Lonesome Lake, White Mountains
[Lori Duff, Courtesy of AMC]
After spending the past month lake-locked on a small island on smallish lake in Ontario, I have itchy legs and hiking on my brain. And just in time, the summer monsoon rains have returned (finally) to the thirsty, fire-charred Southwest, wildflowers are putting on a stellar show in the rest of the Rockies, and the days are still long and warm on both coasts. In other words, it’s primo season to pack the clan and head out for a longer adventure on the trails.
Notice that I didn’t say “backpacking.” Hauling your kids and your gear by foot into the backcountry can unleash a whine-fest so deafening you’ll be tempted to beat a hasty retreat to the nearest Cineplex for an emergency infusion of air-conditioned pop culture. Even if your kids are angels, you’ll be schlepping a lot of stuff—or eating freeze-dried meat loaf. (Backpackers, I’m ready for your rebuttal!).
These trips give you access to world-class trails from the relative comfort of mountain huts, lodges, and other base camps where someone else is doing the cooking, cleaning, and entertaining (and it’s not Grandma). Leave the Jetboil and rain tarp at home—all you need are a few tricks up your sleeve to keep the kiddos on their feet (and in British Columbia, an expert mountain guide will do that for you!). With little over a month until Labor Day, here are our top picks for taking your entourage on the trails before summer runs out. Get going.
Carter Notch Hut
[Herb Swanson, Courtesy of AMC]
With eight backcountry huts along a 56-mile miles stretch of the Appalachian Trail, the AMC is adventure central. If you’ve got toddlers and babies, head for Lonesome Lake Hut, an easy 1.6-mile hike in from the road, with views of Franconia Ridge; smaller, family-size bunkrooms; kid-friendly meals, and swimming right in the lake. Kids six and up will rally for the 3.8-mile trek to Carter Notch Hut, where there’s day hiking right out the front door and a junior naturalist program to stave off boredom. Each summer, Zealand Falls Hut, 2.7 miles from the road, plays host to AMC’s annual five-day family adventure camp, with guided day hikes, rafting on the Androscoggin River, and naturalist talks for kids 5-12. (Adults, $110 per night; youth 13-17, $91; 3-12, $54.)
Courtesy: Yosemite Park
With five rustic huts spaced six to ten miles apart on a 50-mile loop trail starting from Tuolomne Meadows in the Yosemite high country, this DIY trip is best for families with older kids or tiny ones too little to grouse about being carried longer distances in a pack. The camps serve up family-style meals and dorm-style sleeping in canvas tent cabins (BYO sleep sack or sheets), sack lunches for the next day’s trek, and hot showers at three of the camps. Reservations are by lottery, open September 1 through November 1. (All-inclusive rates for adults start at $151 per night; kids 7-12, $91. Guided five-day hikes are $901.75 for adults and $633.75 for kids.)
[Courtesy of CMH]
Canadian Mountain Holiday’s three-night guided family heli-hiking adventures take hiking with kids to a whole new level. Based out of the luxe, fly-in Bobbie Burns or Bugaboo lodges, with plush private guest rooms, gourmet family meals, hot tubs, saunas, and even an indoor climbing wall, CMH is like super-swank Club Med of the mountains. While you’re choppered to the tops of remote, gorgeous peaks in the 10,000 foot Purcell Mountains, little rippers spend their days hiking, rock climbing, glissading down snowfields, whizzing through the air on a ropes course, and romping through wildflower meadows with their own hiking guide/nanny/naturalist (um, can you say “ganny”?). Other days, you can mix it up and head out via helicopter with the whole family. Kids of all ages are welcome, but the daily program is best suited to ages 5-15. Sign me up.
I don’t know what it is, but it seems like every time I turn around this summer, someone’s going to the Dolomites. They’re doing circuit hikes in the South Tyrol, dangling from iron ladders stuck into the sides of mountains and left over from World War I, called via ferrata, or eating some ridiculously decadent meal on the sunny front porch of an alpine refugio. Turns out trekking in the Italian Alps isn’t just for grown-ups. The outfitter Dolomite Mountains designs guided or self-guided family hiking, biking, and climbing trips out of Cortina d’Ampezzo, with overnights in rustic refugios and spiffy family inns, instructional climbing on the via ferrata, and stunning treks beneath the Dolomite’s prickly granite spires. From $600 per adult per day; kids 7-12 receive 10% discount and kids 6 and under are free if sharing a room with adults. Or DIY like outdoor gear guru Penn Newhard and his l'il rippers did here.