Real cowboys ride in the rain, read the ripples in the river for hidden rocks, and never stand-up in a kayak. Those are just some of the things my daughter and I learned on summer adventures together. She graduated from college in May and while I know our adventures together will take a new form, we’re grateful that we can look back on trips that turned us into pals facing a challenge together.
That’s what happens on a family-oriented adventure trip. When you share an exciting experience with your children and teens, they come to see you not just as a parent, but also as a comrade and fellow-adventurer.
Family-friendly outfitters make these trips easy for parents and kids by removing the risks, but leaving in the fun. These companies also help by providing equipment; hiring special guides for the youngsters; assisting with the work of pitching tents, and cooking; as well as by setting a pace that makes the trip a bit challenging without turning it into boot camp.
Here are some great family vacations:
** Ride Horses at a Dude Ranch
Whether you never-ever put a foot in a stirrup, or can lope like Annie Oakley, dude ranches are great family vacations. Lessons give novices confidence and experts the finesse to maneuver through mountains, meadows and woods. The saddle-sore and non-riders can soak in hot tubs, read novels on porches with mountain views, play tennis, fly-fish, and hike.
Situated on 600-acres in the Shawangunk Mountains in upstate New York, Pinegrove Dude Ranch, Kerhonkson, NY, offers a family oriented, all-inclusive package of lodging, food, and activities that entitles each guest to one guided ride daily. Additional horseback outings are available on a sign-up basis.
Pinegrove, with its basic accommodations and food, is a down-home, comfortable but not fancy property. It’s a great place for grade-schoolers new to horseback riding to gain some experience as well as enjoy other activities. The L’il Mavericks Day Camp keeps ages 4-8 busy with pony rides, wagon rides, petting farm visits, and arts and crafts. Kids 5-7 year-olds also have instructional riding sessions in a corral. Ages 8 and older go out on trail rides. Little ones, age 3 and younger, are cared for at the Belle Star nursery.
Even though the ranch spreads out on 600 acres, the main buildings, playgrounds, handball, and basketball courts, archery range, and pools (indoor and out) are within easy proximity to each other. Older kids like the freedom of going from one activity to another. At night families play bingo, square dance, perform Karaoke, and watch an evening magic or country music show.
From: $165 per adult, children ages 4 through 16 sharing with adults, 50% discount; kids under 4-years free. 800-346-4626, www.pinegroveranch.com
** Multisport Trips and Western Scenery
Sharing awesome scenery makes instant buddies of parents and kids and a multisport trip features a variety of land and sea views. For kids (and parents) who like to bike but aren’t sure they want to commit to four days of pedaling, a trip that bundles biking with kayaking, hiking and horseback riding is varied enough to remain interesting.
A long-time leader in bicycling and hiking trips, Backroads’ San Juan Islands Family Multisport combines biking, walking and kayaking, and comes in two varieties: camping and inn trips. On cycling days a van circles the route providing assistance for flats or simply a ride for those too pooped to pedal.
You visit San Juan and Orcas islands, cycling along the coast and through cedar forests and rolling farmlands. You hike along forested trails and kayak in sheltered bays where harbor seals sun themselves. Keep an eye out for whales. For kids too young to pedal on their own Backroads offers Burley trailers that hook to a parent’s bike. For beginner cyclists ages 4-7, Backroads has Piccolo trailer cycles, one-wheeled bikes that hook to an adult bike.
New this season for River Odysseys West (ROW) is River Dance Lodge, a land–based, water-oriented adventure lodge located on the banks of the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River, Idaho. Instead of paddling most of the day and camping at night as on a standard ROW trip, a stay at River Dance gives you options plus the comfort of a log cabin with real beds and a bathroom at night. ROW likens the lodge to a summer camp for families. On a 6-day/5-night package you can choose rafting, kayaking, canoeing and fishing as well as a day of horseback riding, mountain biking or hiking.
Activities and meals for the 6-day package costs $845 per adult, and $695 per child 16 and younger. Lodging is additional. Single cabins start at $135 per night based on 4 guests.
ROW’s traditional family water adventure is a 5-day Salmon River trip. Less wild than the Class IV Middle Fork of the Salmon, the Salmon River Canyon trip, also known as the Lower Salmon River, features class II-III waves big enough to be exciting but not difficult to run. This route comes with sandy beaches for camping and water warm enough for swimming. The calm pools between the waves make it easy for kids at many points in the trip to run the rapids solo in duckies (inflatable kayaks). You can also paddle in a raft or ride in the guide’s oar boat.
The River Jester, the extra staff member on the Family Focus trips ensures that a leader is always available to engage the kids with nature talks and games. Suggested minimum age is 5.
5-day trips depart every Sunday and Tuesday from July 6-21; Aug 21-Sept 15 from $1225 per adult, and $1075 per child. From July 22-Aug 20, rates are $1360 per adult, and $1165 per child. ROW 208-765-0841, www.rowinc.com
How To Pick A Family Adventure Travel Outfitter
You don't want to be out in the boonies only to find out that your guides are a bunch of boobies.
Ask these questions before signing-on:
--How long has the company been in business and how long have they been organizing trips just for families?
--For what age child is the activity suitable?
--How strenuous is the activity?
--Does the trip include all equipment, such as backpacks and tents, or do you need to rent or bring gear? Does the outfitter have child-sized gear?
--How many leaders are there for what size group?
--Are you supposed to pitch your own tents, cook, and clean-up after meals?
--Do the trip leaders know CPR? Are they in radio or cell phone contact with a base camp, or coordinator who can phone for medical help in an emergency?
Be sure to obtain and check references for the tour operators.
**Candyce H. Stapen has written 24 travel books, including National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations.