Best Places for Family Adventures

Words by Annie Pokorny 


Spring is springing and it’s high time to start planning for the upcoming season of family excursions. You know what that means—gathering the cooler, the outside toys, the inside toys, and the family steed for a road trip. It means packing a carry-on filled with no-kicking-the-back-of-the-seat activities, and planning snack times to keep everyone on the journey happy. Most importantly, it’s about finding destinations that have fun days for kids, good nights for parents, and a damn good sleep in between. Whether you’re planning ahead for the summer, or looking for something to do this spring, we’ve got the list for you. Cheers to another fabulous season of travel with the family. Thrive, don’t just survive!

Weekend Getaway 

Conestoga Ranch, Bear Lake, Utah

Luxury safari tents, fine dining, and a cowboy who will sing to the kids by the fire—these are a few of our favorite things. Just a moment’s drive from the aqua-blue water of Bear Lake, Conestoga Ranch has the ideal set-up for high-energy outdoor adventures by day and cool-breeze glamping by night. Rent kayaks and paddleboards from the nearby marina, visit the different towns on massive Bear Lake, and watch and rejoice as the kids run themselves into the ground before passing out in their very own sheep wagon. Bear Lake is just a few hours from most Mountain West outposts, making it perfect for a couple of days away from home. 

Journey Back In Time

Dinosaur National Monument, Vernal, Utah

Dinosaur National Monument and its neighbor city, Vernal, are two of the most exciting places in the world if you’re a seven-year-old with a thing for paleontology (or a 35-year-old with a love of The Land Before Time). Over 150 million years ago, big-boned dinos roamed the area and have left their mark near Vernal, Utah. That’s right, unlike most museums, some in Vernal let you touch the goods! Visit Quarry Exhibit Hall and check out the remnants of millenia past, stay or camp in one of the cleanest natural areas in the country, and when you’re not checking out bones, you can raft the river, hike the park, and seek out some non-extinct wildlife. 

Jolly Big Time 

Big Sky Resort, Big Sky, Montana

Less than an hour away from Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky Resort has more to offer than rad winter lines. Warmer days offer several zip lines, summer chairlift rides, and downhill bike rides. There is more than one type of golf (disc and ball varieties) as well as horseback riding, climbing, and water sports (yes, they have a lake, too.) During the off-season, lodging is as ample as outdoor activities—stay at the resort hotels and condominiums for luxury rooms at low rates. If you need a little “you” time, the resort offers childcare and a kids’ club to give you just enough time to hit the spa or grab a drink between giggles and play time. Whether you’re planning on late-season skiing or a summer getaway, Big Sky has the goods. Rated an American Treasure in 1999.

Old West Feel

Virginia City, Montana

No Montana family adventure would be complete without a swing through Virginia City, a living monument to the Old West. Learn how to blacksmith, pan gold, and explore this ghost town through living history demonstrations, while reliving the best of the region’s mining days. In 1864 Virginia City had 10,000 residents. Today, it boasts a strong 132, all of whom are dedicated to preserving the history of this old trading post town. The city offers ghost tours, fire truck rides, 19th century melodramas, and nightly cabaret entertainment (maybe leave the kids at home for that one). Outside of town you can hike, bike, ski, snowmobile, and go in search of your very own gold discovery. And the best part? There’s an old-fashioned candy shop and Old West mercantile. 

Jon Mancuso Photography

Mountain Adventure

Sawtooth Mountains, Stanley, Idaho

If the kids are grown up enough to skin up a hill and ski back down, take the entire family to the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho for a three-day hut-bound AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course with Sawtooth Mountain Guides (SMG). Springtime is good for stability and sunny skiing in the mountains, and SMG’s Williams Hut is set in one of the most stunning locations in the Sawtooth Wilderness Area. AIARE Avy 1 will teach you and your backcountry-loving young adult children (if you bring them) ski trip planning and preparation, terrain analysis, travel techniques, and snow science to keep you and your loved ones as safe as possible in avalanche terrain. This opportunity is everything you love in a hut trip and more, as you’ll be staying and learning from experienced guides, traveling through all kinds of backcountry terrain, and bonding in the hut with your family. Not many family vacations end with a certificate and skills that could save your life one day, although, maybe more should! 

Family Float

Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho

Unplug the family and hit the river for six days of wild and wet family bonding. The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is one of the most pristine rivers in the United States, and the unparalleled service and knowledge of local guides will keep your family safe and happy through the entire ride. Get away from summer crowds, big cities, and all the noise. Instead, enjoy luxury cuisine, epic camping, and long days on the water in one of the most beautiful protected areas in the nation. Get planning now, because 2018 trips are filling up, especially for family-oriented outfitters like the Ketchum-based Far & Away Adventures and Mackay Wilderness River Trips. All kids agree, this trip is all-around awesome. 

The Little Artist

Truckee, California

As the snow begins to melt in the Sierra, and Lake Tahoe begins to shed its winter coat for warmer weather, all kinds of inspiration will sprout up the pass in Truckee. We chose Truckee as the best place to get artsy this spring because its California roots and mountain-town lifestyle combine to make for great music, dancing, and art. Bring the kids to the Inspired Adventure Spring Festival in May, hosted by the Kindred Art and Folk Institute. The day includes costume contests, live music, make-and-take art stations, and an artisans market. At all other times of the year, Truckee connects the mountain to the Pacific art scene, hosting artists, open mics, workshops, and shows appropriate for all ages and perfect for afternoons spent in town after mornings of spring skiing. Kids rejoice! Finally, it’s ok to have paint all over your hands. 

Wildlife Adventure

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

If you haven’t invested time to see the protected land and wildlife of the Mountain West, there is no time like the present. Jackson Hole, Wyoming,  is the launch pad for many wildlife

adventures in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Both EcoTour Adventures and Teton Science School’s Wildlife Expeditions offer half-day, full-day, and multi-day wildlife expeditions with trained wildlife biologists. Wildlife Expedition’s spring multi-day options take you from Jackson Hole deep

into Yellowstone for one of the most comprehensive wildlife experiences you can find. Travel with an experienced wildlife biologist to see and learn about the Yellowstone ecosystem and the animals living in it. Spring dates run from April through May, when bears are waking from their winter extended naps, foxes are teaching their young to hunt, wolves are busy around their dens, and bison are venturing out with their young calves. Whether you are into seeing and learning about animals or have more of an interest in exploring the land they call home, these guided trips offer up-close-and-personal experiences with the wildlife of the West.

Two-Wheel Adventures

Park City, Utah

The one good thing about a low-snow year? The fact that two-wheel adventures begin just a bit sooner than in heavy-snow years. Park City, the first International Mountain Biking Association Gold Level Ride Center, is the perfect place for the family to pick up or indulge the two-wheel habit. With over 400 miles of public-access trails dedicated to non-motorized use, Park City has every level of riding. Try the Round Valley trails as a great introduction to singletrack; these trails are generally gentle and low on the technical factor. Mid-Mountain Loop is a great 20-plus-mile ride with phenomenal views. •