Have you ever dreamed of a family mountain-bike trip through North Dakota’s badlands? What about watching one of the country’s biggest firework displays from a kayak? Or slithering through a slot canyon? Or maybe climbing a frozen waterfall?
If not—or if you have but the idea of doing any of these with a child is so daunting that you’d rather sign up for another semester of remote learning—it’s time to pick up a copy of 50 Adventures in the 50 States. This gorgeous new hardcover book, written by Outside correspondent Kate Siber and illustrated by Lydia Hill, is a road map to family-friendly adventures across the United States. For each state, Siber highlighted a standout activity in a specific location, like dogsledding in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters or road-tripping along Mississippi’s Natchez Trace Parkway. Then she sprinkled in fun facts to illuminate the area’s natural and cultural wonders.
While one could read this book as a sort of nature-based bucket list of places to see and activities to check off, it’s also much more than that. At a time when many of us are bogged down by the COVID-19 pandemic and staring down a long winter of staying close to home, 50 Adventures reads like a compilation of possibilities. My daughter is only two, so many of the experiences (aimed at five-to-ten-year-olds) are a little out of reach for us. But as we looked at the pictures and talked about what the people were doing, I found myself fantasizing about everything we can still do together, either now or after the pandemic subsides. Maybe we won’t mountain-bike North Dakota’s 144-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail, but reading about it was the inspiration I needed to start researching mellower bikepacking routes near our home in the Rockies.
That’s exactly the kind of spark Siber hopes her book will kindle. “Sure, maybe people will go and do some of the adventures, and a few people might even do all of them,” she told me. “But my hope is more that it will motivate or inspire families to develop the orientation of an adventurous mindset. Kids are already so curious and adventurous, so the question for me as a writer was: How do you nurture that? How do you stoke and encourage and celebrate it?”
In answering that question, Siber found herself trying to see the natural world through a child’s eyes. It was a perspective that helped her find solace during a dark time. While she was in the middle of researching and writing the book, Siber found herself sidelined by not only a global pandemic but also a breast-cancer diagnosis. As her world narrowed to the confines of her couch, her home, and the hospital, 50 Adventures offered an antidote. It was “everything my life was not,” she wrote in a recent essay for Adventure Journal. It reminded her that there’s still magic in the world, and that you don’t need to travel to some exotic locale to find it. It’s in your own backyard, your own state, or even the pages of a book.
A longtime travel and outdoor-sports journalist, Siber had little trouble coming up with ideas to fill the pages: each adventure is either something she’s already done or something she’s long wanted to do. The part that took more time was making sure each suggestion was appropriate for kids and families, which had Siber interviewing guides and outfitters in every state. The book doesn’t include contact information for these services, but she made sure it could easily be found online.
Some of Siber’s initial ideas—like rappelling into a fern-lined sinkhole in Alabama—were ultimately scrapped because they weren’t well suited to children. Those that made the final cut are a mix of adventures accessible to anyone as well as ones that are more aspirational. On the beginner-friendly side of the spectrum are activities that require no special gear or skills, like digging for crystals on a salt flat in Oklahoma. Then there are things like whitewater rafting that demand either a depth of experience or a local guide. Taken as a whole, the mix feels just right; it’s an invitation to dream and plan for post-pandemic travel while also a nudge to explore grounds closer to home.
In recent weeks, I’ve found myself returning to the book again and again, flipping through the pages even after my daughter is asleep. In a time when the world often seems frustratingly limited, 50 Adventures in the 50 States is a reminder that it will be expansive again.