National Parks Great for Summer Travel

If your family loves to explore the outdoors, then you will love this guide to National Parks for summer travel. The U.S. boasts 63 protected areas known as National Parks and over 400 sites in the U.S. that are regulated and protected by the National Park system. We see the photos of the popular ones and sometimes even experience the crowds at the most visited sites. They are all worth a visit, but some National Parks are best experienced during summer travel. Many families are only afforded time off during the summer months and must take advantage of the same weeks as other families. If you are looking for ideas to get outdoors and responsibly enjoy the protected lands without the heavy crowds we have got a great list of National Parks for summer travel.

National Parks Summer Travel in the Northwest

North Cascades National Park, WA

Lake with boats and mountainous backdrop inside North Cascades National Park

If you are looking for a remote destination full of glacial lakes and untampered natural beauty, look no further than North Cascades. Just three hours from Seattle, this park boasts craggy peaks excellent for experienced rock climbers, hiking trails, and horseback riding. The lakes offer opportunities for fishing and boating, and the pristine nature is just waiting for you! Camping is available and it’s likely your best lodging option as there are only tiny communities dotted nearby. Entrance fee = FREE.

San Juan Island National Historic Park, WA

Coastal prairie view at San Juan Island National Historic Park

Located north of Seattle and accessibly by ferry, you will want to make this stop while visiting the other San Juan Islands. Although, the summer months are busy you will need to make lodging reservations early, the park itself remains mostly crowd free. There is no lodging or food inside the park, so plan accordingly. The park is in two sections: the American camp and the English camp. If you want to kayak, you will need to bring your own equipment. Although the beaches are lovely, swimming is not recommended due to strong currents and very cold water. You can access the beach areas on foot via the prairie walk paths or other hiking trails. You will need to use the ferry system to get to the park, but entrance fee = FREE.

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, WA

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation area during summer

The recreation area is accessible 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. From June-Labor Day the lake levels are kept as high as possible for maximum recreation while boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing and swimming in designated area. There are all kinds of campsites including boat-in campsites. Make sure to plan ahead as some are reservation only and make sure to check all rules and regulations for shoreline camping. Boat launch fees can be purchased for the week at $8 or as an annual pass for $45. Talk about an incredible National Park for summer travel!

Oregon Caves Preserve & National Monument, OR

Located in the Southwestern corner of Oregon, near the border of California are the “marble halls of Oregon”. Cave tours cost between $5-$10 per person and give you a guided look at these marvelous geological wonders. Children must meet a height requirement to do the tour, and babies are not allowed to be carried. These tours can be physically demanding with stooping through the twisting structures and ascending and descending steep stairs. There are also 6 hiking trails inside the preserve if you need some sunlight. There are two dining options inside the preserve, but be sure to check availability before you go. As of this publication in 2021 the historic lodge is closed for a multi-year repair and renovation project.

Crater Lake National Park, OR

Visiting the deepest lake in the U.S. must be on your list of sites! The pristine waters are a wonder to behold. Know that in May and June the weather will likely still be frustrating to see and do all the park has to offer. The most popular months to visit are July-September, making it one of the best National Parks for summer travel. The lake the is the main attraction and most people enjoy the scenic rim drive, a boat tour or a cycling tour on the rim. You can fish on the lake shore during appropriate seasons and there are a few steep hiking trails down to the lake. If you are looking for adventure check out the jumping rock! Lodging and camping are both available and food/restaurants are available starting around mid-May. Entrance fees = $30 per car and lasts for 7 days.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, Northern CA

There are two entrance stations located at the southwest and northwest corners. Entrance fees = $30 per car and last for 7 days. Inside the park are camping, cabin camping and Drakesbad Guest Ranch options for lodging. Lassen has several communities nearby with other lodging and restaurant options. The park offers all kinds of outdoor activities to keep everyone active and happy including hiking, camping, boating, fishing, swimming, and star gazing. The Dark Sky Festival is a special annual event that has an ongoing partnership with NASA Ames Research Center, Astronomical Society of Nevada, Schreder Planetarium and others. Don’t miss the hydrothermal features!

Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area, MT

aerial view of big horn canyon showing waterway between the canyons

Another vast and wild landscape with startling views is Big Horn Canyon. There are two visitors centers open in the summer months, one in Wyoming and the other 3 hours away in Montana. Boating is very popular in both districts. The National Park Service offers free guided kayak tours from both districts. You can bring your own boat or rent from the marinas. Horseshoe Bend Marina offers a daily boat tour that is said to be unforgettable. Due to the incredible water sources, fishing is very popular as well. There are 15 hiking trails, 12 are located in the South district. Most of the trails are easy to moderate and all are less than 4 miles roundtrip. There are no entrance fees, but there are camping and boating fees. This destination is remote so you will need to consider your lodging and meal option

National Parks Summer Travel in the West

Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks

Tall sequoia trees during summer

These are two technically different parks, but can easily be explored together. Both parks are open year round, but the summer months provide a respite from the heat due to the high elevation. These parks will be more crowded than others, so it is likely you will need to reserve lodging and camping well ahead of time. Be prepared to make the most of your exploration day by getting out early and/or getting started late when crowds subside. The sequoia groves are best seen during golden hours of morning and evening anyway!

Moro Rock and other balds may be steeper climbs, but those sunrise and sunset views will not disappoint. If you want to visit Crystal Cave you will need to purchase tickets online in advance. If you are highly skilled in kayaking or rock climbing these parks are probably very enticing. Entrance fees for this combo national park = $35 per vehicle for 7 days.

Valles Caldera National Preserve, NM

Valles Caldera is located just an hour from Sante Fe and provides activity year round. During the summer months one of the best ways to enjoy this park is mountain biking or e-biking. Keep in mind that if you want to bike the in the backcountry, you will need a permit to drive a vehicle into those remote areas. Double check to make sure you are in compliance. There are also a wide variety of hikes ranging from less than a mile to a difficult 19 miles. If you have horses the preserve welcome you to bring them in and ride them after acquiring the appropriate equestrian special permit. If you fish or hunt, this preserve also has licences for you to enjoy the wild. Astronomy and wildlife viewing are always an option! Before you go, know that you will need a 7 day pass entrance fee = $25 per vehicle.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO

lookout view of canyons from the Grand Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

This park is often referred to as a “vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky”. All entrances are open during summer season and a 7 day vehicle pass = $30. Camping is your only lodging option inside the park and reservations are needed for summer months. Take a hike, enjoy the wildlife, do a scenic drive, bring your horse to the North Rim for an incredible ride, or visit during the Astronomy Festival. If you are looking for a rugged adventure experience you will want to explore the inner canyon wilderness. You MUST have a permit to enter these areas, but the permit is free. It’s about safety and someone knowing you are there. These wilderness areas are great for kayaking, climbing and canyon hiking.

Mesa Verde National Park, CO

historic cliff dwellings inside Mesa Verde National Park in the summer

Entrance fees are $30 per vehicle during summer months, but if you would like a guided tour of the cliff dwellings you will incur an additional $8 per person. Those tickets must be purchased in advance and your receipt is your ticket. There is lodging and camping available inside the park along with a few options for eating. There are a number of hiking trails to choose from as well. The cultural experience in this park is well worth the visit.

National Parks Summer Travel in the Midwest

Isle Royale National Park, MI

sunset view of cliff shoreline at Isle Royale National Park

This island park is a wilderness wonder and only allows people. No vehicles are permitted to cross over on the ferry. In fact, the only way for you to get there is via ferry, private boat or seaplane. Transportation services are offered from both Michigan and Minnesota and will arrive at one of two drop off points. Although the season here is short, it is the perfect spot for a summer adventure.

The island is open from April 16-October 15, but visitors centers and ferries begin operation later. User fees are $7 per day, but children under 15 years old are exempt. You may choose to camp or backpack to get the full wilderness experience, but there are two other lodging options. While there are a few restaurant choices, many bring in their own food while they backpack or boat around. Different permits are required for camping and boating, so be sure to check the details. If you are an outdoors lover and want to get away from it all, this is the park for you.

Apostle Islands National Lake Shore, WI

Sailboat on Lake Superior at Apostle Islands National Park in Wisconsin

With the word “island” in the name, then the main attraction with this area will be out on the water. Mainland visitors centers are situated to give information and recommendations. You may choose to explore the islands on your own via private boat or kayak paddling, but there are also guided cruises and tours available. Hiking along the mainland shoreline is a great way to get incredible views of Lake Superior and offers impressive cliffs. There are no entrance fees, but there are user based fees for campers, boaters, and guided programs.

Voyageurs National Park, MN

Northern lights night sky at Voyageurs National Park

Interconnected waterways and miles of shoreline offer unparalleled opportunities at this northern park. There are three visitor centers that are open during various season and operate at a variety of hours. The summer season runs from late May to September. Entrance into the park is free, but camping and houseboat permits and fees apply. The visitor centers are accessible by car, but the bulk of the park should be enjoyed by boat. Guided boat tours of three distinct areas give an incredible perspective to the park. If you would like to hike, you will find a variety of trails to choose from. The night skies in this pristine wilderness area a sight to see.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore, MI

Sand dunes overlooking Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michican

This park offers 35 miles of pristine Lake Michigan beaches, two large islands, stunning sand dunes & bluffs, as well as interior rivers and lakes. The park entrance pass fee = $25 and lasts for 7 days per vehicle. Camping fees, permits and reservations need to be taken into consideration. Float the Platte River or ride bikes along the Heritage Trail, visit the South Manitou Lighthouse, and enjoy fishing or hunting. If you’re in good shape and want incredible views you will want to climb the dunes.

Gateway Arch National Park, MO

Gateway Arch in St. Louis
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Learn about the gateway to the west and the expansion and exploration that began under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson. This is a great park if you are doing a cross country road trip or if you want to add a city destination to your itinerary. Advanced reservations to ride the tram inside the arch are highly recommended for the summer months. Summer hours are from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm CST. Park visitors age 16 and up pay a $3 entrance fee. Other than the history and visiting the top of the arch there is not much else to this park. However, you can experience the arch from a distance on a riverboat cruise (not associated with the National Park Service).

Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore, MI

Crystal clear blue waters along the cliffs at Pictured Rocks National Seashore in summer

One of the most popular reasons to visit Pictured Rocks is for the abundance of waterfalls. Pristine beaches accessible by car or by hike offer solitude and beauty while you take a dip in the chilly waters of Lake Superior. The waters are so clear that this area is a hot spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. Many people like to get up close to the cliffs with a kayak, but know that the only type of kayak for this area is a sea kayak. If you would rather ride along, there is a narrated boat tour offered as well. There are two visitor centers open during the summer season from mid-May to October, but closed for various holidays. Although there are no entrance fees, you will pay for camping permits and a guided tour if that applies. Lodging and restaurant options can be found in nearby gateway communities.

Indiana Dunes National Park, IN

The obvious draw to Indiana Dunes is the beach along Lake Michigan. The beaches span 15 miles with various parking lots, which fill up quickly on weekends and holidays. Climb the dunes, but stay on the marked paths and wear shoes to keep from burning your soles. There are 50 miles of hiking trails throughout the park ranging from short and easy to moderate in length. This park does not have an entrance fee, but beware not to confuse this park with the state park, which does have a daily fee of $7 for in-state plates and $12 for out of state plates. Campgrounds can be found at both the National Park and State Park and have fees associated with the permits, which you can obtain reservations 6 months in advance. Other lodging options and eating options can be found in nearby communities.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH

Filtered light through rock formations inside Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio

This park is situated not far from the urban life of Cleveland, yet feels worlds away. Hiking, backpacking, fishing, and paddling on the river are a great refuge for outdoor activity. You will find biking trails ideal for family rides and mountain biking trails are available for the more adventurous. Although there are no lodging or eating options inside the park, you can find several choices in nearby locations. If you choose to paddle, check the website for access and safety information. Brandywine Falls is the most popular park attraction, but the parking lot fills quickly in the summer months. Don’t miss the geological wonders of “the ledges”, perfect for exploring.

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

Cave entrance at Mammoth Cave National Park in summer

The world’s longest cave system ought to be on your summer list. Mammoth Cave is more than just a cave, though. While the park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the visitor center has operating hours. You will not pay an entrance fee, but will need to pay for a guided tour of the caves. There are 3 developed camping locations with usage fees and reservations are encouraged. Aside from the caves there are three rivers to enjoy by bringing your own boat or renting one for the day. The Mammoth Cave Railroad hike and bike trail is ideal for a family National Parks summer travel activity.

New River Gorge National Park, WV

Cascades of waterfalls with autumn foliage at New River Gorge National Park

This park covers 70,000 acres along the New River through deep canyons in West Virginia. Most visitors seek adventure through whitewater rafting on the two different sections of the river. One section offers a family thrill, the other is much more technical and advanced. Access to the park is year-round and has no entrance fees for you to enjoy. There is a three hour scenic drive that will give you every perspective of the park you are looking for. The cliffs of the gorge made of hard sandstone have become a popular destination for rock climbers on the East Coast, too. Other than primitive camping there are no lodging options inside the park, but the surrounding towns have motels, resorts and restaurants. If you choose to hike, the Sandstone Falls area is not to be missed.

National Parks Summer Travel in the South

Blue Ridge Parkway, NC and VA

Appalachian mountain overlook off the Blue Ridge Parkway with layers of mountains and clouds

Coined as America’s Favorite Drive, this 469 mile parkway meanders through the Appalachian Highlands with incredible scenic vistas with overlooks and easy access to hiking trails, camping, and picnic areas. Operating hours will vary greatly depending on weather conditions as section of the parkway will close due to high snowfall or icy roads. There are 17 visitor centers dotted throughout the parkway in both NC and VA. There are two lodging options on the parkway, but you can plan your route accordingly to stop in at various towns for abundant lodging and restaurants along the way.

Take care to watch out for cyclists along the parkway as they frequent certain sections. There are over 369 miles of hiking trails along the parkway. We like the AllTrails app for directions, parking information, and trail conditions. You can even find parts of the Appalachian Trail along the parkway for day hikes. The popular spots will be busy in the summer months, especially mid-day. As with any planning, try to get there early before the crowds or aim for later when the bulk are on their way out. Parking lots fill quickly starting about 10 am. and then clear out again around 4:00 pm. One of the best things about the parkway is the relaxing nature of the drive with no need to be in a hurry.

Little River Canyon National Preserve, AL

Waterfalls in the Little River Canyon National Preserve

This preserve is located about 1.5 from Huntsville, AL close to the Georgia border and open daily from sunrise to sunset with no entrance fees makes this preserve a great day trip or the perfect passing through destination. Canyon Mouth Park does have a daily pass fee of $15 per vehicle, cash only. There is literally something for everyone at this preserve from hiking, kayaking, hunting, fishing, cycling, rock climbing, and scenic drives with excellent overlook picnic spots. Blue Hole is a popular swimming hole for families, but know the parking lot often fills by 11 am. especially on summer weekends. There are three waterfalls within the preserve, each with parking lots that fill quickly. Enjoy the beauty and have fun wading in the waters. Currently there are no campgrounds within the preserve and no choices for eating. Fort Payne is the nearest location for food and lodging.

Wright Brothers National Memorial, NC

Wright Brothers monument National Park service site
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The memorial is located in the Outer Banks of NC, a popular summer beach destination for east coasters. The park is open 7 days a week year-round from 9 am- 5 pm, but closed on Christmas day. An individual pass for ages 16 and up is $10, but everyone else is free! We highly recommend this for younger children who have a budding interest in airplanes and history. During your time at the park you will learn all about why the Wright brothers chose Kitty Hawk to run their experiments and all about their lives. You will even see where they first took flight!

Cape Hatteras & Cape Lookout National Seashores, NC

Cape Hatteras seashore is comprised of beaches, sand dunes, marshes and woodlands in the southern region of the Outer Banks of NC. Three barrier islands are protected as part of the National Seashore. Beach and sound access ramps, campgrounds, nature trails, and lighthouses can be found and explored on all three islands. Although there is no entrance fee per se, there are various fees for camping and visiting lighthouses. Reaching the seashore is not difficult, but you will need to use the ferry to get to Ocracoke Island, which has camping and hiking nature trails or can be done as a day trip. Although camping is available at the seashore, there are a wide variety of accommodations available in the Outer Banks. You will definitely want to indulge in the fresh seafood at local restaurants.

Cape Lookout is located further south than Cape Hatteras, near Beaufort, NC or Morehead City, NC. The full experience requires a boat ride three miles off shore to the barrier islands where you can experience shelling, fishing, horse watching, lighthouse climbing, birding or camping. If you plan to stay the night you will need to bring all of your own supplies including water and food. This is a carry in carry out location! ALL trash must be taken with you and the Leave No Trace practices are strongly in place. The seashore is open all year round with reduced hours at visitor centers during the winter months. Ferries are available all year, weather permitting. There are a host of commercial guide options including dolphin cruises, shelling tours, and crabbing excursions for you to choose from.

Shenandoah National Park, VA

Located just 75 miles from the bustling metropolis of Washington D.C. this 200,000 acre nature wonder is a wonderful place to explore in the summer months. All facilities should be open in the summer months and Skyline Drive should be fully accessible after March into November. A single vehicle entrance pass is required and $30 will give you access for 7 full days after purchase. Camping fees are separate from entrance fees and will depend upon where you plan to camp. Aside from camping there are other lodging options both inside the park and in the gateway communities surrounding the park. There are a handful of eating options inside the park during your visit as well. A host of outdoor recreation activities are at your fingertips inside Shenandoah including hiking, cycling, rock climbing, horseback riding, fishing and more. You will find cascades and falls along with epic overlooks, meadows, and forests to fill your wilderness lust.

Assateague Island National Seashore, MD

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Explore sandy beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests and coastal bays on the edge of the continent at the Assateague Island National Seashore. There is a Virginia district and a Maryland district, both with a visitors center operating at various hours. There are entrance fees to both districts ranging from $10-$25 and allow for visitation up to 7 days. Both entrances are accessible by car, but you are not able to travel between the two districts via car. You will need to return to the mainland and enter through the other district if you want to see both. Camping is available (reservations are required) in the Maryland district, but you must be prepared to bring your own firewood, food, and other supplies. While biking and hiking are available, two coastal activities that are popular are surf fishing, crabbing, and see the wild horses. Be sure to read and follow all regulations as they can change.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed, MD and others

The nation’s largest estuary and one of the most biologically diverse estuaries in the world is recognized as a national treasure. Here, you can visit major league cities, colonial towns, American Indian landscapes, farms and fishing villages. You can learn to kayak, pick crabs, go fishing, tour a lighthouse, slurp oysters, and slow down to enjoy the natural beauty of the Chesapeake. The Chesapeake covers 7 states and a diverse natural space. The headquarters can be found in Annapolis, MD. There are over 170 sites and trails that cover the entire watershed area. Birdwatching, paddling, boating, fossil hunting, even Geotrails give you opportunities to explore the outdoors.

National Parks are always great for summer travel, but there are so many to choose from! You and your family can find incredible opportunities to explore the outdoors while recreating responsibly on our protected lands. I even love the idea of gaining new experiences and new perspectives in new places. Summer travel in the National Parks will give your family a lifetime of memories.

National Parks Road Trip in the Southwest

4 Day Road Trip Itinerary Through 4 National Parks: Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Saguaro

Make this National Parks Road Trip A Success

A national parks road trip success with three friends standing next to a king saguaro cactus on the East side of Saguaro National Park.

Find Your National Parks Road Trip People

Visiting 4 National Parks in 4 days is no easy thing so you will want to find the best people to road trip with. There will be a LOT of hours in the car and a lot of together time. You know your family and your friends best and who can handle miles upon miles on a road trip. This itinerary took 2000 miles to cover our destinations, including a last minute change of plans due to bad weather. The good news is you can always find National Park enthusiasts to travel and check off their bucket lists. Better yet, turn it into a National Parks family challenge.

Find Your Route to the National Parks

You have two choices for your route. Choose a large loop to start and end in Los Angeles for an incredible road trip experience. If you have more than 4 days and want to maximize your time inside the national parks and you can swing it, consider flying in and out of different airports. If it had been possible, we would have flown back home from Phoenix and cut down our drive time considerably. Keep in mind that if you rent a car you could have a significant “drop fee” if you return the car to a different location.

Know Your Why for a 4 Day National Parks Road Trip

For a road trip to be a success, you need to consider your why before you hit the gas pedal. Every trip looks a little different and this one was no exception. Our focus was to visit 4 parks in 4 days. It did not go as planned, but we still met our goal. If your goal is to dig deep into one or two parks, plan accordingly. The southwest is massive and covers a lot of area, so you will either need time or be willing to just scratch the surface of the southwest national parks.

Day 1: Joshua Tree National Park

Woman standing beneath a Joshua Tree in Joshua Tree National Park, the first stop of a 4 day National Parks Road Trip

You can visit Joshua Tree in about 5 hours including a hike and the highlight areas of the park. It’s pretty small and very manageable. Start the day off at the striking overlook at Keys View of the San Andreas fault and stunning panoramic views of the Coachella Valley. Learn all about the meeting of two types of desert ecosystems in one place. The diversity of the park is so interesting.

Next, head out for a hike. There are over a dozen to choose from at various levels. We suggest the Lost Mine Trail Loop, which is a moderate 6 mile hike or can be shortened to a 4 mile out and back trail. The views are absolutely incredible and you will miss them if you only do the out and back portion. I highly recommend doing the extra two miles for the full loop. We were there in March and temps were in the low 60’s with lots of wind. Wear sunscreen as this is a high exposure hike and take a lot of water with you. DO NOT attempt the difficult hikes in warm temperatures.

Landscape view of Joshua Tree National Park

After your hike find one of the easy loops through the boulder rock areas. Climb around a little, take some photos of the landscape and stretch your legs out. If your bent is toward rock climbing rather than hiking you won’t be disappointed. Make sure to use the visitor centers and website for accurate, detailed information about climbing and slack lining.

Woman standing atop a boulder grouping at Joshua Tree National Park

Don’t miss the Cholla cactus garden, just a quick walking loop amongst these densely growing prickly wonders. Stay on the trail and wear closed toed shoes for maximum enjoyment. The uniqueness of this area is amplified by the backdrop and the wide open skies. Ideally you will want to visit this area during golden hour to get the glow off the cacti, but if you are on a tight schedule just make sure you visit. Stop by the Joshua Tree visitor center on the way out, which is located outside the park toward town.

An up close of a cholla cactus in Joshua Tree National Park

Spend the late afternoon and evening driving to Death Valley National Park, but make sure to get gas before you leave the town of Joshua Tree. The drive between these two parks is vast and sparse. We actually went almost two hours at one point without seeing another car. It’s important to note that there are no convenient lodging options outside of the park on the California side coming from this direction so plan your timing strategically. We stayed at the closest spot inside the park, which was the Stovepipe Wells Inn. If possible, consider leaving a little extra time when you arrive because the dark night star gazing is spectacular.

Day 2: Death Valley National Park

Day two will be another long day, but it will be worth it. Death Valley is HUGE and vast so with only a chunk of hours to adventure you will need to choose your highlights. Definitely get up in time for sunrise at Zabriskie Point. You won’t be the only one there, but it will still be a glorious solitude moment not soon forgotten. The golden color badlands really show off during the early morning light. The sun did not want to cooperate for us, but we still enjoyed the beauty and got our day started early before any crowds arrived.

A sunrise landscape view of Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park on an epic 4 day southwest national parks road trip

Badwater Basin is a must purely for the iconic experience of visiting the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Park your car and walk the 1/4 mile out to the hexagonal salt flat for an otherworldly scene. Again, we visited in March so the weather was bearable, but be very careful during summer months-there is no escaping the sun here.

Two photographers in the distance at Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park

Next take a hike through the golden canyon area. There are a variety of routes depending on how long you want to hike and how long you have inside the park. We enjoyed a few of the side trails while pursuing Red Cathedral. Our total hiking miles inside the canyon was around 4 miles and we saw several others making their way through the canyon to different spots. Take lots of water and wear your sunscreen. The desert can be punishing even in the cooler months.

A woman hiking in the canyon area of Death Valley National Park

One area we did not explore, but has a wow factor for those interested, is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Sand dunes can be seen elsewhere in the U.S. and we favored a stop at the Hoover Dam as a part of our 4 day itinerary instead. However, if we were to go back this area would for sure be on our list of must do’s!

Hoover Dam (afternoon Day 2): Iconic Road Trip Stop

After we left Death Valley we made hot pursuit of the Hoover Dam, which straddles the border between Nevada and Arizona. Although the visitor center was closed and no tours were being offered, we wanted to take an hour to observe this engineering feat. The sheer magnitude of this place is overwhelming and fascinating. The views weren’t half bad either. We will definitely be back to grab a tour and spend a little more time in this classic U.S. road trip destination.

View from Hoover Dam looking out over the Colorado River and the bridge that traverses over it.
Must stop road trip destination the Hoover Dam view from the visitor's center on the Arizona side.

Keep on truckin’ toward the Grand Canyon and find easy and super convenient lodging options in Tusayan, AZ located just 15 minutes outside the south entrance gate to Grand Canyon National Park. The weather turned nasty for a bit on our desolate drive so we arrived late. We picked up a take out pizza and other necessities from a local gas station and boy am I glad we did. Day 3 was an unexpected situation, but we were ready to adapt.

Grand Canyon National Park (adapted version)

Weather. It’s a thing that can’t be controlled, which can be frustrating when you make plans and only have limited time. The key is to be flexible and safe a the same time. When we woke up for sunrise the morning of day 3, the forecast had changed for the worse. We realized the temperatures in the Grand Canyon were not expected to reach above freezing at all that day. We decided to head into the park for sunrise and were delighted at the stunning views of the canyon covered with areas of snow and ice. It was magnificent. However, it also meant we could not hike down in to the canyon as we had hoped. It was still worth the stop for the views and we were able to walk the rim trail for a few miles, but it wasn’t enough time to truly soak it all in.

Grand Canyon National Park at sunrise in March from Mather's Point.
Woman standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon in March with snow and ice on the ground.

If we had more time and better conditions we would have hiked more of the rim trail for continual views of the canyon looking down on to the Colorado River and just taking it all in. Our plan had been to hike South Kaibab Trail down in to the canyon for the experience, but the trailhead was covered in ice and treacherous. Bright Angel trail is the other option, but it too was covered in ice. If you decided to do either of these trails, accept that the route back up will be steep and difficult, have little shade, and you will need lots of water with you. The shuttle bus system inside the park will help you navigate the trailheads with ease and allow you to leave you car parked in the visitor center lot for the day.

We made the difficult but necessary decision to leave the park after just 3 hours in order to get on the road, knowing we were heading in to bad weather. Our original plan was to visit Petrified Forest National Park and enjoy the old Route 66 areas of Northern Arizona. Unfortunately we had to change our national parks road trip plans on a dime and head south. We made the right decision.

Day 3, afternoon: Saguaro National Park

After a grueling drive through blowing snow and icy roads we made our way south to Tucson, AZ and the warmer, drier desert. Saguaro National Park is separated into two parts, East and West with the city of Tucson tucked between. We decided to spend the afternoon until sunset on the West side of the park. Go straight to the visitor center to ask the rangers questions about great hikes and the perfect sunset location.

We chose the King Canyon/Gould Mine Loop with just a little elevation gain and about 2.5 miles long. It felt so good to stretch our legs and breathe a deep sigh of relief for the dry desert. Enjoy the impeccable views with cactus dotting the landscape. We had perfect temperatures in the low 60’s, but I can imagine this hike would be miserable in summer with no shade to be found. After you get your wiggles out, be sure to walk the nature trail loop to learn all about the flora & fauna of the park. They do an exceptional job of explaining the life cycle of the desert-perfect for kids.

There are two fabulous spots to view sunset, one inside the park and the other just outside. If you want to add a hike we suggest Valley View Trail inside the park. There is a small parking area on the winding one way road that closes after dusk. Take a leisurely hike up the lookout spot where benches await for optimal sunset views. Then hurry back down as the light fades. The trail is only about .6 miles roundtrip. In Tucson Mountain Park on the West side is Gates Pass where the locals can also be found. There is a parking lot at the top of the winding road there, but closes just after sunset.

Sunset photo of saguaro cacti from Saguaro National Park at the end of a long road trip
Woman sitting next to a giant Saguaro cactus at a sunset overlook at Valley view inside Saguaro National Park

Day 4: Saguaro National Park, East side

Start your morning early so you can catch sunrise as you enter the park and hit the Cactus Forest Loop Drive. This one way drive will give you fabulous morning views. Watch for local walkers/runners/cyclists who frequent this loop in the early hours. We stopped off at the Desert Ecology Trailhead for easy access to a mesh of easy, but beautiful hiking trails. This area also hosts picnic tables and restrooms making it a great area for families with kids. If you are into serious hiking and have the time, explore the Douglas Spring Trail or the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail, both boasting elevation gains and impressive distances. Look for backcountry camping permits at a ranger station or the visitor center for more in-depth hiking.

Because our time was limited and we had a flight to catch in Los Angeles the next day, we took off for the interstate and left the desert behind. In an ideal world you could stay the night in Anaheim, CA and do Downtown Disney as your last hurrah. Sadly, Downtown Disney was not open for us to enjoy.

Embrace the Adventure of a National Parks Road Trip

This southwest national parks road trip was definitely more adventure than vacation. Hopefully this gives you a starting place for planning your next road trip as well. This itinerary shows off a taste of several parks and helps you find ones you may want to spend more time exploring. One things we’ve learned over the past year is how great our protected lands are and how much fun they are to visit. Make sure to tag us on Instagram if you take on adventure like this one. We love to follow along with others as they use our suggestions. Happy travels, friends!

Recreate Responsibly As You Travel

Are you familiar with the phrase “recreate responsibly”? I will admit that even after years of camping and backpacking I had not heard this specific term until recently. I was always taught to leave no trace, but this new phrase is gaining momentum in the most positive way. And we’re here for it. Let’s take a few minutes to step into the idea of responsible travel and talk about why it’s so important.

Overlook of Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains with an American flag

Why Do We Need to Recreate Responsibly?

I realized yesterday when the calendar moved to a new month that I am behind in my planning. Anybody else? March is a great time to begin research and plan details for a summer vacation. We try to do a two week family adventure during the months when the kids have less responsibilities. Domestic U.S. destinations are becoming more and more sought out, especially in locations that are more remote and provide lots of outdoor space. Some families are getting out into the wild for the first time with their kids, and there is actually a lot to learn. Sales on RV’s and campers are at an all-time high, which puts campgrounds in high demand. These demands can take a toll on our public lands if we don’t know how to recreate responsibly. So, I started to look into it more as I began my plans.

What Are Public Lands?

In the broadest sense, public lands are areas of land that are open to the public and managed by the government. You can think of it as land you own (and share with everyone else in the United States). There are three types of government that manage public lands: federal, state and local. Examples include National Parks, National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, National Historic Sites, Wild and Scenic Rivers, state parks and more. Recreation opportunities depend on the managing agency, and run the gamut from the less restrictive, undeveloped wide open spaces of BLM lands to the highly developed and controlled national and state parks. Some are free to visit and some have fees to help support responsible recreation.

Steps to Recreate Responsibly

Family hiking with dog in a Wildlife Management Area

1.Protect Your Family & Other Visitors

With visitation demand on the rise, it’s imperative to make reservations and plans WAY ahead of time. Know where and when you are going ahead of time. One of the best ways to recreate responsibly is to have a plan so you can do your best to work against the crowd. That may also mean choosing a less popular destination during peak seasons. For example, Rocky Mountain National Park in early June is easier to recreate responsibly in early June as opposed to the Independence Day holiday weekend in July.

Another idea is to visit these various public lands early in the morning or starting at dinner time when other visitors are still sleeping or have called it quits for the day. These ideas protect your family and other visitors because they allow for social distancing. They also ensure that trails and education centers are not overrun and are maintained in excellent condition.

2.Protect Park Employees

Do your research before you enter public lands. Know the entrances and exits and make sure you have a map. Be aware of road closures and weather conditions before you enter these destinations. Park employees are there to help, but we need to be responsible in how we utilize them. When you have a good idea of where you are going, you will have less need for contact with park employees and can free them up to be ambassadors and protectors of the land and its visitors. As educators these park employees have a deep desire to inform and teach, but we need to utilize them respectfully.

Know your limits and double check the gear you will need to explore. It is your responsibility as a visitor to take care of yourself and the land, not a park employee’s responsibility. Refrain from relying too heavily on employees to get you out of a situation you should have been prepared for yourself.

3.Protect The Land

Lake view in a state park

The very nature of public land is land that has been set apart due to it special and unique features for all to enjoy. Many of these parks and refuges and monuments offer irreplaceable resources and historical markers. If you don’t recreate responsibly these locations can be put in real danger. Do not get caught up in the idea that your bending the rules won’t affect anything. Multiply your mindset by every visitor that comes through and BOOM soil erosion on trails, frail ecosystems, and wildlife habitats are in danger.

I found my mothering lashing out every time I saw someone hop off a boardwalk at Yellowstone National Park. Y’all. The boardwalks are not a suggestion. They are there for a reason-for your safety and to protect the land. My kids used to get so upset with me for telling them to put the rock back where they found it. After all, isn’t that what outdoor exploring is all about? Sorry guys, the lands are for you to enjoy, but that does not for you to do what you want with it. This brings up a difficult line to walk, both proverbially and and literally.

Yes, public lands are there for visitors to enjoy, learn, and explore. Yes, they are also there to be preserved and set apart so that generations to come can enjoy the same as you.

Leave No Trace Principle

If you are not familiar with the Leave No Trace mantra, here it is for you educate yourself:

  • Plan Ahead & Prepare- no excuses here. If you choose to recreate, do the research and double check your gear.
  • Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces. Use marked trails, consider your surroundings, avoid camping close to water, replace anything moved while camping.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly. “Pack it in, pack it out” and leave the lands as you found them. This also includes proper disposal of human waste.
  • Leave What You Find. It is illegal to remove natural objects. The best campsites are found, not made.
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts. Use a camp stove and build fires sparingly and only in optimal conditions and inside an existing fire ring if possible. Extinguish COMPLETELY.
  • Respect Wildlife. Quiet observation from a distance is expected. Do NOT feed animals.
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors. Maintain courtesy so everyone can enjoy. Refrain from loud behavior. Announce to others that you are passing on your mountain bike or on a trail while hiking or running.

Adventure & Travel Responsbily

Teenage boy fishing in an Ohio state park

None of this should stop you from planning your next adventure! With this information you and your family will be able to recreate responsibly as you explore. We hope to do so as well, and now that we have solid helpful information we can be better prepared. The U.S. has incredible public lands to offer. As you head out this summer to build up your family memory bank protect yourself and protect our beautiful lands. If you recreate responsibly, you will allow for future generations to enjoy them as well.

You and your family will have the time of your life adventuring on our public lands. Afterwards, you could can pass on your education to others so we can all keep this responsible travel movement going forward.

Outdoor Winter Activities for Teens

As the cold months with short daylight hours approach we all need to stock up on creative outdoor winter activities for our teens to bust the boredom and keep them moving. It’s only natural for our teens to want to hunker down inside with screens to pass the time in the dreary months of winter, but their bodies and their minds need the fresh air and freedom and probably a little adventure mixed in. With the added social distancing and increased school/work screen time due to this global pandemic we will need to fight even harder to get them outdoors.

We have compiled a list of 11 outdoor winter activities for teens (and their families) to entice them into the cold, and potentially wet elements. As we always say, the best way to encourage these activities is to BE the example. While a quiet hike through the snow may be more your style, you may need to live on the edge a bit. It’s time to get interested in what your teenagers are interested in! We’ve even put together a list of simple outdoor gear to make your winter adventures more comfortable and enjoyable.

We know that teenagers can often act like kids given the opportunity, so a few of these ideas are great for youngers or tweens, but we have also included some adventure activities to spur on the thrill seekers. After all, we want to encourage our teenagers to find healthy ways to push the limits and outdoor winter activities can be a great way to build confidence and resilience.

11 Outdoor Winter Activity Ideas

Build A Snow Fort

Build a snow fort as a winter activity

Kids of all ages love this activity because it invites creativity and competition. Different kids/teens will come up with a variety of ways to build the most quality fort with snow and other natural materials. Of course, what’s the point of having a fort if there isn’t a war? Bring on the snowball competition!

Snow Sledding

Winter sledding activity

All ages love to sled, but we suspect that teens will take this activity to a whole new level. Get them thinking about ways they can elevate the experience with building ramps and jumps or by using a mixtures of types of sleds to see which runs the fastest. Teens love to prove themselves with a challenge.

Host a Bonfire

Winter bonfire provides social time outdoors

Reign in your teen’s skills to build a fire and invite their friends over for time together outdoors with warmth and snacks. This is the perfect recipe for teens-social time and food and you can have them do it all outside so it’s a win win!

Go Ice Climbing

Ice climbing as a new outdoor challenge in winter

Talk about exciting! We definitely suggest booking a guide/tour for this activity if you have no experience so you can ensure you have the right safety equipment and gear. If you have a teenager who has always been a climber this could be a fun, new activity that challenges him/her in a unique way.

Try Airboarding

Airboarding is a unique outdoor winter activity

There are only a few resorts in the U.S. that offer this exhilarating activity, but it’s perfect for your teen who loves SPEED. This activity is similar to body boarding in the ocean, but it’s done on snow. You ride a lightweight inflatable sled that has special grooves made for manipulating sharp turns and reaching speeds up to 60 mph!

Cosmic Snow Tubing

Night time Snow tubing  outdoor winter activity

Night time snow tubing is offered at several resorts with a laser light show. Black and neon lights are included for special effect. This is a great option for a teen group date activity! Make sure to dress extra warm for night time temps.

Skip the Ice Skating and do Ice Biking

ice biking in winter

This uses the same ideas as ice skating, but atop a stainless steel frame with blades. This is perfect for those teens who struggle to keep upright on skates, but still gives them the opportunity for movement and exercise while outside during the winter months.

RZR Tour Winter-Style

backcountry winter RZR tour in the snow

Get off road in a heated vehicle to see those untouched backcountry spots. These tours provide endless fun and stretch the adventure limits just enough. These tours typically are for ages 12 and above so keep that in mind. Several of these tours also include dinner so it can be a great family activity or another great group date idea.

Snow Biking

snow biking on winter trails

If your teenager loves mountain biking then this is the winter activity for him/her. A bike frame is mounted on skis to give a smooth, but quick ride down hills and mountains. Many locations offer multi-level trails for your adrenaline rush seeking teenagers OR your cautious newbie. Younger kids and older folks can enjoy this activity, too, on beginner trails.

Winter Zip Lining

winter zip lining activity

Many adventure parks are beginning to offer zip lining in the winter months to give adventure seeking families a different perspective through the seasons. Do some research on daytime and nighttime zip tours to find the best fit for your family.

Snowmobiling

Snowmobile adventure across winter terrain

Another great way to get to the backcountry vistas quickly is by snowmobile. Snowmobiling can give you a thrill and get you to places to see incredible wildlife and other adventures like soaking in hot springs. This is another great outdoor winter activity for teens they will be talking about for a long time.

Winter Gear for Outdoor Activities

  • Insulated boots to keep your feet dry for as long as possible
  • Base layers- Smartwool or Cuddl Duds are our favorites
  • Yaktrax for good footwear traction
  • Hardshell Coat to repel the wet elements with zip in fleece liner
  • Polarized sunglasses or Glacier Goggles to lessen the snow and sun glare
  • Wool Socks for wicking & warmth – we love Darn Tough brand
  • High quality hat and gloves to keep you warmer for longer

Learn to Love Your Kids Well

That moment you met your children for the very first time is etched in your memory forever. No doubt your heart swelled with a love so deep it brought you to tears. It’s hard to imagine that tiny life growing up and into his/her own person. But before you know it those little ones begin to develop and your parenting must continue to evolve and grow with them. As time goes on you can learn to love your kids well at any stage.

I have three resources to share with you to help you love your kids well. They have each been a wonderful asset for me as a parent. My hope is to encourage you as you build up your family and adventure through life.

Special time with kids in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Love Your Kids Well by Taking Them On Dates

Carve out special one-on-one time to spend with each of your kids. The more time you spend with them, the more you will get to know them. This may sound counter-intuitive, but resist the urge to pepper them with questions. Let the conversation flow naturally and just keep the focus on your time together. Learn to enjoy what they enjoy. These can be some of the most meaningful conversations you have one-on-one. On busy weeks sometimes this looks like a Target trip together. Make the most of opportunities to date your kids and find ways to show them how special they are. Rowan and I did a day date to Congaree National Park because he wanted to work on some photography and it was so nice to get that time together in a place he chose focused on something he loves.

Day Date at Congaree National Park

Speak Your Kid’s Love Language

Every child perceives love differently. Heck, every adult perceives love differently. There are 5 common love languages we all respond to and it can be beneficial to learn the love language your kids speak. You could be giving them love in a language that doesn’t translate well. Check out Gary Chapman’s book titled The Five Love Languages of Children if you want to read in depth. As a very brief summary every human can find themselves in one of these five categories: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, or physical touch. One of the best ways to determine which category your child fits in is to observe how he/she SHOWS love. We all have a tendency to give love in the way we wish to receive it. Now put it in to practice and watch your relationship grow!

Day Trip paddle boarding at Lake Greenwood, SC

Begin to Hone in on Personality

I don’t want to proselytize on any specific personality test because there are quite a few out there that give really quality information. And I will add that it can be difficult to pin things down when your children are young. So, don’t get stuck in trying to set things in stone too early. This is a beginning step to help you on the path to love your kids well.

Our family has found great success in using the Enneagram as a guide for understanding our children. It’s amazing how uniquely created they are even though they came from the same two genetic pools. The purpose in understanding your kids is so you can understand how you relate to them and how they contribute to the family unit. It is NOT to focus on downfalls within his/her personality. Although it’s important to see weaknesses so we can give guidance, the focus is best left at developing the positives.

Day Hike with kids in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Three Chocolate Recipes to Impress

February brings the deep desire for chocolate…oh okay and maybe love. Ha! As kids came on the scene we have spent less time and money on gifts for each other as a couple and more on showering love through the whole house. We do little gifty things, but we also like to create a fun Valentine’s dinner as a family. We want to share three chocolate recipes that are sure to impress.

The Best Chocolate Sauce Recipe

After a whirlwind tour through France we could not stop thinking about an amazing chocolate sauce we had served over profiteroles. It was piping hot and was brought to the table in a little pitcher and poured over THE most divine dessert I have ever tasted. In an effort to recreate that culinary experience we did some digging to find the best chocolate sauce recipe.

Ingredients are simple: 5.5 ounces of dark cooking chocolate (at least 70% chocolate so it’s not too sweet) and 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. of full cream milk.

Method also simple: finely chop all of the chocolate and place into a heatproof bowl. In a small pot on the stovetop heat up the milk until just boiling, then remove from heat immediately. Pour the milk directly over the chopped chocolate and wait 30 seconds before you stir with a spatula. Continue to stir until all chocolate is melted, shiny and glossy. *If the chocolate does not melt fully, put the heat proof bowl over a pan of simmering water to create a double boiler.

Chocolate Smoothie Recipe

shallow focus photography of smoothie

With three teenagers in our house we keep quality protein powders (we are partial to Clean Simple Eats) at the ready so we can make sure everyone gets a good start to the day. While we don’t typically promote chocolate for breakfast, this recipe is sure to be the best way to get your kids out the door and ready to tackle the day.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of ice
  • 1 scoop of chocolate protein powder
  • 1 small banana
  • 2 Tbsp of peanut butter or other nut butter
  • 1 Cup of milk or almond milk

Add all ingredients to a high power blender and blend until smooth.

Chocolate Chess Pie

food wood coffee dark

If you are looking for a quick but impressive chocolate dessert consider this classic chess pie, which we swiped from and old Angus Barn recipe. If you are pressed for time you can always use a pre-made pie crust. The remainder ingredients are quick to throw together. The best thing about this pie is the big chocolate punch it packs.

Ingredients:

  • Pie crust
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 ounces of baker’s semi sweet chocolate (2 squares)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • dash of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter and chocolate together on stovetop over medium low heat and allow to cool for a bit. Meanwhile blend the other ingredients together in a bowl. Slowly mix the two together with a whisk until well combined. Pour batter into unbaked pie crust and bake in 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. We enjoy ours with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of homemade whipped cream!

Recipes to Impress

Your house will be smelling grand and the loves you share it with will be singing your praises this February. Time to do some shopping and get prepping for these chocolate recipes to impress!

Romantic Getaways in February

Couples are giving up the notion of flowers and chocolate in order to gain experiences through romantic getaways. Recent polls suggest that couples are spending less money on gifts for each other and more on investing in time together. In a world where life never stops, consider your next romantic getaway as a way to connect as a couple. Skip the expensive flowers, chocolate and over priced Valentine’s dinner and head out for a memorable romantic getaway. Here are three ideas for a long weekend in February to reconnect as a couple.

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress

Savannah, GA

Savannah is the perfect spot for a romantic getaway in February. The winter months in this quintessential Southern town are delightful and relaxed. You can spend your day walking the tree lined squares soaking in history. Make a stop at Forsyth park to see the 19th century fountain in all its glory before taking a tour of the Mercer Williams home. Definitely take the popular First Squares Food Tour and do some antique shopping after as you walk off those calories! You will find couples taking horse drawn carriage rides and doing ghost tours into the night hours after dinner. During the day the walkways along the river are a great way to see another side of the city. A side trip to Tybee Island is a nice way to get into nature even if it’s not beach weather.

You will want to stay in this historic district if possible to be within walking distance of the most visited sites giving you the full romantic getaway experience. Savannah is rich in interesting history, unique shopping, and a thriving food scene. You will come away as a couple more connected and ready to face the rest of winter!

Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Carmel is known for its charming shops, galleries and restaurants found along cobble-stone streets. And what’s more lovely is that it’s just a short walk from the Pacific Ocean. There are numerous boutique hotels and inns to choose from and many offer romantic getaway packages. If you are outdoor enthusiasts there are so many activities to keep you outside enjoying the incredible coastal area. You can rent electric bikes to pedal the scenic 17-mile road at Pebble Beach. One morning pack a picnic lunch and take a coastal hike along the trails at Point Lobos for incredible ocean vistas and fresh air. Do not skip the epic drive through Big Sur! With iconic pull offs and plenty of places to get out and enjoy nature this is a great day trip from Carmel.

If you are like us, you feel most at home outside. Carmel is a combination of a quaint town perfect for strolling and awesome outdoor spaces for connecting as a couple. Your time at this romantic getaway destination will fill you up and leave you more bonded together.

romantic big sur landscape

San Juan, Puerto Rico

If you are looking for a romantic getaway steeped in sunshine then Puerto Rico is the place for you. Bonus on this one is that you can have the Caribbean escape without needing a passport! This vibrant island offers all-inclusive resorts, historic boutique hotels as well as budget accommodations. You can spend your day soaking up sun on Condado beach relaxing or catching that beach vibe. Take time to walk the streets of Old San Juan and visit El Morro Fort. Enjoy the history with incredible views while keeping active. Seeking a bit of adventure? Take a day trip to El Yunque National Forest boasting a tropical rainforest with swimmable waterfalls and hiking trails.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

3 Day Itinerary San Juan, Puerto Rico

What a delightful Caribbean experience you can have in just 3 days on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. If you only have a long weekend this is the perfect spot for a quick trip. Grab a book, sunscreen and some good comfortable shoes and you will be set for a fabulous 3 day itinerary in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

One super bonus to this itinerary is that if you are a U.S. citizen you will not need a passport to travel! Yet, you will experience that island paradise you are seeking. Many U.S. cities offer direct flights to San Juan making this quick trip even easier. You can pack in a simple carry on for this trip, avoiding the hassle of checking a bag. I’m serious y’all, just pack a few swimsuits, some breezy casual clothing and comfy shoes. You will be set! We did a quick stopover in San Juan on our way to the BVI for our family sailing adventure and cannot wait to return.

Day 1: Old San Juan

Old San Juan

Spend the day walking the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan. You will find authentic restaurants, shops, colorful buildings, and town squares to soak in the culture. Indulge in the fresh juices and tropical fruits and by all means eat the rice and beans! Those comfy walking shoes will come in handy as you explore. Make your way to the historic site of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, an incredible military outpost for Spain and later the U.S. The views are amazing and if you like to fly kites, this is an amazing spot to watch or participate!

Day 2: Beach Day Trip to Cayo Icacos

For a day of relaxation bliss make your way to the east coast of the island for a beach day. Consider renting a car for this day trip. About an hour’s drive plus a water taxi to Cayo Icacos you will find pristine beachfront where you can read a book and soak in the sunshine. But, don’t miss this opportunity to swim, snorkel and paddle board in the clear blue waters on this nature preserve island. Pack a picnic lunch, snacks and plenty of water to keep you going through the day. Your body and soul will thank you for a day trip like this. Make your way back to San Juan for some chill night life.

Cayo Icacos beach day trip

Day 3: Adventure in El Yunque National Forest

Visit the only tropical rainforest in the United States on the island of Puerto Rico. El Yunque is a destination must. (*reservations are currently required due to limited entrance during the pandemic. Use the link to find out more information about making reservations in advance). Adding a little adventure into a short itinerary can be tricky, but you cannot pass up this opportunity.

Here you can find lush trails from beginner to advanced with mountain views and swimmable waterfalls. Immerse yourself in nature and enjoy the unique flora and fauna of the island. Don’t forget to look UP for tropical bird sightings! Tour guides operate from most major hotels in San Juan, but you could also rent a car just for the day. The drive is about 45 minutes from downtown San Juan and well worth the visit. Kids and adults alike will get their adventure fill here. There are several kiosks and family restaurants nearby to stop at on your way back to San Juan after a full day of adventure. Pack your rain jacket, waterproof shoes, towels and change of clothes so you are comfortable on your ride back to town.

El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico

Making the Most of Your 3 Days

Try to arrive the night before you start your 3 day San Juan, Puerto Rico itinerary so you can wake up and get moving the next morning with a full day to explore. That means you’ll be booking 4 nights at your hotel so you can get your relaxation vibes and your adventurous spirits their fill. In all seriousness keep your packing light for ease of travel and it makes unpacking when you return a breeze.

Yep three days goes quickly, but with the ease of flights and no passports needed, San Juan Puerto Rico is the perfect spot for a long weekend. If you have more time, use it! This little island paradise has so much to offer and we can’t tell you how much we are waiting to get back there. Blissful beaches, luscious rainforest hikes, vibrant culture and delicious food are wooing us back any day now.

Activate Your Goals

You know it’s January when all the talk is about goal setting. Some people call them New Year’s resolutions, but in my world goals work better. I also like to come up with a theme for the year ahead. Last year my theme was “focus” and boy was it a difficult, but worthy theme during a pandemic. Goals are a necessary part of business life, but many are realizing they have a place in personal life as well. Everyone seems to have their own process in setting goals; how they are documented and kept visible, how they brainstorm to narrow down and specify their goals, when they space them out, how often they re-evaluate, etc. It can take years to come up with a goals process that you stick to. Don’t let that hinder you from activating your goals, though. Just go forward.

anonymous lady walking on road in forest

So, what’s next? Do you just set your goals and hope they are achieved? How do you move in to the next part of the process? You have got to find a way to activate your goals. Put those goals in motion. Over here at Go Family Adventure we choose to live life with intention and we try to incorporate goals in to our whole family culture. The first step is all you need to take, but you have to take it. Think of it like a marathon. You can stand all day at the starting line, but if you don’t cross that line you never DID a marathon. Wouldn’t your rather try something and fall short than never try at all? It’s one thing to set your goals, but it’s another thing to move toward accomplishing them. I’m going to suggest three ways to activate your goals this year.

Activate Your Goals: Step 1- Write Them Down

Remember how your high school teachers gave you study tips and told you to re-write your notes a few times for them to sink in? Well, friends, it’s time to re-write your goals. Keeping goals in your head is a great way to self-protect, but if you want to put them in to action you need to write them down. And then write them down again and again. I have found that naming goals for the year is powerful, but breaking down those goals into monthly, weekly, and daily tasks is empowering. The visual written goal is a starting point. Activate those goals by continuing to write them down in task format in a planner or notebook that works for you until you have reached the goal.

opened notebook with silver pen near magnolia

Activate Your Goals: Step 2- Read All About It

Now I know this may seem like an extra step, but hear me out. If you really want to put your goals in to action I suggest doing the needed research and learning to make them happen. This can happen in a variety of forms. Articles, books, blogs, and audiobooks are incredible resources for leaning all about what you are working to achieve. Taking your goal seriously and moving it from an idea into action includes research. You will need to put work in to activating your goals. They will not happen just sitting in the written form. A word of caution at this step-do not get caught by analysis paralysis. There is a necessary next step to this process.

stack of books near magnolia flower on table

Step 3- Take the Leap of Faith

It’s time. You wrote down the goal. You learned all about how to successfully tackle the goal. Now you need to take the leap and achieve the goal. Although it could take weeks, months, or the entire year to achieve you are on the right path. The key at this point to activating your goals is to continue to pursue them. A final suggestion is to bring in a level of accountability at this point. Your spouse, business partner, best friend or business coach needs to know what you working toward. It helps to know in the back of your mind that someone else is aware of your pursuits, cares about your pursuits and is cheering you on as you activate your goals.

woman in white long sleeve shirt and black pants standing on brown rock formation near body

The Magic of Winter Comfort Food

Don’t you love that warm, cozy feeling of sitting down to a comfort meal with your family and friends during the chilly winter months? It is so comforting to make, serve, and eat food that brings people together. With shorter daylight hours and cooler temperatures, it’s no wonder we spend more time preparing and consuming food. It’s like this age old way of fattening up for the “lean” months. Of course, that’s not a thing anymore, but we still do life like that even though it’s unnecessary. Weird.

Maybe it’s because I’m from the midwest, but the comfort foods of choice in winter revolve around soups, stews, and roasts. I even grew up eating cream of wheat and oatmeal for breakfast nearly every day in the winter, which my kids think is ridiculous. Funny how that stuff stays with you. Well I’m going to share three winter comfort food recipes with you today that are sure to give you that warm and cozy feeling I know you’re looking for. So before you head outside for a day of winter activities, power up. We’ve got you covered for your midday warm up and also a simple, cozy way to entertain after a cold day of outdoor winter activities.

Power Oatmeal: Winter Comfort Food Breakfast

oatmeal platter of comfort food

One great way for me to start my day is with a warm bowl of power oatmeal. It is packed with flavor and with protein and keeps my belly satisfied all morning. And the best part is you can microwave it and your oatmeal will be ready in less than 5 minutes prep to spoonful.

I use a recipe from Clean Simple Eats, but tweak it to my desired consistency and tastes. Have I ever told you how much we love their protein powders and off-beat butters? YUM!

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 TBSP of liquid egg whites
  • 1/2 mashed banana
  • 3/4 scoop of vanilla protein powder
  • 1 TBSP of half & half
  • dash of cinnamon
  • Combine oats, water, egg whites and banana. Microwave for 1.5 minutes
  • Stir in your protein powder and half & half, add cinnamon to top
  • Enjoy!

Copycat Trader Joe’s Harvest Chili: Comfort Lunch

variety of vegetables for the magic of comfort

I’m obsessed. I can’t help myself, but when lunchtime comes around I NEED harvest chili. Yes, Trader Joe’s offers it seasonally in their prepared food refrigerated section, but it’s only there for a short amount of time. Good thing I found a copycat recipe so I can make it at home to curb my need for winter comfort food. There are a lot of ingredient in this, but it’s basically a dump and cook recipe. The creator suggests cooking the onions, carrots and celery prior to adding the rest of the ingredients to the crockpot and I agree, but if you are short on time you can skip this step. Did I mention this is a vegetarian recipe? Did I also mention how satisfying it is? Cozy up and fix yourself a bowl of harvest chili and if you’re feeling fancy, add a few slices of avocado on top.

Company Pot Roast: Comfort Food Dinner

Cookbook for winter comfort food

Having friends or family over for a meal is a quintessential aspect of life. As much as we crave wonderful food, more so we crave sharing that food with others we love. Having a solid main dish that you can put together and let cook while you finish off your side dishes and salads is the key to easy entertaining. This pot roast recipe has a 3 hour cook time, so be sure to plan ahead for that. The options for side dishes are endless and you can creatively add healthy options to accompany your comfort food main dish.

Choose the most prime piece of beef you can afford. This is important when your dish is simple. Pot roast is not a fancy dinner, but the cut of meat and the quality of the meat will stand out more if you select prime beef. Talk to your butcher (even if it’s just at your local grocery store) and let him/her know exactly what you’re cooking and what you are looking for. Don’t be afraid to talk budget either.