Vacation Spots for Outdoorsy Families
Sticks crunching under your boots as a mountaintop comes into view, the whistle of the wind as you swoop down a slope, the thwack of the ball against your racket: Fitness-centered vacations give kids and parents little victories and big kicks that cement memories. From Georgia to Idaho, it’s easier than ever to combine a vacation with your family’s favorite active pursuits—whether you’re beginners or seasoned pros.
Zion and Bryce Canyons, Utah
Get an up-close look at these national parks known for unique, dramatic landscapes and geology. On the first day of REI’s Family Zion Hiking Weekend or the five-day Family Zion and Bryce Hiking trip, a local guide takes your group of up to 12 people hiking in the morning, and you come back to a fully set-up camp at the end of the day. REI’s definition of “fully set up” includes a chef; hot showers; flushing toilets; oversize tents; elevated, plush cots; string overhead lighting; and French-press coffee. While hiking in Bryce you might navigate the rim of the canyon or swim around a 126-foot waterfall that casts blue and green shadows on amphitheater-like walls. In Zion, you’ll explore the narrow, twisting route of the Virgin River and climb down into the canyon. Both locations offer the chance to ogle the thin spires of rock called hoodoos or fairy chimneys.
Huntington Beach, California
Kids in this stretch of SoCal are practically brought up on a board—Huntington Beach hosts nearly 50 surf competitions a year. The Huntington Beach Surf School runs programs for every level: There are lessons for kids who’ve never been on a board as well as for those who are already competing, and even ones for entire families. Their “push-in” technique usually gets newbies up and standing, ready to practice on their own, after the first lesson.
Book It: The boutique Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel, in walking distance to the surf school, offers board rentals and a surfboard locker in the lobby. The wall made entirely of wet suits is pretty gnarly too. Standard rooms with two double beds are about $349 in the summer, $229 in the off-season. Huntington Beach Surf School lessons, which include a board and wet suit, are $95 per person for two people or more for 90 minutes. There’s also a four-lesson program for kids ages 8-16 that costs $180.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Sun Valley might not have the name recognition of the highest-profile ski areas, but what it does offer is more important: varied terrain. There are many options for beginners, including cross-country and downhill skiing, and a laid-back, family vibe. The resort’s Dollar Mountain is top in the area for first-timers with gently pitched, treeless runs. It’s a manageable size (you’ll be recognizing other families before long): six lifts and 22 runs. Nothing squelches a kid’s enthusiasm faster than bitter cold, but this area is a high mountain desert that gets more than 250 days of sun a year, which tempers the nip in the air. Bald Mountain is also part of the resort property and is best suited to intermediate skiers. Its typically short lift lines, themed adventure trails for kids, and relative lack of wind make “Baldy” a favorite with families who have skied before.
Book It: Choose from condos, cottages, townhomes, or rooms at a lodge or an inn. A deluxe room with two queen beds at the inn runs $275 a night. Lift tickets are $75 for kids 12 and younger, and $135 for adults, per day. Various packages are posted on the Sun Valley website throughout the season.
Williamsburg is known for history, but it also has a rep for stellar biking. The Virginia Capital Trail is a designated scenic 52-mile-long by way that connects the past and present capitals of Jamestown and Richmond. It meanders along Civil War battlefields, farms, wetlands, and wildlife sanctuaries, all of it paved and much of it shaded. You can get on and off as you like, so you ride only the distance your gang wants to tackle. The trail begins at the Jamestown Settlement—the first English settlement in America and the original capital of Virginia—in Williamsburg. The trail ends in Great Shiplock Park in the state’s current capital of Richmond. Volunteers, known as trail ambassadors, carry phones and first-aid kits. They can point you to the bathrooms, bike fix-it stations, bike rental stands, and convenience stores.
Book It: The recently remodeled Kingsmill Resort is about 20 minutes away from the Williamsburg end and can serve as your home base. The rate for a room with two double beds ranges from about $139 in winter to $229 in summer. Bring your own bikes, or rent then along the trail for $21 for a half day or $36 for a full day.
Sea Island, Georgia
Five-mile-long Sea Island has been a family tennis haven since 1928. The private island is accessible only to resort guests, club members, and about 300 cottage-dwelling residents. Over the years, everything from golf to skeet shooting has been added to the recreation program, but tennis remains a key focus and a big reason families come back. Parents can play or take tennis lessons along with their kids (ages 4 and older) on the 16 clay courts. Tennis packages may include round-robin tournament play and group clinics.
Book It: Accommodations at the main resort, The Cloister, start at $395 a night for a room for two adults and two children. Tennis clinics are $30 to $50 an hour. Two-night packages at The Inn at Sea Island start at $225, including accommodations, four hours of court time, and four hours of group clinics per player.