Visiting Yellowstone with Kids

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the crown jewel of our National Park System. It was the first of its kind, and remains the most unique and diverse wilderness experience that you will find in this country.

It’s also an extremely cool place for kids.

But with almost 3500 square miles of lakes, geysers, canyons, and hot springs, there’s too much to see in one short stay. So, after four visits to Yellowstone, and consultation with my own children, I have compiled the following list of park sights and activities that will make your family trip an especially memorable one.

Ten Cool Things For Kids (and Grown-Ups) in Yellowstone National Park:

1. Dragon’s Mouth Spring

Dragon's Mouth Spring

How can you resist telling your kids that a dragon lives in a cave near a mud volcano? It doesn’t take much imagination to think that this cavern, with its growls and thumps, and spitting steam, might just hold a real dragon.

2. Fishing Cone

Yellowstone Fishing Cone

It’s probably just a tall tale, but the story goes that the early trappers and explorers would catch fish in Yellowstone Lake, swing them directly into the Fishing Cone geyser just off shore, and have a meal of boiled fish in just minutes. “Hook and cook,” they called it. Like the dragon cave, another cool sight that will fire up the imagination.

3. Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn lobby as seen from Bat's Alley; Jim Peaco; October 2003

What kid won’t love the largest log hotel in the world? Just walk inside the 100-year-old Inn’s lobby, with its four stories of lodgepole pine balconies and 500-ton stone fireplace, and your kids might just want to sit for awhile. Preferably in one of the many handmade wood rocking chairs. Better yet, stay in one of the Inn’s rooms. Prices are reasonable, and the food in the dining room is first-class.
Continue reading

5 Easy Hikes for Kids in Maui

kaanapali-beach1

Hawaii is, without a doubt, an expensive place to take your family. Most popular activities will hit your wallet hard, so it’s good to have a few freebies lined up on your itinerary. Taking a hike is almost always going to cost you absolutely nothing, and it might just be the most memorable thing you do during your trip.

Picking the right trails to explore is key to an enjoyable experience. Whether you have toddlers or teenagers, you will want to limit your hiking to half a day or less to avoid tantrums and breakdowns (anything over 5 miles is probably too much). On our recent family vacation to Maui, we took five easy, kid-friendly hikes that gave us a taste of the islands without making anyone feel too tired. Consider one of these hikes if you plan a vacation to Maui.

1. Kapalua Coastal Trail
This is a 2-mile walk from Kapalua Beach to D.T. Fleming Beach. The highlight here, besides the stunning beaches and wild rocky coastline, is the Dragon’s Teeth area, a unique lava formation that juts out into the water and really does resemble a giant set of dragon’s teeth. Kids could spend an hour alone at this one spot, scrambling over the rocks, watching for sea turtles in the water below, and letting their imaginations run wild. The trail is accessible from several places, but we recommend parking near the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, exploring the Dragon’s Teeth, then heading west toward Kapalua Beach.

2. Iao Valley State Park
This lush, tropical area is home to the famous Iao Needle and was the site of an important battle during King Kamehameha’s unification of the island in the late 18th century. The history and natural beauty make it a great place to hike and learn. Several short trails are available, including a paved path to an outlook, as well as a garden trail that leads you through thick vegetation. It’s nothing more than half a mile. There are picnic tables and restrooms in the park, so take your time and admire the scenery.

3. Twin Falls
These are the first waterfalls you’ll see on the famed Road To Hana, in Ho’olawa Valley on the north shore of the island. Bring your swimsuits and water shoes, because you and the kids will want to take a little dip in the pools at the base of each falls. The first is a 10-minute walk, and the second is another 15 minutes beyond. It’s a little slippery in places, but worth the effort. There are porta potties and a snack stand back at the parking area.

4. Pipiwai Trail
This is the most challenging hike on my list. At 4 miles, it’s also the longest. The reason I found it so challenging is not the trail itself, but the fact that you must drive the entire Road To Hana to get to it. If you can manage that drive, the trail is worth the effort. The first 2 miles are uphill, but kids will love the surprises they find along the way. Highlights include a massive banyan tree, Pipiwai stream, Makahiku Falls, several wooden bridges, a breathtaking bamboo forest and, at the end of the trail, the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. There is so much to see along the trail, you barely even notice you’re hiking. The way back to the parking lot is just as stunning, and all downhill. If your kids can manage a longer hike, this is the one they’ll remember the most.

5. Ka’anapali Beach
This particular hike isn’t really a trail, but it might just be our favorite non-trail trail in Maui. Ka’anapali Beach has been called one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and after visiting it, we know why. The entire beach is about 3 miles long, but we recommend walking the lower mile from the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa north to Black Rock at the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa. Park your car at the Hyatt, stroll out to the beach, take your shoes off, and leisurely walk north along the powder-like sand. Just this one mile might take you several hours, because the kids will find so much to see and do along the way. It’s a great place to watch surfers, swimmers, boats, parasailers, snorkelers, and even the occasional drone buzzing through the air. Off in the distance, you can see the islands of Lanai and Moloka’i. If you’re there in early spring, it’s a prime spot to view humpback whales. Once you reach the Black Rock area, you can rinse the sand off your feet, put your shoes back on, and walk back on the boardwalk, where you can gawk at the resort and condo complexes. Stop in at Whaler’s Village for a bite to eat, or some shopping. Ka’anapali Beach is, by far, the most beautiful beach my family has ever had the pleasure to walk on.

Family Vacation to Spokane

SpokaneRadioFlyer

When you tell people you’re visiting Washington State, they usually conjure up images of majestic mountains, rugged coastlines, or the urban beauty of Seattle. Most people forget there’s an entire eastern half of the state that has a number of cool and unique places to visit.

On the far eastern edge of Washington is the city of Spokane, which is well worth exploring for a few days if you find yourself traveling on Interstate 90, and especially if you have kids, because Spokane (the “e” is silent, by the way) is a very kid-friendly town.

====> Continue reading my article at TripAdvisor’s Family Vacation Critic blog.

Family Vacation to Maui

Snorkeling in Maui

On our recent family vacation to Maui, I knew there was one thing I had to do for the very first time: Snorkel.

I had promised my kids, and myself, that this would be the year I finally get over my irrational fear of the ocean (thanks to repeated viewings of “Jaws”) by donning a mask, fins and a snorkel, and swimming right out into that deep blue water.

First thing I had to do, however, was find a good place for beginner snorkelers, where the water would be calm, clear and filled with ocean life.

====> Continue reading my article at TripAdvisor’s Family Vacation Critic blog.

Family Vacation to the Moon

craters of the moon

Inspired by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, one of my dreams of childhood was to walk on the moon. I didn’t want to be an astronaut. Rather, I wanted to romp around in low gravity as a tourist.

It wasn’t an unreasonable fantasy. I mean, not if you were a regular viewer of “The Jetsons.” We all thought there would be flying cars and robot maids in our future.

Vacations on the moon aren’t about to happen anytime soon, so I’ll just have to settle for a little imagination, and a road trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument, in southern Idaho.

====> Continue reading my article at TripAdvisor’s Family Vacation Critic blog

The Ghostliest Ghost Town in the West

bannack3

Teaching your kids about history when you travel doesn’t have to mean a long, boring day of museums and statues. If done right, history can be more than just artifacts behind a glass case, or a plaque that points out where something used to be.

When my kids were studying the old west, with its wagon trains, gold miners and outlaws, I knew there was no better place for it to all come to life than in a real western ghost town.

My new article about Bannack State Park, the ghostliest ghost town in all the west, is now appearing on Family Vacation Critic, a subsidiary of TripAdvisor. You can expect to see several articles from me each month on this essential family travel site. I hope they give you inspiration for a memorable family adventure!

==> Continue reading about Montana’s awesome Bannack State Park

bannack

10 Cool Things For Kids In North Idaho

It’s that time of year to start thinking about road trips and family travels for the coming spring and summer. There are few better places to find fun with your kids than North Idaho.

The northern panhandle of Idaho is my family’s stomping ground. Over the years, we’ve discovered a great number of cool and exciting places to take the kids. So, when people ask what there is to do around here, I always have a ready list of sights and activities that will make any family vacation a memorable one.

Ten Cool Things For Kids In North Idaho

1. World’s Longest Gondola Ride

Silver Mountain Gondola

In the town of Kellogg, you can board the longest gondola in the world for a 20 minute ride to the Mountain Haus terminal at the top of Silver Mountain, a climb of 3400 vertical feet. In the winter, you’ll find some of the best ski runs around, but in the summer you can hike the nature trails, go mountain biking, or ride the chair lifts for more scenic beauty even higher up the mountain. Continue reading

Family Weekend in Tacoma

Mount_Rainier_over_Tacoma

The Super Bowl has once again put Seattle in the spotlight, and it’s sure to see an increase in tourism as people come to check out the home of the Seahawks. People will flock to Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, Experience Music, and the Museum of Flight. It’s a beautiful city, with no shortage of fun activities for families. Continue reading

Seeing Double at Fairmont Hot Springs

It’s just a coincidence that my family’s two favorite hot springs destinations are both named Fairmont Hot Springs.

Both have comfortable, and affordable, lodges for their guests. Both have large, clean pools filled with soothing hot mineral water. Both are extremely family friendly. Your vacation needs are covered either way, so you only have to decide if you want to grab your passport or not.

One of them is in Western Montana, while the other is in British Columbia, Canada. Continue reading