Archive for the ‘Destinations’ Category
As I was watching The Amazing Race last night, I began dreaming about yet another family adventure vacation. While there are literally thousands of possibilities for adventure around the world, they aren’t always created equally. Well, this time, we’ve done most of the legwork for you, coming up with three of our favorite worldwide adventure destinations for families with Tweens and Teens. Choosing one of these unique adventure spots will be sure to yield a successful family vacation.
- Gulf of Thailand – Combining the most beautiful country in Asia with the most friendly people in Asia yields a family vacation that will not soon be forgotten. The breathtaking, yet remote islands of the Gulf of Thailand (Kho Pha Ngan, Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Koh Samet, Koh Chang) offer a virtual playground for family adventure. Prisitine beaches, azure waters, tropical sealife, dense jungles and rustic beachfront accommodations lure you into a life of leisure highlighted by thrilling excursions, such as kayaking, canopy, snorkeling, scuba diving, rappelling, watersports and exploring remote beaches. If you enjoy marine life and water-based adventures, this is the destination for you. Also great for families searching for an international adventure on a budget.
- The Alaskan Wilderness – The largest land mass in the United States is covered in white powder for much of the year, but that’s okay, because the summers here are quite spectacular. Spawning salmon, foraging bears, migrating moose and gruff mountain goats create the perfect backdrop for backcountry adventures. Whether you’re kayaking Prince William Sound, rafting the mighty Copper River, hiking along Mendenhall Glacier in a pair of crampons or fishing for King Salmon in Kachemak Bay, you’ll enjoy fresh air, beautiful scenery and plenty of excitement. Rent an RV or join an organized adventure tour tailored specifically to families. Whether you’re traveling by air, sea or highway, you’ll never forget the breathtaking views that Alaska has to offer.
- The Jungles of Central America – If you’re looking for tropical splendour, look no further than the lush jungles of Central America. Tube the backwater rivers of Belize, explore the grand Mayan ruins of Guatemala or take a quick coastal break to enjoy snorkeling amongst the coral encrusted cayes. If you’re looking for a remote destination, hang out at one of the many lodges nestled amongst the tropical Belizean jungle. Float down a lazy river, explore ancient caves or hike high into the jungle to discover tropical enclaves and their inhabitants. Interested in exploring ancient cultures? Visit the spectacular Mayan ruins of Tikal, Caracol, El Pilar or Xunantunich. This is a perfect vacation destination for active families who enjoy history, culture and nature.
Yellowstone National Park attracted nearly 94,000 visitors during the 2009-2010 winter season, barely a drop in the bucket when compared to it’s record setting 3.3 million visitors last year. However, fewer visitors means fewer crowds and cheaper prices. Don’t get me wrong, Yellowstone is still expensive, but the winter hotel rates can be more attractive than peak summer rates, especially if booked in a package. Just be prepared to face bitter cold days where any sliver of sunshine makes you wish you were on a beach in the tropics. In the end, it’s all worth it.
Staying Inside the Park
Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful are the only two locations for in-park lodging during winter. Nestled in a sprawling “valley” at a cool 6,200 feet, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is reachable by car and is open to guests from the week of Christmas through the first week in March. Offering a variety of rooms and amenities, there are options for every visitor. And by amenities I mean a private bath, you won’t find televisions (except in suites), radios, internet hook-ups or air-conditioning here (of course there is heat). Mammoth is unique in that this 1930’s era hotel still offers shared baths…but for $87/night during peak season, you can’t beat the price. It works for families with teens, but probably not for those with younger kids.
Of course, if you don’t mind shelling out a few more bucks, you can upgrade to a mid-range room that includes two double beds and a small bath for $117/night. Not all mid-range rooms have bathtubs, so if you plan on bathing the kids, be sure to request one in advance. If you really want to splurge, a suite with it’s two queen size beds, sitting area, cable TV and private bath will set you back $439/night. Rates are based upon double occupancy; kids under 12 are free when staying with two adults. Each additional adult in a room is $11/night.
About 30 miles from West Yellowstone and 50 miles from Mammoth, the Old Faithful Snow Lodge is in stark contrast to the budget minded Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Built in 1999, the lodge boasts a soaring post and beam lobby, intimate sitting areas, cozy fireplace and simple but tasteful western style accommodations. Open from mid-December through the first week of March, the Snow Lodge offers lodge rooms with two double beds and private bath for $197/night. If you’re willing to venture out into one of the Western Cabins, really a four-plex motel style unit, you’ll pay $143/night for two queen sized beds and private bath. If you’re really adventurous, the quick selling duplex style Frontier Cabins (not recommended for families in winter) are simplistic motel style units with shower for the bargain price of $96/night. Snowcoach shuttles to Old Faithful are available from Mammoth, Flagg Ranch and West Yellowstone for an additional fee. Rates are based upon double occupancy; kids under 12 are free when staying with two adults. Each additional adult in a room is $11/night.
Beware: Old Faithful’s Western Cabins and Frontier Cabins are somewhat isolated from the Snow Lodge in winter and since you won’t have motorized transport, walking is required.
There are no televisions in standard park accommodations, which leaves lots of time for family activities. Exploring the gift shop at the Snow Lodge can be an activity in itself – there are just so many cool things, but you’re really here to enjoy the outdoors. Both locations offer ice skating for a small fee (skates included), cross-country skiing (guided, unguided or instruction), snowshoeing (guided or unguided), snowmobiling (guided only), snowcoach tours and best of all, hot tubbing ($21.63/hour – Mammoth only). Snowcoach tours and express shuttles are also available between lodges, to/from Flagg Ranch and to/from West Yellowstone. Check out the full selection of tours and equipment rentals offered by Xanterra.
Many tours offer half-price fares for children 2-11 and allow children under 2 to participate for free, so getting out and into the park is affordable, even with kids. The best tours and activities for families are:
- Ice Skating – it’s cheap, it’s convenient and it’s a great nighttime activity
- Hot Tubbing – Each tub accommodates up to five with attached changing rooms for one low price. A terrific evening of relaxation after a long (cold) day outside.
- Snowmobiling – Although prices are steep ($275/day), kids under 12 ride free with an adult. This is an awesome activity that allows you to explore the park and see everything close-up. Minimum age is generally 7 and up for passengers and 13 and up for drivers.
- Snowcoaching – As a backup for young kids and the less adventurous, a snowcoach tour is perfect. From the warmth of the snowcoach you can view wildlife, magnificent scenery and learn about the park. You’ll also have time for a little bit of outdoor exploration at select stops.
- Skiing/Snowshoeing – With instruction, shuttles and several guided tours, there are plenty of options for the family. For $15 per adult and $7.25 for children under 12, you can take one of 4 round- trip daily “ski” shuttles that allow you to explore the park on “foot”. Equipment rental is also available.
If you’re visiting Mammoth and have a vehicle, take an afternoon to venture into the Lamar Valley (toward Cooke City). You’ll have a chance to see the grey wolves, bison, bighorn sheep and various other wildlife. A keen eye and persistence will pay off. Be cautious, however, as the road to Cooke City can be snow covered and slick at times.
Eating a big breakfast, packing snacks for daytime and enjoying a leisurely evening meal will become routine. At the Snow Lodge, you’ll find the Obsidian Dining Room, which offers some unique fare and sizeable portions in an upscale rustic setting. The Geyser Grill at the Snow Lodge offers quick breakfasts and more casual fare for the family on the go. Unlike the rustic atmosphere of the Snow Lodge, the Mammoth Dining Room is a bit more stark and casual. Food at dinner is hearty and satisfying, although we found breakfast to be much more exciting. You can also order boxed lunches to go. The biggest complaint is usually about service or price. Yes, service can be a bit leisurely, but hey, you’re on vacation and there’s not exactly anywhere to rush off to in the evening. Price is relative – if you fill up at breakfast, have a light lunch and go casual for dinner, you’ll spend a little less.
ALERT: Dining reservations are required for the Obsidian Dining Room in winter. Dinner reservations are highly recommended for the Mammoth Dining Room in winter. Reservations may be made up to 60 days in advance and peak times fill up early.
Finally, a more economical way to see Yellowstone in winter may be by reserving a package. Xanterra, the park’s concessionaire, offers several packages from $129 per person for two nights. Packages include breakfast, a welcome gift, discount card, hot tub rental (Mammoth only), unlimited ice skating and other activities and transportation depending upon the package and lodge chosen. There are also special Lodging and Learning packages for kids 12 and over that provide a more in-depth look at Yellowstone through educational excursions throughout the park.
Visiting Yellowstone in winter was the single best winter vacation experience that we’ve ever had. Although the ability to explore on your own is more restricted nowadays, it’s still an amazing destination. You might not be able to hike through two feet of snow on the Norris Geyser Basin trail, but you’ll still have loads of fun!
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Yellowstone National Park is tucked away in the northwest corner of Wyoming, about 300 miles (6 hours) from Salt Lake City. The closest regional airport is in Bozeman, Montana, approximately 100 miles north of Mammoth Hot Springs and about 90 miles from West Yellowstone. The five airlines serving Bozeman’s Gallatin Field offer a total of 18 or more daily flights during the winter season, with additional flights scheduled during the holiday season and winter break. Renting a car will be your best bet as transportation to and from the park in winter is limited. Most major car rental agencies have on-airport locations and offer a full range of vehicles and services.
Another option will be to fly into Idaho Falls, which is a little over 100 miles south of West Yellowstone. Served by three airlines with a total of 13 daily flights, there are fewer options, but if you’re headed to the south entrance at Flagg Ranch, this is an alternative to flying directly into Jackson, Wyoming. Several rental car companies offer a wide range of vehicles on-site.
Note: The West Yellowstone Airport is closed in winter. Jackson Hole Airport should only be used if you are going to Yellowstone through Flagg Ranch.
For those who don’t mind driving the extra 400 miles round-trip, flying into Salt Lake City will provide more choices and cheaper fares. Round-trip fares to Salt Lake City start at $139, with flights from the East Coast starting around $199. Comparatively, fares for flights into Idaho Falls average over $300, while you may be able to catch a break into Bozeman with fares in the $225 range from the Midwest and $350 from the East Coast. During the snowy winter season, flying into Bozeman may be your best choice if you want to avoid excess driving in inclement weather. Route 20 coming into West Yellowstone from the south can be a bit treacherous at times. However, both West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs are fairly easy two-hour drives from Bozeman.
When choosing a rental car, make sure that you take into consideration all of the bulky winter clothing and any equipment (skis, snowshoes, etc.) that you’ll be carrying. In addition, you may want to select a vehicle, such as an SUV, that will perform better in the winter weather. While the roads leading to Mammoth Hot Springs are kept fairly clear, if you plan on driving the road to Cooke City, you’ll want a heavier vehicle with front-wheel or four-wheel drive. If you’re venturing down to West Yellowstone, be aware that the roads in the area are often covered with a light snowpack to allow easy access to snowmobiles. There is an extensive trail system in the West Yellowstone area that is outside of the park, so you’ll likely encounter lots of snowmobile traffic in and around town.
If you decide to do this trip without a rental car, which I don’t recommend with kids, you can take a once daily shuttle to Mammoth or four times daily shuttle to West Yellowstone from the Bozeman airport. Karst Stage offers round-trip service to West Yellowstone for $92.90 (1/2 price ages 3-12 and free for under 3) and to Mammoth for $110.25 per person based upon 3-4 passengers (1/2 price ages 3-12 and free for under 3). If you’re really adventurous and don’t mind 7 hours on a bus, Salt Lake Express offers shuttle service from the Salt Lake City Airport to West Yellowstone at 10AM daily (leaves downtown at 9:30AM) for about $120 round-trip ($10 less for ages 2-12 and free under 2). There is no practical shuttle service from Idaho Falls.
If you’re staying in Bozeman for a few days, there is a free shuttle system called Streamline that will get you to most places that you want to go. Getting around Mammoth, however, will require a bit of walking. Although everything is within walking distance, you may want to use your car on cold days and when hiking the terraces (beware – parking can be a challenge). Snowmobiles are not available for local rental in Mammoth, so unless you have your own, you’ll be walking.
In West Yellowstone, you’ll have several transportation choices. Snowmobile is the most common form of transportation, but you can easily walk to restaurants, shops and attractions if you’ve chosen a centrally located hotel. Finding parking will be relatively easy and taxis are available if you’re without a vehicle. West Yellowstone will offer the most services and opportunities for tours into the park.
Transportation into the park will only be by a guided snowmobile tour or snowcoach. Once inside the park, you’ll be limited to one of these transportation options or cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or walking. There is no motorized transportation within the park other than “group” tours.
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Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872 as America’s first national park, is a World Heritage Site that encompasses over 2.2 million acres in three states. Although most of Yellowstone lies in Wyoming, you’ll likely enter the park through the north entrance at Gardner, Montana or the west entrance at West Yellowstone, Montana. As a matter of fact, the only entrance with services that is actually in Wyoming is to the south at Flagg Ranch. The lesser-used northeast entrance at Cooke City, Montana is open year-round to vehicles, while the east entrance is about 50 miles from Cody, Wyoming and closes to authorized vehicles at 9PM each evening in winter. Entry into the park is $15 per person if on “foot” or $25 per vehicle. Check the daily winter report before you go.
Without a doubt, the most interesting time to visit Yellowstone is in the winter season. The park usually reopens to visitors around the middle of December and closes again for plowing by mid-March. This short winter season is often at the mercy of Mother Nature as transportation throughout the interior of the park relies upon a reasonable snowpack. So, it’s best to plan your winter vacation to Yellowstone for after the 1st of the year.
There are only a few roads that are open year-round to non-commercial passenger vehicles. The road from Gardner, Montana to Mammoth Hot Springs, which sees the most traffic in winter, is open and usually pretty clear for much of the season. In contrast, the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to the northeast entrance at Cooke City, although open can be hit or miss depending upon weather conditions.
As of 2004, only guided snowmobile tours with an approved tour provider or approved snowcoach vehicles are allowed to traverse the interior roads of Yellowstone during winter. Gliding along the groomed snow covered roads, the snowcoach provides a convenient way to see the spectacular winter landscape if you have young kids. For families with older kids, joining a guided snowmobile tour is an exciting way to interact with nature while enjoying the sport of snowmobiling.
The Temporary Winter Use Plan that has been in place is set to expire at the end of the 2011 winter season. If new, acceptable rules are not put in place for the 2011-2012 season, all motorizeed access to the park in winter will cease. Six alternatives have been proposed and are currently open for public comment. Please participate in the process to keep our most beautiful national park open to winter visitors.
If you don’t want to venture into the interior or are looking to save some money (Yellowstone is expensive in winter), you can enter Yellowstone through Gardner, Montana and enjoy the park from Mammoth Hot Springs. Although an abbreviated experience, it is much less expensive and still offers some spectacular scenery and fun activities.
Whether it’s relaxing and taking in the scenery on a guided snowcoach tour, snowmobiling across the continental divide, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing through the snow covered landscape, ice-skating with the kids, escaping the cold with a dip into the hot tub or just reading a book by a roaring fire, there is an activity for everyone in the family. Of course, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to explore on your own too. With about 10,000 thermal features, over 300 geysers, hundreds of waterfalls and the amazing travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone will engage even the youngest of visitors. Don’t forget the wildlife – bison, elk, bighorn sheep and wolves abound in winter.
You’ll need to dress warmly as temperatures will range on average from 0°F-40°F with colder temperatures possible in the interior. Wind chill can also be a factor, making it feel even colder. Temperatures at Mammoth Hot Springs tend to be at the higher end of the range, although anything is possible. Expect frequent precipitation in the form of snow that can hamper visibility and quickly accumulate around you. When venturing out, always be prepared.
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Fresh off of a 22-day Road Trip through the American West, Amy over at <a title="Pit Stops For Kids" href="http://www.pitstopsforki
Grand Teton National Park is one of those destinations that sneak up and surprise you with its (often unsung) beauty and dignity. And it need not worry about being upstaged by next door neighbor Yellowstone; what Teton lacks in geysers it more than makes up for in lack of traffic and crowds and an abundance of hiking, rafting, horseback riding, fishing, and camping.
Located directly to the south of Yellowstone (one park admission gets you into both), Grand Teton is manageable in size, making it easy for families to plan morning and afternoon activities with a mid-day break at their hotel, lodge, or campground. If you have time, day trips to both Yellowstone and Jackson Hole are worthwhile, but if only have a weekend (or just prefer to stay put), there’s plenty to keep you occupied within the park boundaries.
What to See with Kids:
Jenny Lake and Surrounding Areas: Many Grand Teton lakes will vie for your attention, but our families favorite hiking was along the shore of Jenny Lake and up to Hidden Falls. This beautiful landmark can be accessed by either hiking trail from the String Lakes Trailhead (1.5 mile hike in on level terrain) or by shuttle boat from the Jenny Lake Dock by Jenny Lake Lodge.
Jackson Lake by Horseback: Experience Grand Teton true cowboy-style with a horseback ride in the Jackson Lake area. (Stables are located at Colter Bay Village.) As you ride, your ‘wrangler’ will tell you many facts about the area, you’ll get plenty of photo ops of the mountains, and maybe spot some wildlife. Kids as young as eight can ride and it’s a great way to cover more ground than you would hiking!
Grand Teton Range by Bike: Bring or rent bikes to take advantage of the 8-mile-long multi-use pathway that runs along the Teton Park Road from Moose to South Jenny Lake through breathtaking scenery. The path is exposed, so plan on morning or evening bike rides!
Where to Stay with Kids:
There are several good lodging options within the park, but for lake access and family conveniences, moderately-priced Colter Bay Village cannot be beat. Truly an entire community of its own, Colter Bay has a marina with boat and canoe rentals, horseback stables (see above), two family friendly restaurants, a visitor’s center with a Native American heritage center, a convenience store, and a campground, tent cabins, or full cabins to choose from. Our family opted for a cabin, and found both the location (yards from the lake) and amenities (comfortable beds, private bathroom with shower, in-cabin heater) to be a nice change to roughing it. Add the evening campfire program and ice cream for sale in the store, and you’ve got kid heaven!
Photos and text provided by Amy at Pit Stops for Kids.