New Winter Wonderlands National Park Guide for Families

February 18th, 2015 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Last week, the National Park Service released its newest guide for families. The Winter Wonderlands guide is the sixth volume in the Owner’s Guide Series and it highlights family-friendly winter activities in 15 national parks. Here’s what the guide suggests families do when visiting national parks during the winter months:

Bighorn sheep at Rocky Mountain National Park

Acadia National Park
Maine’s Acadia National Park is great for ice-fishing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Trail maps are available at the Winter Visitor Center, which is located at park headquarters.

Bryce Canyon National Park
Located in Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is great for snowshoeing and hiking, as well as stargazing. Enjoy ranger-led night programs that include stargazing and astronomy lessons with telescopes.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park has train rides, sledding and nature, art and music series for culture-lovers. Train rides are themed, with a special trip to the North Pole for kids in the winter. Parents will love the beer- and wine-tasting train rides, too.

Glacier National Park
Bring your camera along when visiting Glacier National Park in Montana, as the area offers a plethora of photogenic scenery. Sign up for a ranger-led snowshoe walk to see some of the best flora and fauna in the park.

Grand Canyon National Park
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open year-round and families can enjoy hikes through the various trails without the crowds of summer during the winter season.

Grand Teton National Park
The trails are quiet at Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park during the winter as many are closed to vehicles. However, they are still open for snowshoe walks, and families can sign up for ranger-led excursions where they’ll learn about the winter activity, as well as the environment in the park.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Enjoy sledding through snow and sand at Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park. Bring your sleds and snowboards from home and ride down the dunes during the winter months for a cool experience.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Spread across Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is great for families who like fly-fishing. Families can cast lines year-round here, with rainbows, browns and brook trout waiting for the bait.

Lassen Volcanic National Park
Northern California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park is closed to vehicles during the winter months, but open to all who want to snowshoe and ski. Families will enjoy the shorter trails, such as the Manzanita Lake Snowshoe Loop, which is just 1.6 miles long.

Olympic National Park
Downhill skiing and tubing are available at Olympic National Park in Washington state. And families who want to escape the snow can head to the coast of the park, where low tide allows for long walks along the beach.

Rocky Mountain National Park
See if you spot wildlife at Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. Moose are often seen along the Colorado River and bighorn sheep may be found at Fall River. Families may see elk and mule deer, too.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
You won’t want to miss a memorable shot of giant sequoia trees covered in snow at these national parks in California, so be sure to pack your camera. The Giant Forest Grove is home to the largest living tree on Earth: the General Sherman Tree.

Voyageurs National Park
Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park has year-round adventures available via its Rainy Lake Visitor Center. Sign up for cross-country ski excursions – rentals are available for all ages.

Yellowstone National Park
Visit one or all sides of Yellowstone National Park this winter; it’s spread across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Whatever you do though, be sure to visit Old Faithful Geyser, as it erupts year-round.

Yosemite National Park
Grab your skates and go at Yosemite National Park in California. Families can enjoy gliding across the ice while taking in the winter scenery at the park’s Curry Village.

For more information, download the free Winter Wonderlands guide on the National Park Foundation website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

LEGO Travel Adventure Touring Exhibit

February 17th, 2015 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

The LEGO Travel Adventure exhibit began taking over museums around North America in February 2014, and the tour continues through 2016. This year, families can visit California, Nebraska and Ohio for the interactive exhibit that focuses on travel and transportation.

LEGO Travel Adventure exhibit entrance

Produced by the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, families with children of all ages (though geared toward the 12-and-under set) are invited to invent, create and play with LEGOs at the touring exhibit. DUPLO tables and downhill racetracks are perfect for little ones who want to build cars and watch them fly. Kids can even pose for a picture in their own racecar built completely from DUPLO bricks!

Head to the oversized LEGO brick storage bins and build a life-sized vehicle that can travel over land, air and sea. Wheels, wings and other necessary parts are available for kids to create with.

The exhibit is also home to four display cases that house LEGO brick models from around the world. See San Francisco, Paris, Hawaii or Cape Canaveral and imagine traveling through each destination (in your own LEGO car!).

Additionally, families can learn about the history of transportation through models made from LEGOs. Check out Henry Ford’s Model T shop, the first ocean liner, the Transcontinental Railroad, and the first flight that the Wright Brothers took in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Kids will even be challenged at the exhibit’s computer station to build a virtual vehicle out of LEGO parts that can fly, sail and roll. After creating the vehicle, children can test it at one of three virtual travel destinations to see if they have completed the challenge.

Lastly, the LEGO Travel Adventure exhibit invites kids to take a front seat in the giant LEGO vehicle. The Travel Adventure Vehicle (or T.A.V.) has two seats, steering wheels, and a video screen with the sights and sounds of various environments.

The LEGO Travel Adventure touring exhibit is currently at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, California, now through May 10, 2015. The tour will continue through 2016 at the following destinations:

Omaha Children’s Museum, Omaha, Neb.
May 23 to Sept. 13, 2015

Center of Science and Industry (COSI), Columbus, Ohio
Sept. 26, 2015, to May 8, 2016

Kalamazoo Valley Museum, Kalamazoo, Mich.
May 21 to Sept. 11, 2016

Discovery Cube Los Angeles
Fall 2016

Admission to the LEGO Travel Adventure exhibit is included with entry at each museum or center. For more information, visit the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’s website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

6 Wacky Texas Festivals for Families

February 16th, 2015 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Two girls dance next to a couple at the Wurstfest in New Braunfels, TexasLocal fairs are fun, but they can get old pretty quick with kids. The same games, the same food and the same entertainment can only spark a family’s interest for so long. For an exciting experience, visit one of these six wacky festivals in Texas this year. From snakes and bats to sausages and hot sauce, there’s surely something for everyone.

Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup
March 12-15, 2015
If you can stomach seeing these slithering animals up close, then head to Sweetwater, Texas, for the Rattlesnake Roundup this March. See who is crowned Miss Snake Charmer, play games at the carnival, check out the Rifle and Pistol Club Gun, Knife and Coin Show, or take part in the snake eating contest (if you dare). Fees apply for each individual event. The Rattlesnake Parade kicks off the festival at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, 2015.

Watermelon Thump
June 25-28, 2015
Kids can finally put those watermelon seed-spitting skills to good use at the Watermelon Thump festival in Luling, Texas. Join in contests, watch the Wild West Show at the children’s tent, ride the buckin’ bull and eat all the melon you want. Admission is free for all ages. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 25, 2015.

Mosquito Festival
July 24-26, 2015
No one really likes mosquitos, but Clute, Texas, still holds an annual festival in the insect’s honor every year. Enjoy carnival games and rides, arts and crafts, mosquito-themed contests, the Mosquito Chase 5k and more. Admission is free, but additional fees apply for carnival rides, food and some entertainment. The carnival opens at 5 p.m. on Thursday, July 24, 2015.

BatFest
Aug. 22, 2015
Be sure to get to the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas, early this year for the 10th annual BatFest. About 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats will take flight from under the bridge – a sight that is not to be missed. Additional entertainment includes children’s activities, a bat costume contest, arts and crafts, food and drink vendors and three stages with live music. Admission is $10 per person, and children ages 8 and under are free. The event begins at 4 p.m.

Hot Sauce Fest
Sept. 19-20, 2015
If you like your food spicy, take the family to the Hot Sauce Fest in Houston, Texas, this year, where you’ll be able to taste a variety of award-winning dishes. Enjoy live music, face painting, sand art, kiddie games and more. Admission is $10 per person, and children ages 12 and under are free. The festival begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015.

Wurstfest
Nov. 6-15, 2015
New Braunfels, Texas, turns into a Bavarian party for 10 days in November and families won’t want to miss the food, drinks, live music, carnival rides, polka competition and more. The Wurst Wagen is the special shuttle that will take you to all the fun. Adult admission has yet to be announced, but children ages 12 and under are always free. The festival kicks off with evening events on Friday, Nov. 6, 2015.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Trees of Mystery Experience for Families

February 15th, 2015 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

SkyTrail and Cathedral TreeLocated in Klamath, California, about six hours from San Francisco, in the midst of the Redwood National and State Parks, the Trees of Mystery attraction is a nature-lovers paradise. With five trails, including the SkyTrail, and a museum, families can discover sides of Redwood trees they have never seen before. For more than 65 years the nature attraction has worked to educate and entertain visitors from around the world.

The End of the Trail Museum
Visit the museum for an introduction to the history of the area, with artifacts, crafts, clothing, and more from various Native American tribes in the area on display. Entry to the museum is free for all and it’s a great way to begin your journey through Trees of Mystery. After hiking the trails, revisit the building, as a small gift shop is attached to the museum, with souvenirs for sale.

The Kingdom of the Trees
The first trail that families can travel is the Kingdom of the Trees trail. Walk through gigantic Redwood, Spruce and Douglas Fir trees and keep an eye out for the informational displays and audio presentations along the way. Don’t miss the Cathedral Tree, which is comprised of nine living trees growing together as one. Some of these trees are among the oldest on the planet.

Forest Experience Trail
Learn about Redwoods along the Forest Experience Trail, which offers facts throughout your family’s trek. The trail is an easy stroll, even for little ones, and is home to the largest tree on the property, the Brotherhood Tree. Additionally, the Towering Inferno tree is on this trail – it was struck by lightning in 1996 and was consumed from the inside by fire. The beginning of this trail offers families bathrooms and picnic tables, as well as Brotherhood Station, the starting point for the SkyTrail.

SkyTrail
Before hitting the last two walking trails, take a breather on the SkyTrail. Families will coast through the tree tops in a gondola car, ascending to 571 feet in the air, where spectacular views of the trees will surround them. The trip is about nine minutes long and up to six passengers can fit in each car.

Wilderness Trail
The Wilderness Trail is labeled an optional trail as it takes more of a hike than a stroll to see it all. It begins at the top of Ted’s Ridge, where the SkyTrail stops and is about 1 mile, downhill the entire way. The trail is subject to closures during inclement weather.

The Trail of Tall Tales
See the 49-foot-2-inch Paul Bunyan statue and his companion, the 35-foot Babe the Blue Ox, along the Trail of Tall Tales. Other fictional characters line the trail and kids can learn about the legends while walking through Redwoods and other giant trees.

Admission to Trees of Mystery includes access to all of the trails (including the SkyTrail) and is $15 for adults (13 to 59), $11 for seniors (60 and over) and $8 for kids (7 to 12); children ages 6 and under are free.

Summer trail hours are June through September, from 8 a.m. to about 6 p.m. daily. The gift shop is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the museum is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Winter trail hours are October through May, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. The gift shop is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Trees of Mystery website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Winter Fun at Camelback Mountain is Growing

February 14th, 2015 by Lissa Poirot No comments »

Living in Pennsylvania, my family is familiar with the Poconos. We love to camp in Promised Land State Park, which is near Camelback Mountain. It’s been exciting to watch the area grow over the years, and it’s bursting at the seams with exciting new accommodations and attractions.

Ski Slopes
A year-round destination, Camelback is really popular as a spot for snow sports, something we decided to try out first hand over a weekend. A smaller mountain, Camelback provides 800 vertical feet across 166 acres, with 16 lifts and 34 trails – all lighted through 10 p.m. For such a small space, they cram in a lot of activity, and from sunup until well past sundown, the mountain is filled with people on weekends.

Kids can learn to ski through CamelCare Adventurers, with both ski and snowboard lessons offered in small groups from morning until night for kids ages 6 to 12. Half-day programs are also available, and regardless which program your child follows, they will get some of the best tutoring in the country, as Camelback consistently finds its ski school on best lists nationwide.

Snow Tubing Park
It’s hard to miss Camelback’s snow tubing park as you snake up the mountain to the ski lodge – there are 42 lanes for snow tubing! It’s the biggest snow tubing park in the country! Ride single, double or in chains for three-hour sessions of unlimited rides. My children quickly discovered the secret: the fastest lanes are closest to the snowmaking machines! We wish we could go back during the evening (the area is also lit at night), when the crowds died down, but the three-hour pass is only good for a set time frame.

Mountain Coaster
Just about the coolest part of our weekend at Camelback was a ride on the Mountain Coaster. The steel track extends 4,500 feet up and down the mountain, right near a ski lift so riders can watch you fly. You control your speed in an easy-to-use seat that can hold a solo rider (age 9 and older) or a duo (driver must be 16 or older). We loved the ride and wished we could purchase multiple use passes instead of having to toss out $10 per person, per ride. The costs add up quickly!

Indoor Water Park
Looming on the horizon, with construction nearly complete, is the new Camelback Lodge, which will house the Aquatopia Waterpark. No matter how cold it will be outside, the 125,000-square-foot indoor water park will always be 84 degrees, so when the chill of the slopes gets to be too much, families will be able to warm up at the new lodge. The lodge, expected to open this April, will also be the mountain’s only ski-in/ski-out hotel. Rooms will be available as suites with sofa beds, mini-fridges and microwaves and one-, two- and three-bedroom options — this means families of five or more can sleep comfortably in one room, with up to 14 sharing condo space in the largest of the lodge’s accommodations.

There’s plenty at Camelback now and in the future to pack into a weekend, but the area also offers so much more. Located directly off of main highways that make it easy for visitors to come from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas, Camelback’s home in Tannersville, Pennsylvania, is quickly becoming a top weekend destination. From outlet shopping to other indoor water park resorts to great restaurants, including Desaki Japanese Restaurant (which offers free face painting and balloon animals on weekend nights as well as its exciting hibachi-style meals), your family will spend a weekend enjoying every minute of Camelback.

– Lissa Poirot

New Free Like Birdie Family Travel Blanket

February 13th, 2015 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Free Like Birdie has great family travel essentials — such as the On the Go Series Weekender Bag, which we gave away to one lucky winner in our 12 Days of Family Travel Giveaways last December — and the company is adding to the list with its newest product: the Birdie Blanket.

Left: Free Like Birdie Blanket; Right: Free Like Birdie Blanket Pouch

“The Birdie Blanket seemed like the next simple, functional product we could offer as a company,” said founder and CEO Rania Kfuri in an e-mail. “Providing helpful tools to make family travel more organized and efficient has always been Free Like Birdie’s goal.”

The Birdie Blanket was announced in a press release on Wednesday, Feb. 11, and is described as an extra soft blanket with a waterproof pouch to fold the blanket into so that families can keep it protected while on the go. The pouch has a Velcro strap, too, so it can attach to a stroller. Additionally, the blanket has “footie pouches” on one side for little feet to stay warm while traveling.

The ideas behind the blanket’s functionality came from Kfuri’s own experience. “My favorite part of the Birdie Blanket is the pouch with the Velcro strap,” she said. “I say this as a mother who has been frustrated having my daughter’s blanket fall on the floor repeatedly during family travel. I wished for a pouch to stuff her blanket in that had a Velcro strap for attaching to my stroller or wrist. With the Birdie Blanket we have made these dreams into a reality!”

The Birdie Blanket is just one of five great, family-friendly travel products that Free Like Birdie sells. The blanket is 30 inches wide by 42 inches long, and is free of phthalates, PVC, BPA and chlorine. It currently retails for $32 on Free Like Birdie’s website.

For more information and to purchase the new Birdie Blanket or other products, visit FreeLikeBirdie.com.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz