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!
You know Colorado, right?
World-class skiing, snow-capped mountains, frigid temps.
Yet, during a recent family trip from our mountain home to another part of the state, we were reminded of how much more there is to explore.
Rocky Mountain Divide
The famous Rocky Mountains run through the middle of the state, dividing the mountainous highlands from...well, essentially Kansas.
The Front Range is what the locals call the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and there is no uncertainty about where those hills end and the Great Plains begin.
The line of mountains looks like a long wave about to crash on a smooth beach. And it's a crowded beach. More than three fifths of Colorado's happy population live in the flatlands (albeit tucked up against the base of those majestic mountains), including the capital, Denver, and the hip college towns of Boulder and Fort Collins. Also in that list is the historic and sometimes overlooked Colorado Springs, the state's second largest metropolis.
So Much To Do In The Springs
The Springs, as locals abbreviate it, isn't absent from the national consciousness, strictly speaking, but it is surprising how its vast and diverse array of activities can remain a secret to most outside the state. Many know it for being the home to the stunning U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Olympic Training Center, for its iconic view of Pikes Peak (where Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to pen "America the Beautiful"), and for the U.S. Air Force North American Air Defense Command or NORAD (actually inside Cheyenne Mountain, to protect it from a nuclear strike!).
And while it recently had some recognition for its move-worthy amenities and lifestyle with US News & World Report ranking it the 2nd most desirable place to live in the U.S., it is currently getting more well-deserved love as a tourist destination.
Families Take Note!
But families in particular should stand up and take notice of Colorado Springs. Per square mile, there may not be a more beautiful, diverse, affordable, family-friendly place.
Homebase for our Colorado Springs adventure was the Cheyenne Mountain Resort. Located on 200 acres, with golf, spa, a 35- acre lake with loads of water action, and plenty of hiking trails nearby, it was a grand location from which to explore.
Your family can sit around a beach bonfire, go paddle boarding at sunset, or play Marco Polo in the pool. There's also a Kid's Club to consider and special programs offered during summer and school holidays.
Of course the whole place started with natural beauty. Approaching the city from the east, you'll see Pikes Peak looming over it, just as the mountain's namesake, military explorer Zebulon Pike did in 1806. After the area was settled, it became famous for its healing climate and spring waters (of Manitou Springs). That attention in turn made visitors notice the exceptional aesthetic beauty that is still the soul of the place.
Of course natural beauty often inspires creative beauty, and Colorado Springs is a testament to that aesthetic connection. The Air Force Academy grounds and chapel are a stunning blend of modern architecture and design sprouting from the dense coniferous forest. And if all that doesn't inspire the kids, there are planes, gliders, and skydivers overhead all day long.
The Broadmoor Hotel is worth a visit, even if you're not staying. The grounds and buildings are breathtaking, and the activities in and around will keep you busy for easily an afternoon or more. The founder of Colorado Springs, William Palmer, built a castle, called Glen Eyrie, in the western foothills near Garden of the Gods that is today open to visit, tour, and relax for high tea (it is a castle, after all). And perhaps most inspiring are the Anasazi Cliff Dwellings above Manitou Springs. The dwellings were actually relocated from southern Colorado over 100 years ago to save them from further destruction by artifact poachers, but there is no better testament to Necessity as the mother of art and Nature as her muse.
All of these things are within 20 minutes of each other, making a visit more about experiences and family time than travel time. Particularly convenient is the Colorado Springs airport. If you can fly there from your home city, you'd likely save money on Frontier Airlines, or justify the extra cost of avoiding the time-sucking Denver International Airport. On a recent flight to Phoenix from Colorado Springs, our family timed our trip from car door to gate in less than 15 minutes, with a stop to check luggage!
If you go
Check out Colorado Springs Convention & Visitor’s Bureau for great family activities.
You can find a place for any budget in Colorado Springs, but check out these options that add some character, history, and entertainment into the package.
Located near the Broadmoor Hotel, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and North Cheyenne Cañon Park, this family-friendly hotel feeds kids 10 and under for free and offers packages to keep them busy while you golf, swim, hike...spa! It's also surprisingly affordable.
The Grande Dame of Colorado Springs hotels boasts a massive property with all sorts of amenities, history, and breathtaking view from its high perch. It'll cost you a bit more, but this is the life of the finer things.
WARNING: This North American chain is a self-contained family zone. With a massive indoor water park, restaurants, performances, and activities, Great Wolf will tempt you into never leaving the grounds. You must not let that happen. Our preferred strategy is one to two nights at Great Wolf and at least three more in a property that embodies the character and charm of Colorado Springs.
Did you Know?
Wish you were here to join us for a horseback ride under these great Montana skies.
There is so much to do here at the historic 320 Guest Ranch.
Families are hiking, fly-fishing, checking out the zip line over at Big Sky and heading into Yellowstone Park for the day. Our favorite National Park is just a few miles down the road!
First time casters and veteran anglers enjoy the natural places that enable a fly fishing vacation. Test your tippet deep in the wilderness or perfect your back casts on the resort lawn.
Gather your gear. Then enjoy the beauty and art of fly fishing:
Gore Creek Fly Fisherman. Vail, CO.
Give your kids (and perhaps yourself) a taste of this lifelong sport during daily casting clinics offered each day in the scenic Vail Village along the Gore Creek Promenade. When you are ready for more, book a half or full day walk and wade trip or sign on for a float trip through Rocky Mountain beauty.
Contact: 970-476-3296; www.GoreCreekFlyFisherman.com.
LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School. Freeport, ME or Columbia, MD.
The knowledgeable instructors at LL Bean can jump start your family into the wonderful world of fly fishing with their one or two-day introductory courses. You’ll learn about fly-tackle, delve into knot tying, fly tying, and fish-food identification, then move outside to practice casting skills in a nearby pond. Continue the analysis and improvement at home once you’ve viewed their video of your newly acquired skill. Contact: LL Bean experts are available for fishing advice on their hotline between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m EST every day; 1-800-347-4552.
For class registration: (888)-552-3261); www.llbean.com/outdoorsOnline/odp/courses/flyfishing/fly-fishing-essentials1-maine.html
Chetola Resort. Blowing Rock, NC.
The only Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing lodge in North Carolina has plenty to offer the entire family. Pack a rod for a half day trip to “The Refuge” on Boone Fork Creek, a destination deemed ideal for beginners and families. When not casting a line, check out the children’s camp, a heated indoor pool, fitness center and nearby rafting and golf.
Contact: (800) 243-8652; www.Chetola.com.
Match the Hatch. Livingston, MT.
Spend a day on the Yellowstone River with Eric Adams and your family members will go home with more than basic casting skills. His educational background in ecology means you’ll learn to “match the hatch”, fish pocket water from a raft and how to maximize a day on the famed Yellowstone River or nearby spring creeks. You are sure to enjoy time on the Yellowstone, the longest stretch of blue-ribbon trout habitat in the nation.
Contact: 406.223.2488; www.MontanaFlyFishingGuides.com
Fishing on the Farm. Blackberry Farm, Walland, TN.
With two ponds and a stream on site, plus more than 700 miles of fishable trout streams in the neighboring Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this gem of a property offers the novice or experienced fly fishing family the opportunity to enjoy great water as well as a sea of additional activities. Horseback riding, mountain biking, cooking schools, the Farmhouse Spa and charming accommodations on 4,200 pastoral acres, combine to create a picturesque haven for a gathering clan. Contact: (800) 648-4252; www.BlackberryFarm.com.