Getting More Than Usual Out of Your Next Family Vacation


If the kids haven’t brought it up yet, it’s only a matter of time. “What are we doing for summer vacation this year?” The best vacations are those where the whole family is involved in the planning, so why not be prepared with some options everyone will like?

How about a family road trip to a national park? Depending upon your budget (gas will be cheaper this year than last) you can camp, stay in a rustic cabin, or opt for a historic park lodge or gateway motel. A great resource is National Park Traveler (, an online guide full of news, stories and ideas.

art-615-vacation2Before you hit the road on a parks adventure you should check out a new smartphone app from Just Ahead ( This app provides a hands-free audio travel guide that makes road-tripping vacationers feel like they have a national park ranger along for the ride. It utilizes GPS technology to pinpoint where you are on the road, and delivers fascinating stories and maps relevant to your location. The app is free; guides run from $5 to $10 and work without the need for an Internet or mobile phone connection. Guides are currently available for Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion, Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon. They say guides for Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Petrified Forest, Canyon De Chelly, Monument Valley, and Mesa Verde are in production and expected to roll out in time for the busy summer travel season.

A road trip with a mobile app is not exactly unplugging from technology. It’s important to get out of the car, hike a trail, or hop on a bike for some fresh air and exercise. A great option for active families who love having all logistics and details handled for them is to sign up for a small-group family cycle tour with Bicycle Adventures ( of Redmond, WA. Named by Outside Magazine as the “Top Family Outfitter for 2015,” they specialize in trips that follow car-free bike paths and are geared for most all ages and abilities. Families can experience a more urban environment in the Seattle Family Tour (five days). Other options take you out of the city, such as the South Dakota Mt. Rushmore Family Tour (six days) that includes riding on the country’s number-one ranked bike path, the Mickelson Trail. Both tours are priced at $2,395 per adult with children’s discounts available.


Taking on new sights and challenges together as a family builds shared memories that will enliven family get-togethers long after the kids have left the nest. Everyone will remember that time the girls beat dad to the top of the pass or when that moose freaked out mom on that trail in Yellowstone. It’s great fun, but all along the kids are learning something about themselves and the world around them.

Consider taking a trip outside the U.S., where interactions with the locals will open your children’s eyes to other cultures, helping them take steps toward becoming world citizens … not a bad way to help prepare them for life in the future. For families wanting to travel abroad on limited budgets, Costa Rica remains a great place to escape to in summer when it’s off season – accommodations and air fares are often lower at this time. While it’s been dubbed the “green season” with the jungled slopes on the mountains getting drenched, perfectly sunny days at the beach are the norm. In fact there’s a little-known phenomenon called “veranito” (little summer) that takes place in July. This is when the rains stop and the flowering trees and fruits attract an abundance of wildlife for viewing.

art-615-vacation3Wild Planet Adventures (, specialists in rare and exotic wildlife encounters, operate a species-packed Costa Rica tour, where, when not sunning in the surf or exploring local markets, you’ll learn about and see such wonders as howler monkeys, three-toed sloths, blue morpho butterflies, poison arrow frogs, parrots, and hummingbirds, to name a few. Kids of all ages love animals!

On curated trips, you have the advantage of gaining insight and knowledge from professionally trained guides who were born in the region you are exploring. Family trips can also introduce young and old to new activities such as ziplining, snorkeling, mountain biking, stand-up paddleboarding, and whitewater rafting. In fact, there’s no better family bonding experience than to push the boundaries by paddling a raft together (with a guide) through a roaring rapid. A well-loved company for guided family adventures on the rivers of California, Utah and the Pacific Northwest is O.A.R.S. (, based out of Angels Camp, California. There are a number of quality rafting companies based in upper California as well.

The good news is the 2015 California rafting season is said to be a “go” despite a historic drought. While it’s not looking good for the free-flowing rivers this year, many of California’s most popular whitewater runs (fed by high-elevation reservoirs) will likely have reliable water. This includes the popular and exciting Class III South Fork of the American River near Sacramento, where raftable flows typically allow trips from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Summer is upon us and you have the opportunity to do something special during this valuable vacation time together. Why not focus on fun things that will bring everyone closer while creating stories you’ll laugh about for years to come? There’s a whole wild and wonderful world out there to discover and call your own.  

Dave Wiggins
About Dave Wiggins

Dave has spent a lifetime in adventure travel as an entrepreneur, escapist and story teller. He is now partner in a communications and PR firm based from his home in Boulder, Colorado. Find him on Twitter as “BoulderDave.”

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