Cramming a whole lotta adventure into one day doesn't have to be a sufferfest. Photo: Katie Arnold
We recently took the kids to see a Brazilian jazz band perform outside at our local college on a hill above town. You can probably picture the scene: Everyone brings a picnic and sprawls out on the grass and parents try not to lose their children in the sea of blankets as toddlers trip over open containers of hummus and no one actually listens to the music. In other words, it’s like any summer outdoor concert anywhere in the country. It’s perfect.
But getting there, with food and daughters and bike trailers in tow, felt harder than mounting a three-day expedition to Marfa, Texas, in our rattletrap Airstream with random parts flying off. Call it the picnic paradox: Shorter outings close to home are not always simpler, or easier.
That’s why, when plotting adventures with kids, it’s tempting to get ambitious and think you need to do a weekend trip to make it worth it. There’s all the gear to organize, little bodies to outfit, food to pack, routes to plan—you might as well stay in the backcountry as long as possible to suck as much enjoyment out of the experience. No wonder day trips get a bad rap: So much hassle, so little time. Wouldn’t you be better off saving your sanity for truly epic family objectives like rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon or hiking Mount Whitney?
But the truth is, if done right, an adventure day trip can be just as satisfying as a bigger mission. If not, it can be way more stressful. To make the most of your summer, you’ll want to plan a few ambitious day trips (lest you spend every Saturday watching your kid ride his bike around the same 1/16th-mile lap in the park). But you gotta be smart—and organized. It's a little bit art, a little bit luck, and a lot of science. Here are a few simple tricks of the trade.