Travel Agent

Backpacking into the night     Photo: Stockbyte

Q:

What's the best place in the States to take an active 12 year old?

My 12-year-old son and I want to start taking exciting and safe adventure trips together. What are some good ideas and places in the United States that are reasonable for older kids and young teens?
-Clint
Tokyo, Japan

A:If he's in decent physical condition, there aren't really many limitations on what the two of you can do. Here's a list of five prime vacation adventures to take with an older kid or young teenager.

Whitewater Rafting
You want bonding? Try spending your days on a river, completely separated from cell phones and civilization, with nothing but conversation and the surrounding wilderness to keep you entertained. Take a guided six-day expedition down the Colorado through Cataract Canyon in Utah, or if your time is limited and you're on the East Coast, a two-day trip on the New River in West Virginia.
Outfitters: For trips on the Colorado, contact OARS ($1,500 per person), and for the New River, contact North American River Runner ($245 per adult, $195 per kid).

Extended Backpacking
Conduct your own wilderness survival course for your rebellious early teen by walking through the woods for a better part of a week, carrying all of your shelter and food on your backs. On the West Coast, try tackling a section of the 210-mile John Muir Trail through the Sierra Nevadas of California, which starts at near the summit of Mount Whitney in the south and passes through the John Muir and Ansel Adams wilderness areas before terminating in Yosemite National Park (though most people prefer to hike north to south). Water sources and backcountry camping spots are plentiful, but road crossings are few, so experience and planning are a must. For an easier hike on the other side of the country, backpack part of the 107-mile section of the Appalachian Trail that follows the spine of the Blue Ridge through Shenandoah National Park. The path crosses Skyline Drive several times, and you're never too far from a lean-to, a National Park Service Lodge, or other people, in case you're looking for a somewhat less rugged adventure than on the John Muir Trail.

Sailing Charter
Even if you barely know the difference between the port side of a boat and a bottle of port, you've probably dreamed of sailing the Caribbean. Charter a crewed boat for you and your teen (or the entire family). You choose the destination, stops, food, and drink, and the captain takes care of the rest. Help out as much, or little, as you want. (You can even force the kids to work a couple of hours a day to earn their keep.) A two-person charter starts at about $4,600 for a week, and a four-person around $10,000, so this trip of a lifetime doesn't come cheap.
Contact: BVI Yacht Charters.

Mountaineering
The granddaddy of father-child lifetime experiences would be to climb Mount Rainier as a pair, if you dare. Just don't be disappointed if your teen makes it to the top successfully but you don't. RMI Expeditions takes groups on a two-day summit assault up the imposing 14,400-foot peak via Disappointment Cleaver, after schooling you on the basics of mountaineering in a two-day course. The cost is $951 per person.

Long-Distance Bike Ride
One of the safest and most scenic (not to mention flattest) long-distance bike routes is Missouri's 225-mile Katy Trail. This crushed limestone path lies on the former bed of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, running alongside the Missouri River from north of St. Louis all the way across the state to Kansas City. Lodgings and food resupply stops are never more than a day's ride apart.
For more info: Missouri State Parks.

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