested beauties as they darted in and out of the trees. Young children delight in the plentiful array of hummingbirds hovering near brightly colored desert plants and feeders.
You could spend a week, a month, even a year playing the more than 40 beautiful municipal, public and private golf courses in Southern Arizona. Most are family-friendly and welcome junior players on the links. You’ll find desert courses (locals call it “target golf”) or more traditional links style courses. If your focus will be tee to green, be sure to check the CVB and resort hotel Web sites for the multitude of packages available. Also note, as the temperatures rise, greens fees fall considerably.
Don’t Miss Sightseeing The Anza Trail
Learn about the significant Spanish and Mexican influence on the region through a tour of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. Anza, an intrepid explorer, led a party of 240 colonists on an expedition from Mexico to found a mission near the San Francisco Bay. The Anza Trail is a 1,200-mile marked route, beginning in Southern Arizona. While this could be a vacation program in itself, you can pick and choose from the many interesting stops on the trail. There are numerous, itineraries to consider. For suggestions: www.arizonaguide.com
San Xavier del Bac Mission
This amazing white, historic structure is often referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of North America.” With delicate paintings on the walls and ceiling and beautiful architectural lines, San Xavier del Bac is a favorite among photographers visiting the area. My children and I enjoy visiting churches during our travels, particularly in historic areas, and this stop was no exception. It remains a Catholic parish serving the Tohono O’odham community for whom it was first established in the late 1600s. www.sanxaviermission.org
Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
I’ve visited this remarkable museum many times, with and without my boys, and would welcome any opportunity to return. This is a great way to introduce children (and adults) to the magnificence of the Sonoran desert and all of its inhabitants. With a world wide reputation in the scientific community as its cornerstone, the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum serves as a zoo, natural history museum and botanical garden in one stop.
Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the more than 300 animal species (including mountain lions, snakes and Gila monsters ) and 1,200 kinds of plants. Check the Web site in advance to find out about special events for the day and children’s programs you will want to schedule into your visit. www.desertmuseum.org
Pima Air & Space Museum
The largest aviation and space museum west of the Rocky Mountains, Pima gets votes from my boys for the more than 250 aircraft on display, from Wright Brothers–style antiques to space exploration vehicles. www.pimaair.org
Center for Creative Photography
For photography lovers, the Center for Creative Photography is a must-see stop. Located on the University of Arizona campus, this museum holds contemporary works of nearly every major North American, 20th-century photographer, including images by Ansel Adams and Alfred Stieglitz. And it’s free. www.creativephotography.org
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.