Family Sailing Vacation in Greece

Have you always wanted to visit Greece? Does your family like to travel together with a bit of adventure and excitement in the mix? A family sailing vacation in Greece is the way to go! We spent two weeks total in Greece and spent one week sailing in the Cyclades. We loved island hopping around to some of the lesser known destinations. I want to use this post to give you a good understanding of what a family sailing vacation in Greece is like and why it’s the best way to visit the islands in the Cyclades. I will also give you alternative ways to travel to the Greek islands to enjoy the beauty.

sweeping view of a beach on and island with while sand and turquoise waters and mountains in the background

Why Sailing in the Cyclades is So Incredible

The best way to vacation in Greece includes visiting the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. Not only are the islands beautiful, but they each have their own personality. A family sailing vacation is the perfect way to experience Greece. The time on a sailboat while working together make it unforgettable. Your kids will get to be a part of another culture through food, they will talk to locals, and see the sights of each island.

A sailing trip in Greece will give your family a unique perspective and allow you to get off the beaten path to avoid the crowds. You can tailor your Cyclades sailing itinerary to fit the needs and desires of your family. Island hopping in the Cyclades will give you a taste of each individual island and you can stay as long or short as you prefer.

Cyclades sailing will also include incredible swimming spots and give you access to some of the best beaches in the Cyclades. Your family will see places that would be difficult to see any other way and the pace will be more relaxed while you choose your own adventure.

view of the Aegean Sea with rocks popping out of the water, taken from the deck of a sailboat

What to Expect While Sailing in Greece

You can expect real sailing in the Cyclades. This will not be like a cruise. Sailing around Greece in the Cyclades islands will be adventurous and thrilling at times. Your skipper will be using the sails and very little of the motor, which means there is a lot of action on the boat. Although you will be able to see land almost at all times, you will be crossing open waters that can be rough.

Sailing holidays in Greece are very popular among European families, but we crossed paths with only one other American family. This was really fun for our teens because it opened their eyes to other cultures and languages.

Another unexpected value in family sailing vacations is the applied physics lessons. It will be natural for your kids to be curious about how it all works to get from one place to another by wind and sails.

side view of a monohull sailboat with the sails down

Weather in the Cyclades

There is one specific reason that sailing during the summer in the Cyclades is so popular. The summer Meltemi brings a growing thermal wind as the land heats up from May to August. The winds can grow to over 30 knots, which makes for some awesome sailing. The islands also create channels for the winds to increase in speed. These winds also help to keep the temperatures well below what you would experience in Athens.

Greece has all four seasons, but the island climate is quite dry. Sailing weather in Greece is most optimal from May to September. Take advantage of the high winds and strong sunshine for the best Greece sailing vacation. Mornings and evenings will be cool, but the middle of the day will be filled with warm sun.

teenage girl holding her hair back from the wind with the turquoise waters of the Aegean in the background
a family and a skipper on a sailing on a sailboat

What you need to Sail in the Cyclades

I have a complete list of items to take with you for an optimal family sailing experience. Less is more. There is not a lot of space on a sailboat to store items so choose wisely. The islands are very casual and there is no need to get dressed up unless you want to snag a nice family photo. A few things I recommend especially for sailing the Cyclades are:

  • Waterproof lightweight jacket for splashes on board while sailing
  • Seasick meds-even if you think you won’t, you very well may get seasick
  • Great music playlists for your time at sea
  • Water bottle with filtration-most islands do not have clean drinking water unless you purchase bottled water
  • A pair of shoes dedicated for land use only so you don’t track sand and dirt onboard
sideview of a sailboat in the waters of the Aegean Sea, taken from the water

How to Get to the Cyclades

There are several ways you can get your family to the Cyclades islands in Greece. There are pros and cons to all of them. Several of the islands have small airports that offer both domestic and international flights to Cyclades. Mykonos tends to be the best for international flights, but there are also plenty that originate in Athens for a quick jaunt.

Another way to get yourself to the port of embarkation for your sailing vacation is to take a high speed ferry from Athens to Cyclades. There are a lot to choose from and some are direct. You can expect a high speed ferries to Cyclades to take about 3-5 hours depending on where you are headed. Ferries in Cyclades are much shorter routes, usually less than 2 hours between them.

One final option to start your charter sailing Greece adventure is to sail from Athens down to the Cyclades. This option would take out the hassle of catching a ferry and spending a night on an embarkation island. However, keep in mind that this means a very long first day of sailing (probably about 8-10 hours of sailing) that will eat into your sailing week.

three teenagers walking along a stone path on a Greek island with a view of the Aegean on the left and while Greek buildings on the right

Best Islands in the Cyclades

There are a host of islands in the cyclades to choose from that can more than fill up a week long sailing adventure. Take a look at the map of Cyclades below for a frame of reference.

Each island has its own personality. Some are big enough to offer many restaurants, hotels, beaches, and outdoor activity choices. Others have very few. What they lack in choice, they make up for in charm. You can have the experience you want without having someone dictate where you have to go.

We by no means visited every island, but would like to highlight a few. For a more thorough list, check out our full family adventure in Greece. The best Greek island for families is Paros, which has the best mix of beaches and activities without being too overrun with tourists. The largest island in the Cyclades is Naxos, which is another great family friendly Greek island. If you have teenagers, you won’t want to miss Ios where lots of young people hang out.

a white moon rock looking beach on the greek island of milos with the shades of blues of the aegean sea in the background

Charter a Sailing Boat in Greece

Charter sailing in Greece is the only way you will be able to sail in the Cyclades. If you have your own captain’s license with the required amount of sea hours, then you MAY be able to rent a boat. I truly believe the best way to enjoy charter sailing Greece is with a hired captain. We had an amazing experience with Blue Water Sailing and our captain, Rita, on a 51 foot monohull named Albatross.

Many people choose to do catamaran sailing in Greece as their family sailing vacation, but my opinion is that it is too windy to use a catamaran. You might feel more unstable in a monohull, but it will be able to withstand the winds much better and allow you out to sail more than the catamarans.

teenage boy laying on the deck of a sailboat looking out to the sea with yachts in the background

The majority of sailboat rentals embark from either Mykonos or Paros. From either of those locations you can get a full week of sailing in without having to sail for longer periods of the day to get from island to island.

You can expect to spend some nights at anchor in the bays and some nights docked up at the island’s marinas. Sailboats have a kitchen, so you may choose to cook food onboard or bring provisions for small meals. I suggest eating dinner on the islands to get the full experience of Greek island life.

Costs of Chartering a Sailboat

Of course the costs will depend on how long you sail for, how many people are in your party, and what type of boat you charter. In general there will be a fee for the boat rental itself, which covers the beds and bedding needed as well as basic needs on the boat such as water and fuel. A large part of your cost will be to pay your skipper/captain, but expect also to add extra to that for tip if you were pleased.

Your meals will not be covered unless agreed upon in advance with your charter company. If you require extra staff such as a hostess, your costs will also increase. Activities, transportation, shopping, and meals on land will all be on your own as well.

a view from a beach towel on the island of naxos, cyclades looking out to the turquoise sea

Vacation and Serve in Guatemala

Have you ever explored the opportunity to combine vacation and service in one trip? You have probably heard of service trips and, of course, vacations. But there are trips out there that include both. Through a friend, I was able to find a trip that included deep cultural experiences alongside service opportunities while still enjoying local food and wonderful accommodations. Read on for the full experience of the way I did a vacation and serve in Guatemala.

a bright yellow restaurant with tables outside on the cobblestone street in Antigua, Guatemala

Travel to Guatemala to Vacation and Serve

Guatemala is located just south of Mexico in Central America. To the east is Belize and to the south is El Salvador and Honduras. It’s a small country with a population of around 18 million people. The easiest way to get into the country is to fly into Guatemala City, but many also cross the boarder from Belize to see the northern areas of the country. You can find a number of flights each day into the capital, Guatemala City.

You will need a passport to enter the country. In March 2022 you need proof of covid vaccination as well as a negative covid test, but check current conditions and regulations for updated information.

There are a number of ways to get around while you vacation and serve in Guatemala. You can rent your own car, hire private transfers, or you can use the bus system. We avoided the chicken buses (although it would have been SO fun and culturally immersive), but we were advised not to use them this time due to covid. Next time! Every town we came across also offered tuk tuk rides for short distances. At Lake Atitlan there are public ferry taxis or you can hire a private transfer to take you around the lake from town to town.

A red and black vibrantly painted chicken bus in Guatemala

The local currency is the Guatemalan Quetzale and can be withdrawn from local ATM’s at hotels, but make sure your credit card has a pin attached to it prior to travel! Some hotels will accept US $ for tips, but they are not widely accepted in general. I found American Express not as usable as my Visa, but even the remote shops had card readers for an extra charge.

The language in Guatemala City is primarily Spanish, but as you wander further outside of the main city there are many indigenous languages that also have several dialects within. When you are in the marketplace you will need to rely on hand motions with lots of smiling and patience to communicate. I had just as much fun practicing my Spanish in Guatemala as when I visited Costa Rica.

the famous yellow arch in Antigua, Guatemala with people in the cobblestone streets
Cobblestone street of Antigua Guatemala with Agua Volcano in the background
a large church in the heart of Antigua, Guatemala

What Does it Look Like to Combine Vacation and Service?

I think there is always an opportunity to add in volunteer work to any part of our lives. Having said that, I also think it’s important to get away from the daily coming and going of regular life. So, how do you pair the two and make it work? It’s all about intentionality. Take the trip you want and then add in days or hours to give back while you enjoy.

Below is a list of practical and easy to incorporate ways to open your eyes and your hearts to the needs of the world.

  • Choose an organization that is meaningful and aligns with your priorities and contact them prior to your travel to see how you can serve while there or assist in bringing them donations, etc.
  • Slow down and listen. Talk to people in the community and non-profits that are up and running in the area to learn what the true needs of the community are.
  • Purchase your souvenirs from locals and seek to get as close to the source of the goods as possible.
  • Stay in a hotel that gives back to the community. Let your money go to work while you enjoy your stay. Best of both worlds.
  • Choose your tour operators consciously, with an eye to make an impact on the local economy.
  • Don’t skimp on tips. It is meaningful to tip generously, knowing that money is going right into the hands of a local person.
  • Spend one hour or one day with a working organization that gets you into the lives of real people in the area you are vacationing.

How to Vacation and Serve in Guatemala

There is not one single right way to vacation and serve in Guatemala…or anywhere for that matter. This is the type of thing you need to customize for your own family. It surely will look different for everyone. But, I encourage you to step outside of your typical vacation and incorporate some service, especially when you visit a destination that has real needs. And here is a little secret-everywhere has real needs. My next step is to get the kids to do a trip where we vacation and serve together. Stay tuned!

The Vacation and Serve in Guatemala Itinerary

Day 1

I left my home airport and had a short layover in Atlanta before heading to Guatemala City. It was a 3.5 hour easy flight. Getting through immigration was painless, only having to show passport, vaccination card, immigration form and negative covid test.

After fighting through traffic, our driver delivered us to the colonial city of Antigua. We stayed at Casa Santo Domingo, a beautiful hotel built into the ruins of a convent. After a quick moment to freshen up we met up with our small group of women to do a historical walking tour of the grounds of the hotel and the city. It was the perfect way to start our trip.

Elizabeth, with Antigua Tours, gave us a two hour tour chock full of the history of the town and the earthquake that destroyed it. We learned a lot about the mixing of cultures, the colonial influences of Spain and the indigenous Mayan civilization. To our delight we encountered Lent celebrations and throngs of locals out with family. The Latino spirit was in full swing as we explored on foot and soaked in the culture. Do not miss this rich introduction to Antigua!

a courtyard inside Casa Santo Domingo Hotel in Antigua, Guatemala
stained glass window in front of iron gates inside Casa Santo Domingo in Antigua Guatemala

Day 2

After a quick coffee and breakfast sandwich to go, we loaded up in a van with our tour guide, Willie. We took off for a volcano hike at Parque Nacional Volcan de Pacaya y Laguna de Calderas. I love to hike and seek to enjoy the outdoors while traveling, so this was fun for me. It was a 5K hike with some healthy elevation gain and steep sections. The starting altitude was about 6000 feet above sea level, so for those of you who live “low” be warned that you will lose your breath quickly. If you don’t want to hike, there are horses for hire with a trained guide who will stay with you the entire hike. You can also rent a walking stick from the young boys waiting at the base of the hike. I couldn’t resist! And I was glad I didn’t.

The hike itself was beautiful with lovely views and ample shade. And when we reached the top, it felt so good to have a full view of Pacaya before we started downward toward the calderas to “roast” marshmallows in the volcano vents. While we rested our legs, we enjoyed an epic picnic. We “skied” down the volcanic debris to end our hike and ran for the showers when we returned to our hotel.

The afternoon was filled with shopping and wandering through the cobblestone streets of Antigua. We enjoyed the shops filled with jade, Guatemalan textiles and pottery, and people watched to our hearts content.

a lady at the end of the Pacaya Volcano hike with the dark black ash volcano in the background
Guatemalan young man with a horse on the hike to Pacaya Volcano

Day 3

We packed up our luggage and left Antigua for Lake Atitlan, about a 3 hour drive. On the way, we stopped at Iximche, a Mayan ruins. We were able to hire an English speaking guide who taught us how the Mayans developed their calendar. Let’s just say that they used their fingers and toes! Ten fingers, ten toes, and 13 major joints in the body multiplied together made 260 days in a year for them. That also coincided with the corn crop so it worked! We also learned the correct way to scaled the narrow steps of the ruins. Take them at an angle so that your back is neither toward the sun, nor toward the moon.

Two ladies at the Iximche Mayan ruins
Iximche Mayan Ruins in Guatemala

After lunch at a farm to table spot, we continued on toward Lake Atitlan in pursuit of pottery. We stopped at a roadside stand that had some nice options, but there was a specific co-op that we wanted to spend time at. In the town of San Antonio you can find location of the original Guatemalan teardrop design pottery. While you are shopping and selecting from the beautiful pieces you can wander upstairs to watch the men and women painting and crafting the pottery. I was able to speak in Spanish to ask a lot of questions about the firing process and the passion and joy in those conversations was precious.

Inside of the pottery cooperative

We arrived at Casa Palopo, our hotel for the next two nights and we were welcomed with the most beautiful hazy sunset and the tastiest welcome drink ever! We took a dip in the pool before our dinner reservation at the hotel restaurant and then fell fast asleep after a beautiful day!

Looking down on the rooftop of Casa Palopo with the lake in the background
Looking down on the pool at Casa Palopo from the balcony
Dining table at Casa Palopo overlooking Lake Atitlan

Day 4

We awoke to gorgeous sunny skies on Lake Atitlan and hopped into a private ferry taxi to head across the lake for a full day over in San Pedro. On the docks at San Pedro we met up with Anita who was our cooking instructor. She gave us options for a menu and then we walked up to the market to make our food purchases. It was an incredible experience that everyone should do at least once-visit a local market where you don’t speak the language. It was a very rewarding cultural experience.

Two women at a market stand in San Pedro, Guatemala
close up of a woman at the market in San Pedro, Guatemala
woman selling in the San Pedro, Guatemala market

After the market we went to Anita’s home to begin our cooking. It was completely hands on with us doing all the chopping, stirring, mixing and more. While we handled our tasks, Anita gave us cooking tips and new techniques. While we sat to eat our meal Anita shared her life story with us. After lunch we went downstairs to the textile co-op that Anita helps run. We shopped and watched the weavers do their work. The cooperative is keeping women employed for a livable wage so they can support their families. It is a day I will never forget. These types of experiences are what travel is all about.

a group of women at a cooking class in guatemala
Guatemalan Woman Weaving

With a bumpy ferry ride and an exciting tuk tuk ride we made our way back to the other side of the lake to relax and absorb the day before we ate dinner again at the hotel.

three women squeezed into a tuk tuk

Day 5

We started the day with a nice brunch and a visit from the director of Fundamaya, Zoe. Fundamaya is a local organization helping with food insecurity, elder care and education for indigenous people who live around Lake Atitlan. We heard about all the ways Fundamaya is helping meet the needs of the Mayan people and the different ways we can support the organization monetarily as well as through action oriented service.

three women on the balcony of Casa Palopolo

After brunch we left Lake Atitlan and Casa Palopo to head back toward Antigua to visit and serve at Kids Alive International. Kids Alive International is committed to rescuing children from hard places, redeeming their stories and restoring the hope of Christ in the hearts and minds of vulnerable children. Kids Alive Guatemala provides holistic care for children who have been victims of sexual crimes.

We had the best time meeting the staff, touring the campus, attending their chapel, and eating dinner. We played games and did arts & crafts with the girls and they asked us a million questions and made us practice our Spanish. It was loads of fun, but there is a no photo policy for the protection of the girls there so you’ll have to just believe me that their smiles were huge!

Day 6

For our last day in country we were up early to walk up to the Cerro de la Cruz for epic view of Antigua. After we got our sweat on, we stopped for a coffee and a pastry before meeting up with tour guide Willie again. He brought bikes with him this time and we pedaled out of cobblestone streeted Antigua to a coffee farm nearby. It was a little dicey, but so worth the experience.

Guatemalan coffee beans drying in the sun

We learned all about the roots of coffee growing and the farm processes it takes to get that delicious cup when we wake up in the morning. We sampled and rode our bikes around the farm and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. When back in Antigua we made our way to a local chocolate making class at Fernando’s. Let’s just say that our bellies were full and our tastes were satisfied. We finished our day walking the streets of Antigua and a last special dinner.

Cobblestone street with yellow building in Antigua, Guatemala
Chocolate on a table during a chocolate making class

Resources to Vacation and Serve in Guatemala

In the interest of the why behind this trip, I want to take a moment to connect y’all with the people and organizations. I first learned about this trip from a friend that I met through Instagram, and as crazy as that sounds it feels like it was always meant to be. There is no doubt that it takes a little extra work to make a destination work for vacation and to serve, but this was a great introduction to the possibilities out there.

Travel On Purpose

My Instagram friend, Dianne, is the founder of Travel On Purpose. Her aim is to connect travelers with organizations doing good. Not only does Dianne lead group trips that she plans herself, but she also customizes travel for families or groups who want to incorporate service with their travel. She offers everything from full-service trip planning to brainstorming consulting on a trip you already have planned.

Go and Do Good

Another friend from Instagram, Meg, founded Go and Do Good, a comprehensive directory of hotels that are intentionally giving back to their communities. When you stay at one of these hotels, you are also contributing. During my trip to Guatemala we stayed at a Good Hotel, Casa Palopo. I can’t say enough about the beautiful property, the incredible service, as well as the dedication to impact the Maya Kakchikel people nearby who are no longer able to sustain themselves economically in the traditional Mayan ways. Check out their project here.


Fundamaya’s mission is to strengthen their communities by promoting education, well-being, and empowerment. The organization is a US accredited 501(c)(3) operating in the Lake Atitlan area of Guatemala. They provide elderly care, install energy efficient wood-burning stoves, give local school support, provide water filters to villages, gift holiday food baskets for the food insecure and more. Individuals and groups can volunteer in short-term and long-term capacities.

Kids Alive Guatemala & International

The work and call of Kids Alive Guatemala is to provide a safe haven for girls who have been victims of sexual violence. Their desire is for every child in Guatemala to experience the love of God and the beauty of being raised in a loving family. Kids Alive International has a mission is the call of Isaiah 1:17, to serve these children by constantly learning to do good, earnestly seeking justice, standing up to what oppresses them, and advocating for their rights.

Eden por Salud

Edén is a social enterprise in Antigua, Guatemala, dedicated to creating all-natural, wellness products using top-grade, organic essential oils.  Each Edén product is handcrafted by, and provides an accessible income, to a local entrepreneur with a disability.  Edén recognized the need for a not-for-profit business that could create accessible income opportunities for people with disabilities in Guatemala.

Mayan Kitchen

Our market visit and cooking class in San Pedro on Lake Atitlan with Anita was an absolute highlight. I cannot recommend this experience enough. Please reach out to Anita for a cooking class at her Mayan Kitchen for a close look at Guatemalan cuisine and local experience. Not only will be enriched in the culture, but you will be wowed by the personal story and touch of Anita. It is special.

Weekend Getaway to Beaufort, SC

An often missed coastal town in South Carolina is the historical city of Beaufort, perfect for a weekend getaway with the family. You are going to want to explore this great spot on foot and from the water. Those of you who are looking for a family fun destination that has a strong focus on the outdoors will love a weekend getaway to Beaufort, SC.

Downtown waterfront view in Beaufort, SC

How to Get to Beaufort, SC

Beaufort is located on the coast of South Carolina, along the Beaufort River nearly halfway between Charleston and Savannah. If you look at a map, you will realize that island surroundings make this city almost completely encompassed by waterways. The most direct way to get there would be off of I-95 connected to some smaller state highways. You may also enjoy a coastal road trip through South Carolina, and can string together a series of cities and towns by utilizing SC-17. The nearest airports can be found in Savannah, GA or Charleston, SC.

teens and dad walking along the waterfront in Beaufort, SC

When to take a Weekend Getaway to Beaufort, SC

You will find Beaufort to be quite busy in the summer months, even during the week. However, if you choose to visit in the shoulder seasons of spring and early fall, you will still experience wonderful weather with sleepier streets and less crowded restaurants. The lesser humidity will also make spring and fall a great time to visit for a weekend getaway to Beaufort, SC.

teens on swings along the waterfront in Beaufort, SC

Where to Stay during your Weekend Getaway

Stay in the immediate downtown area if you want to be able to walk everywhere with ease. Parking can get tricky if you stay outside of downtown Beaufort. The city was designed along the waterfront and there is no shortage of small inns along the tree lined streets. If you do a weekend getaway to Beaufort, SC as a family look into the Best Western Sea Island Inn, which is directly across from the marina and within walking distance of the shops and restaurants. The rooms are set up for a family and a really nice continental breakfast is offered each morning, as well as free parking for guests. They offer pet friendly rooms and have a quiet curfew of 10 pm, which makes this particularly perfect for families. For a super romantic getaway consider the Rhett House Inn. You can find the chain hotels just a short drive away from the action, too.

sign of Best Western Sea Island Inn in Beaufort, SC
teens on the balcony of Best Western Sea Island Inn

What to Do in Beaufort, SC

  • Do a carriage tour with Sea Island Carriage Company to learn the history of the city and learn all about the historic homes in downtown Beaufort while you learn your way around.
  • Get out on the water with a boat tour from Coastal Expeditions who will give you access to Beaufort in a different way. You will hear all about the development of Beaufort from the sea perspective while you experience the local wildlife.
  • Shop the downtown stores filled with local southern treasures and support the small businesses of Beaufort, SC.
  • Walk along the waterfront admiring the beautiful scenery and boats in the marina.
  • Play on the playground and open green spaces along the waterfront to burn some energy.
  • Go fishing: fly casting or sight casting for cobia, reds, jacks, trout and more!
  • Ride bikes or go for a run along the Spanish Moss Trail which has 10 miles of paved trails open to the public from dawn until dusk.
  • Play golf at a nearby course on Fripp Island or Dataw Island.
  • Spend the day at Hunting Island State Park hiking, playing on the beach, and climbing the lighthouse.
Captain Henry of Coastal Expeditions on his boat in the marina of Beaufort, SC
horse and carriage of Sea Island Carriage Company
family walking off the beach at Hunting Island State Park, SC with maritime forest in the background

Weekend Getaway Eats in Beaufort, SC


To get your Saturday started right, make sure to grab a cup of coffee and pastry or breakfast sandwich at Common Ground and enjoy the back patio waterfront views. This is a great spot for a quick to-go brekkie for a day that’s filled with activity. For a slower, but heartier start to Sunday stop in at Blackstone’s Cafe for a full breakfast. Get there for a special surprise at 8:00 am so you can take part in the pledge of allegiance with the entire restaurant.


The hottest spot for lunch is definitely Lowcountry Produce Cafe. You will enjoy all the lowcountry fare including fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, and amazing salads. Don’t worry about the wait-you can wander the market while your tummy grumbles! If you want burgers and water views, head over to The Fillin’ Station across the bridge.


There are so many great restaurants to choose from in Beaufort. Most of them are family friendly and you can find a wide variety of plates depending on your tastes. We opted for casual, but delicious at Q on Bay. We can’t resist great BBQ and the wings and brisket did not disappoint! Another popular family spot is Old Bull Tavern for excellent gastro-pub food.

sign in front of Blackstone's Cafe in Beaufort, SC
Q on Bay restaurant in Beaufort, SC
inside view of Lowcountry Produce Cafe and market with patrons at tables and quilts hanging on the walls

Make the Weekend Getaway Happen

Weekend getaways can seem impossible during the teenage years. Busy schedules and academic work eat up so much time and there is little free time. Let me encourage you that two nights away as a family can do wonders for building up memories. We all need and a break from the grind. So, whether you are making your way along the southeastern coast of the U.S. or you are a South Carolina resident, make sure to include a weekend getaway to Beaufort, SC.

Let the Magical Moments Begin in Gulf County, FL

The winter glums have set in and my family is on the hunt for a vacation with magical moments. We are desiring another getaway to step out of the normal grind and into a refreshing and recharging long weekend. Where can we go for sunshine, full days of water and wildlife that has all the elements for a family with teens to reconnect? We have found the perfect destination to experience ordinary magic. It’s in Gulf County, Florida. Let the magic begin!

This post is in partnership with Gulf County, Florida. Although I am compensated for my work with them, all opinions are my own.

a red and yellow kayak in calm waters of gulf county, florida

How Gulf County is Helping us Plan Magical Moments

Did you know that Pinterest and Google aren’t the only tools to help you plan your next getaway? Visit Gulf County has incorporated an incredible tool on their website to kickstart my next family trip, and they can do it for you too!

The online tool is designed to pair your family with a concierge who helps you plan the perfect itinerary for your time in Gulf County. This free service gives you the opportunity to play more and plan less.

a low beach dune at the gulf coast in gulf county, florida

How to use to the planning tool

I love the simplicity of this online concierge program. All that was required of me was to head over to the Gulf County link to start my personal form. I entered my contact information and answered a few questions about my family dynamics and preferences. Then I clicked the submit button to await contact from my concierge and anticipate the magical moments she is planning for us!

What to expect from the concierge

After I submitted my form, I received a PDF directly to my inbox with an itinerary full of suggestions suited just for my family. My 5 minutes of work granted me a nearly complete vacation experience at my fingertips.

I can’t emphasize enough how great it is to have a local provide the up front research and suggestions. With the concierge tool from Gulf County, we are sure to have a well balanced family vacation with plenty to look forward to and plenty of down time in between. It’s simply magical.

a sweeping view from the water's edge across a white sand beach with large beach homes in the background

Getting to the Magical Moments in Gulf County

Gulf County is located in the panhandle of Northern Florida with over 200 miles of shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico. Get to Gulf County by car 2 hours southwest of Tallahassee, FL or less than an hour east of Panama City, FL.

Both Panama City and Tallahassee international airports have services if you need them. We will travel by car from South Carolina for a long weekend getaway and road trip in pursuit of ordinary magic.

silhouette of two children on a stand up paddle board in the gulf at sunset

Why Gulf County has Ordinary Magical Moments

For a family like ours that looks to get outside and enjoy the natural world around us, Gulf County is an obvious choice. This area of Northern Florida, along the gulf coast has a westward facing sunset view. It is surrounded with nature including white sand beaches, inland waterways, wildlife, and the calm gulf waves. This purposely underdeveloped area is a dream for families who are looking to adventure outdoors while stepping away from daily life.

From water activities like boating, kayaking, fishing, snorkeling and diving to wandering the beautiful beaches to coastal cultural activities Gulf County has a multitude of family fun activities. You can spend your vacation days relaxing or adventuring, and you can do it together.

My teenagers like a mix. So, we typically look for a full day activity with a recovery day afterwards. Or, we look for a morning activity and free afternoon. Other times we take it easy in the morning and let our teens sleep in and find an after lunch adventure. We always prioritize down time and we love to sunset chase. Do you see why we are so excited to spend our family time pursuing ordinary magic in Gulf County?

restaurant in gulf county, florida with patrons sitting outside and enjoying good food and good weather

The Magical Moments in Our Concierge Vacation Plan

In the PDF was a recommended vacation rental home. Gulf County specializes in single-family vacation homes, which is perfect for families looking to connect more. I envision meals together, and late night games for our crew. Our teens still love to play board games. Now I just need to build in a nap so I’m ready when they want to start a game at 10:00 pm!

Also included were two restaurant recommendations. We enjoy getting a taste of the local flavors when we travel. This took all of the research time out of the equation for me as a mom. We look forward to indulging in some local seafood as well as some solid family food favorites like burgers and pizza, perfect after a day of exploring.

The itinerary comes with two wildcard activities, which would not have occurred to me in planning a vacation. One is an activity my teens would love anywhere, but we may not make the time for here at home. It’s genius to include something like this in a travel itinerary when families have dedicated time to spend with one another.

Last, but definitely not least, our concierge included two adventures. Our teens enjoy the slow beach time, but now that they are older they want to have more experiences. Adrianne did not let me down in this category. She suggested two outdoor adventures that encompass a variety of activities perfect for our family. I know she would do the same for you!

fishing boat in calm waters with a family actively fishing from it. the sun is shining bright in the late afternoon casting a beautiful glow

Are You Looking for Magical Moments?

I know how busy you all are. You are constantly leveraging your free time for the biggest impact. This is true for me, as well. Isn’t it wonderful that a vacation destination understands that and can assist you in the planning? That way you can enjoy the magical moments with your family. The beautiful, serene, nature encompassed Gulf County, Florida has you covered. Head on over to the concierge input page to begin your next family adventure and start building up those memories!

Seattle to Olympic National Park with Teens

When it comes time to plan trips, it can be difficult to come up with epic family vacation ideas with teens. I have one destination that’s a for sure win with teens, but not every vacation can be epic. However, I would argue that a good old fashioned U.S. road trip in the Pacific Northwest can really fit the bill. An adventure from Seattle to Olympic National Park not only pairs city with the outdoors, but you can also make this trip very friendly on the budget.

a family with mom, dad and three teenagers sitting on a pile of driftwood at Ruby Beach in Washington State

Adventures in Seattle with teens

Use this as a quick travel guide to Seattle. Plan at least two full days to explore and experience all of the coolest things to do in Seattle with your teens. Like any big city, you may not see it all in one trip, but you can get a great feel. This classic West coast U.S. city should be on every family’s bucket list for travel.

Getting to Seattle

Traveling to Seattle is not complicated at all. You can fly into Sea-Tac International Airport and rent a car with ease. If you don’t think you will need a car while visiting downtown Seattle, wait to rent a car from inside the city. Public transport is plentiful. We found driving in Seattle to be pretty easy to navigate, but did have to pay overnight parking fees at our hotel.

Staying in Seattle

Every major hotel chain and their subsidiaries have lodging in Seattle. Choices abound and you are best off selecting a hotel that is centrally located to how you want to spend your days. Or, like we did, choose to stay at your favorite chain where you have loyalty and/or status. We had an incredible experience at the Hyatt Regency, perfect for families who may need two rooms. Another family friendly option is the Embassy Suites located at Pioneer Square. You can find everything from budget options to luxury stays.

What to do in Seattle

I’m not kidding when I say that you will need to make a Seattle bucket list before you visit. There are so many things to do, places to see, and restaurants to try. Below is a list of ideas that should work for teens and families together. I’ve included a few unique things to do in Seattle that make this vacation with teens one to remember forever. Don’t underestimate the things to do in Seattle at night. Teens love to stay up later and explore cities after dark for extra fun!

Seattle Great Wheel and Seattle waterfront in late afternoon sunshine
  • Pike Place Market and the original Starbucks: Get there early and enjoy selecting breakfast from the food stands and gawk at the incredible fresh flowers.
  • Space Needle: Buy your tickets ahead of time to skip the line. The history and the views are worth a one-time visit.
  • Seattle Underground Tour or Beneath the Streets tour: This is a popular group tour that gives the history of how Seattle developed into the city that it is. It keeps the teens engaged with humor, too!
  • Seattle Great Wheel: Lines can get long, but the views are incredible. Try to choose a day without much fog or cloud cover if possible.
  • Do a Savor Seattle Food Tour: through Pike Place Market
  • Museum of Pop Culture: If you are a GenX parent, this will be a lot of fun to take your teens and teach them some 80’s and 90’s pop culture.
  • Take in a pro sports game at T-mobile Park or CenturyLink Field: This can eat a big chunk of your time, but teens love to experience a city through pro sports!
  • Kerry Park: for amazing city views perfect for sunrise or sunset.
  • Do a Seattle waterfront cruise: awesome late in the day OR do a Seattle Locks Cruise that takes you to Lake Union to see the floating home community.
  • Rent scooters: through an app on your phone you can pick up a scooter just about anywhere in downtown Seattle, but for a great experience, scoot around the pro sports complex when there is no game planned. It’s a great way to cover a lot of ground and have fun while doing it.
  • Don’t miss the Museum of Flight outside of the downtown area. Extremely well done with tons of aircraft including outstanding space exhibits.
aerial view of the sports stadiums in Seattle, WA with Mt. Rainier in the background
teens in front of pike place market in seattle
teen in front of the original Starbucks in Seattle, WA
inside of the museum of flight in seattle, WA tall windowed room with aircraft hanging and on the floors
teen on a scooter in downtown seattle, WA

Pair Seattle with a trip to Olympic National Park

Seattle Olympic National Park Day Trip

If you are running short on time, but want to make sure you get in some Seattle outdoor activities, you must visit Olympic National Park. You can drive from Seattle to Olympic National Park, which takes about 2.5 hours. For efficiency on a Seattle day trip is to use the ferries to Olympic National Park. Use the Washington State ferry site for schedules and pricing. For a day trip, you will most likely use the entrance to Olympic National Park closest to Port Angeles. Entrance fees are $30 per vehicle and can be purchased in advance online. Of course, you may also use your America the Beautiful annual pass.

Give yourself a full, long day (as much daylight as possible) to get a good day trip experience. Pack lots of water and snacks so stopping for meals doesn’t take up too much time. Check out my super day trip packing list for some extra tips. It’s worth it even just for a day. If you’re struggling to get your teens to cooperate with outdoors time, I’ve got a few tips for that. Mine typically start with pushback and end the day happy and feeling accomplished.

There is no best time to visit Olympic National Park, as there are things to enjoy about each season. However, you will have the most options for access during late spring to late fall months (April-November). If you only have one day to explore, my suggestion is to do some day hiking near Hurricane Ridge. Some of the best views in Olympic National Park are from the Hurricane Hill trail.

clear blue skies looking at a dirt trail with vast views and two tiny people standing off to the right in the distance
a group of teens standing on top of hurricane hill in olympic national park with mountains in the background

Road Trip Olympic National Park

If you have time, a multi-day trip to Olympic National Park is ideal. It is huge and the entrances to Olympic National Park are spread out. You will need to plan your visit based on places to stay due to the remoteness of many locations. There is a variety of lodging in Olympic National Park that includes home/cabin rentals and hotels. Camping and RV camping in Olympic National Park is also very popular. There is a lot of driving time if you want to see most areas of the park. I suggest planning your route in a loop. Either start from Seattle and head southwest toward the Washington state capital Olympia to drive clockwise around the Olympic peninsula or head across on the ferry to start from Port Angeles to drive counter-clockwise.

How long you stay in one location will depend on what your interests are. You know how much your family can handle with drive times, so consider how much you want to explore and what you are willing to drive. Some personal family favorite areas include the Hoh Rainforest, Ruby Beach, Lake Crescent, and Hurricane Ridge. Each of those locations will give you a completely different vibe and will showcase the diversity of the Olympic peninsula. I regret we didn’t get the chance to explore the Sol Duc valley, but will include it when visiting Olympic National Park next time.

A word to parents of teens and tweens. There is very little cell signal in these areas. We typically allow our kids to scroll a bit while driving, but that simply is not an option. We did this road trip with another family and had the teens switch up cars so they could have conversation and play games with peers. If that is not an option, consider an audiobook and car games to keep them occupied. They won’t miss the screens when they are out and about adventuring outdoors even if they do complain in the beginning.

Foggy, damp morning at Ruby Beach in Washington with tide pools and driftwood, high cliffs in the background with tall evergreens
three teens, two boys looking up at a tree overhang and one girl looking at the camera with a thumbs up sign

Best activities in Olympic National Park

Like most parks, you can find what makes your family happy. Activities in Olympic National Park range from quiet walks to fishing to cliff jumping to multi-day backpacking. Don’t miss the easy fun with big impact like taking a walk through the Hoh Rainforest amongst the massive trees or alongside the Hoh River. You could spend hours exploring the tide pools, driftwood stacks and skipping rocks at Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park.

For the best hiking trails, check out different terrain from each entrance. Lovers Lane (6 mile loop) and Sol Duc Falls (1 mile) from the Sol Duc entrance are both in old growth forest. Hurricane Hill from Hurricane Ridge is a challenge and gives views with the range on one side and the water on the other. Use the Spruce Railroad Trail up at Lake Crescent to get to Devil’s Punchbowl for an afternoon of cliff jumping and swimming. The views there are out of this world!

If backpacking in Olympic National Park interests you, consider the Elwah River Trail, which is a moderate lengthy trail at lower elevation. It takes you down low to an incredible watershed and is full of quiet and solitude. If you plan to backpack and do multi-day hiking treks, some of the most popular are the Hoh River Trail and Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park. Both are at lower elevations and rated moderate and get you away from any crowds that may develop in the summer months.

Getting on the Water in Olympic National Park

Fishing in Olympic National Park can be a great joy for anglers. The park provides some of the most extensive runs of wild salmon, trout and char in the Pacific Northwest. Make sure to read and review all fishing regulations inside the park and remember that much of the Pacific coastal water areas are a part of of the park.

Kayaking and canoeing are favorite activities while inside the park. With the wide selection of rivers and lakes you are bound to find a spot to enjoy. Motorized boats require a Washington state license. We also saw people sailing on Quinault Lake, which is not technically part of the park, where we stayed over one night.

Places to Stay in Olympic National Park

Use your activities to choose where to base yourself in the park. Although you will inevitably do a lot of driving, you can find places to stay near Olympic National Park. If you begin your road trip from the Southern side of the park, you could stay in Olympia or Aberdeen, but you’ll have a morning before officially getting in to the park.

We stayed overnight in the Lake Quinault area where there are several lodges, motels, and vacation rentals. This is a good starting point to see Ruby Beach and Hoh Rainforest. If you plan ahead and aren’t traveling with 9 people as we were, I highly suggest Kaloch Lodge in Olympic National Park for proximity, amenities, and incredible views. The park offers two other lodging options at Sol Duc and Lake Crescent, which also require planning a year ahead.

Many people prefer camping in Olympic National Park. There are campsites on the coast near Kaloch and Ruby Beach, which fill quickly in the summer months. Keep in mind that some campgrounds are park operated and some are not. Many accept reservations, but some do not. And, of course, if you plan to camp in the backcountry, you will need a permit from the park before doing so.

Why Seattle to Olympic National Park is a great destination for families with teens

Vacationing with teens can be tricky. You need plenty of activities for teens, but you also need to make sure there is down time planned in. The best vacations for teens have a good balance. Pairing a big city with a National Park gives you the best bang in my opinion. Spend a few days on your trip to Seattle doing the city stuff, then head out into the wilderness. Teens need to get fresh air and they can discover the best hikes in Olympic National Park. If you only have a long weekend, make the park a day trip, but if you have a week or longer definitely make it a road trip.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to pack too much in. Remember that travel with teens is more about the memories created than it is about checking everything off the list. In our years of travel we have realized that we do best if we start with the more rustic outdoor section of our trip first. Our teens are good with being off the grid, but want to reconnect with friends after a few days. And, we try to have our last night or two in the city at a more upscale hotel. It’s those little things that make travel for teens totally worthwhile. One last tip for a family vacation with teens: do it with another family! For more tips on adventuring with your teens see this post. Happy adventuring!

Best National Parks Spring Travel Guide

Are you looking for the best visit to National Parks in spring? If so, this will be your best guide. Not every National Park is perfect for every season. And although I always suggest exploring the parks, there are times I like to avoid the crowds and get off the beaten path. Keep on reading for 16 of the best National Parks in USA perfect for Spring. Remember that most parks have an entrance fee per vehicle, but you can purchase the America The Beautiful annual pass for a one time fee of $80. If you plan to visit at least 3 parks in 12 months, then the pass pays for itself.

Bright fushia pink spring blooms with a perfect blue sky behind them

Best National Parks in Southwest USA

Early spring, before or after school breaks take place, can be an ideal time to visit the Southwest. The early morning and nighttime temps will still drop quite low, but the warmth of the sunshine will be wonderful for outdoors daytime. You’ll need to stay away from water activities in this region in the early spring, but these parks will be some of the best U.S. national parks for day trips or for longer backcountry camping trips. Many of these you can combine into a single road trip experience.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

This desert park is made up of huge wave-like dunes of gypsum sand. The park is open 364 days (closed on Christmas Day), with typical operating hours from 9:00 am-5:00 pm in the spring. Make sure to check the park closure page for inclement weather and missile testing that can occasionally close the road for safety. Park entrance fees are $25 per vehicle. There are also additional nominal fees for backcountry camping.

Speaking of camping, the only type of camping at White Sands is primitive backcountry camping that requires a permit. There are no hotels within the park either. You will need to stay in a nearby town or find BLM land near Alamogordo or Las Cruces. Check out Oliver Lee State Park or Lincoln National Forest for campsites as well. The only food you will find inside the park is a small convenience store within the gift shop. So, you will want to pack a soft sided cooler with plenty of snacks and water for your time there.

With five established hiking trails, the dunes drive road for vehicles and bicycles, and the fun of sledding down the sand dunes you will love spending endless hours outside. Use waxed plastic sleds for the best sledding. Remember to wear sunglasses and maybe even a buff if the wind is kicked up. Keep in mind there is almost no shade in the entire park. Pack lots of water and sun protection and avoid hiking in temperatures above 85 degrees.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Go explore the ancient sea ledges, deep canyons, desert flora and fauna, and the “big room” in the caverns for another unique park visit. Currently, the park requires reservations and fees are $15 per person. Hiking into the big room must be started no later than 2:30 pm. Get there for open time at 8:00 am and you will be able to experience everything this park has to offer.

When you visit in the spring, you can expect windy conditions and mild temperatures. This park is situated in the Chuahuan Desert, so don’t expect shade. Sun protection is a must. Be aware that food options are limited within the park with only a few hot food options. However, there is no lodging available inside the park. If you wish to backcountry camp, you will need a permit. There is no overnight RV parking inside the park. Carlsbad sits about 20 miles from the park and offers several lodging options.

Explore the caverns and do some desert hiking. For a wildlife experience check out the bat flight programs that happen starting the end of May. There are a few night sky programs held each year, but are typically done in the fall.

Carlsbad Caverns big room cave opening  with huge wide steps leading down into it

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

If you want to be impressed by the desert, head down to see the mighty saguaro cacti. This National Park is split into two sections and separated by downtown Tucson. Both are worth visiting, but have a different vibe. Park hours vary slightly in each section, but for the most part are open from sunrise to sunset. Temperatures get uncomfortably hot in late spring through early fall so plan accordingly. No matter the season, drink plenty of water as the desert is very dry.

A weekly vehicle pass is $25 and the park prefers a prepayment so cash handling is minimal. Day hiking is the most popular outdoor activity in Saguaro. However, if you want to wilderness hike and backcountry camp you can find plenty of adventure. There are cactus gardens on both sides of the park with easy trails. Camping is unavailable for vehicles and you must have a permit for backcountry camping. I highly recommend watching the sunset from Gates Pass on the west side of the park for incredible views. For the history lovers, check out Signal Hill for the petroglyphs.

a wide path leading between towering Saguaro cacti and massive snow capped mountains in the background inside Saguaro National Park
Desert brush and cacti sloping downward from a hill with purple, blue, and green foothills in the distance

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree is located in the desert of Southern California, just 3 hours from LAX and right next door to Palm Springs. Be aware that due to the location of this park, visitation peaks during the spring. Temperatures are perfect during the spring months and the skies will likely be clear and crisp. A weekly pass is $30 per vehicle, and you can purchase your pass ahead of time online for expedited entrance. This is one of the best national parks to visit in March.

You won’t finding any lodging inside the park, but there are places to stay in nearby towns. You also won’t find any restaurants or grocery outlets inside the park. There are, however, picnic areas spread throughout. Packing your food in for a full day inside the park is easy to do, but as with all desert parks make sure to pack plenty of water no matter the season. Inside the park are 9 campgrounds as well as the option to backcountry camp with a permit.

You will see that Joshua Tree is very popular for campers and climbers. In addition to bouldering, there are also options for technical climbing and slack lining. Other outdoor activities include biking, birding, horseback riding, photography, and night sky viewing. This park is small, but packs a big punch with desert cholla cacti and unique Joshua Trees showing off. By far this is one of the top national parks in California.

Adult female posed on top of a low boulder with a huge stack of boulders behind her and a small Joshua tree off to the right
Adult female standing between the trunks of a Joshua tree inside Joshua Tree National Park. Boulders behind her.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Guadalupe, situated on the Texas – New Mexico border, can be paired with Carlsbad Caverns in the same day or weekend. Park hours are from 8:00-4:30 and are open year round. Pay the $10 entrance fee with the green envelopes at the entrance stations. This is a lesser known park, but it does fill up in the spring months due to the warm temps and blue skies.

There is no lodging or dining inside the park, but there are 3 year-round developed campgrounds trickled inside the park. Pine Springs Visitor Center is a great place to get your start with information about the park including maps and literature. This is the largest wilderness area in Texas with a diverse trail system, great for national park hiking. Guadalupe is a fantastic spot for night activities including star gazing and the nocturnal desert wildlife. There are a number of scenic drives worth scouting out to give you very different views and access to the park as well.

Bright yellow wildflowers in the foreground stretching for miles with cliffs in the background inside Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Big Bend National Park, Texas

This magical no-man’s land is close to nowhere, but the drives are well worth it for the big scenery and the wildness of adventure. Deep canyons and vast views make Big Bend one of the most beloved parks in the country. The Rio Grande serves as a natural international border between the states and Mexico. You will need a passport to cross the border. Mid-January through Mid-April is the busiest time to visit this park, but that’s due to optimal weather conditions. Plan ahead and keep a flexible itinerary.

The park is always open, no matter the time or the day with an entry fee of $30 per car, which is valid for 7 days. The park is very remote and there will be large chunks of time you will be without cellular service so download those maps! There are a variety of local outfitters to book horseback riding excursions, scenic flights, river floats (for partial day or multi-day adventures), shuttle service and more. Day hikes range from desert to mountain to river views.

Pets are NOT allowed on any of the trails. Backcountry permits and specific equipment rental are required for overnight river trips and camping. You will find people enjoying the park on bicycle, bird watching, stargazing, fishing, and participating in ranger programs.

There is only one lodge inside the park with reservations opening up on January 1st for the following year. Reservations fill up quickly for the spring months so this is a great park to plan a good old national parks road trip well in advance. In my opinion this is the best national park for spring break.

Entrance sign to Big Bend National Park with plateau type cliffs in the background

National Parks Out West

Not every park in the west experiences deep snows into the spring months. Although the higher elevations will still have beautiful snow scenes without terribly cold temps elsewhere in the park. A great way to beat the heat of the late spring and summer months, as well as the crowds, is to explore them during the early months of spring. These parks are most enjoyable in March and April as the Utah national parks can get really hot starting in May.

Death Valley National Park, California/Nevada

This is a park of extremes and what fun it is to experience them. Salt basins below sea level and peaks that soar into snow elevations give your eyes so much to absorb. Canyons, sand dunes and spring fed oases keep you guessing as to what you might experience next. This HUGE park has so much to offer and I would suggest at least 2 full days to explore. The park is open daily, year-round and with an entrance fee of $30 you have access for a full week. The easiest way to get to the park is via Las Vegas, but make sure you let yourself get off the beaten path in this vast park.

There are several campgrounds to choose from, some offering full hook-ups. You need reservations for Furnace Creek. Other sites rarely fill up and use automated machines for payment. Campgrounds are first come first serve and most higher elevation campgrounds are filled up on weekends even in the summers. There are 4 options for lodging inside the park, which are open all year. Or you may choose to daytrip to Death Valley from Las Vegas, which is about a 2.5 hour drive. Depending on where you are inside the park, you should be able to find breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, if you plan to visit the more remote parts of the park, pack in (and out) food for yourself including lots of water.

Death Valley is one of the best national parks for backcountry driving with hundreds of miles of unpaved roads leading to some incredible scenery and much solitude. There is no shortage of super spots for viewing the sunrise or sunset so make that a priority. Most visitors who love Death Valley love it for the night viewing. The star gazing is spectacular so make an attempt to visit during a new moon and bring your binoculars! During a full moon, have fun exploring the salt basin or even the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at night for a real adventure.

Blue Hour at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park showing striped cliffs and peaks in the distance
Salt basin flats with natural geometric shapes formed by the salt deposits at the lowest point in Death Valley National Park

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

This central Utah park is right in the heart of red rock country, boasting cliffs and canyons with views to die for. There is much to learn about the geologic process while enjoying the great outdoors together. The park is open all day, every day giving you the opportunity to experience each of the seasons in a unique way. You will pay an entrance fee of $20, and although the park is open every day, the visitor center does have some holiday closings. There are no restaurants or lodging inside Capital Reef, however there is one developed and two primitive campgrounds available. Look to the surrounding towns for eating and sleeping.

Day hiking is the most popular activity inside Capital Reef with various trail lengths and difficulty. If you’re looking to get off grid, there are also backpacking trails. The Cathedral Valley in the North end of the park is remote and rugged, perfect for those who like to get off the beaten path. Driving conditions vary depending on the weather conditions, so be prepared to investigate before you leave. Check out the 6-8 hour driving loop tour in Cathedral Valley. You will need a special permit for rock climbing and canyoneering.

Check out the orchards in the Fuita section of the park. You are welcome to wander through at any time, but the park service will post “u-pick” signs when trees are reading to be harvested. Use the self-pay station to properly weigh and pay for your harvest. In the spring months, depending on the weeks, you can find apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, and apples in the glory of their flowering. Harvest won’t occur until the summer months from June to October.

Stone bridge formation in Capitol Reef National Park
A giant peach tree in bloom in the valley of red rock cliffs inside Capitol Reef National Park

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands is split into 3 sections: Island in the Sky, the Maze, and the Needles all divided by the Colorado River and its tributaries. The Maze is the most remote and only accessible with a 4WD and high clearance vehicle. The park is open 365 days a a year, 24 hours a day, but beware of road closures during winter weather. The area this park is located is the high desert, which experiences wild temperature fluctuations and extreme heat in the summer months. In spring, you can expect up to 40 degree temperature swings in a single day. Entrance fees are $30 per vehicle.

There are no lodging or dining facilities inside the park, but you can find both in nearby Moab, closest to Island in the Sky, Monticello nearest the Needles and Green River or Hanksville closest to the Maze. There are two campgrounds inside the park, and there are extensive opportunities for backcountry camping. To get the most out of this national park, you will want to have a 4WD so you can see and experience incredible vistas and scenic drives.

Biking is a favorite activity in Canyonlands, but you must remain on designated roads. Pack and saddlestock horseback riding is allowed on all backcountry roads. There are varying degrees of hiking throughout the park to meet the desires of just about anyone. Technical climbing is allowed at the sandstone towers in Island of the Sky and no permit is needed. There are miles of flatwater boating perfect for canoes or kayaks. At Cataract Canyon there is a 14 miles stretch of whitewater rapids ranging from III-V if you’re looking for adventure. You must have a permit for all private river trips, which can be reserved up to four months in advance.

Huge red rock formations in the background with mountain bikers on a dirt path in the foreground at Canyonlands National Park
A person in a single canoe floating down through red rock canyons in Canyonlands National Park

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah

This monument cover nearly 2 million acres of America’s public lands in southern Utah. Due to the remote areas of this park, it will be up to you to check road conditions, weather conditions, flash flood warnings, and wildlife sightings. There are 4 visitor centers to get your information with knowledgeable staff on hand to answer your questions. Most visitor center hours are 9 am – 4 pm, but are not open every day. Not only is Grand Staircase a wonderful place to recreate, but many scientists are there to explore and research as well.

Throughout Grand Staircase you will witness the preservation and conservation of outrageous geologic wonders as well as biological resources. Bold plateaus, multihued cliff and slot canyons aren’t the only contribution to this monument. This area is also rich in human history, and preserves this cultural historical ties to this land. One amazing feature of this land is that 90% of it has zero artificial light source. That means the night skies here are unparalleled.

In addition to primitive campgrounds, not suited for trailers larger than 25 feet, there are BLM areas for dispersed camping. Please check all rules and regulations and no matter where you camp, practice the Leave No Trace principles at all times. Other lodging and food can be found in nearby communities like Kanab, UT.

Something Special Inside Grand Escalante

One of the most popular hikes is “the wave”, but you must have a permit for day use to do it. Only 48 day use permits are granted per day for this strenuous 6.4 mile round trip hike. No campfires or overnight camping is allowed. It is up to you to recreate responsibly in this area. If the roads are wet you may need a 4WD vehicle with high clearance to get to the start of this hike. A popular off roading area is the Coral Pink Sand Dunes.

Sunset clouded skies over toadstool type cliffs in Grand Staircase Escalante
Waterfall running off orange/red cliffs into a pool of green waters in Grand Staircase Escalante

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes is open every day of the year, so the only thing that may prevent you from exploring this amazing park is the weather. The early spring months still provide a lot of snowfall at these high elevations and the volatile winds in the afternoons can make the sand dunes less than ideal. Consider this park for May and visit the dunes in the morning for optimal conditions. Entrance fees cost $25 per vehicle and last for 7 days.

The campground is open from April-October and is by reservation, but there are no electric hook ups. There are no free in-person backpacking permits available. Purchase them online and it comes with an assigned parking lot. Follow all rules and regulations, noting specifically that campfires are not allowed. There is no lodging inside the park, but there are 4 nearby and many others within 45 minutes of the park. For picnicking there are 4 reservable day use sites and the Oasis restaurant and store are located next to the main park entrance, which is open April-October. It is the only food to be found within 25 miles of the park.

The most popular activities include hiking, sand boarding on the dunes and splashing in Medano Creek. In the spring the best hiking is on the dunes. If you are visiting in summer, you can find trails in the forests and alpine areas. For sand boarding and sand sledding, you will need to bring your own supplies or rent from an outfitter outside the park. Check out the Oasis store and Spin Drift. Have fun sliding down and climbing up, but stay away from any vegetation areas. Medano Creek will only have water once snow begins to melt, so expect the best conditions for flow in May. Beware of the no-see-ums that make their headline that time of year, though!

snow capped mountains in the background with massive sand dunes in front of them and autumn colored trees in the valley
people playing in shallow creek water in the foreground with snow capped mountains in the background

National Parks in the Southeast

If you are attempting to avoid the buggiest months inside the parks in the Southeast, your best bet is to visit in the early spring. The humidity is usually fairly low in the spring as well. Even in early March, I experienced 85 degree highs in the Everglades. Thankfully the muggy, steamy weather was nowhere to be found.

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

This unbelievable park is actually a cluster of 7 islands found 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. It is one of the most remote parks and is only accessible by private boat, daily concession ferry, charter boats, or seaplane. The park is open all day every day, but your time is limited when you utilize the ferry or seaplane options. March is still part of the stormy season with higher winds and rougher seas. For optimal weather conditions try to visit in April and May before the temps and crowds rise and prior to hurricane season. The Garden Key Visitor Center is open from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm, which is located inside Fort Jefferson. There is no cellular or wi-fi service at Dry Tortugas.

There are no restaurants, hotels, fuel stations, marine supplies, fishing supplies or other rentable gear in the park. You must come prepared for yourself and your group. There are limited concessions available for purchase on the ferry if you use that method. Private boaters can stay overnight on their vessels as long as they are anchored in an approved area. The limited primitive campsites close to the dock are first come, first-served. If you plan to camp, you must do extensive planning and bring all your own supplies. You MUST carry out all trash upon departure.

Water Activities in Dry Tortugas National Park

Fishing is one of the beloved activities for the abundance of marine life. There are quite a few rules and regulations to follow, but they are well worth it for the experience. If you are older than 16, you must have a Florida fishing license purchased prior to arriving. If you bring your own boat to explore with, you must have a boating permit to enter the park. There is no anchoring allowed in the research areas and the mooring balls are for 2 hour day use only. Snorkeling and diving are also popular activities with the abundance of sea life to observe (never touch!) during your visit. Note that compressed air tanks are NOT allowed on the ferry, so bring those via personal or charter boat if you choose to dive. For those who are staying overnight, don’t miss the opportunity to night dive/snorkel!

Aerial photo of Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park with teal and aquamarine waters below
Underwater photo of the green and pink and red and orange and green coral reef in Dry Tortugas National Park

Everglades National Park, Florida

Many people consider America’s Everglades to be one giant swamp, but it’s actually a subtropical wilderness with water as the lifeblood of the many ecosystems found there. Filled with natural habitats and incredible wildlife, this park is a dream in the early spring months. March is a wonderful time to visit before the high daytime temperatures become too oppressive. This park follows a wet/dry season pattern, with dry season ending in March. The 3 park entrances are NOT connected and 4 visitor centers are spread out. The entry cost is $30 per vehicle and lasts for 7 consecutive days.

There are two campgrounds available from the Homestead entrance that can accommodate tents and RV’s. You may camp in the wilderness with a permit. Advance reservations are opened up on a rolling basis. You can also rent eco tents in advance as another adventure option.

There is no shortage of outdoor activities for every age and ability within the park. If you enjoy riding bikes, look in to the Shark Valley area and the Snake Bight Trail near Flamingo. Everglades is a bird watchers paradise during the dry season. Most of the park is water, so boating, kayaking, and canoeing are an obvious choice for exploring. You can also charter boats out of Flamingo for salt water or fresh water fishing. Guided boat tours get you deeper into the park with a wealth of information and unobstructed views. Trails for walking or hiking can be found throughout.

Thousands of people a year flock to the Everglades for an Airboat tour. There are 3 operators located between Miami and Shark Valley with daily tours varying in length. Some offer private tours as well. Bring your sunscreen and bug spray and enjoy the ride!

Alligator with a wide open mouth on the banks of the Everglades marsh
deep orange sunset over the marshes of Everglades National Park with an incredible reflection in the waters

Biscayne National Park, Florida

In the same neighborhood as Miami, Biscayne National Park is a water wonderland of a park. The stunning teal and aquamarine waters, coral reefs, and tiny islands make this park a dream in springtime. This park is comprised primarily of water, and so it is open 24 hours a day every day. The visitor center, however, is open from 9-5 most days including major holidays. There are no entrance fees to this park, but if you wish to camp on Elliott Key or Boca Chita Key, you will pay a $25 overnight fee. Both require a boat to get there. This is a subtropical location, so know that hurricane season is from June-November.

There are no restaurants or lodging options other than remote camping as discussed above. The visitor center does have a few pick up food items, but you will need to come prepared. Boat tours and ranger tours are available for added enjoyment. Locals and visitors alike come for the fishing, snorkeling and diving. These undeveloped Florida keys give people the chance to explore in a more relaxed setting. The park preserves marine habitats and supports world class fishing such as spiny lobster, snapper, grouper, tarpon, and bonefish. The shorelines are mangrove fringed and perfect for kayaking. Snorkeling and diving around some of the parks shipwrecks is a favorite, as well as the coral reefs in the immediate area.

The Biscayne National Institute offers ecotours for snorkeling and exploring Boca Chita Key. The boat cruises are well worth the time and money for the views and the fresh air, getting out into some of the untouched areas of our beautiful country. Depending on the way you want to spend your time, you could do 1-2 days here and still want to return.

Boca Chita Key view from lighthouse with aquamarine layered waters off the shore
girl wading into clear waters on Boca Chita Key in Biscayne National Park

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree is best known for the east coast’s largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest. Waters from the Congaree River and Wateree River sweep through with deep nutrients that nourish the ecosystems and create a place for champion trees to flourish. The park is open for exploration every day, all day and there are no entrance fees. The best times to visit are in winter, spring and late fall when the humidity dies down and the bugs aren’t AS bad. You do need to be aware that flooding can occur, which essentially makes the boardwalks unusable so check the Congaree River conditions near the park.

There is no lodging or food service in the park. Columbia, SC is just 30 minutes from the park where you can find hotels and restaurants and plenty of other outdoor activities. Front country camping is allowed through an online reservation only. There are no RV camping spots at the park, only tent camping. Feel free to backcountry camp with a free permit and reach those spots by foot or by kayak. Open fires are not permitted in the backcountry. As with all camping, practice the Leave No Trace principles.

The best way to experience Congaree National Park is on foot or by paddle. There are boardwalk trails as well as paths, both long and short. Enjoy the wilderness by getting out on a kayak or canoe for a serene paddle. You may fish in all areas of Congaree with a valid SC fishing license. There are regulations on what type of bait can be used in order to preserve the natural ecosystems already in place, so check that out before dropping your line. One of the coolest experiences inside Congaree National Park is to view the synchronous fireflies put on a show, which happens for about two weeks starting in mid-May. Like most other parks, there are ranger led programs that get you deeper into the park and into the history of what you are experiencing.

Congaree National Park boardwalk flooded
adult walking on a boardwalk in the midst of old bottom growth trees in Congaree National Park

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Located just 75 miles from our nation’s capital this park offers epic sunset views, waterfall hikes and quiet hollows to explore. There is only one public road that traverses North to South (or vice versa) called Skyline drive. It is well worth it to do the entire drive. Although the park is open year-round, most facilities open in March. Keep in mind that roads will close if the weather warrants it.

An entrance pass is required and can be purchase online prior to arrival or at one of the entrance gates for $30 per vehicle, which will last for 7 consecutive days. Springtime temps can vary drastically and while many days will warm up to 70 degrees, it is not uncommon for March to bring lots of snowfall. This park is glorious in April and May, though, and perfect for hiking conditions. Keep a raincoat with you and enjoy bursting waterfalls releasing all of that snow runoff! The wildflowers in spring are out of this world. The park boasts 862 species within its boundaries.

Inside Shenandoah National park in Spring

Hiking, biking, and camping are the favorite activities inside the park. You will find trails of every difficulty level. You can experience peak heights with incredible views or make your way down into the hollows for tucked away waterfalls and precious solitude. There are tons of opportunities for backcountry camping with permits and proper planning. Along Skyline Drive you will notice many cyclists challenging themselves around the twists and turns and the ups and downs.

Utilize the multiple waysides for quick food service that you will find along Skyline Drive. Or, take extra time to sit down at one of the in park restaurants. I recommend keeping a soft sided cooler with you for your adventures within the park. Pick up sandwiches and snacks at the waysides and keep on rollin’. There are 4 lodging options within the boundaries of the park ranging from premium hotel type rooms to rustic cabins. Five campgrounds with a variety of amenities are inside the park, but none offer electric hook ups. Campgrounds fill quickly in late spring and summer months, so make your reservations up to 6 months in advance.

A mini waterfall flowing into a clear pool found along a hike in the hollows in Shenandoah National Park
boy and girl teenagers at a viewpoint along Skyland Drive inside Shenandoah National Park

Spring Travel Guide Tips

With any type of travel you need to consider and plan ahead. Before you leave to visit these beautiful, but remote National Parks, you must be prepared. Do your research ahead of time and be sure to pack all of the essentials you will need along the way. Spring brings all kinds of weather conditions, so be sure to check your favorite weather apps AND the main website page for each park for road closure and trail closure information. Wildlife can often be the best part of spring travels when all those babies are learning their new world. And most importantly, take the time to get off the grid and reconnect in nature. You will never regret that time away.

Weekend Getaway to Camden, SC

Did you know you don’t have to travel far to have a nice weekend getaway? The very idea of a break can be found in nearby adventures and driving distance destinations. The most important thing to remember is that this getaway is a break from the routine and the grind; it’s a chance to reconnect in the midst of a busy season. Camden, SC is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. I worked with Visit Camden-Kershaw County for this weekend getaway article. All opinions are my own based on the experiences I had personally.

How to Get to Camden, SC

Camden is a beautiful historic town rich is history and loaded with Southern charm. The town is located in what’s called the Midlands region, so it is more or less in the middle of South Carolina. Interstate I-20, which extends from Florence, SC all the way to Kent, TX traverses the outskirts of Camden and SC Highway 601 cuts directly through downtown. The state capitol of Columbia is located just 35 miles southwest. Getting there is a breeze and getting around is just as easy.

teenage boy facing a teenage girl in front of a large wooden barn door

When to take a weekend getaway to Camden, SC

In fall, cool mornings with temperatures in the 60’s let you wake slowly. The warm sunshine of the mid-day with temperatures rising to the 80’s gives you ample time to play and explore outdoors. Day fades as the sun sinks down and a pleasant coolness returns. Fall break is the perfect time for a weekend getaway to Camden, SC with things for you to do from morning until night.

Spring in Camden, SC would also be an optimal time for a weekend getaway. With the temperatures starting to warm as early as March you can enjoy outside time comfortably. South Carolina is beautiful in azalea blooming season, which usually happens in April. Be sure to pack your allergy meds, though, because the oak and pine allergens will be out in full force!

One of the best seasons in the midlands of SC is winter. With light layers you can spend all day outside and be content. Although the daylight hours are fewer, the pleasant sunshine of the afternoon will feel like spring temps for many. Camden is a nice little escape for those of you who may experience a tough winter season.

Summer is hot, I’m not going to lie. Walking around downtown and spending time in the outdoor spaces can be sweltering with high temperatures in the 90’s and heavy humidity. The summer months are not Camden’s most shining. For those of you that live in the south you will know what to expect, seeking shade and moments of air conditioning to get you through!

teenage boy and teenage girl sitting outside on rocking chairs in front of a fall scene with pumpkins and hay

Where to Stay for a Weekend Getaway in Camden, SC

While there are several chain hotels to use your hotel points and get exactly what you expect, part of the charm of Camden is staying in an inn. This may not be your first choice with kids in tow, but I would challenge you to give it a try. I stayed at Old McCaskill’s Farm with my two teenagers and we had a wonderful visit. More on that below. In town you can look into Bloomsbury Inn or Four Oaks Inn. They both provide gorgeous rooms and walkable convenience to downtown. There are places to RV camp nearby as well.

Outdoor photo of the Bed and Breakfast at Old McCaskill's Farm
teenagers sitting outside on the steps of a bed and breakfast

What to do on a Weekend Getaway to Camden, SC

You can expect a mix of history, great food, a bit of shopping, outdoor playtime and beautiful surroundings. The bustle of a downtown with shops and restaurants is juxtaposed with the wide open spaces beyond the town center. My teens loved having a place to eat out and shop, but enjoyed the outdoor spaces away from everyone else too.

Fun Learning

For us, the best weekend getaway has a mix of movement, relaxation, and great food. Camden, SC has all of that. My teenagers enjoyed escaping home for time away from their typical day. Camden has a brand new Revolutionary War Visitor Center that is located just as you enter town. Here you will discover how South Carolina’s quest for independence turned the tide of the American Revolution. You can brush up on your history, and have your kids fill in blanks and answer questions. I personally did not grow up in the south and had different focus points on Revolutionary War history. My kids remembered SO much from their South Carolina History year in school. The facility is beautifully done and and keeps the learning fun. This stop will set up your context for Camden and its very important history. I suggest stopping at this visitors center first!

the interior of the revolutionary war museum in Camden, SC
teenage girl reading the display at the Revolutionary War Visitor Center in Camden, SC

Conveniently located just next door is Historic Camden and the battlefield where hundreds of men died in a significant battle during the Revolutionary War. Both the campus and battlefield are on the National Register of Historic Places and offer incredible insight on the Southern Campaign and colonial life in the backcountry.

historic camden revolutionwary war site sign

Move Together

We finally had the opportunity to jump on a new trend on our visit as well. We learned how to play pickleball! Weekend getaways are all about connecting, and a great way to connect is to learn something new together. My youngest is a tennis player and had a little experience with pickleball, but we truly enjoyed taking lessons as a family. The bonus of this activity is that this can be multigenerational fun. The Tennis Center of Camden is an incredible facility with 16 lighted tennis courts AND 12 lighted pickleball courts. You can take private lessons, play with friends, and sign up for open play. What an incredible thing to pull your friends into and have an outdoor activity to do together. I can’t wait to fill my car up with a bunch of teenagers and take them down the road for more of this fun activity.

teenage girl and teenage boy with pickleball instructor on the pickleball court
inside the pro shop at the camden tennis center
teenagers posing outside on a pickleball court at the Camden Tennis Center

Find Solitude

The outdoors is a huge part of a weekend getaway for me. Camden, SC has a delightful downtown, but much of the charm of Camden is in the wide open spaces nearby. Make sure you take time to get out in nature at Goodale State Park. Enjoy the walking trails around the water while admiring the cypress trees or rent a kayak or canoe to get up close. The reflections are mesmerizing! Take a picnic and a blanket and maybe a frisbee or football to let the kids play around. The solitude of nature is a nice way to get away on your weekend getaway. There is no better therapy for teenagers than nature therapy so I always seek outdoor places for us to add to our adventures.

cypress trees and their reflection in water
teenage girl overlooking an amazing reflection of cypress trees at Goodale State Park in Camden, SC

Explore Historic Broad Street

One of the best things about a weekend getaway in Camden, SC is the charm of the downtown area and its historic main street, Broad Street. As you make your way up and down the heart of town, stop in the Camden Antiques Market for some unique finds, Camden Quilts to stay cozy for fall and winter, and Pink Stable for your next event dress. The kids most favorite stop, though, was Books On Broad. Not only can you pick up your next read, but there is a coffee shop in the back with delicious chai lattes and outstanding fruit smoothies. For obvious reasons, this is a great mid-morning stop or mid-afternoon stop.

interior of a book shop in camden, sc
antiques sign in downtown Camden, SC
store front view of a downtown street in camden, sc

Head to the Farm

Just a ten minute drive from downtown Camden you can be out in the country and enjoying Old McCaskill’s Farm. Be sure to stop in the general store for farm fresh meats, canned goods, local honey, and 100% wool products. Hours of operation are Thursday and Friday from 10-6. Enjoy observing all of the farm animals. If you DO stay the night, be sure to join in on the farm chores each morning. My teenagers were in love with the 1-2 day old baby goats! Special events include a family farm weekend in early October, a sheep shearing day in late March, and a Christmas vendor event in December. During the summer, you can sign your kids up for farm summer camp. The kids get to truly work the farm by learning how to take care of the animals feeding and cleaning, make butter, canning, and all of the other farm work that is required.

outside view of the farm at Old McCaskill's Farm
teenage girl petting a horse on a farm
teenage boy holding a baby goat on a farm

Puppies & Horses

Camden, SC is known for two other very popular interests. Did you know the Boykin Spaniel was first bred by Camden, South Carolina hunters? You can take part in a self guided scavenger hunt in downtown Camden as you explore the town. You will find 11 bronze puppy statues around downtown. Find the scavenger hunt clues here. Take photos and post them to the Facebook page to get a certificate of discovery sent to you if you find all 11! If you are interested in learning all about the breed, check out the Boykin Spaniel Society, located in downtown Camden.

If you are at all involved in the horse competition world, you’ve likely spent time at the South Carolina Equine Park. The park is a 60 acre center with a variety of facilities for horse shows, breed shows, and youth events. Check the calendar of events for an opportunity to see horses in action. If you happen to be in town during the big event The Carolina Cup at Springdale Race Course, you’ll want to be a part. The annual race takes place in April and is a lot of fun. You should get dressed in your best southern spring duds (especially those seersucker suits)! Also located at the Springdale race course is The National Steeplechase Museum. Don’t miss out on the only museum in the U.S. dedicated solely to the national story of steeplechasing and its history.

horses waiting to be fed outside the barn in the morning golden hour

Weekend Getaway Eats in Camden, SC

Even though Camden isn’t very big, you’ll find plenty of places to eat and enjoy throughout your weekend getaway. For sweet treats, make a special stop at Shortcake Bakery & Tea Room for a nice pot of tea and some delicious scones or cinnamon buns. The egg nog scones were fabulous! If ice cream is your kryptonite then make your way to Sweet Lili’s Ice Cream & Desserts on Broad Street.

I had the best experience at The Loopy Lemon Cafe for lunch. We enjoyed some of the best sweet tea and lemonade we’ve had anywhere in South Carolina. There was an incredible selection of soups and sandwiches to choose from. The Loopy Lemon is a great lunch spot. You will notice that locals and visitors alike are enjoying the cafe and remains quite busy. If you aren’t able to find a table, check out DeBruhl’s Market Street Cafe for true country cookin’ or Broad Street Lunch for an old fashioned burger.

outdoor photo of Shortcake Bakery and Tea Room in Camden, SC
close up photo of a cup of tea and scone
up close of a yummy sandwich at Loopy Lemon Cafe in downtown Camden, SC

Depending on your mood and the clothes you’ve packed for your weekend getaway, there are some great options for dinner. Salud Mexican Kitchen is an authentic restaurant and tequila lounge. My kids love Mexican cuisine and we each enjoyed our entrees as well as the chips & salsa we munched on before. If you are celebrating a special occasion check out Sam Kendall’s, but if f you’ve had a long day and the kids are antsy, make a quick dinner out of Camden House of Pizza.

Make The Weekend Getaway Happen

I know that weekend getaways can seem like more work than they are worth. Getaways take planning and maneuvering all while getting your people on board with your plan. Camden, SC has the perfect mix of chill time and activity, leaving you restored and energized at the same time. I love the blips of time where I can connect with my teenagers in a real way and get away from the distractions of regular life. Visit Camden’s tourism website for even more information on creating a wonderful weekend getaway.

hen outside a deluxe chicken coop at Old McCaskill's Farm outside Camden, SC

Hiking in Mount Rainier with Teenagers

cascading waterfall with a wooden bridge over it and mount rainier in the background

Like any activity with teenagers, hiking in a National Park takes planning and patience. We had an awesome experience hiking in Mount Rainier with teenagers and we are excited to share all about it. This post will focus specifically on Mt. Rainier National Park as well as some tried and true tips and tricks about hiking and exploring outdoors with teens.

teenagers standing at river water's edge with gray boulders in the background

Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Mount Rainier is located in Washington state, about midway between Portland, OR and Seattle, WA. The park was founded in 1899 by a group of conservationists, local businesses and railroad companies headed up by the famous John Muir. Mount Rainier National Park is part of the traditional lands of indigenous people who have been there for generations. The park is part of a complex history that deserves respect.

Upwards of 2 million visitors descend on the park each year as people seek a glimpse of the highest volcanic peak in the contiguous U.S. The geological wonders and incredible landscapes draw people in. One thing is certain, people seek out hiking in Mount Rainier. As visitors and park use continue to increase, please do your part to leave no trace as you enjoy the beauty.

family with teenagers standing in front of Mount Rainier volcano

Getting to Mt. Rainier

If you will be flying to get out to Mount Rainier National Park, you have two options for airports. You can either fly into Portland, OR or Seattle, WA. You will need to rent a car from there. The drive from Seattle to the Nisqually Entrance (open year round) takes about 1 hour 45 minutes. The drive from Portland to the Nisqually entrance takes about 2 hours 25 minutes. The other option from Portland is to enter from the South east at the Ohanapecosh Entrance station which will require about a 2.5 hour drive. The entrance fee per single vehicle is $30 and will provide a 7 day pass.

Lodging at Mt. Rainier

Like most National Parks, Mount Rainier is in a remote area with lots of wilderness around it. There are not a lot of lodging options. If you are looking for cabins near Mt. Rainier, check out Gateway Inn & Cabins just outside the Nisqually entrance or this A-frame near Packwood, WA. Lodging at Mt. Rainier is limited to the Paradise Inn which fills up quickly and the National Park Inn with only 25 rooms total.

Camping at Mt. Rainier may be your best option if you are willing. Fees are $20 per nite per site. With close to 500 individual sites you can get an incredible in park experience. If backpacking Mt. Rainier is what you’re after, make sure to get a backcountry permit before taking off on your adventure. You can obtain those permits at a ranger station. Climbing permits must be obtained also for getting on the glaciers. During peak season, you may get permits with advanced reservations. Check the site for further information. Hiking in Mt. Rainier is excellent no matter the skill level you have.

The Best Hikes in Mt. Rainier

Mount Rainier offers over 260 miles of trails to choose from. Keep your hiking plans flexible as weather in the area can change drastically and parking lots fill quickly during the busy summer months. Have a back-up plan ready. Keep in mind that bicycles and pets are NOT allowed on most of the trails inside this park. As always, stay on the trails so as to protect the meadows and resist the temptation to feed the wildlife. Keep nature wild, y’all!

Day Hikes in Mt. Rainier

Due to the close proximity to major metropolitan cities of Settle and Portland partnered with the lack of nearby lodging, Mt. Rainier hiking trails are extremely popular for day hikers. As mentioned above, try to keep your plans flexible and your hiking group to less than 12. Your best bet for parking is to arrive at your trailhead as early as possible. For example, the park visitor center located at Paradise fills quickly. The upper parking lot near the trailheads was 75% full by 7:45 am on a Sunday morning in late July.

  • Silver Falls Trail: Located near the Stevens Canyon entrance station you have two options to start this trail. One is to begin at the campground and loop all the way around for a 3 mile hike with 300 feet of elevation gain. The other is to start across from the parking area at Grove of the Patriarchs and do a 3 mile out and back hike, turning around at the bridge. This trail can experience wash outs if the rains have been heavy so be prepared. The water is impossibly blue and the deep growth forest cover makes this a popular family hike. Our teenagers loved climbing out on the rocks to get a better look at the falls. Beware that rocks can get quite slippery.
  • Grove of the Patriarchs: this easy 1.3 mile loop trail near the Stevens Canyon entrance station will give tree lovers lots to gawk at. These monster trees reside on an island so you’ll cross a low swinging bridge over the Ohanapecosh River. This is one of the best hiking trails for kids, but also impressive to teens.
  • Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls: park in the upper parking lot at Paradise and take the paved path to the right. The wildflower meadows and marmots will keep you entertained as you trek upward. Take the small offshoot trail down to get a good look at the falls and then cross over the bridge and continue on narrow trail to go deeper into the meadows. The views of Mount Rainier are incredible! You can make this hike as long as you want for an out and back, but if you turn around at the falls it’s only a 1 mile roundtrip hike.
  • Skyline Loop: If you’re looking for a more strenuous hike, but still want to see Mt. Rainier in all its glory, this is the one. This 5.5 mile loop trail will take 1700 feet of elevation gain. Give yourself about 4 hours to complete this one, but it’s well worth it for the best view of Mt. Rainier.
  • Pinnacle Peak: Another great day hike that is less popular because the trailhead is at Reflection Lakes and not at Paradise. 3 miles roundtrip with 1100 feet of elevation gain, this hike will take about 3 hours to complete and is a fabulous day hike to push yourself a bit more.
teenage girls standing on a gray boulder above the river water's edge
teenager boy walking away from the camera across a low swinging bridge

Backpacking Mt. Rainier

Teenagers are often looking to prove themselves and are looking for an adventure that pushes the limits and offers some healthy risk. The Wonderland Trail is a multi-day, 93 mile backpacking trail that encircles Mount Rainier. Demand in the summer months is high, so it’s recommended to make a reservation for a wilderness permit, which is required. Plan accordingly as camping along the trail is only allowed in designated camps. There are 21 campsites to choose from, but not all can accommodate a group. Do your research for teen backpacking. This could be an incredible opportunity for a hiking in Mount Rainier as a small group of teenagers. How incredible it would be to accomplish together or as a fantastic family bonding experience with your teens?

Teen Hiking Tips

I’ll be the first to admit that we do not have hiking with teenagers completely figured out. It’s taken some trial and error to figure out a few things that keep teens happy on the trail. First, it’s really important to let your teen feel heard. This doesn’t mean caving into their complaining, but it does mean encouraging them to be positive about what they DO want. Ask them for suggestions on places they want to see. Take really high quality snacks of their choice with you. Teach them basic life skills for teenagers like map reading skills while you are out on the trail to demonstrate your confidence in them. Have a list of conversation starters to keep minds off of the physical work.

teenage boy reading a map with Mount Rainier in the background

Let them complain and agree with the difficulty…and then remind them of the hard things they’ve already done. The best vacation for teenagers is the one they can go back home and brag about what they DID. They may roll their eyes, but take photos to document the memories. In time they will appreciate it.

Teen Hiking “Tricks”

This is the time to allow your teen to take some risk. Most teenagers are looking to blow through boundaries. The outdoors allows them to push the limits in a healthy way. Yes, the rocks are slippery and there’s a good chance they will fall, but they need to know it’s okay to fall and then try again. Teenagers will find any way they can to apply risk. As parents we have to become comfortable with them applying risk in outdoor adventure. In fact, I truly believe we must provide those opportunities. The best vacations for families with teenagers give ample freedom and space to be active and wild.

One last tip for keeping teens engaged while hiking is to do it with another family. Multi-family vacations and adventures are good for everyone. When teens have peers to pass the time and to bond with, the experience is all the more rich. We have traveled several times with another family when visiting National Parks and it has been a win for the teens and the parents alike.

5 teenagers standing on a wooden bridge with mount rainier in the background
three teenagers and a dad crossing a low swinging bridge

Hiking Gear for Teenagers

As I’m sure you’ve witnessed, teens grow at irregular intervals and at lightening speed pace. Gear can become expensive quickly. Our best advice is to purchase high quality essentials such as hiking boots and base layers that you can resell or pass down to a sibling. Check out my in-depth guide for more gift giving ideas. If you want your teens to enjoy being outdoors it is important to make sure they are as comfortable as possible. Don’t hesitate to borrow or rent equipment as you and your teen are trying new things.

Hiking is one of the best activities for teenagers. All teens need to spend outside for fresh air and time away from screens. It feels good for everyone to get time away from the daily grind and to embrace nature. The opportunity to physically push the limits is also pretty great. We can’t recommend hiking in Mount Rainier National Park enough. We snuck in several trails during our 10 day long PNW road trip and I think it’s safe to say that we will make it back again some day.

Best Gifts for Outdoorsy Teens

Finding unique gifts for teens can seem impossible. I know this to be true because I have three teenagers of my own! This guide will give you ideas on the best gifts for the outdoorsy and adventurous teens in your life. The great news is that people who love the outdoors also love gadgets and adventure gear. You will be the gift giving hero with just the right thing, big or small gifts, for teens who love outdoor adventure.

photo of tent in forest

*This post contains affiliate links, and we sometimes earn commission. We like to be completely up front that our blog can earn money if you click thru our guides.*

Best Outdoor Gifts by Gender

Outdoor Gifts for Boys

It takes a little digging to find the cool gifts for outdoorsy guys, but it’s worth it. Below are a few ideas that will win you some points. Our guys love their Bench Made knives and they make a very special gift. Guys seem to always remember when they got their first knife and who gave it to them.

Survival Guide $11

BenchMade Pocket Knife $136

Rumpl Blanket $99

Gifts for Outdoorsy Girls

Believe it or not, girls love to be outdoors as much as boys and they want the skills and the gear to adventure outdoors just as much. Here are a few ideas on gifts for the outdoor girl in your life. Remember, just because they love the outdoors doesn’t mean they aren’t feminine.

Stories of life changing adventures by women $14

Chaco Water Sandals $90

Tesalate Surf Poncho $26

Best Gifts for the Outdoorsy Teens in Your Life (by activity)

Top Camping Gifts

It’s pretty cut and dry to find gifts for people who like camping because there are SO many items you need to make camping a great experience. Camping gear gifts make teens so happy because quality items can be pricey.

red camp stove

Coleman Camp Stove $83

blue sleeping bag for camping

Kelty Cosmic 20 degree sleeping bag $140

teal colored camping pillow

Wise Owl Camping Pillow $25


MPOWERED lantern & mobile charger $31

lime green camping tent

Marmot Crane Creek 2 person tent $216

green sleeping pad for camping

Sleepingo camping pad $40

Gifts for People Who Like to Hike

These gifts aren’t all specific to hiking, but all can be used for teens who like to get out on the trails. To be honest, the best hiking boots are ones that fit well. We are just offering our favorites, but it’s a very personal decision and an investment in your body as well. Hiking accessories gifts go a long way for not too much money.

black backpack for a day hike

Osprey Daylite Daypack $50

water filter for backcountry hiking

LifeStraw Water Filter $15

brown hiking boots for adult

Vasque Men’s Hiking Boots $209

brown and black women's hiking boot

La Sportiva Women’s Hiking Boots $189

travel size first aid kit

First Aid Kit $14

Maps for the next adventure $25

Cool Gifts for Teens Who Love the Water

Teenagers love to spend outdoors time on and in the water. No matter if it’s a river, lake, or ocean teens are always up for water activities. Check out the following items for great Christmas gifts for teens or the perfect teen birthday gift for those who love the water.

Waterproof Dry Bag $20

Snorkel Gear $43

Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard $325

Wise Owl Microfiber Beach Towel $30


Partial Wetsuit $95


Life Jacket $95

Best Gifts for Teens Who Love to Mountain Bike

There are so many technical and necessary items that mountain bikers need to have with them in order to have a safe and fun ride. Most of the time mountain bikers are in remote areas and on trails without access to immediate help. Set your teens up for success and safety while they enjoy the great outdoors.

Rotor Truing Tool $12

Bike Repair Toolkit $35

Garmin 530 Cycling Computer $299

Top Gifts for Teens who Love Fishing

Just like other avid outdoorsmen, fishermen love their gear. As with any hobby, they need the basics and the fun stuff. Many of these items are an investment, but a one time purchase could last them a LONG time.

Yeti Tundra Cooler $400

Digital Hanging Scale $40

Waterproof Waders $50

Tacky Fly Box $30

7″ Fishing Pliers $24

Best Apparel Gifts for Outdoorsy Teens

Top Outerwear Gifts

Every adventurous teen needs the right outerwear for their outdoor fun. Depending on the type of environment you live in you may or may not want to invest in expensive gear, but here are a few ideas to get you started. When our teens are dressed appropriately we rarely get complaints about being too cold or too well. Go with the saying “there’s no bad weather, only bad gear”.

Women’s Lightweight Puffer Jacket $62

Women’s Marmot Rainjacket $100


Women’s Kuhl Fleece Pullover $99


Men’s Kuhl Fleece $129

Men’s The North Face Rainjacket $99

Men’s Columbia Puffer Jacket $107

Top Clothing Gifts

It’s safe to say that we’ve tried every kind of apparel and it can be tough to break away from the super popular brands that everyone recognizes. But after some trial and error these are some of the tried and trues. The best thing about quality apparel is that it lasts. The best thing about less expensive trendy apparel is that if your teens outgrow it quickly, there’s no harm done to your wallet.

KÜHL Renegade™ Pant in category Pants (secondary image)

Men’s Kuhl Renegade Tech Pants $89

Men’s Columbia PFG Sun Protection Shirt $25

Men’s ExOfficio Hiking Shirt $78

Women’s Hiking Joggers $28

Women’s O’Neill SunShirt $36

Active tank $16

The Best Under Layers and Base Layers

Comfort is a BIG deal when your teens spend time outside. It really matters how well they are protected from the elements so they can stay outdoors longer and enjoy their time. Excellent merino wool base layers will pull away sweat and allow their bodies to breathe and not get clammy. I’ve included links for some women’s and some men’s products, but Smartwool and Exofficio offer both. You can’t go wrong with those brands. I know they are pricey, but they are worth every penny!

Men’s ExOfficio Boxer Briefs $40

Smartwool Merino Wool Baselayer $100

Smartwool Merino Baselayer Shirt $85

Smartwool Liner Gloves $22

Girls XL Thermal Underlayers $27

Women’s Kari Traa Thermal Pants $100

Top Tech Gifts for Outdoor Enthusiasts

It’s not too difficult to find the top trending gifts for teens because they are almost always tech gifts. Even the most outdoorsy teenagers will have their eyes on the tech that supports their favorite outdoor activities. Keep in mind that most active teenagers want to keep their gear as lightweight and as portable as possible.

Black Diamond Headlamp $50

Anker Power Bank $60

Garmin Mini Satellite Communicator $349

GoPro Hero9 $400

Garmin Outdoor Rugged Watch with GPS $196

Waterproof floating Speaker $36

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones $379

Nikon Prostaff Binoculars $156

Unusual Gifts for Teens

There are always a few random things active teens have their eyes on. We are always trying to find a balance between meeting their needs and finding something fun to gift them. These three items have found their way into our home for birthdays or Christmas morning so I figured my teens can’t be the only ones who want something that doesn’t quite fit into a specific category.

Ratchet Tie Down Straps $23

Wise Owl Hammock $30

Been There Done That CityLogue Scratch Off Poster $45

Small Gifts for Teens/Stocking Stuffers

These are some add ons that are both fun and necessary for teens who love the outdoors. We never have an adventure without these socks-they last forever! And our collection of Nalgenes is growing yearly. Have some fun with these smaller gifts!

Nalgene Wide Mouth Water Bottle $12

Darn Tough Wool Hiking Socks $24

Portable Wash Bag $13

Rain Cover for Packs $8-$13

Trucker Hat $25

Unique Gifts for Teens

The truth is we are way more in to giving the gift of experiences more than things. So, we knew we had to include a few unique gifts for the outdoorsy teens. Consider an annual National Parks pass. Don’t purchase it too soon before birthday or Christmas because the year starts upon purchase, not upon first use. Another great idea is an annual membership at a local climbing gym or an outdoor recreation center like the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte (about $200 for the year). We also love the idea of gifting a class to hone skills like photography or an outdoor cooking class.

National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC

For a quick and easy option, give an always appreciated gift card. If you choose this route, please do some research on a local outdoors shop or outfitter. Many of them sell all kinds of gear AND offer classes, excursions, or rentals. Giving a teenager options to purchase what he/she wants is typically a win.

Our favorite local Outfitter in the Southeast

Gear Round Up

One further thing to keep in mind is storage. Outdoor gear can really take up a lot of space. Have your teens clear out old gear and try to re-sell it or pass it along to someone else just getting started. It can be a lot to swallow when your teen outgrows expensive gear quickly, so our best advice is to buy high quality gear that you can resell quickly and for a solid price and that means investing up front. We have had great success selling rain jackets, fleeces, and even hiking boots that have little wear and tear because of the quality.

One Day in Portland Oregon with Teenagers

One Day in Portland

One day is not a lot of time to fit in the best Portland Oregon attractions, but you can do it and enjoy it! You will need to start your one day in Portland Oregon early and put on your walking shoes to get the most out of your 24 hours. You will be able to check off all the must do things in Portland, so it will be worth it.

Two teenagers enjoying one day in Portland Oregon

Getting Started in Portland

A few basic things before you get started on your tourist day in Portland. Portland is Oregon’s largest city and sits on the Willamette and Columbia rivers in the shadow of Mt. Hood. This eco-friendly city offers a multitude of bike paths and green spaces. The foodie scene has something for everyone and food “pods” can be found all throughout the city in the various neighborhoods.

Typically the weather follows as a warm, dry summer (only a few months) and a wet, overcast, cool winter. Portland actually averages more rainfall per year than Seattle does, so pack accordingly. Public transportation through TriMet is available from the PDX airport and runs buses, light rail, and commuter rail throughout the city and the surrounding neighborhoods.

This PNW spot is a city of rivers and bridges, so simply driving around gives you impeccable sights to see in Portland. You will have no problem combining city adventures with outdoor adventures here.

Playing on the riverfront at Cathedral Park in Portland Oregon

Where to stay in Portland, OR

All of the major hotel chains offer a variety of stay levels within the downtown area. You can choose a budget option like Eastside Lodge just a mile from downtown with updated rooms and free parking. The Hampton Inn & Suites in the Pearl District is in a spectacular location and perfect for families at a mid level price point. If you are looking for an upscale boutique hotel, check out The Mark Spencer, which has several rooms with a full kitchenette! Our best suggestion is to book your lodging within walking distance of a few places you want to visit, but also close to public transport. If you have a car, know that you will likely pay upwards of $30 per night to park.

Top 7 Portland Oregon Attractions

It should come as no surprise that many of the fun things to do in Portland are focused on outside sights. That will come in handy after you visit all the food pods and donut shops! Remember to keep a rain jacket or umbrella with you so you stay dry. Feel free to drive and park on site or use the lite rail system to avoid fees and troubles.

1. Washington Park

One park, many destinations. This park has it all! Consider using the free shuttle offered from 9:30 am- 7:00 pm. due to limited parking. The Oregon Zoo and the Japanese Garden are the best places to take your kids and start your day. Both of these require a fee to enter and currently require advanced timed entry tickets. If you have a deep love of trees and flowers, take an hour or so to walk through the Hoyt Arboretum or the International Rose Test Garden as well. They are free! You could spend all day here and everyone would be happy and engaged. Or if you have teenagers you could spend part of your day and then head on to something else like we did.