Top Ten American Family Adventures

Adventure need not stop now that kids are in tow. With a slight change in activities and destination, your adventurous side can continue on as always, except now you'll sport a car-seat and an extra suitcase.
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Family Biking
QUALITY TIME: Biking is a great way to intertwine adventure and the entire family  (Corbis)

As an adventure travel writer, I've had the pleasure of biking around the Big Island of Hawaii, sea kayaking the Fijian islands, and diving the Great Barrier Reef. Then I had my first child and the canoes, skis, and other outdoor paraphernalia started to collect dust in the basement of my suburban Boston home.

One summer day, while feeling a bit stir crazy, I called my dad who gave me the sage advice to integrate family into my work. The next thing I knew, I'm going up and down the hills of Vermont with my toddler on the back of my bike. Like many parents, I began to realize that I don't have to give up my passion simply because I now have little ones in tow—it was time to introduce my kids to the real me.

Now I travel with Jake, 13, and Melanie, 11, as much as possible without getting scolded by their teachers. And now they're the ones teaching me a thing or two about every sport they try. Children thrive on the excitement and unscripted spontaneity of each outdoor challenge. It also doesn't hurt that many of the finer outdoor activities are located in some of the most exquisite scenery on the planet. Here are some of our favorites in America:

10. Surf Santa Cruz, California
Named after founder Ed Guzman, Club Ed has been teaching the fine art of surfing for more than 20 years from its home-base in Santa Cruz, California. Kids over nine can take courses with their parents or alone, as can parents, or try it with people their own age. Hey, we're talking California surfing, dude.  Everything's cool! Out of the water, instructors will discuss how to read waves, tidal conditions, and how to take good care of your board. In the ocean, guides ride directly alongside novices, even giving you a little push, if necessary, to catch the wave. It's not unusual for a guide to grab the back of your wetsuit and haul you up so that you get the feel of riding a wave. Throughout the session, guides shout instructions like "this is a good wave, you can catch it," or "paddle right." Then it's back to the beach for a critique of how you did that day—try not to embarrass yourself in front of the kid. That wouldn't be cool, dude.

9. Dive Maui, Hawaii
There's nothing wrong with getting most of the course work for a scuba diving certificate out of the way at the local YMCA. But doing your open-water completion dive in a pool?  That's certainly not going to motivate your child to continue on with the sport. Instead, head to inspiring Maui, where Lahaina Divers will take you on a 15-minute ride to Turtle Reef for your completion dive. Here, in 35 to 40 feet of water, you'll be eyeball-to-eyeball with large green sea turtles, found in abundance in these waters. Of course, adults and children 12 and older (junior certification that can be updated at age 15) can take the three-day PADI-certified course offered by Lahaina Divers, but why come to a beautiful resort setting and spend time in a classroom? Once certified, Lahaina Divers will take you on one-hour boat rides to dive the clear waters of Molokini Crater, inundated with tropical fish and their neon patterns, and the lava tubes near Lanai. Hawaii's bizarre reef formation is a labyrinth of tubes, caves, and caverns—a testament to the natural history of these volcanic islands.

8. Sea Kayak the San Juan Islands, Washington
There's no better way to explore the myriad of the San Juan Islands and its abundant marine life than from the comfortable confines of a sea kayak. And there's no better guide than Tim Thomsen, owner of San Juan Kayak Expeditions for the past 29 years. Thomsen knows every nook and cranny of this region. On his four-day trips, you'll paddle along the coastlines of more than 25 islands, stopping to camp on sandy shores or to view the rocky cliffs of Stuart and Spieden islands that rise hundreds of feet out of the ocean. Because these waters are tranquil and the sea kayaks stable, no previous experience is necessary. The highlight of this adventure is undoubtedly the wildlife. During the summer months, the San Juan Islands are home to pods of orca whales in search of pacific salmon. Who needs to see Shamu at Sea World when you can kayak beside him? At any given time, you might also be accompanied by minke whales, pacific white-sided dolphins, porpoises, harbor seals, and sea lions. Birding is also exemplary with more than 300 species of birds found in the region, including bald eagles, great blue herons, and loons.

7. Day Hike at Glacier National Park, Montana
If your goal is to see wildlife undisturbed in a natural setting, then Montana's Glacier National Park fills the bill. In this spectacular land of snow-capped peaks and stirring valleys, it is not uncommon to see moose at sunrise lapping the water of a remote pond and bighorn sheep scampering through thickets of pine. A large network of hiking options begins at the Two Medicine ranger station. One of the best is a trail that circles the fjord-like Two Medicine Lake. Another option is to take a 45-minute boat ride to the far end of the lake and climb one of the trails up Mount Sinopah. For older children, a 12-mile round-trip trek leads to Cobalt Lake in a basin some 6,500 feet high. The trail forges a dense forest of spruce, before snaking through meadows, skirting beaver ponds, and crossing two mountain streams.

6. Raft the Yampa River, Colorado
Roaring 72 miles through northwestern Colorado is the Yampa River, the last major free-flowing tributary in the entire Colorado River system. This Class III river, ideal for families, is in its prime in early June when the snowmelt fills the channel. Large playful waves run from start to finish through Yampa, Whirlpool, and Split Mountain canyons in the heart of Dinosaur National Monument. Butch Cassidy found these slickrock walls and layers of cavernous rock to be the perfect hideaway. Two-thousand-foot-deep sandstone gorges create a colorful canyon maze that effectively blocks out the world. In its place, you'll find one of the largest concentrations of endangered peregrine falcons in the States, golden eagles, and bighorn sheep. Adrift Adventures features a five-day run on the Yampa. Minimum age is only eight years old.

Published: 19 Apr 2009 | Last Updated: 11 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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