In my 20s I went scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, biked the entirety of the Big Island of Hawaii, white-water rafted down an uncharted river in British Columbia, and backpacked in the Mojave Desert. Then we had our first child and my outdoor gear sat collecting dust. Going stir crazy one day, I called my dad, who gave me wise advice: Bring your son along. Next thing I knew, I was cycling the hills of Vermont with Jake on the back of the bike.
You don’t have to give up your adventures once you have children. Indeed, kids thrive on the excitement and spontaneity of each outdoor challenge, and it doesn’t hurt that many of the finer outdoor activities are located in some of the most exquisite scenery on the planet. Now I travel with Jake, 17, and my daughter, Melanie, 15, as much as possible, and they’re the ones teaching me how to improve in these sports. Here are some of our favorite jaunts:
SAILING LAKE GEORGE, New York
Most people associate Lake George with the honky-tonk town on its southern shores, Lake George Village. As a youngster growing up in those parts I would beg my dad to stop here after a day of sailing, so I could spend my allowance in the arcades, play a round of Goony Golf (miniature golf), and down a soft-serve ice cream. Now my kids plead with me to take them to the village while I crave the serenity of being on the water. The narrow lake is hemmed in by mountains on both sides, creating a placid oasis of verdant slopes and cobalt waters. Pick your mode of travel: sailboat, sea kayak, motorboat, or the paddlewheeler cruise ship, The Mohican. The middle of the lake, just north of Bolton Landing, is blessed with numerous islands in the Narrows and Mother Bunch section. Day boaters congregate here for lunch, while campers can kiss away the woes of modernity as they breathe in the piney air for as long as their vacation allows. www.yankeeboat.com
MULTI-SPORTS in Canada’s Rockies
Home to jagged peaks and the bluest lake waters you can imagine, the Canadian Rockies are the perfect playground for families. On our first day, we rafted the tumultuous Kananaskis River and rock climbed Mount Yamnuska. In Banff, we hiked amid the waterfalls of Johnson Canyon and biked along the shores of Lake Minnewanka, shaded by the dramatically sculpted massif of the Fairholme Range. On the Icefields Parkway we strolled atop the famous Athabasca Glacier with a Quebecois guide who had been leading walks there for 35 years. We continued on to the legendary Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, our favorite stopover on the trip. The rustic log cabins, with the latest comforts and technology including an indoor kit to make s’mores in the fireplace, overlooked Lake Beauvert and the snow-topped ridge of Mount Edith Covell. We mountain biked through a forest of lodgepole pines, white spruce, trembling aspens, and Douglas firs, spotting osprey atop their nest, a lone loon gliding over a pristine lake, and a number of elk. www.fairmont.com/jasper
TREKKING in Costa Rica
Costa Rica offers a world of adventure for families from ziplining to rafting to hiking to hidden waterfalls. But a favorite outing is simply to hire a naturalist at Manuel Antonio National Park and see all the unusual critters up close. A little over 1,600 acres, the small park allows only 800 visitors each day. We arrived when the gates opened with our guide, Ercel, from the Arenas del Mar resort. I quickly realized that everything looked good when viewing creatures with a high-powered telescope, the bulging eyes of a dragonfly, the furry hairs of a tarantula, the electric blue of a butterfly’s wings. We headed down to the beach where five howler monkeys were climbing atop a small tree, one mother holding her baby on her back. We could smell the very ripe scent of the monkeys before we saw them. Their loud, guttural roar reverberated across the bush. Covered in sweat from the hot sun, we went for a swim in the strong surf. That’s the beauty of Manuel Antonio, where the rain forest meets the sea. You can wash away the humidity with a quick dip in the ocean. www.arenasdelmar.com
BIKING to Giverny, France
Less than an hour by train from Paris is Giverny, once the home of the great Impressionist painter Claude Monet. Make the pilgrimage here and you’ll see the wonderful Japanese water garden inundated with day lilies, the inspiration for many of Monet’s works that hang on the walls of the Musée d’Orsay. Fat Tire Bike Tours escorts riders from St. Lazare train station in Paris to the quaint village of Vernon.
Once we arrived, we headed to an outdoor market to stock up on picnic food — soft, creamy Reblochon cheese, slices of Rosette de Lyon sausage, duck liver pate, warm baguettes from the neighborhood boulangerie, and ripe strawberries. After giving us bikes in Vernon, our guide, Andrew, led us to the banks of the River Seine, where we watched a family of swans glide around as we savored our picnic. Then we were off on an easy bike trail that connects Vernon with Giverny. We entered the picturesque hamlet and were soon walking atop that Japanese bridge seen in many of Monet’s works. The whole trip took about eight hours, an ideal day trip from Paris. http://fattirebiketours.com/paris/tours/monet-bike
HIKING MASADA near the Dead Sea
On our final day in Israel, we drove south of Jerusalem past Bedouin villages into the rolling hills of the Judean desert. Melanie counted all 865 steps as we climbed up Masada, the last sanctuary for the Israelites before they were massacred by the Romans in 73 AD. As a reward for the hike, we brought the kids for a swim in the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the planet. It was late in the day and the waters were rough. We floated in the salty sea, staring at the mountainous ridges of Jordan on the opposite shores. All was bliss until our niece, Tali, cut herself on a rock and the salt irritated the wound. Needless to say, she wasn’t too pleased. www.goisrael.com
Family travel, like life, is rarely perfect, but these are memories I won’t forget.
Steve Jermanok can be reached at www.ActiveTravels.com.