Travel through a Kid's Eye

Forget Disneyland—the Top Alternative Family Escapes

While it may be easy to understand why your child is pulled toward a Disney-sponsored vacation, the world around us today has more to offer than the conventional escapes of theme parks and roller coaster rides. And, with adventure travel options expanding almost exponentially, your next family vacation can become the perfect opportunity to show your kids that they live in only one corner of this vast, multi-cultural world. Each of the family vacations below offer maximum fun and learning for children while letting adults relax from the hustle and bustle of the daily routine. Close to home or on the edge of civilization, make your next family outing a truly memorable adventure.

Covered Wagon Adventures: Pioneer Pathways
A wagon train holiday combines outdoor fun with the lure of the Wild West while letting you relive the experience of the early pioneers and Native Americans—complete with authentic, horse-drawn covered wagons.
Although most wagon-train guests travel on horseback each day, the littlest dudes (and any saddle-sore adults) can opt for cushioned perches on the wagons. This makes the wagon train a good choice for families with small children or nonriding grown-ups. Along the trail, you'll see antelope, deer, rabbits, eagles, and maybe even a buffalo herd. During your backcountry journey, the kids will make new friends while you enjoy the freedom of ranging the open plains. And at the end of each day, children and adults alike sleep soundly under the stars.

A number of wagon-train outfitters offer quality family programs. Kelly's Place (Cortez, CO 800.745.4885. www.kellyplace.com) is an adobe-style lodge and outdoor education center 45 miles from Durango. One-week holidays include a four-day wagon train through Ute Mountain Park, where guests explore Anasazi ruins with Native American guides.

Kelly's Place also offers classes, such as Navajo pottery, Hopi culture, and ethnobotany. Just 20 miles from four parks—Mesa Verde, Hovenweep National Monument, Anasazi Heritage Center and Ute Tribal Park—Kelly's Place makes an ideal base for exploring the Four Corners Canyon Country. The wagon train costs $300 per person per day, with a six-person minimum. Additional nights at the lodge cost $75 for a room for two, plus $10 for each additional person, and $7 for children under 12.

Oregon Trail Wagon Train (Bayard, NE 69334, 308.586.1850. www.prairieweb.com/oregonwagon) is a good choice for families looking for a classic living history experience at a moderate price. On one- to four-day journeys, covered wagons follow the historic Oregon Trail across the Nebraska plain, passing near towering Chimney Rock. Special activities for youngsters include hunting for arrowheads, watching black-powder rifle drills, learning Native American arts and crafts, and cooking over a campfire. (Remember to warn children about the mock Indian attack!) Another treat for kids is mail delivery via Pony Express. Gueses can either sleep in tents or bed down in the wagons. Rates for a four-day trip are $525 for adults and $425 for kids under 12.

Since 1991, Powder River Wagon Train and Cattle Drive (Broadus, MT. 800.492.8835. www.pwoderrivercattledrive.com) has operated one of the best family wagon trains in the West. Eac August 60 guests join the Premier Wagon Train for a six-day, six-night journey through the wide open country of eastern Montana. From May through September, Powder River usually runs one five-day wagon train each month for 10 to 20 guests. These excellent programs feature authentic activities for the kids, and nightly Western-style entertainment. The Premier Wagon Train costs $1,450 per person; monthly trips are #1,250 per person. Powder River costs more than the competition, but perks such as hot showers, deluxe food, and personal attention compensate for the expense.

A leading Wyoming outfitter since 1971, Wagons West-Yellowstone Outfitters (Afton, WY. 800.447.4711) offers two-, four-, and six-day wagon-train journeys through the spectacular Bridger-Teton National Forest near Jackson, Wyoming. Guests ride horseback about half the time, but small children and nonriders can also enjoy the experience from a stable wagon with rubber tires for added comfort. Suitable even for younger kids, this program offers many supervised children's activities. Guides recount the history of the early settlers and of the Sioux and Crow tribes. Two-day trips cost $325 for adults, $285 for children; six-day trips run $835 for adults and $735 for kids.

For additional information on wagon trains, cattle drives, and other western holidays, contact the Dude Ranchers' Association (La Porte, CO. 970.223.8440).


Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 29 Aug 2001 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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