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.
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.