Our Favorite Places

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Family Vacations, Summer 1996

Our Favorite Places

Black Hills, South Dakota
A rock-climbing vacation adds a whole new meaning to family bonding-you and yours will be literally hitched at the waist. The classrooms of Sylvan Rocks Climbing School are the Needles of South Dakota's Black Hills, otherworldly granite spires with forgiving surfaces and hundreds of easy summits. Package programs-all with a four-to-one climber-to-guide ratio-promise a steep learning curve to ensure that everyone from rank beginners to mountain-rescue trainees learn the ropes safely. For a break from tackling the area's cracks and crevasses, you can explore the sights of the history-rich Black Hills: Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Jewel Cave, and Flintstone's Bedrock City theme park are all within a half-hour's drive.

Highlight: After three days of instruction, half of the school's clients are able to summit nearby Devils Tower, where the spaceship landed in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Your kids will be first to: Belay their own parents.

Ages: 13 and up

Cost/Lodging: For a five-day family climbing immersion, combine the two-day basic package for absolute beginners ($185 per person for a family of four) with the three-day novice package for people who have some rock-climbing experience ($275 per person for a family of four). Cost includes instruction and equipment. Meals and lodging are not included, but the staff will help guests find campsites or hotels in Hill City, South Dakota.

Information: Sylvan Rocks Climbing School and Guide Service, P.O. Box 600, Hill City, SD 57745; 605-574-2425.

Jackson, Wyoming
Wildlife biologists call Yellowstone's Lamar Valley the American Serengeti. Stomping grounds for hundreds of pronghorn, bison, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep, this region is the focus of a weeklong safari offered by the Great Plains Wildlife Institute. You and your kids can indulge your Marlin Perkins fantasies while helping your guides-all working wildlife biologists-gather information for ongoing research projects. Depending on the month, that might include counting wild horses, checking in on the spring lambs, watching the bison rut, or tracking trumpeter swans. Along the way, you'll stop for hands-on lectures about the local flora and fauna, a sight-seeing float down the Snake River, and photo ops set against the Grand Tetons.

Highlight: Checking in on the gray wolves recently reintroduced to Yellowstone.
Your kids will be first to: Strap a radio collar on a porcupine.

Ages: 12 and up

Cost/lodging: $1,485 per person, including lodging and most meals. Group sizes are kept under ten per trip; depending on the time of year, your family could have a guide all to itself.

Information: Great Plains Wildlife Institute, P.O. Box 7580, Jackson Hole, WY 83002; 307-733-2623.

Roatan, Honduras
Your kids will be happily in over their heads with this immersion-by-submersion program dedicated to the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin. Held at Anthony's Key Resort on Honduras's largest Bay Island, the six-day program for kids is overseen by the nearby Institute for Marine Sciences, a center for marine biology research and home to a number of captive dolphins. Camp sessions involve snorkeling, dolphin feeding and training, and marine experiments. In addition to horseback riding and glass-bottom boat excursions, there'll be scavenger hunts, sand-sculpturing, and nature hikes. Parents, meanwhile, will dive, dive, dive along the Bay Islands's famous barrier reefs.

Highlight: Two class sessions are set aside for the ultimate immersion-snorkeling with the dolphins.

Your kids will be first to: Know what Flipper is really saying on all those reruns.

Ages: Eight to 14

Cost/lodging: Dolphin Discovery Camp rates are $500 per child, including three meals daily. A weeklong dive package at Anthony's Key Resort is $600-$675 per adult (double occupancy), including meals, three daily dives, two night dives, and accommodations in a family-size bungalow.

Information: American Wilderness Experience Inc., P.O. Box 1486, Boulder, CO 80306; 800-444-0099.

Fruita, Colorado
Millions of years ago, this part of Colorado was a watering hole for dinosaurs. Today it's an ideal destination for kids who've graduated from "Barney & Friends" but still can't get enough of Jurassic Park. Sponsored by the nonprofit Dinamation International Society, the Family Dino Camp is a five-day exploration of the Mygatt-Moore Quarry of western Colorado and the dinosaurs who once lived there. You and your kids split up for some classroom training (while you attend a lecture by a noted paleontologist, your kids paint the plaster casts of fossils) but come together again for lab visits, picnic lunches near dinosaur tracks, and river hikes to study fossils. On the climactic excavation day, kids who aren't ready for an actual prehistoric boneyard get to dig in a special quarry laden with fossil replicas they can "discover" and take home. Of course, any discovery in the real quarry has to go to a museum.

Highlight: The thrill of the find (in 1993, a 14-year-old girl uncovered the quarry's first egg-an armored dinosaur's).

Your kids will be first to: Spot a Mymoorapelta maysi in a lineup.

Ages: Six and up

Cost/Lodging: $800 for adults, $575 for children ages six to 12. Cost includes one room per family at a nearby hotel, two dinners, four lunches, ground transportation, instruction, and equipment.

Information: Dinosaur Discovery Expeditions, Dinamation International Society, 550 Crossroads Court, Fruita, CO 81521; 800-344-3466.

Saddle everyone up for an authentic working ranch experience on this 33,000-acre spread in the shade of the Mogollon Rim. Here, the rugged Hellsgate Canyon wilderness is home to the Hunts, who let families join in to drive the herd from pastures of grama grass through plains of yucca and prickly pear and, depending on the month, rope and brand new calves. If you get saddle-weary, check out the Indian petroglyphs near Muddy Springs, or practice rope tricks in the corrals. Western fare and campfire stories are served up nightly. Accommodations are by way of roomy tents, though your kids may take their bedrolls outside to sleep under the stars.

Highlights: Roping and branding the spring calves like a true buckaroo; taking a dip in secluded swimming holes.

Your kids will be first to: Rope a dogie.
Ages: Eight to 16

Cost/lodging: $1,105 for adults, $1,055 for kids eight to 16 and seniors. Groups are met at the Phoenix airport; two nights of pre- and posttrip lodging and meals are included in the price.

Information: American Wilderness Experience Inc., P.O. Box 1486, Boulder, CO 80306; 800-444-0099.

Skaneateles, New York
The trouble with your average road trip is that it's a challenge to absorb the scenery at 70 mph. Not so on a 33-foot Erie Canal cruise boat, where anything over seven miles an hour is pushing the envelope. But your kids won't be bored if you let them chart the course themselves through the miles of waterways that run from Albany to Buffalo. They can plot the way through the busy towns of Syracuse and Rochester, set their fishing lines at Cayuga Lake, drop through the spectacular double lock at Seneca Falls, check out the museums on Lake Ontario, or get out the binoculars for a troll through the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. No experience is required: Each canal lock is manned, and a three-hour orientation is enough for most people to take the helm with confidence.

Highlight: Every boat comes with a bike (you can arrange for extra bikes for a small fee) so your kids can blow off steam on the bike trails that parallel parts of the canal.
Your kids will be first to: Captain their own ship.

Ages: Five and up

Cost/lodging: The 33-foot cruiser rents for $1,500 a week and accommodates a family of four, with a private berth for two and two bunks in the galley. Larger boats are also available for chartering.

Information: Mid-Lakes Navigation Company, P. O. Box 61, Skaneateles, NY 13152; 800-545-4318.

Copyright 1996, Outside magazine

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