Does your family travel in an RV?
Visitors to Death Valley National Park now have options thanks to the Furnace Creek Ranch.
The Fiddler’s Campground offers 35 RV sites (but no hook-ups). Located at The Ranch, the Furnace Creek RV Park offers 26 full-hookup RV sites and can accommodate RVs up to 50 feet.
Guests enjoy swimming in the nearby spring fed pool, laundry and shower facilities, complimentary wireless internet and easy access to restaurants.
For those who like to spend time on the links, the Furnace Creek Golf Course is directly adjacent to the Campground. As the lowest elevation course in North America, it’s one for your bucket list.
Both sites provide the perfect jumping off place to enjoy Death Valley National Park and the extraordinary night sky.
Put Death Valley National Park and the Oasis at Death Valley (formally the Furnace Creek Resort) on your family vacation list and you’ll return home amazed by the sometimes startling natural wonders, astounding vistas and western charm you’ve discovered.
From our country’s low point at Badwater to neighboring mountains rising more than 11,000 feet from the desert floor, the local landscape will leave you and your family forever changed by the beauty of its memory.
You’ll also have loads of fun exploring via jeep, horseback, bike, golf cart and horse-drawn wagon.
The family-friendly and historic Oasis at Death Valley Resort is an ideal vantage point from which to explore Death Valley National Park, a land of striking contrasts.
This sparsely populated landscape is rich in natural beauty. Rolling sand dunes provide color and texture amid a dramatic silence. Death Valley is the largest national park outside Alaska.
Providing contrast to the desert surroundings, families enjoy time in the spring-fed swimming pools. The Ranch at Furnace Creek offers accommodations in a casual, family-like setting on western-themed grounds, a nod to its origin in the 1800s as a working ranch.
Visions of California gold-hued riches fueled the intrepid explorers who crossed the rugged terrain of Death Valley aboard wagon trains in 1849. Each November, modern day travelers can relax in comfort while learning about the hardships the early pioneers endured.
Guests at both the Oasis at Death Valley and the Ranch at Furnace Creek can take part in the annual 49ers Encampment that celebrates the historic trek with gold panning, a western art show, music , a “pampered pet” parade and the colorful arrival of a wagon train and riders on horseback.
Vast salt flats create a cracked mosaic across the desert floor providing mesmerizing photographic opportunities. Badwater, 17 miles south of the resort, is the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level.
From Dante's viewpoint, more than 5,000 feet up in the Black Mountains, you can see across most of 110-mile-long Death Valley. About an hour from the Inn at Furnace Creek, the vista provides a unique overview of the sites you might choose to explore more closely.
Built in 1927, the historic 66-room lodge sits aside a mineral stream that meanders across the property and warms the swimming pool to a comfy 85°F.
This scenic pathway on the Oasis at Death Valley property provides shaded cover for hikers, bikers and those who enjoy a horse-drawn wagon ride.
Kids ( and their parents ) love exploring the unique region via horseback.
The resort, ( pictured in the distance ) is located in a desert oasis where mountain run-off from the Funeral Mountains flows. The average high temperature in November is 76ºF with very little humidity. The park averages less than two inches of rain per year.
At 214 feet below sea level, the rolling 18-hole, par 70 course is 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.
IF YOU GO:
Photos by Lynn O'Rourke Hayes
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: fs.usda.gov/detail/mount 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; nps.gov/havo/index.htm
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: nps.gov/yell/index.htm; 1-866-439-7375
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.
A Colorado clan takes time ( too little as it turns out ) to explore
Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National
Park from their base camp -- YMCA of the Rockies.
"Man, this place has everything!"
Our 8-year-old, Piper, was agog only halfway through our two-day experience at YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park Center. My marketeer wife wondered aloud why, with so much free stuff, they don't bill it as all-inclusive. "Hmm, I will have to inquire," she answered herself.
This Y's Estes Park Center has been connecting youth and families with nature for over 100 years, longer than the adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park has been a national park. And though it borders both the park and it's gateway tourist town, Estes Park, it is easy enough to overdose on activity without ever leaving the 800-plus acre grounds of the Y. Of course I don't recommend missing the incomparable majesty of Rocky Mountain National Park (thankfully, many Y activities are actually forays into the park), and even the most trap-shy tourist would find something worth seeing in Estes Park. So the solution is obvious. Give yourself more than the two and a half days we allotted for this adventure.
Of Dog Pulls and Choo Choos
As check in at the Y wasn't till the afternoon, we spent part of our first day exploring events in town. The parking lot of the Visitor's Center was host to the 25th (yes, 25th!) annual Dog Weight Pull. It's just like it sounds, like a tractor pull, but for dogs. Genuine canine competition.
For inside fun we let loose our inner dorks at the Estes Park Conference Center, joining enthusiasts at the Rails of the Rockies model train show. Train fans are serious about their choo choos.
Y Wouldn't You?
Finally leaving the hustle and bustle of the tourist town, we drove 10 minutes out of Estes Park to the vast and peaceful grounds of the Estes Park Center of YMCA of the Rockies.
Dropping our bags in our cozy cabin felt like coming home again. I suppose I expected "rustic" in all the sense those quotation marks imply, but with a kitchen you could actually cook and store food in, cushy furniture, wrap-around deck with a killer view, and…wait for it…wifi!, I would upgrade the description to "rustic chic". Some units also have fireplaces (we would have loved one) and TVs (we loved not having one).
After touring the grounds to see the mind-boggling array of activities available (many only in the high summer season), we stopped for dinner in the cafeteria with 1,400 thronging teens, pre-teens, and a few bedraggled handlers. The air, thick with hormones, and bad perfume, brought back a flood of summer-camp memories. Unfortunately, so did the all-you-can-eat buffet food. But hey, it's camp, and if you get desperate, you're just 5-10 minutes from dozens of restaurants in town.
We started taking bites of the activities elephant with our remaining time that first night with a visit to the indoor pool, which was perfect for sapping the last of our day's energy.
So Much To Do, So Little Time
Day 2 was a whirlwind of activity. Here is our list from that epic day:
Breakfast in the cafeteria
Wildlife Detectives: an hour program learning about the nature of and inter-relationship of the area's wildlife. Half inside, half outside.
Broom ball: poor man's (and uncoordinated man's) hockey on the camp's frozen pond.
Ice skating: on the pond with free skate rentals.
Lunch in the cafeteria (maybe we'll eat dinner in town)
Putt putt golf: "Elk Duds" are a natural hazard here. Play on.
Hike: One of many at the edge of the grounds. Tons more outside the grounds.
A Spot of Grownup Time
As we'd decided to grab dinner in town, we took advantage of a bit of extra time beforehand to visit, get this, the "family friendly" Snowy Peaks Winery. Grownups belly up to a $3 wine tasting flight while enjoying grownup talk with the proprietors. This is unusually possible because of their "No Wine-ing Zone" for the kids, who are welcome to free tastings of cider (non-alcoholic, naturally).
Since the kids were such champs at the winery, and we had an oven back at the cabin, we ran by Village Pizza for some take 'n' bake. After devouring that manna from Heaven, we were fortunate that the kids (who had napped in the car) dragged our old bones out again to the camp's indoor rollerskating rink. They were playing Abba.
After crashing hard that night and sleeping in the next morning, we were able to finish our stay strong with more roller skating, a course in proper hiking preparedness, and a visit to the amazing Crafts Center. So, with mementos of their own making in hand, we were able to persuade the kids to hop in the car and depart the Y.
"I wish we could stay longer here," Piper said.
Success is when you leave with them wanting more.
IF YOU GO
YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center is open and quite busy year-round.* But it's peak season of activities, pleasant weather, and guests is summer. Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park also peak at this time. Given this trio, you would not find yourself getting bored in the summer with a weeklong stay. Lodging is discounted in the off season, when there is still tons to do in and out of the camp. We think, with the countless free and cheap activities, that the lodging prices are a great deal. The great range of lodging and programs also makes the Y great for youth and corporate retreats, family reunions, and multi-family vacations.
At 8,000 feet at the foot of the Continental Divide, temperatures can be very warm during the day and frigid at night. Sun in the day can also quickly turn to rain or even snow (even in summer!), so bring layers and a pack to carry them. Always have hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, and other sunblock; it takes just 15 minutes to burn in the thin Rocky Mountain air.
Drink more water than you think you need and slow your pace or the low oxygen air will unpleasantly slow it for you. Bring your camera and binoculars to catch the breathtaking views and abundant wildlife.
*Note: YMCA of the Rockies has another, much larger camp on the other side of Rocky Mountain National Park called Snow Mountain Ranch, which is more winter-centric than Estes Park Center.
This winter, get cozy with the kids in a great American lodge. Sit by the fire, share stories and enjoy a winter family vacation. Here are five to consider:
Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Tabernash, CO.
Stay in a cabin or the lodge and get cozy near one of 45 flickering fireplaces. Enjoy local specialties in the lodge dining room where a three-story, three-hearth fireplace, comprised of hand-stacked stones, warms winter visitors. Grab the binoculars to catch a glimpse of wildlife roaming on this 6,000 acre expanse of Colorado beauty or set out on the Nordic trails for an up-close view of winter scenes. From now through May, stay two nights and get the third night free. Pet friendly. Contact: 970-726-5632; www.devilsthumbranch.com.
Skytop Lodge. Skytop, PA.
For junior boarders and skiers, this lodge in the Poconos offers crowd-free, gentle slopes on which to learn. Kids as young as three can enroll in ski school. Dog mushing, tobogganing, sledding, ice-skating and cross-country skiing add to the active pursuits available on this sprawling 5,000-acre estate. Later, stretch out in the indoor pool or bubbling hot tub and get ready for game night. Contact: 800 -345 -7759; www.Skytop.com.
Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, OR.
Located in Oregon’s Mount Hood National Forest, this magnificent lodge was built at the height of the Great Depression by unemployed craftspeople hired by the Federal Works Progress Administration. Located 60 miles east of Portland, the well-crafted lodge has long served as the centerpiece of this mountain playground. Take a guided, moonlit snowshoe tour, experience Snowcat skiing or simply relax in the historic lodge and enjoy the extraordinary views. Ask about weekday, ski-free deals. Contact: (800).547-1406; www.timberlinelodge.com/
El Tovar – Grand Canyon National Park, AZ.
Open since 1905 and registered as a national Historic Landmark, this charming, 78-room lodge is just steps from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Take in a nature talk, go for a mule ride or hike the famed trails that criss-cross down and through the park. Marvel at the extraordinary beauty of snow falling onto the multi-colored rock walls and into the canyon below. Contact: 928-638-2631; www.GrandCanyonLodges.com.
The Whiteface Lodge. Lake Placid, NY.
Located in the heart of the Adirondacks, this woodland lodge is spacious, with modern amenities. At the same time, it serves up rustic, with stone chimneys, antler chandeliers and handcrafted Adirondack furnishings. Nightly family bonfires, a skating rink, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing and indoor swimming programs, provide plenty to keep an active family engaged. A complimentary kids club makes it easy for the adults to take advantage of the full service spa on site. Contact: 800-903-4045; www.thewhitefacelodge.com
Glacier National Park.
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. The last time I visited it was a multi-generational outing - my Dad, my son and my niece and it was a great destination for all of us.
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 jump start your visit:
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.
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.
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.
Don't Miss Many Glacier
Glacier Outdoor Center’s log cabins provide a comfortable and well-located retreat just outside the gates at West Glacier. 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.
For additional information about Glacier National Park contact: www.nps.gov/Glac; 1 (406) 888-7800.
Float, fish, swim, sail. It’s all possible when you plan a family lake vacation.
Here a five places to consider:
Yellowstone Lake. Yellowstone National Park. For a different view of this high altitude lake, leave the camper vans and crowds behind and travel across the water via cabin cruiser. Then transfer to a sea kayak or canoe and embark
Introduce your young children to the world of adventure travel.
Here are a few great places to get started:
Appalachian Mountain Club Adventures. New England.
Beginning at age five, kids can participate in pond studies, GPS treasure hunts, forest ecology lessons, and wildlife watching and tracking activities. It is all part of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s family camp and adventure programs. In beautiful outdoor settings in New Hampshire and Maine, the whole family will learn outdoor skills and safety tips. Also, participate in flat water canoeing, nature walks and even a day hike to a backcountry hut. Spend the night in a bunk room or your family’s own private quarters. Contact: (603)466-2727; www.outdoors.org/adventure_camps.
Wild West Train Ride. Horseshoe Bend, ID.
Add a little zest to a first train ride when you book Thunder Mountain Line’s Wild West Train Robbery ride through southwest Idaho. As the story goes, a sneaky con-man and his sidekicks set out to steal a chest of gold as it is transported on the rails. The US Cavalry is on board for protection, but passengers, young and old, experience the adventure, drama and suspense as the tale unfolds during the 3.5 hour round trip excursion. Available selected dates, July through November. Contact: 208-331-1184 www.thundermountainline.com/wildwest11.htm
Windjammer Landing Resort. St Lucia.
Children under six and their older family members can choose from a range of soft adventure opportunities while staying at this Caribbean island resort. Hop aboard for a banana boat ride, play on the floating trampoline or check out the inflatable climbing wall. Learn to snorkel or try a guided SNUBA experience, a kid-sized, first step toward learning to Scuba dive. Experience sailing on a Hobie Cat. Then visit a nearby volcano or take a rainforest tour. Contact: 1 (877)522-0722; www.windjammer-landing.com.
Four Seasons Resort, Jackson Hole, WY.
Park your family within exploring distance of Grand Teton National Park, the Bridger Teton National Forest, the National Elk Refuge and Yellowstone National Park. In this ideal Rocky Mountain setting for first time adventure, young nature lovers will enjoy scenic float trips, horseback riding, wall climbing and some of the most majestic scenery available within our nation’s boundaries. The resort’s resident wildlife biologist is on hand to answer questions. Ask about the National Parks Explorer package, designed to maximize your time in the area.
Contact: 1 (307) 732-5000; www.fourseasons.com/jacksonhole
Costa Rican Adventure.
Explore the rainforest with your junior adventurers where they will delight at spotting monkeys and sloths, plus color-rich birds and butterflies. Plan for easy walks through national parks and kid-friendly rafting on the Rio Penas Blancas. Learn about volcanoes and later explore tide pools and build sand castles at the beach. Sail and snorkel in the Gulf of Papagayo and scope for whales, dolphins, turtles, and rays.
Photo: Copyright Lynn O'Rourke Hayes. Yellowstone National Park, June 2011