The Adventure Adviser

Family Vacations, Summer

The Adventure Adviser
Vacation Tips from Outside Online's Travel Expert

By Amy Marr

We want to take our kids to a dude ranch in Wyoming or Montana this summer but don't want anything fancy. Do you know of a real working ranch where we can get a true sense of life in the West?
— Ben Davidson, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Head to Sweet Grass Ranch (call 406-537-4477) in Big Timber, Montana. Nestled in the Crazy Mountains, this 20,000-acre working cattle ranch is as authentic as they come. At the reins for five generations, the Carroccia family will happily include you in all ranch activities, like moving the Angus to the high pastures, wrangling horses pre-breakfast, slopping pigs, and mending fences. After chores, you can ride through rolling foothills and meadows of wildflowers. For off-horse activities, there's hiking, fly-fishing for trout in the beaver ponds, or inner-tubing and swimming in nearby Sweet Grass Creek.

The Carroccias can accommodate up to 20 guests, and per-week prices include all meals, riding, and activities. Ideal for families are the six cabins, which sleep two to five ($900 per person).

I'm planning a trip with my family and have always wanted to hike hut to hut in the Alps. We have two kids (12 and 14) and are looking for a place that's culturally interesting. I'd rather plan the trip myself than go with an outfitter.
— Peter Drew, West Hempstead, New York

I highly recommend the Dolomites, Italy's stunning Alps. A vast well-marked trail system and network of more than 100 rifugi (mountain huts) make the area ideal for multiple-day hikes suitable for all levels. Late June through September is the best time to visit, with the wildflowers peaking during July and August.

For a perfect three-day trek, head to Castelrotto and foray into the magnificent Sciliar. Bus or drive to the tiny town of Compaccio and catch the chairlift to the trailhead. From there, hike up to Rifugio Bolzano along the Sentiero dei Turisti, admiring the views of the Gothic-like Catinaccio group en route. The following day, cross over to the revered Rosengarten and sleep at Rifugio Passo Santner, possibly the most spectacularly located mountain hut in the Alps. Day three involves a full-day hike back to Compaccio. For more information, call the Associazione Turistica Sciliar at 011-39-0471-70-63-33.

For planning purposes, I suggest the excellent Tabacco 1:25,000 map series, which is organized by region (No. 05 for the Sciliar) and gives extensive details on trails, altitudes, and gradients, as well as locations of huts and chairlifts.

Our two high-energy boys are eight and ten and dying to learn how to surf. We'd like to combine a learning vacation with an exotic adventure in a foreign country. Any ideas?
— Sandra Williams, Golden, Colorado

Thanks to consistent offshore winds and full exposure to both south and west swells, surfing off Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula is primo — and there's no better place to learn how than the Mal Pais Surf Camp (011-506-640-0061).

The surf here is notoriously big, but fret not — the instructors will dutifully teach your sons the basics in the camp's pool before taking them across the street to sweeping Playa Santa Teresa. Although Mal Pais is a tiny town, there are plenty of activities for nonsurfing hours, like horseback riding, guided fishing tours, and hiking through the nearby Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve.

Family package rates start at $40 per person per day, including meals, lodging, transportation to local breaks, and use of the camp's mountain bikes and surfboards. All meals are served in an open-air bungalow, with post-dinner entertainment revolving around the pool tables, Ping Pong games, and a TV/VCR with a well-stocked video library. Surf Camp is open year-round, and July is the best summer month to visit.

I frequent Hyannis on Cape Cod for fishing purposes only. This summer, I'd like to take an extended vacation in that area with my husband and children, ages five and 16. What can we do as a family that's interesting? They like boating, swimming, biking, touring, eating seafood, but not fishing!
— Alberta W. DuBose, Jersey City, New Jersey

My advice? Ditch Hyannis, head to the outer Cape, and base yourselves in Chatham or slightly more downscale Orleans. Just off of Chatham is the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, a nine-mile-long sandbar that's accessible by kayak and home to several hundred bird species. Nearby is Nickerson State Park (508-896-3491), a 2,000-acre wooded haven where you can hike, bike, and canoe.

There are plenty of places to rent — and ride — bikes all along the outer Cape. A favorite for kids is the Cape Cod Rail Trail running from Massachusetts 134 in South Dennis to Eastham and passing classic Cape scenery like cranberry bogs, harbors, and marshes. While all the beaches in this area are first-rate, Nauset Beach in Orleans is best for families; in Truro, head to Longnook with its high dunes and low-tide sandbar.

A perfect outer Cape family evening? Fried clams and lobster rolls at PJ's in Wellfleet, followed by a Cape Cod Baseball League game in Orleans or a double feature at the drive-in.

Have some family-adventure questions of your own? Visit Outside Online's Adventure Adviser.

Copyright 1999, Outside magazine

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