An hour outside of Calgary, Mount Yamnuska lies in the heart of the U-shaped Kananaskis Valley, surrounded by the jagged snowcapped peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Near the base of mighty Yamnuska, a sheer face of rock lures climbers from around the West, including our family of four. Led by our trustworthy guide, we threw on our harnesses, attached ourselves to the belay and up we went. Our 15-year-old son, Jake, climbed up the face as swiftly as Spiderman. Yet, it was my 13 year-old-daughter, Melanie, who really impressed me. She went up twice, doing the more challenging climb the second time. I know because I made it, barely.
When she rappelled back down, she cracked a huge smile and said to me, "You know, this is the first day I ever went rafting and the first day I ever went rock climbing." Yes, and it was only day two of a six-day family adventure trip with Austin Lehman Adventures in the Canadian Rockies.
The finest family adventure trips escort you into a world of active travel you would probably never attempt on your own. I certainly don't have a harness or whitewater raft hanging inside the walls of my garage. Yet, if you go beyond your comfort zone and try something new together as a family, the memories will last a lifetime. These adventures should get you started in the right direction:
1. Multisport Trip in the Canadian Rockies with Austin Lehman Adventure
ALA is known for their long list of family adventures around the globe. The Canadian Rockies, not far from their home base in Montana, is a great one to sample first. While Banff and Lake Louise are swelling with tourists in the summer months, the guides do an excellent job of steering families on hikes and bike rides far away from the masses. You'll bike past turquoise-blue glacial lakes nestled in the high peaks, walk up a gorge where waterfalls tumble down, and view a fair share of bear, elk, and bighorn sheep.
ALA's two guides transport you around the region in a minivan, hiring additional local guides when necessary. For example, on the rock climbing adventure on Mt.Yamnuska, the rock-climbing mentor is Dave Stark, a highly respected guide at Yamnuska Mountaineering. Another local guide takes you on a glacial walk on the massive Athabasca Glacier on Icefields Parkway, the stunning roadway that leads from Lake Louise to Jasper. Dinners are a gluttonous feast around a large table where you can relive the day's exciting activities with other families.
2. Multi-Generational Travel with Micato Safaris in Kenya
One of the increasingly popular trends in travel is going on a custom-made trip with three or four generations of your family. Few can design that journey of a lifetime better than Nairobi-based Micato Safaris. Indeed, if you meet owners Jane and Felix Pinto, who every one of their clients have met since Micato originated in 1966 while dining on family-favorite Indian entrees at the Pinto's home in Nairobi, you quickly realize that they have gone over every detail of your itinerary as if you were a member of their own family.
Your custom itinerary might include adventures such as a hot air balloon ride over the giraffes and elephants of the Masai Mara or a walk with the neighboring Maasai to see their mud huts and engage in a jumping contest. And you may also have the chance to take a horseback ride at sunrise at the base of that 17,000-foot broad-shouldered peak called Mount Kenya, and dine in the bush, surrounded by the sounds of the African jungle.
3. Multisport Trip in Sardinia with Ciclismo Classico
Ciclismo Classico has branched off to destinations like Norway and New England, but their specialty is still the Italian countryside. One of the owner's favorite trips for families is the multisport jaunt to Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean. Far away from the European traffic, they bike along the pristine coastline, stopping at under-used beaches for a dip. Other highlights include a hike up Capo Spartivento, rewarding young climbers with vistas of the shoreline; a day long boat ride in and out of coves; soccer on the beach; strolling to the markets in small villages; and a grand finale feast at the home of your Sardinian guide, with his mother and brothers grilling sausage. After all, what child doesn't like Italian foods.
4. Paddle the Maine Waterways with Mahoosuc Guide Service
Many of the old-time Maine guides have retired or perished in the past decade, leaving behind a historic legacy of paddlers who know the Maine Woods waterways like the lines on the back of their hands. Thankfully, Kevin Slater of Mahoosuc Guide Service is still working and leading families on affordable camping adventures through the Maine interior.
On this adventure, you'll paddle in their 17-foot long wood and canvas canoes that are all created by Slater. It takes him more than 120-hours of work to carve one of these delicately ribbed beauties out of northern white cedar and cherry wood, using only native varieties. His skilled craftsmanship was passed down from his mentor, a Wabanaki Indian. Travel with Slater on a 5-day jaunt in this maze of blue waterways -- a seemingly countless number of lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds, and you'll soon forget all about the woes of modernity. In its place will be daily sightings of moose, beaver, maybe even bear as you stop to fish for salmon.
5. Adventure Cruises in Alaska
For most cruise passengers, a typical walk leads you off the dock to a parade of jewelry shops. You certainly wouldn't expect to head off to an overnight backpacking excursion to rarely seen Alaskan coastline or the chance to bag a peak and camp near the summit. Yet, when the M/V Wilderness Adventurer returned to the waters of Alaska's Inside Passage this past spring after being completely overhauled by its new owner, overnight backpacking and sea kayaking options were two of the many shore excursions geared to the more intrepid traveler.
Other options include caving and a fishing charter that will pick you up straight from the ship. Adventure cruising might sound like an oxymoron, but more and more cruise lines are jumping on the active lifestyle bandwagon as the demand grows. A younger clientele have helped transform an industry best known for its all-you-can-eat buffets and cozy chaise lounge chairs to one where a weeklong itinerary might include sea kayaking, biking, hiking, scuba diving, zip lining, and rock climbing.
6. Multisport in Costa Rica with Backroads
Best known for their biking trips around Napa, Provence, and Tuscany, Backroads' most popular vacations these days are adventures where you can sample more than one sport. With its mix of rainforest, active volcano, cloud forest, and coastline, Costa Rica has the ideal landscape to host a multi-sport journey.
Over the course of the week you can zip line across the cloud forest canopy, spotting toucans along the way; take a naturalist-led hike past the monkeys and sloths of the rainforest in Manuel Antonio National Park; kayak to a deserted beach; and soak your weary limbs in a hot tub as you stare in awe at Arenal Volcano. What Backroads fails to get across in their brochures is the seamless synchronicity of the activities involved, from one to the next. Not an easy feat in a country known for rutted roads and poor signage.
7. Sea Kayaking Baja
Warm water, uninhabited islands, sheltered coves, and abundant marine life including dolphins and gray whales, are the reasons why Baja's Sea of Cortez is a premier kayaking playground. Add nights spent lounging on deserted white beaches in Baja and you have a perfect week of adventure. Sea Kayak Adventures has been bringing families to Baja since 1993. Their most popular tour combines sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez with whale watching in Magdalena Bay, one of the major calving lagoons for gray whales.
8. Touring China with Wild China
For more than a decade, Mei Zhang, founder of Wild China and a Harvard MBA grad, has brought visitors to her homeland. For families, she covers the classic sites of China, like the Great Wall and Forbidden City, with lots of activities catered to kids, and includes a Kung Fu session at a Shaolin temple where martial arts originated. Then it's off to Zhang's native Yunnan Province, north of Laos and Burma, to see a beautiful part of the country few families will ever witness. You'll bike through rice paddy fields to reach little villages and meet the locals. Food is a combination of Chinese food coupled together with kid's favorites, like chicken fingers. Don't worry -- with three children of her own (ages 8, 5, and 2), Zhang knows how to keep the children happy.
9. Horseback Riding in New Mexico
The half-million acre Gila Wilderness sits in the southwestern part of New Mexico, near the border of Arizona. This is desolate country where 10,000-foot peaks tower over deeply eroded canyons and hundreds of miles of lonely river. Once infamous for Apache raids on early settlers by the likes of Geronimo, Gila is now known for its large herds of elk, bighorn sheep, black bears, and mountain lions.
The only way to pierce this vast interior is by foot or on horseback. Tom Klumker, owner of San Francisco River Outfitters, has been leading pack-trips into this region for the past 30 years. In the saddle of a strong quarter horse, you'll lope through large stretches of ponderosa pines and tall saguaros, some as high as sixty feet. In the nighttime, you can soothe your sore bum in a cool river. Horses, camping equipment, and hardy steak dinners that could satiate John Wayne are all included in the affordable price.
10. Strathcona Park Lodge
If you're indecisive about which sport to choose or simply want to attend an adventure camp that's designed for the entire family, then head straight to Strathcona Park Lodge. Opened in 1959, the lodge attracts families from all over the globe. That's not surprising when you consider its setting -- surrounded by the towering peaks and old-growth forest of 550,000-acre Strathcona Provincial Park in the heart of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
The lodge is a complex of chalets and cabins fronting 30-mile-long Campbell Lake and is only a 40-minute drive from the Pacific Ocean. Strathcona's Family Adventure Weeks in July and August take full advantage of its glorious locale. Guests canoe, sea kayak, rock climb, go on naturalist-led hikes, try the high ropes course, and learn orienteering and survival skills. The highlight of the week is an overnight canoe and camping trip where kids learn about no-trace camping and wilderness ethics. Back at the lodge, there is no television reception -- just you and your youngins sitting on the stone deck, taking in the views and the crisp fresh air as you talk about the day.
For more family vacation ideas, check out:
- 12 Best Resorts That Get You Close to Animals
- 10 Best Train Trips for Families
- 10 Best Family Vacations that Teach the Kids