Outdoor Families Magazine and Community strives to enrich the lives of multi-generational families globally by providing unparalleled, award-winning outdoor and adventure related content meant to inspire a connection to, participation in and stewardship of the natural world.
By Annie Gallagher Yearout – What sort of ridiculousness are we in for? Two teenagers and a single mom on a road trip together, where service for cell phones and connections to social media might just be interrupted for a few moments by windswept beaches, spouting whales and wild bike contraptions that fly along train tracks? Why, an insanely cool adventure to Mendocino, California, of course, a fun and funky coastal town just three hours north of San Francisco.
Loading up kids before the trip, I warn that we just might have a great time. They’re non-committal at this point, but nonetheless, they’re both in the car, strapped in, and paying attention. Miracles can happen. And the miracles begin to unfold as we head north on Highway 101 and take a sharp left turn onto the stunning Highway 128 as it winds its way from more central California towards the Pacific Ocean.
In every direction we look, we’re immersed in the beauty of green fields and the chance for a quick stop at quaint fruit stands and renowned California wineries, if we are so inclined.
Just before we reach the Mendocino coast, we enter Navarro River Redwoods State Park in which we’re transported into a cathedral of towering redwood trees for 11 miles. This is a transformative, awe inspiring moment for the three of us, and we pull off the road for a moment and soak it all in.
Onward we go and the massive California redwood tunnel of trees opens up to coastal scrub and we bump into the rolling and churning ocean at the famous Pacific Coast Highway, Route 1, and head north for the final leg of the drive along the Mendocino coast.
Mendocino, CA Lodging: Little River Inn
The Little River Inn comes into view just minutes before town and we hoot with delight as it’s set up right on the Mendocino coast, just on the curve of the Pacific Coast Highway and looks out directly onto the ocean. We hop out of the car next to the quaint, white, Victorian main-building, ready to check-in and continue our adventure.
Of the 65 rooms on the Little River Inn property, we’re lucky enough to have booked a large room with two double beds, a fireplace, and a front porch with rocking chairs overlooking the Pacific ocean. We toss our things in the room and wander the property and a path to the nearby beach.
Teen stomachs start rumbling and luckily Executive Chef Marc Dym and his crew were firing up a delicious menu for dinner using local Mendocino ingredients. I will admit that we devoured dinner and breakfast at Little River Inn both days of our visit like giddy foodies.
The next morning, the weather has made a turn and the rain clouds settle onto the Northern California coastline for the day. Luckily, my kids are used to my rain or shine outdoor shenanigans, so we fill our bellies with breakfast and load into the car toward Fort Bragg north of Mendocino with rain gear on hand.
Our destination is The Skunk Train, a 130 year-old rail line which takes a 7 mile round-trip toot through the lush scenery of Ft. Bragg’s Pudding Creek Estuary. This is a perfect activity for littler aged kids to experience the joy of riding an old-fashioned train or simply as a relaxing ride for families.
The real lure for my teenagers, however, is the Rail Bikes outdoor adventure which follows along the same route as the Skunk Train. The skies continue to pour giant raindrops down on us as we hop off the Skunk Train, strap on bike helmets in our rain gear, and off we go, two at a time for our 7 mile ride on biking contraptions designed specifically for train tracks.
We pedal like mad, hooting and laughing. It’s part exhilaration, part silly fun, and definitely a workout for the legs as we fly down the tracks and through the estuary. Although Rail Bikes are pedal powered, they have an electric assist feature in case riders need a boost.
My kids are burning loads of energy, my daughter has her umbrella up sheltering herself from the weather like a Mary Poppins’ character, and I can confirm that both teenagers thought the experience was “Cool, Mom!”
More Mendocino County Activities
Mendocino County has a plethora of activities to enjoy including wandering through the town of Mendocino’s eclectic art galleries, walking along the gorgeous beaches, visiting the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse and paddling down Big River in outrigger-canoes to see wildlife including seals sunbathing along the river.
Whale-watching is a draw between November and April, and although we miss out on whales during this trip, we love the story a Little River Inn employee tells us. When visitors ask, “When will the whales show up today?” he picks up the telephone and commands with a giant smile and a wink, “Release the whales!!” fielding the ubiquitous, nonsensical question with quirky humor. Such is the spirit of Mendocino.
On our final morning, I wake to a bright blue sky and a light, ocean breeze blowing directly onto our front porch. I grab my coffee and head out to soak-in the beauty of the ocean scene while the kids sleep in. I’m feeling a deep satisfaction from an unrushed and adventurous trip to the Mendocino area with my kids who put down their screens for the weekend and just had a blast. Miracles can happen.
How To Get To Mendocino, CA
From the South: Head north on Highway 101. Take Highway 128 West at Cloverdale. Highway 128 merges with Route 1. Head North on Route 1 (Pacific Coast Highway). Or follow Highway 101 to Willits. Make a left at the traffic light in town onto Highway 20 and head west. Highway 20 ends at Highway 1. Head south on Highway 1 to Mendocino.
From the East: From Sacramento, take the Highway 20 exit off of I-5 toward Clearlake/Colusa. At Highway 101, head north. 20 merges with 101 until you reach Willits. Highway 20 separates from 101 in the center of town – turn west (left) at the traffic light. At Fort Bragg at Highway 1, head south to Mendocino.
From the North: Follow Highway 1 down the coast to Mendocino.
by Melynda Harrison – I’m lying, stomach-down, in a little chute, gripping a boogie board beneath me. I’ve ridden them in the ocean before, but this is my first time riding an artificial wave. The instructor tells me to pull my elbows in, keep my chest up, and put my feet down a bit if I am about to go backwards over the crest of the wave. I scoot down, shoot into the water, and promptly flip back over the top. I forgot about that foot trick.
The Boogie Bahn at Schlitterbauhn Waterpark in New Braunfels, Texas is home the to the first surfing ride. The artificial wave was invented at Schlitterbauhn by and for professional surfers 27 years ago. Today, in addition to newbies and thrill seekers like me, people come from all over to “ride the wave” in surfing competitions and learn-to-surf events.
My second try on the Boogie Bahn is more successful; I slide into the 50,000 gallons of water and hold my place on the wave. It is kind of cheating, but I touch the bottom of the pool with my toes to hold myself steady. As soon as I lift my feet and try to turn, I slide off to the side, but that’s ok, it was a good ride while it lasted. An eight-year-old boy is doing tricks and riding like a pro. He is showing my up in every way. I am both impressed and envious.
It is my first time at a Schlitterbauhn Waterpark and my first time on an artificial surfing wave. The water amusement park in New Braunfels is the flagship and first Schlitterbauhn, but there are four others. The park was the creation of Bob and Billye Henry and open to the public in 1979. Schlitterbauhn means “slippery road” in German and is a nod to the German heritage of New Braunfels.
What began as four waterslides descending from a German-style tower has grown to 51 attractions on over 70 acres and awards of the “World’s Best Waterpark” 19 years in a row.
The history is interesting and I love the German aesthetic, but it was time for me to get back in the water after the Boogie Bahn. Texas is a hot place and I can see why waterparks are such a draw. I saunter over to a kiosk and use my Blast Pass to secure myself a place in line for the Dragon’s Revenge, an uphill water coaster. Now I can do other things in the park until my digital bracelet beeps to let me know it is my turn.
With my place in line for the Dragon’s Revenge securely and digitally held, I can bob along in the Kristal River lazy river until it’s my turn on the ride. I pass kids riding on alligators and one of seven play areas for kids. More than a splash park, these elaborate squirting, climbing, soaking areas are perfect for little kids to spend hours at play.
Schlittebahn has been a gathering place for families for 50 years as a resort, and 40 years as a waterpark. Families and groups of friends rent the houses, rooms, and cabins every summer and spend a week riding the water rides, floating the many tube rides (one is 45-minutes long!) and splashing on the banks of the Comal River. In the evening at the Resort at the Bahn, where I stayed, they show movies on an outdoor screen, hand out popcorn, and roast marshmallows for s’mores over a campfire.
When my Blast Pass beeps, I hop out of the river and go to the front of the line. The Dragon’s Revenge is the first uphill water coaster in the world. It starts with a walk through a dungeon-like entrance area. The ground is covered in water, both creating a moat-like feel and keeping feet cool on the cement. I wore sandals on all the rides, but if you were barefoot, you’d appreciate this little detail. Once on my double tube, streams of water shoot us uphill and into the tunnel. And then we go up again. It’s just like a roller coaster, only I am wet. A dragon appears out of the mist, we turn corners and shoot upward and plunge down, finally ending in a flat chute where we return the tube.
After the Dragon’s Revenge, it’s time to check out the other part of the park. I had spent the morning in Surfenburg and Blastenhoff (home of the Master Blaster and two other slides –can you call them slides if they go uphill?) and wanted to check out the other side – the original Schlitterbahn. The two sections can be connected with a tram ride. While the “new” Schlitterbahn has some thrilling rides, as well as water play areas for little ones, the original Schlitterbahn has even more rides and more trees.
The first thing I do upon reaching the original half of the park is grab an inner tube. You need one for almost every ride and everyone seems to be carrying them around. I heard that if you line up all the tubes at Schlitterbahn, they stretch eight miles. I wonder how many they have to purchase in a year.
I wander through 100-year-old oak, cedar, and cypress trees to the iconic tower modeled after the Bergfried Tower, the guard tower of the Solms Castle in Braunfels, Germany. I plop on my tube and float down a chute past many of the other attractions. The first thing I notice is that the water is colder over here. That’s because it comes straight out of the Comal River, is filtered, and then provides the water for the rides before being returned to the river. In the 97-degree heat, it feels amazing to be sitting in refreshing water, relaxing my way through the park and eventually landing in the Comal River itself.
Families are floating together, teens are holding hands across the tubes, and everyone seems to be having the most wholesome of summer vacations. While the rides are fun, the real draw of the Schlitterbahn is the opportunity to connect with friends and family. In the rooms near mine, extended families bbq on their porches while chatting about the day and their lives. Kids frolic in the swimming pools outside the rooms, tipping eachother out of inflatables and running back to the porches for snacks. Memories and connections that last a lifetime are formed here on lazy rivers, uphill water coasters, and picnic dinners.
If You Go
Getting there: New Braunfels is 32 miles or 40 minutes north of San Antonio off Interstate 35. Just plug “400 N. Liberty Ave., New Braunfels, TX 78130” into your GPS or Google Maps. Parking is free.
The closest major airport is San Antonio.
During the summer, tickets are $41.99 for children 3-11 and seniors 55+. General admission tickets are $54.99. Check the website before you go as there are package deals that include lodging and/or use of private cabanas.
What to Bring
Your own food (no alcohol or glass) or money to eat from the many concession stands.
Family-appropriate swimwear, swim shirt, cover-up, water shoes (you must hold these on some rides).
Sunscreen and sun hat.
Waterproof camera or phone case.
Reusable water bottle.
Personal life jacket if you think your child will want one. There are some available first come, first served.
If you forget anything, an extensive gift shop has all the necessities.
Melynda Harrison is contributing editor to Outdoor Families Magazine and writes for numerous publications including Big Sky Journal and Montana Parent. Her company YellowstoneTrips.com, specializing in Yellowstone travel. Currently, she is traveling through Europe with her family. Learn more at travelingmel.com, on YouTube, and Instagram.
by Kate Koch-Sundquist – For millions of families across America, safe, accessible outdoor space is a privilege they can only dream about. But for the 26,000 residents of Baltimore’s Frankford neighborhood, all of that could be about to change. Here, a revolution is underway, and it’s called BLISS Meadows.
The brainchild of Atiya Wells, Baltimoreans to Live In Sustainable Simplicity (BLISS) Meadows is an initiative to create equitable access to green space through the formation of a 2.5-acre community farm adjoining 7.5 acres of additional open space. The long term vision includes farm animals, native plant meadows, food production, children’s activities, demonstration gardens, and environmental education.
This might sound like a tall order for a small neighborhood in this city of just over 600,000, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Wells. Raised in Newark, New Jersey, Wells didn’t go on her first hike until she was in her twenties, but nature has been her passion ever since. A pediatric nurse by trade, Wells says that caring for children unable to go outside bolstered her determination to ensure her own children spent time outdoors as much as possible.
When Wells began attending workshops and conferences on nature education, she quickly realized that many programs were inaccessible to members of her own community due to economic demographics, and that the racial make-up of participants was vastly unbalanced. Soon after, Wells founded Baltimore’s first chapter of the Free Forest School. Now, she regularly visits schools across the city to collaborate with educators on ways to integrate nature into their curriculum, and she hosts plant walks and walks for people of color around Baltimore.
In her own northeastern neighborhood of Frankford, with a population of 80% African American residents, clean, green space is hard to come by. Here, city parks are unmaintained and 20% of land is covered by pavement. Wells wasn’t deterred, though, so she founded an LLC called Backyard Basecamp, gained access to a 2.5-acre lot, and, along with a team of friends and volunteers, began to farm. This was the beginning of BLISS Meadows.
Now, after being offered the opportunity to purchase an adjacent property, including a house, Wells has hit the fundraising trail. The team hopes to purchase and renovate the home for use as an indoor classroom space, bathrooms, a community kitchen (so that neighbors can truly experience a farm-to-table meal), secure storage for farm program tools and equipment, and perhaps even a co-op market. The lot’s current owners have given Wells 30 days to raise the funds to purchase the home and the land it sits on. In a short three weeks, she’s raised over $23,000, but still has $37,000 left.
The Baltimore community has gathered around her, with support coming not only from neighbors but also from their local community association, including its president who has long hoped for a project such as this in the neighborhood. For Wells, the yearning is personal.
Her two children, Kori, six ,and Kai, two, already love BLISS Meadows. Kai will take any excuse to dig in the dirt, and Kori asks quite often to visit the farm, where she loves watching insects and seeing what she can find near the ponds, all of which are within walking distance for this outdoor family.
To support Wells and her community as they bring green space and sustainable food to downtown Baltimore, check out their Go Fund Me at BLISS Meadows Farmhouse in Baltimore City. They have just one more week to raise funds before the land will be sold to a developer.
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a writer, adventurer and mother to two boys aged 2.5 and 4. She is also the founder of 365Outside, a movement that encourages outdoor play for everyone, 365 days a year. Kate and her family are based in Essex, MA.
by Stephanie Harper – Sleeping outside is, in my opinion, one of the best parts about camping with kids. After all, nothing says camping like having a cozy, warm sleeping bag in which to bundle up as night approaches. There are tons of options out there, and it may seem confusing, but don’t be discouraged–we recommend checking out the buying guide below before you spend a dime, then check out our top 11 best kids sleeping bags for your young outdoor snoozers.
3 Steps to Buying the Right Kids Sleeping Bag
1. Perfecting the fit for your kid’s sleeping bag
Finding the right fit for a child-sized sleeping bag is just as important as comfort. Since kids grow so fast, a bag that will fit over several growth spurts is much appreciated. The age range for most child sleeping bags is five to 12 years of age, on up to almost six feet in height.
Look for plenty of room in the barrel for splayed out arms and legs, and smooth zipper motion for easy access in and out. Some bags are larger at the top and slimmer toward the bottom to preserve body heat, or have wider bodies, a more comfortable option for some kids who don’t like tight spaces.
2. Choosing the proper kids sleeping bag insulation
Sleeping bags have two kinds of insulation: synthetic and goose down. You’ll want to select a sleeping bag based on the season and the type of camping or outdoor family activity you’ll be doing. One of the good things about synthetic insulation is it doesn’t dampen when wet, and also keeps young bodies warmer with the addition of quality outdoor kids clothing, including base layers or jackets.
Down insulation does get warmer faster, but when wet can soak all the way through. Another consideration is the sleeping bag’s temperature rating. For example, a 30°F rating for a child’s sleeping bag for kids is suitable up to a 30°F temperature outside.
3. Which material is right for your kid’s sleeping bag?
Most sleeping bags are made of polyester with a polyester/taffeta shell. Quilted material, double layers, and reinforced seams are all beneficial features as well, including special stitching that changes the fabric layout and consistency. A waterproof outer shell can be useful for rainy weather or extra-heavy condensation.
6 Additional Kids Sleeping Bag Features to Consider:
Double-sided zippers for even easier access
An attached hood or cuff to set a pillow in
Outer and inner pockets
Extra large foot bed for roomy coziness
Carrying straps and/or compression stuff sack with drawcords
Able to connect to another bag to make one large one
Researching a kids sleeping bag is the fun part–now read about our top 11 best kids sleeping bags below for outdoor sleeping adventures and beyond.
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by Stephanie Green – I grew up in Chicago, where the highest elevation was a 50-foot freeway overpass. When I moved to California, I fell in love with the mountains and their commanding height. I also loved exploring the variety of natural areas from the ocean to the desert. After twenty years, I am still in awe of the abundance and diversity of ecosystems.
My recreation of choice is hiking and running. The feeling of dirt beneath my feet and the smell of trees is both calming and exciting for me. I love exploring new trails for an entire day in the hopes of seeing a bobcat or coyote. I am thrilled for my children to grow up in California with all of the natural wonders available to them.
When I had children, I romantically pictured galloping into the outdoors with them where we would spend magical days hiking and exploring the trails. I assumed that it would be similar to hiking with my dog, a tail-wagging good time from start to finish. I mentally planned to spend every weekend outdoors with them and hike the entire 211-mile John Muir Trail by the time they were 10.
Turns out, my expectations were completely unreasonable and far from reality.
Things started off great when both my kids were willing to ride in a stroller. Once they wanted to get out, however, there was no going back. We struggled with even short hikes, every one ended with an outdoor meltdown and me carrying one or both back to the car. If we brought bikes, I was carrying kids and pushing bikes.
I remember one hike when my youngest son was about five. He was upset to be hiking and he said “I hate you” to everyone we passed on the trail. I wanted to crawl into a hole from embarrassment. Fortunately, other hikers thought he was joking and laughed it off. Sometimes we were lucky, and they found a stick to drag, which entertained them, and miraculously, we pushed past the one-mile marker.
The kids went through a phase where they wouldn’t wear hiking shoes, or if they did insisted on wearing flip flops. I went along with this unusual request, and it actually worked. We once climbed a rocky, steep trail, barefoot.
For parents with younger kids who are experiencing this same frustration, I can say from experience, have patience. It will get better. Although I still deal with some complaining, at ages 11 and 12, my kids are reasonably good outdoor companions. They don’t exactly beg me to take them hiking, but they do short trail runs with their friends, and they tell me when they need to get outside to clear their heads and decompress from school.
For the past four years, we have hiked to the top of Mt. Baden-Powell over the first summer weekend after school is released. The hike is an eight-mile round trip from the Vincent Gap trail head in the Angeles National Forest. I always joke that this hike is their best day of summer vacation, to which they retort it is a death march and the worst. But, they pose for pictures, and even smile, and though they would never admit it, I know they enjoy it because I overhear them telling their friends about our tradition.
by Jean Grant – Meander in a meadow of spiky lupine, hike to the alpine summit of New England’s highest mountain, bask in crimson and yellow autumn foliage along country roads, or swoosh down powdery ski runs. A plethora of outdoor excursions await in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The 800,000-acre hardwood White Mountain National Forest is home to over 150 miles of trails, lakes and waterways, with 48 peaks topping 4,000-feet, and awe-inspiring views among the Presidential Range. Family camping, recreation and adventure for all ages and seasons await you in the granite state, and below are some seasonal favorites.
Bountiful Spring in White Mountains, New Hampshire
Traipsing through lupine fields [Image courtesy Jean Grant]Partake in cheese, pancakes, local brews and wines, peruse art at local markets, or attend an evening open-air concert. Be sure to visit Robert Frost’s former home along the way. As winter loosens its grip and temperatures rise, more hiking trails become accessible, and with the thaw comes water. The Flume Gorge is an easy walk (with stairs/platforms) through 90-foot natural granite walls. A brook cuts through the gorge and has several waterfalls. It’s a wet, fun excursion.
Lupine panoramas in Sugar Hill
Tastings and flourishing art as the warm weather lengthens the days
Bursting waterfalls and the Flume Gorge (a fee-based kid-friendly hike)
The “Whites” teem with adventurous opportunities July through September. Lincoln, New Hampshire serves as an ideal hub for exploring Franconia Notch State Park and the western side of the White Mountains while North Conway and towns north offer access to the eastern side (Mount Washington and Crawford Notch State Park). The Kancamagus Byway, a scenic New Hampshire gem, transects the White Mountain National Forest.
Western White Mountains: Franconia Notch State Park
The Notch’s rich cultural and natural heritage lures tourists throughout the seasons. Each time we drive the highway that sweeps between the rugged vertical ledges of Franconia Notch, my jaw drops. One of the most popular trails in the park (and state) begins at Lafayette Place. Get an early start (and parking spot) at either the Bridle Path or Falling Waters trails on the Lafayette Loop.
Franconia Ridge hike
This 9-mile strenuous loop takes hikers up and over three 4,000-foot peaks and along the Franconia Ridge, so be sure to fill up your portable water bottles. It’s a favorite hike in New Hampshire, but be mindful of weather and ability level, as much of the hike is along the exposed ridgeline. Outdoor safety being paramount, parents of younger children should be wary, but older children can tackle this climb. More moderate, but still-rewarding trails in the valley include Georgiana Falls and Lonesome Lake. Afterward cool off at the beach of Echo Lake.
Up for a twisting drive along a river speckled with waterfalls? Take the 34-mile nature-laden Kancamagus Scenic Byway, the primary connector between the western and eastern slopes of the White Mountains. At Covered Bridge Campground, enjoy a picnic and walk the family-friendly Boulder Loop Trail for respite.
Eastern White Mountains: Mount Washington and Crawford Notch State Park
The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) has eight high-mountain huts throughout the Whites along the Appalachian Trail (AT). Through-hikers, day hikers and peak-hopping enthusiasts alike enjoy these stops. Founded in 1876, the AMC fosters the enjoyment of forests and waters through protection and education. The AMC has lodges, cabins, huts and campsites dotting the AT from the Mid-Atlantic to Northeast, offering something for everybody.
Mount Washington summit [Image courtesy Jean Grant]We’ve stayed at two of the huts. After an initial, easier excursion to the Zealand Falls hut, on a second trip we climbed to Lakes of the Clouds, an alpine hut nestled 1.5 miles down from the Mount Washington summit. Though the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail (4.5 miles each way, and the easiest trail to the summit) can be done in one day, it was worth the splurge to lodge in this famous hut nuzzled on the side of the windiest mountain in the world. For the ambitious and skilled, the Presidential Traverse tackles several of the highest peaks. As with anything in the White Mountains, always plan ahead for reservations (some huts and campgrounds book well in advance) and weather. Wicked winds on all the summits and ridges can curtail even the most robust hiker.
An abundance of hiking: easy, moderate, strenuous and multi-day
Lodging: Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch, six campgrounds dotting the Kancamagus Byway, eight high-mountain AMC huts, hotels in Lincoln, North Conway or surrounding towns, or week-long rentals through online sites such as Homeway.com
Polychromatic Autumn in White Mountains, New Hampshire
Vibrant foliage dazzles travelers in the autumn and peaks in early-mid October. From valley or summit, The Whites were made for this season of color. Depending on weather, most trails and summertime activities still thrive through October-November. Enjoy the harvest: apples, cider, donuts, honey and other fresh treats.
Not up for a hike? Drive the steep (not for the faint of heart) Auto Road or ride the rails of the historic Cog Railway to the summit of Mount Washington May through November. While in winter the mountain becomes a frozen cone, summer and autumn are ideal times to visit the summit of Mount Washington, the tallest peak (6,288 feet) in the Northeast most famous for extreme weather and record-breaking winds up to 231 MPH. Check out the interactive observatory and museum and eat in the historic Tip-Top House. Be prepared with appropriate gear, as adverse weather can move in fast.
Pemigewasset River near Loon Mountain [Image courtesy Jean Grant]For an easy family jaunt, stroll along the brook in The Basin, glide to the summit of Cannon Mountain via the Aerial tram, or ride the Loon Mountain gondola and explore the glacial ice age boulders and caves at the summit. The tight squeezes are exhilarating for the child in all of us, although a platform runs alongside these gigantic boulders for those less nimble. In September, experience all things Scottish at the Highland Games and Festival.
Spectacular autumn foliage and scenic drives
Cooler, pleasant temperatures for hiking
Mount Washington, Auto Road and Cog Railway
Harvest’s abundance and treats galore
Highland Games and Festival at Loon Mountain in September
Snowy Winter in White Mountains, New Hampshire
Want to explore powdery snow and icicles? Bundle up, because you’ve come to the right place. New England winters are long, running from December through late March, but burst with activity. From skiing and snowboarding, tubing and sledding, snowshoeing and ice-climbing, adventure calls. Lincoln and North Conway again serve as hubs for exploring the snow-covered mountains, offering ample dining and lodging.
Snow tubers at Bretton Woods
And never fear, hikes, there are plenty of open trails in the winter. Arethusa Falls/ Frankenstein Cliff in Crawford Notch State Park is a 4-mile moderate/strenuous snowshoeing trail along several bubbling brook waterfalls culminating at a 200-foot bridal falls. An ice-climber haven, the falls are frozen over in winter. For an easier excursion in the summer, take the shorter detour along the Bemis Brook Trail to the smaller falls and return before you reach the steeper section that continues to Arethusa.
If you need to warm up, the area offers a multitude of indoor activities from museums to climbing and fun kid centers
All Abilities-Inclusive Programs in White Mountains, New Hampshire
This winter we participated in a program run by New England Disabled Sports (NEDS). We took advantage of an amazing first-timer’s opportunity from the WINGS scholarship for Families with Autism. The program provided lodging at Loon Mountain and a weekend of introductory ski lessons for our son. The objective of the scholarship is to increase awareness and provide opportunities for individuals living with autism to participate in adaptive snow sports in a safe and supported environment. The scholarship has served over 125 families in the four years since its genesis.
From Michele Brait, the founder of the scholarship: “Having our son begin at NEDS 15 years ago was a life-changing event for our entire family. We watched him overcome challenges, gain skills, make friends and be successful on the mountain. We became a part of the NEDS family of love, support and acceptance.” She elaborated, “We began the scholarship to give families like ours the opportunity to try snow sports in a supported environment, with well-trained, caring coaches.” Our family, too, found the spirit of independence, confidence and fun in this program sponsored by an annual charity fundraiser. Since participating, our son is now skiing regularly.
Jean Grant is a scientist, author, and mom to two active, nature-loving sons. She currently resides in Massachusetts. She writes where her heart takes her…from castles to craters to crags of all kinds. Her website can be found at: jeanmgrant.com
Rosario Beach, Deception Pass State Park, Washington State
by Todd Holcomb – The state of Washington is well-known as a hub for national parks and forests on the West Coast. Adventurers from around the world flock to the Cascade range or towering Olympic mountains, all under the watchful eye of Mount Rainier ever looming on the horizon. While these federally-managed wonderlands are worthy experiences of their own right, some of the best Washington landscapes and getaways are found, and preserved by the Washington State Parks system.
The Washington State Parks website lists 142 state parks in all, ranging from farmlands and deserts of eastern Washington to the mountains, forests, and coastal lands of the western edge. A $35 Annual Discover Pass gives visitors vehicle day-use access for one year, or through a one-day pass for $11.50. Various discounts are available with additional access for disabled individuals, senior citizens, disabled veterans, or foster parents camping with children in their care.
Overnight visitors in campgrounds or cabin facilities can bypass the Discover Pass thanks to camping fees. While drop-in campers are always welcome, you may also make a camping reservation for $8 online or for $10 by calling (888) 226-7688. Be sure to check the Washington State Parks Discover Pass webpage for more information on boating fees, winter recreation fees, and other fees. You won’t need a Discover Pass if you’re staying the night because your vehicle access pass is covered with your camping fees, but keep in mind, accommodations are first come, first serve.
With so much to see and do, the hardest part can be deciding where to begin. These six Washington State Parks are great destinations for the whole family.
Bowl and Pitcher area, Riverside State Park, Washington State
Washington State Parks Guide
1. Crawford State Park Heritage Site
Within walking distance of the US – Canadian border, Crawford State Park Heritage Site is a two-and-half hour drive north of Spokane, Washington and well worth the effort to get there. Your whole family will love exploring the 2,000 foot Gardner Cave nearly 300 feet below the surface on a free guided tour offered through the summer months.
Homesteader Edward E. Gardner, or his horse rather, is said to have discovered the Gardner Cave by stumbling upon its sinkhole in 1899. Mr. Gardner was known to be a character as colorful as the cave itself, and legend has it that he lost the cave and surrounding lands to a Mr. William H. Crawford in a poker game. After logging the land, Mr. Crawford donated 40 acres, which included the cave to Washington State Parks.
Crawford State Park is a day use area, but camping is available at the Boundary Dam Campground a mile away, or look for lodging in nearby Metaline Falls, Washington.
2. Riverside State Park
Riverside State Park is 11,000 acres of forest land located along the Spokane River near town. With its proximity to all the Spokane City amenities, it might be easier to ask what you can’t do in this year-round Washington State park rather than what you can. Along with camping, hiking, and mountain biking, there are 25 miles of trails designated for horses, as well as an obstacle course and 60-foot arena. An additional 600 acres has been set aside for off-road vehicles, and 200,000 feet of the Spokane River shoreline is available for fishing, swimming, boating or stand-up paddleboard fun.
Long before it became a popular vacation destination, this area was a popular fur trading and a gathering spot for Native American tribes. You can explore some of that history with your kids on the Indian Painted Rocks Trail, a protected Native American pictograph area, as well as in The Spokane House Interpretive Center at Nine Mile Falls.
View of Lake Wenatchee, Lake Wenatchee State Park, Washington State
3. Lake Wenatchee State Park
Lake Wenatchee State Park is the quintessential mountain lake getaway with 492 acres of forest surrounding a 5-mile long lake nestled on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Central Washington State. Located only a half hour north of the popular vacation town of Leavenworth, Lake Wenatchee State Park is open year round. Pass the days on the beach, playing on the playground with your kids, or riding a horse on a guided trail ride. Bring your snowshoes or cross-country skis to enjoy the winter season. When you imagine escaping to the mountains, you’re imagining Lake Wenatchee State Park.
View from Mt. Constitution, Moran State Park, Washington State
4. Moran State Park
In 1911, when Robert Moran, former Seattle mayor and ship builder, initially tried to donate 2,700 acres of land he had accumulated on Orcas Island in Washington’s scenic San Juan Island archipelago. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an agency in place that could accept his generous donation. It wasn’t until 1921 that a newly-formed Washington State Parks Committee was able to accept his donation, but they still didn’t have funds to renovate or maintain it, so Robert Moran spent his own money to begin building the park infrastructure. Eventually, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) took over the building projects, including an observation tower on the summit of Mount Constitution, a 2,398-foot summit on the island.
Today, families can stand atop this tower and look out across the San Juan Islands toward Mt. Baker and the Cascade Range in the distance. Moran State Park now covers 5,424 acres and includes 151 campsites, 5 freshwater lakes, and plenty of hiking and biking trails, making it the perfect location from which to explore the San Juan Islands with your family. Driving a personal vehicle to the island can be an exercise in patience (ferries are crowded during the busy summer months), but if you get ahead of the game, you can make a ferry reservation at www.takeaferry.com. Or you can park your car and take advantage of the many rental and transit options on the islands. The San Juan Islands official travel site is a great resource for finding exactly what you need.
Deception Pass Bridge, Deception Pass State Park, Washington State
5. Deception Pass State Park
If the islands are calling to you, but driving to a destination is more appealing, then consider spending your next family vacation at Deception Pass State Park. This Washington State park spans Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands at the north end of the Puget Sound with the 180 foot Deception Pass Bridge connecting the two. Explore the cliffs around Lighthouse Point, go for a pleasant walk on Rosario Beach and let your kids play in the tide pools, or take your boat for a ride out to Hope Island State Park in Skagit Bay.
Grab a park brochure for helpful information about the park history, amenities, activities, and even a topographical map of the area. There’s a reason Washington State Parks lists Deception Pass as their most visited state park. With 77,000 feet of rugged saltwater shoreline, three freshwater lakes, and easy access to nearby towns, Deception Pass State Park will keep your family busy exploring for days.
Deadman’s Cove, Cape Disappointment, Washington State
6. Cape Disappointment State Park
The Columbia River flows out of Canada, down across the state of Washington, West along Washington’s southern border, and empties itself into the Pacific Ocean with tremendous force. Colliding currents of the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean mixed with turbulent wind patterns and constantly shifting sandbars have conspired to shipwreck some 2,000 vessels since 1792, dubbing the Columbia River Bar as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”
Cape Disappointment State Park (formerly Fort Canby State Park) stands as sentinel over this fierce waterscape and an equally turbulent history. Named for Captain John Meares’ failed attempt to navigate the Columbia River Bar, Cape Disappointment has witnessed the onset of early explorers, the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805, the building of Fort Canby in 1875, the construction of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse (the oldest operating lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest), and the eventual development of the State Park your family can enjoy today by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Most of the campsites look out to sea just below the North Head Lighthouse, but there are other sites available near O’Neil Lake as well. Come learn about the colorful history of this place at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, enjoy the sands of the Long Beach Peninsula, explore the ruins of military bunkers being reclaimed by nature, and wander through old growth forests to lighthouses on cliff edges.
Washington State Parks are more than just beautiful places for an escape. They are pages of our own story, etched into our lands and preserved in our parks. But they don’t just look to the past, either. With programs such as No Child Left Inside and Junior Ranger, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission is inviting a whole new generation to fall in love with the natural wonders of Washington State.
As well, volunteers can trade 24 hours of Washington State Parks volunteer service for a complimentary Discover Pass. So, whether you are looking to get away from it all, or you are hoping to inspire your kids with local history and natural wonders, you can’t go wrong with a family vacation to any one of these Washington State Parks. And these are just the beginning, so grab a map and a Discover Pass and start planning your trip today.
Todd is an outdoor travel writer, a trekker of wild places and distant lands, and a pilgrim on this human journey. Learn more at www.clearwatertrekker.com.
By Stephanie Harper – Setting up your family campsite can be a challenge with kids in tow; hands full, and time ticking away by the minute until the moment you can sit down, relax and enjoy the great outdoors. Having easy access to an instant, pop up family camping tent can be the answer to dreaded hours spent unpacking, whether on a beach, by a river, or at a park. Think a lighter, all-in-one, efficient cousin of the tent. Don’t know where to start? Check out our instant pop up family camping tent buying guide below before you invest.
Pop Up Family Camping Tent Buying Guide
Carrying capabilities: Look for family-sized instant camping tents with sturdy handles or carrying cases to make trundling between car and campsite easier.
The easier, the better: Since some instant pop up family tents can be put together in a matter of minutes or even seconds, the structure should be complete with attached poles and step-by-step instructions on how to get it set up.
Size matters: Find an instant pop up tent that isn’t too large or bulky from never-ending folds to heavy attachments. Since pop up tents are meant to be just that, compact is key.
Protection value: An additional rain fly will keep wetness outside, while heavy duty seams and zippers can ensure bugs stay out of your space.
More beneficial pop up family tent features:
Windows for consistent air flow through the tent
An attached tarp for keeping away unwanted, mud, sand or dirt
An Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) setting
Extra storage compartments for camp organization
A hanging lighting system is useful at night or for ambiance
A tent warranty in case any damage out of your control happens
Bookmark this list of Outdoor Families Magazine-endorsed instant pop up tents for your next family camping trip to maximize family fun time.
by Shannon Brescher Shea – A metal bridge arches over a gently flowing stream in Rockville, Maryland, winding its way between trees and rock-strewn banks. Looking at little closer, it’s clear the water is littered with soda cans, cigarette butts, and plastic bags. But a stream clean-up is underway, with several families picking up trash. Adults wade in the water, picking up garbage and holding the hands of little ones, while bigger kids snatch junk with trash pickers and deposit it in bags.
Stream clean-up events are a great way to get outside and give back to the environment for Earth Day. During stream clean-ups, local citizens get together and pick up garbage at a waterway. While cities and organizations often organize them, individuals can also take action themselves. Participating in a clean-up has a variety of benefits to families. Children can become more comfortable in a variety of outdoor environments that they may not have experienced before, including climbing on slippery rocks and wading in water.
Of course, clean-ups are great for the environment too. Rivers and streams provide places to play, wildlife with habitats, and in some cases, drinking water. According to conservation organization American Rivers, freshwater channels provide two-thirds of our nation’s drinking water supply. Litter puts all of these uses at risk. Animals often eat plastics, blocking their digestive systems. Cigarettes and other pollutants can decrease water quality. Clearing out the garbage can help limit the damage.
These events are a great way to start conversations with your kids about the local environment. While many environmental issues like climate change are impossible to see directly, garbage is concrete. Kids can quickly understand how a plastic straw they drop at the playground finds its way into the stream.
“It allows the family and the children to provide a sense of ownership over this stream and stewardship,” said Shannon Philbin, the environmental outreach specialist for the City of Rockville, who runs the city’s stream clean-ups. “When we have children growing up with a sense of ownership and responsibility for our natural areas… they become more conscious of the decisions they make that affect it.”
These activities can also help parents teach kids about sustainability more broadly. Looking at what is in the stream and considering how it got there can spark conversations about consumption, recycling, and the water cycle. Madeline Bule, national river clean-up manager for non-profit organization American Rivers, recommends that families talk with children ahead of time about where their water comes from and how that relates to the clean-up.
“Residents can have a huge influence just in our own backyards,” said Philbin. “Eventually, we all live upstream of someone else.”
Local action also builds a sense of community and offers a way to connect with neighbors. For older kids, clean-ups can also provide community service hours for school or honors societies.
But, like any outdoor activity involving kids, a few tips are helpful before plunging in:
Check the weather. A stream cleanup should be canceled if there’s a chance of thunderstorms. In addition, the water level can be too high if it’s rained heavily in the past few days. Check the radar to look at the weather upstream, as nearby storms can raise the water level.
Wear sturdy, waterproof shoes. Rubber boots can be great, although sometimes awkward to walk in easily. Waterproof sandals can be a good option if temperatures are on the warm side.
Dress for the weather, preferably in long pants with layers on top. Stream clean-ups are often in the spring or fall, when temperatures and forecasts can change quickly.
Be prepared to get wet; bring extra socks. Even if you’re wearing high boots, one misstep into water that’s relatively deep can fill your boots up with water. (This happened to me several times on our clean-up.) Getting wet can also make you feel much colder than the temperature would otherwise.
Bring gloves. Garbage in streams can be potentially dangerous. If participating in a clean-up organized by a local municipality or organization, they are likely to provide these, but it’s not a bad idea to bring your own, just in case. Even if the organization does provide gloves, they often won’t have ones in children’s sizes.
Pack gear specific to your family. Water, snacks, sunscreen, and hand sanitizer are always useful. Depending on if you are attending an organized event or not, you may want to bring a first aid kit and a map of the stream you are cleaning.
Watch small children closely. Stream and river banks can be steep and children fall in easily. In addition, some garbage such as broken glass or needles can be dangerous. Ensure children only pick up “safe” garbage like plastic bottles. Tell kids to ask before they pick up anything questionable.
If kids are too small or the water is too deep, have them point out garbage for you to pick up. It’s often easier to see certain things from the banks than it is down in the stream.
Only fill up trash bags half-way, or less if a kid is holding it. You don’t want to be stuck with a bag that’s too heavy as you climb out of the stream.
Allow kids to go at their own pace.
To find a stream clean-up near you, search the American Rivers National River Cleanup website. Look at your city or county’s website as well – they may organize events that they don’t list on the American Rivers site. Many cities also host “Adopt a Stream” programs, where a small group can take responsibility for cleaning up a waterway two or three times a year.
“We want to get across no matter how old you are, you can take action in your local community and make a difference cleaning up the stream in your backyard,” said Bule.
Shannon Brescher Shea is a mom who loves getting out in nature with her three and five-year-old children. She blogs about teaching kids to be kind and environmentally- sustainable on her blog We’ll Eat You Up, We Love You So as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
by John Soltys – For many of us, dogs are family. We celebrate their accomplishments, we fear for their safety, and we mourn their passing. And, just like we do with human children, we enjoy adventuring together.
In many cases, it’s dogs that begin our adventures in life and in the outdoors. Some of my earliest memories are about time spent as a child with the family dog in our backyard. After getting married and buying a house, getting our first dog, Tokul, was the next step in building a young family.
At the time I wasn’t much of a hiker. But a dog needs walks and even though we lived on a dirt road, there’s only so many times I could tolerate a boring stroll around the block. So we started going for walks in the woods. It turns out, this is also called “hiking,” and it became our passion.
For almost 12 years Tokul and I adventured throughout Washington. We hiked on established and maintained trails, bushwhacked through seemingly impenetrable thickets, climbed mountains, and snowshoed whenever the snow was deep enough.
For those 12 years Tokul was the most reliable and consistent adventure partner I had. She never wanted to sleep in, never complained about the food at camp, or balked at long days on the trail. The only times she refused to continue was when we tried to cross boulder fields of talus.
When Tokul was three we had our first human child. Far from being annoyed by the crying baby girl or feeling threatened, Tokul welcomed her (and the two that followed) into her pack. Tokul only slowed down after turning 10 and left us too soon just before her twelfth birthday.
Knowing the importance of a canine presence in our family we adopted a “career-changed” service dog named, “Treen,” just before Tokul passed. (“Career-changed” means that although she was completely trained, she wasn’t perfectly suited for life as a service dog.) Treen was new to adventuring, but had barely any time to come up to speed before she was accompanying me on my twice-weekly hikes and backpacking trips with the kids.
4 Tips on Raising an Adventure Dog
Over the last 17 years of adventuring with dogs I’ve come to understand some important truths about our canine companions. Here are four of them.
1. Watch Carefully for Adventure Dog Cues
Dogs generally don’t know how to say, “No,” or “Enough.” Dogs are pack animals and loyal to the leader of the pack. That’s you. If I lead my dog on a 15 mile hike up and down a mountain, my pack will follow. If I make camp near a lake swarming with mosquitoes, my dog will bed down in the ferns to hide from the insects. Because dogs won’t tell us it’s too much it’s up to the leader to see when an adventure is going too far and change plans. Only twice have my dogs told me they were “done.”
On a day-after-Thanksgiving hike Tokul slipped on a narrow, rock ridge. She didn’t fall, but the scare was enough that she refused to continue. I wrapped her in a fleece jacket and fed her my lunch. She recovered enough to return to the trailhead and play in a creek along the way.
On a particularly grueling spring hike only five months after Treen joined the family she lay down and curled up in the middle of the trail during a water break. We still had a few miles to go to the trailhead, but I was with her in spirit. It had been a hard day so we stayed at that creek a little longer than necessary to give everyone a break.
2. Let Adventure Dogs Soak in the Scenery
Just like humans, dogs can take in the scenery. Or maybe it’s just curiosity about what they see. Or they’re looking for something to eat or chase or pee on. Whatever it actually is, dogs will often look at the same views as you or I. There are many photos of me and my dog in perfect Instagram poses looking into the distance. (The only difference is she’s always authentic.)
3. Adventure Dogs Don’t Care About Bagging Peaks
Dogs don’t need a reason to go on an adventure. They don’t care about climbing to the top of a mountain or setting a new PR on a trail run. Dogs just love being outside. My dogs would rather spend their afternoon chewing sticks in the backyard than lying on a bed in the family room. They’re happy walking the same trail we’ve walked hundreds of times before, because dogs are the perfect embodiment of the idea that it’s all about the journey rather than the destination.
4. Remember Adventure Dogs Are Still Dogs
Never let us forget that dogs are animals. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that these furry beings we keep at our side are just recently removed from the wolves that hunted our ancestors. While they are domesticated and no longer see us as their prey, they are still animals driven by instinct. And instinct usually takes over when a new situation is presented.
Tokul and I were hiking up Hex Mountain and I was packing a junior adventurer on my back. The trail followed a narrow saddle with dense trees in the valleys on either side. 50 feet ahead of us a deer bounded out of the woods and stopped on the trail. Tokul, one of the gentlest dogs I’ve ever known, ducked down and the hair on her back stood up. She growled in a way that made it perfectly clear the deer would not pass her to harm her family. (The deer disappeared into the trees and Tokul returned to her gentle self.)
While snowshoeing at night, Treen sprinted ahead and into the brush on the side of the trail. When she emerged she held a small rabbit softly in her mouth. I was stunned and so was Treen. She dropped the rabbit at my feet and we both watched it hop back into the darkness. Although she’d been trained to suppress her canine nature, it took control when she sensed the rabbit even if only for a few moments.
To be sure, these four truths don’t come close to truly describing what it means to adventure with a dog as part of your family. The only way to really understand is to grab the leash and head outside.
A Tribute to Treen, the Adventure Dog
Before publication, Treen passed away after a brief battle with cancer. A puppy named Tinkham now wears her adventure collar. I will forever see Treen standing on the summit of a mountain watching the sun set. Roll in the snow to your heart’s content, sweet Treen. You can celebrate Treen with us here.
Don’t leave home without these 3 adventure dog essentials:
John Soltys is a father, a husband, and adventurer. You can find him and his family where the highway climbs into the mountains, tucked against the river, at the end of a long dirt road. He writes at moosefish.com and elsewhere on the Internet: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.