18 May

RVFTA #142 Hiking 101 with Andrew Skurka

Hiking 101 with Andrew Skurka

As new parents, it was difficult for us to imagine how we were ever again going to enjoy outdoor adventures. Thank goodness we discovered the magic off hiking. Hiking has been the perfect family activity since we can vary the level of difficulty while still exploring the natural beauty of a destination.

We know a lot of our listeners would like to try hiking for the first time, or just do a bit more  of it over the course of the travel season. So we invited hiking expert Andrew Skurka, author of The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools and Techniques to Hit the Trail.

Andrew Skurka was named “Adventurer of the Year” by Outside Magazine and National Geographic, so this guy clearly has some serious hiking chops. However, he can also bring it down to a beginner’s level, and he does that very well in the introduction to his book…and on this episode of the RVFTA podcast.

Finding Your Why

Andrew starts off by talking about the three most important questions that any hiker needs to ask:

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14 Jul

RVFTA #97 Find Your Park: #NPS100

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On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are reporting from the field with our top tips for exploring our nation’s beautiful national park sites. We have been to a national seashore, a national park, and a national historic site in the last few weeks and noticed that some folks are showing up without a plan and getting a bit lost in the crowds.

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Just because it’s the 100th anniversary of the National Park System doesn’t mean you are destined to fight for parking and wait in line for that perfect family selfie. If you plan ahead and follow a few simple rules, you can soak in the majestic beauty of our wild spaces without soaking up a lot of stress also. So we are offering our top 6 tips for exploring even the most popular (and crowded) NPS sites this summer.

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14 Aug

RVFTA #48: Dispatches from Glacier and Yosemite

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking to our favorite podcast correspondents, Brett Neilson and Kerri Cox, who both took epic RV trips this summer with their families.

Brett Neilson, from the Great State of Utah, headed up to Glacier National Park and has some great campground reviews and suggestions for hikes and family activities. He talks about…

Kerri Cox, from the Great State of Missouri, hitched up her travel trailer and drove west to see the grandeur of Yosemite. How did her family fare on this 25-day tour de force? Listen to find out. Kerri will tell us about…

We thought we were all that and a campfire s’more with our 34-day trip to the Great Smokies. But there were plenty of other families seeing this big, beautiful country in grand RV style. Those stories are coming your way on Episode #48: Dispatches from Glacier and Yosemite.

We are delighted to have Go RVing as our RVFTA sponsor.  To find your AWAY head over to GoRVing.com.

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05 Jul

Great Smoky Mountains Shakedown (Part One) with the Cherokee KOA

Cherokee KOA

We have wanted to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park for years, so after spending four relaxing days at the Fancy Gap KOA we were charged up and ready to go.  So why did we spend our first full day on the North Carolina side of the Smokies at the Campground? Because the boys had been terrific sports during our Blue Ridge Parkway excursion, and they wanted a full day of crazy campground fun.  The Cherokee KOA, packed with fun amenities, and surrounded on all sides by mountains, is a destination in its own right, so we were happy to oblige.

Our site was close to the bounce pillow and a gigantic checkers board. Max and Theo have a well documented love of bounce pillows, and they are both in a serious checkers phase.  I’m not the type of dad that lets my kids beat me at games, but they both beat me at this one…regularly.

The huge checkers set was awesome, and we recommend that every campground owner in America install one. STAT.  They can’t cost that much, and they don’t take up much real estate.

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After breaking a sweat at the bounce pillow it was time for a dip in the super sweet pool.  The boys got up to their usual shenanigans pretty quickly.  They also fell in love with the bright yellow slide and the hot tub.

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The kids couldn’t get enough of the Cherokee KOA’s resort like pool area, and we returned each afternoon after hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Mom and Dad couldn’t get enough of tubing on the Raven Fork River, which runs the length of the campground, and we tried to do a few runs every night.  You launch into the river at the end of a row of deluxe cabins and you stop right behind the fenced in pool and hot tub area.  Tube rides followed by some hot tub time? Sounds like vacation perfection to me.

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We started each of our adventurous days in the park at the nearby Oconaluftee Visitor Center.   Even though we research our trips and bring guide books along, we also always ask Rangers for suggestions that are particularly well suited for our family.  The first day a kindly Ranger sent us south to Bryson City and Deep Creek. He recommended a hike known as the “Three Waterfalls Loop.”  It was gorgeous.

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While we were prepared for a great hike we were not prepared for the amazing tubing run at Deep Creek.  A return trip with tubes has moved way up on the family bucket list.

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The next morning we headed back to the visitor center and another Ranger recommended that we take the boys for an adventurous four mile roundtrip hike alongside a lovely stream on the Kephart Prong Trail. Three very narrow wooden bridges cross the stream in idyllic locations.  We were sold. It ended up being one of our two or three favorite family hikes ever.

We parked at the trailhead on the side of Newfound Gap Road and found a magical view waiting for us less than 10 yards from our car.

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The hike only got better from there. The first bridge is not really that narrow, but the next two are.  The boys crossed slowly, carefully, and confidently.  I was so proud to watch them.  We have really raised great hikers.  Wesley was a complete champ too, and he thoroughly enjoyed the views from Stephanie’s pack.

Every step of this hike was engaging and stunning.  The stream was cool and the air was misty.We felt like we were on a great adventure in a storybook.

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We have developed a very successful traveling pattern with our children after five years of RVing.  We head out for adventures in the early morning, beating the crowds and enjoying the trails.  Then we head back to the campground and reward the boys with the pool, the bounce pillow, the checkers board, whatever.  Stephanie and I love to travel to see the great natural wonders of our country.  Our boys love to travel because they get to hang out at awesome campgrounds. After our Kephart Prong hike it was back to the Cherokee KOA for a well deserved swim, dinner at our camp site, and camp store ice cream.

Where to next?  The Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, of course.  The mountains, and another great KOA, are calling our names.  And we simply must go….

We have been frequent customers of KOA for over five years, however this was a sponsored trip.

21 Dec

RV Family Travel Atlas: 4 Secret Ingredients for Family Fun!

On this episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are sharing our 4 secret ingredients for family fun. Vacationing with kids can be a bit challenging, and we want to give you some tips for keeping everyone, young old and in between, entertained, and inspired.

We have written about this topic a lot over the years. From botanical gardens to sculpture grounds to fish hatcheries to the benefits of outdoor activities in general, we have found entire genres of destinations that help us enjoy our time traveling with young children.

We are also discussing the type of restaurant to seek out, and when to say yes to those kid-crazy, touristy theme parks.

The mailbag is open on this episode, and we are excited to share our listeners’ thoughts on some previous episodes of RV Family Travel Atlas!

Enjoy and a very, very Happy Holidays to your family from ours.

 

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09 Sep

Hiking Acadia with Kids: 5 Amazing Hikes for the Whole Family

This article originally appeared in the Jayco Journal.

With over 120 miles of hiking trails on Mount Desert Island, you could visit Acadia National Park many times over and never walk the same path twice. After three visits to Acadia (two of them with young kids in tow) we have discovered some amazing family-friendly hikes that will please both children and adults. All of these hikes encompass the best that Acadia has to offer, with sweeping ocean views, dramatic granite cliffs, and landscapes filled with cedar, birch, and spruce. 

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This easy four-mile round trip hike (also known as Ocean Path or Ocean Drive Trail) is the classic introductory hike to Acadia. Starting off at Sand Beach, the path brings you to Thunder Hole and Otter Cliffs, passing by one beautiful vista after another. There are many small turnoffs that can lead to dramatic views, and also dramatic drop offs. If you wander off the main trail, keep a close eye on your kids. There are also stretches where the path is right next to the road. Traffic can be fast and close, so hand-holding might be in order. Even though we enjoyed the scenery, this hike was crowded and usually is during the peak visiting season.

Reward yourselves after the hike with a swim at Sand Beach…just be prepared to squeal as you dive into the cold water.

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One of the more famous family-friendly hikes within the Park Loop, this trail also rewards its hikers with stunning views of Sand Beach, Otter Cliffs, and Cadillac Mountain. We enjoyed this trail with another family and all of the kids had a blast navigating the rocky terrain.  The summit offered incredible ocean panoramas as well as a safe space for snacking and enjoying the view. If you are feeling more adventurous, take the Cadillac Cliffs trail spur. We avoided this on account of young Wesley.

One local mom we met on the trail recommended parking at the Gorham Mountain Trail head, hiking to Sand Beach, and taking the Island Explorer Bus back to your car at the trail head. The promise of a fun bus ride back to the car might do wonders to motivate little hikers.

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If you want to get away from the crowds clustered around the Park Loop, drive past Southwest Harbor to the Wonderland and Ship Harbor Trails. Both of these trails can be done independently, or you can do what we did: hike out to the water on the Wonderland Trail, then head west along the rocky beach to the Ship Harbor Trail and complete a loop back to the parking lot.

Time for just one of these two trails? We think Ship Harbor is your best bet, offering lots of paths down to the tide pools and, of course, great water views. We hiked these trails on a weekend during peak season and saw only a handful of people. This is truly the quieter side of Acadia.

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We get much of our travel intel from the recommendations of other campers. A friendly hiking dad named Chris told us that the Flying Mountain Trail would be perfect for our family. He was right. This 1.5 mile loop was great fun for the boys, giving them a good challenge at the beginning with a steep ascent ending with beautiful views of the Somes Sound. The tricky descent kept them entertained, and there is a rock beach where the kids can play at the bottom. The hike ends with an easy walk via a fire road right back to the parking lot.  Awesome hike.  Thanks, Chris.

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We’ve written about the Great Head Trail before on this blog.  This was the first hike we took with the twins on our first long camping road trip years ago, so it holds a special place in our hearts.  In our opinion, it has just the right amount of challenge and offers the perfect Acadian panoramic views. There is also the added bonus of ending the hike on Sand Beach where the kids can splash and play (if they have any energy leftover).

If you have a favorite hike in Acadia National Park, kid-friendly or not, let us know in the comments below. We plan on going back when the boys are older and tackling some greater challenges!

We used the following 3 books to plan our hiking in Acadia. We strongly recommend them.

Tom St. Germain’s A Walk in the Park is the best-selling trail guide for Acadia National Park for good reason. It fits in the back of your pocket and includes maps and concise descriptions of over fifty hikes.

The AMC’s Discover Acadia National Park by Jerry and Marcy Monkman also describes the park’s best biking and paddling. It includes a pull-out discovery map, far more detailed than the free one available at the visitor center.

We also recommend Best Hikes with Kids: Vermont, New Hampshire, & Maine, published by The Mountaineers Books. We have used this book in all three states, so keep a copy in your camper when traveling in New England! 

 

13 Aug

A Perfect Day in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire

If you have only one day to spend in Crawford Notch State Park, then it can be a pretty tricky feat figuring out what you will do with it. In the course of a five minute conversation with any of the locals, we were told at least seven things that we just could not miss. There are beautiful waterfalls and stunning views galore and, quite frankly, you don’t have to work very hard to enjoy many of them.

So here is our guide to the perfect day in Crawford Notch. Bring a couple of changes of clothes for everyone, because you are going to get wet.

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The Silver Cascade and the Flume Cascade

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These waterfalls are directly off of Route 302, the highway that runs a north/south trajectory through the length of the state park. Start your day off early—before the tour buses arrive—and you might have these falls all to yourself. This was the perfect way to get our boys into the spirit of adventure for the day. There was lots of splashing and rock throwing, but no one was around to mind. Cue first outfit change.

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Hiking Option #1: Elephant Head Trail

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If you are looking for a short, fun hike with rewarding views, this is your best bet. The trail was very rugged, with lots of logs laid over marshy ground. This made it all the more fun for our boys. Nothing like a bunch of balancing beams to garner interest among the youth. Once you emerge out onto the bluff, you will be amazed that this brief climb could have such an amazing payoff. We hung out on Elephant Head for quite awhile, enjoying our snacks and drinks and peering over the ledges.

Hiking Option #2: Arethusa Falls

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This is the harder hike and will require more snacks and at least two hours. We took the Bemis Brook Trail that loops around and connects with the Arethusa Falls Trail.

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This meant lots of wonderful opportunities for wading and getting wet. It also meant a rather steep climb to meet up with the main trail.

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This short detour was very fun and well worth the effort, but be prepared to work a little.

Arethusa Falls is the highest waterfall in New Hampshire, and even though it was a tough hike with young children, we were so thrilled that we made the effort. Be prepared to take off your shoes and watch as your kids get soaking wet. Cue second outfit change.

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Lunch and Play: Appalachian Mountain Highland Center

If any single moment of our travel has reinforced the importance of talking to locals, it was when I asked the young ladies at the AMC Trail Center where we should eat lunch. They enthusiastically pointed us to the cafeteria at the Highland Lodge, an amazing gem you would never find on Yelp. The girls were excited to emphasize two points: there was a playground and one could enjoy a beer. You had me at…well, both of those.

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It is difficult to describe how remarkably beautiful and simultaneously entertaining the Highland Center is. After a delicious lunch of soups, salads, and sandwiches (and yes, a beer), the boys spent hours on what was simply the most creative and enjoyable playground we have ever seen.

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The play space was built to be a sort of adventure training ground, encouraging the children to scramble up rocks and wobble over rope bridges and move lots of logs and rocks from one place to another.

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We have never seen a playground so seamlessly connected to the landscape. And our boys could have played there all day. When we travel, we try to see and experience as many different places as possible. It is a testament to the design of this lodge that we returned on another day for lunch and play. And it was just as hard to leave the second time around.

After all of this adventure, it was time for us to head back to the campground, swim in the pool, and eat dinner. But if you have a bit more spunk left, the locals kept mentioning the free scenic lift rides at Bretton Woods just north of Crawford State Park. I would have loved to do this, but with a 15 month old, it was not in the cards on this trip.

There is always a next time…

 

27 Jul

The Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest

The Kancamagus Highway, better known as the Kanc, is a 34.5 mile stretch of road that runs through the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. We had heard from some folks that it was a lovely drive, but honestly it wasn’t at the top of our list of things to do while staying near Lincoln. Scenic car rides can be a tricky proposition with three young kids. We can experience heaven on earth if all three decide to fall asleep and let us peacefully gaze out at the magnificent landscape. Or we might endure a nightmare with a screaming baby and whining boys. Roll the dice, toss the coin…you get it.

Luckily the weather encouraged us to take this drive, as it ended up being one of our favorite spots in the White Mountains.

We had just finished a misty hike near Cannon Mountain when the rain started to come down a bit more earnestly. So we picked up this map from the visitor center and took the gamble that our tired boys would conk out for the hour plus car ride. 

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They did. Praise be.

We drove the entire length of the Kanc, starting in Lincoln and ending in Conway. The boys woke up at about the time we turned around, so on the way back we pulled off at various overlooks…

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…and then parked and walked down a few paths to falls and ponds.

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The best part about this highway is that you can experience it on many different levels. If you only drive through, the scenery is still stunning and the quiet remoteness is overwhelmingly peaceful.

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Or you might choose to do what we did and enjoy some of the shorter walks at Lower Falls and the Rocky Gorge Scenic Area.

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However, If you want to explore the area more thoroughly, there are six campgrounds to stay at in the National Forest. There are also day-long hikes that people rave about, such as the one out to Sawyer Pond. That is at the top of our list when we return to the White Mountains.

Finding a place like the Kancamagus Highway is like finding treasure when you are a family traveling with young children. You can enjoy a piece of gold or two now, but you can also imagine all the possibilities for when the kids are a bit older, or for when you are traveling on your own.

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So when the ‘weather’ arrives (and it will) during your trip to New Hampshire, we highly recommend rolling the dice and taking a drive down the Kancamagus Highway. Bring your rain gear. You might not be able to stay in the car for long.

22 Jul

Two Hikes and a Swim: Artist’s Bluff, Bald Mountain, and Echo Lake (Franconia State Park, New Hampshire)

On our second day in Franconia Notch, we were excited to see more of the mountains. However, we also knew we had to take it a little easy with the kids since the day before had been relatively long and physically demanding for our three young children. This is a regular pattern for us during our travels. We like to alternate busy days with more relaxed days to make sure the boys never hit the ’tilt and meltdown’ point.

We went looking for two types of activities…

  1. A short, rewarding hike
  2. A great swim

…and we found them both at Echo Lake.

Echo Lake, located at the foot of Cannon Mountain, has a beautiful swimming area, fishing area, boat launch and rentals. There is a small fee for use of the lake, but we entered the parking lot before 10 am so we didn’t have to pay (hint, hint).

Hike #1: Artist’s Bluff

Once we parked in the Echo Lake parking lot, we crossed the street to the Artist’s Bluff trailhead. Here we were presented with a couple of options.

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We could have stayed to the right and completed a very short but very STEEP rock scramble up to Artist’s Bluff, or we could go to the left and complete a longer loop leading up to the same place. We chose the latter option and then descended from the bluff along the steeper, rockier path.

This was a 1.5 mile loop that was just perfect for a family hike. It had all of the changing landscape, kid-friendly challenges, and stunning views that we look for in a trail.

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The boys had a great time practicing ‘careful footing’ on the way down. I had Wes in the backpack, and I was just fine navigating the rocks.

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Hike #2: Bald Mountain

This hike is in the same location, but we completed it on a different day. You could easily combine the two hikes into one if you have older children (or just adults!) who have greater trail stamina.

For our climb up to Bald Mountain, we parked in a lot that was just up from Echo Lake on your right coming off of Interstate 93. The ascent was short and dramatic, requiring a lot of rock scrambling and some butt-shuffling on the part of the boys.

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This was the perfect difficulty level for our boys since they had to concentrate and exert quite a bit of effort, but only over a short period of time. The summit is only .4 miles from the trailhead, but the whole trail is engaging and interesting.

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And the views.

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We read over and over that these two hikes offered some of the most rewarding views of Franconia Notch. This is absolutely true. Make sure you bring some snacks or a lunch and relax a bit on the summits.

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These were probably our two favorite mountaintop locations during our entire New Hampshire trip.

The Payoff: Swim at Echo Lake

It is never disappointing to come down off the mountain when there is a beautiful lake for a refreshing swim. We thought that Echo Lake would be cold. Freezing, New Hampshire water cold. Actually, that turned out not to be the case. It felt like a crisp, invigorating high 60’s, and the kids dived right in and splashed around comfortably.

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One of the best things about this lake was the very large swimming area. We often feel like big, beautiful lakes that we visit have ridiculously small, roped-off swimming sections. There was also an additional shallow area sectioned off for the kids. We loved that feature since our boys still need that visual cue for how far they can swim out.

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There was the coveted sandy bottom and clear, fresh water that we love in a lake. The views of the Notch and Cannon Mountain that surrounded us as we floated in the water were truly idyllic.

There is a bike path (and bike rentals) right there as well. We didn’t get to explore the path, but if you do, let us know how you enjoy it. Our boys also looked longingly at the paddle boats, but we promised that for another time.

Just one more thing to put on the list for our next visit to New Hampshire.

18 Jul

A Perfect First Day in the White Mountains: Franconia Notch State Park

It always takes us a day or two to get the lay of the land when we arrive in a new location. I find that I can do all the research in the world, but we don’t really get a good feel for a place until we drive around a bit and chat with the locals and other guests at the campground.

The White Mountains of New Hampshire can be daunting simply on account of how many amazing places there are to see and how much there is to do. We were staying in the southern part of Franconia Notch, near Lincoln, so we decided to start our explorations nearby at the Flume Gorge. I am so glad we made this decision because I think our itinerary for that first day would give any visitor a perfect introduction to the landscape and history of the White Mountains. By the end of our day we also had a much better idea of what we wanted to do with the rest of our time in Franconia Notch.

The Perfect First Day Itinerary

1. Begin your planning by looking at this wonderful website maintained by the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation. I found it easy to navigate, with all of the pricing, attractions, and trail information I was looking for. Print out this Flume Gorge Scavenger Hunt before you go (there are no printed copies available at the visitor’s center).

2. Purchase the Discovery Pass which includes entrance to the Flume Gorge and a ride on the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway. At first I had a little sticker shock at the $29 ticket price. But we definitely wanted to do a tramway ride, and this was by far the most affordable option. All three of our children were free, so $58 for a full day of amazing experiences ended up seeming like a great value.

3. Start your day early by hiking the Flume Gorge first (it opens at 9 am). We got there before the tour buses arrived and had the place mostly to ourselves. By the time we were coming back down at 11 am, it was much more crowded. The Flume Gorge Loop Trail is a great 2-mile hike taking you up one side of the Flume and down the other. There are options for longer hikes if you want to spend more time in that part of the park.

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4. Eat lunch at the Gilman Visitor Center. After the Flume Gorge Hike, we wanted to feed the kids before heading to the Aerial Tramway. We thought we were making a decision of convenience by ordering lunch at the visitor center restaurant. Turns out the food there is absolutely amazing. Seriously. The burgers were delicious and cooked perfectly. The grilled cheese was made with Texas toast. Everything was fresh and made to order. We were shocked and delighted.

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5. Take the Aerial Tramway up to the top of Cannon Mountain and then walk the Cannon Mountain Rim Trail to the summit observation tower. It is an easy, short walk with lots of opportunities for panoramic views.

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6. Once you are back down the mountain, take some time to learn about the history of the Old Man in the Mountain at the new memorial site.

7. Return to the campground for a relaxing refreshing swim in the pool.

This first day itinerary was exciting, stunningly beautiful, and kid friendly. It helped us understand the geography of Franconia Notch and gave us more than enough ideas for the rest of our days in this area of the White Mountains.

We can’t wait to tell you all about it!

15 Jul

Cape Cod Family Trip Planner: Beaches, Biking, Baseball, and More!

Planning a trip to Cape Cod? We spent a magical week there this summer and can’t wait to return. Here is our list of suggestions for where to stay, what to eat, and how to have tons of family fun.

Where to Stay

 

Atlantic Oaks RV Park

A great campground at a great price with super-clean facilities. Direct access to the Cape Cod Bike Trail.

Where to Eat and Drink

 

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Get in line early for Cape Cod’s best breakfast splurge. The Glazed Old Fashioned? Yum.

Beanstock Roastery

Buy enough for your whole trip. Then buy some more to bring home. We love the Wellfleet Blend and the Bali Blue Moon Organic.

Arnold's Lobster and Clam Bar

Try the hot lobster roll. Please. Bring extra cash for ice cream after lunch.

Friendly Fisherman

Let the kids romp on the playground while you enjoy lobster rolls and crab cakes. BYOB.

MoJo'sP-TownSeafood Shack

The town librarian told us this was the quintessential Provincetown lunch. We couldn’t agree more.

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Perfect for lunch after hiking at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Ask for Janine for your waitress. She’ll recommend the Cape Cod Reuben. Order it.

 

Family Fun

First Encounter Beach

This bay beach is perfect for low-tide exploration. Bring the kites and kayaks for a perfect day on the Cape.

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The five dollar entry fee is the best bargain on Cape Cod. Hike around one of the kettle ponds or just settle in at Flax Pond for a family swim.

Cape Cod National Seashore

The visitor centers alone are full of fun activities and educational resources. Our favorite feature was the Nauset in Eastham Bike Trail that brought you within steps of the beach.

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Our boys are still learning to ride bikes and this was a wonderful way for us to embrace this fun family activity. We can’t wait to return without the training wheels.

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife sanctuary

The landscape and trails here are stunningly beautiful. The nature center and educational activities are an added bonus. Make sure you go during low tide so you can enjoy the Boardwalk Trail.

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Who doesn’t love a lighthouse? This one is conveniently located in the National Seashore just north of the popular Coast Guard beach.

Provincetown Public Library

We had to drag our boys out of this library because it was long past lunchtime. It is just simply a beautiful and fun place to spend a few hours.

Baseball League

Nothing beats the crack of a wooden bat. We recommend that you skip the hotdog and buy a cup of clam chowder. Admission is free, but a donation is recommended.

As always, we love to hear from our readers. If you go to Cape Cod, please let us know any other places that you recommend. We can’t wait to add to this list when we return next June!

 

 

09 Jul

Well Done, Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Cape Cod

One of the wonderful surprises that Cape Cod offered us on our first visit was the great diversity of landscape. I think we expected to see beautiful beaches and dunes and not much else. However the kettle ponds, bay inlets, marshes, and wild National Seashore genuinely caught us off guard…and captured our hearts.

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So after you have had a few days at the beach, on the kayak, and in the sun, it is rather easy to find another outdoor diversion on Cape Cod. That is truly a remarkable thing to say about a beach vacation.

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, run by Mass Audubon, is the perfect place to visit if you need to stretch your legs after logging in some serious beach time. I would recommend visiting in the morning or late afternoon since many of the high-interest trails are not shaded. It is also best to go at low tide, when you can walk the Boardwalk over the salt marshes to the beach.

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The Nature Center has puzzles, books, and lots of tanks full of fish, turtles, and rare blue lobsters. The boys could have spent much more time inside, but we wanted to explore the Boardwalk before high tide rolled in.

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Our readers know I love a good scavenger hunt, and the Wellfleet Sanctuary came through with one that kept Max and Theo interested from the beginning to end of our visit. It was great for readers and non-readers alike, offering pictures for the boys to circle as the frogs, flowers, and crabs were spotted.

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There are many different options for walks both long and short. We, of course, wanted to go into the salt marshes where the boys could poke around for critters and pretend that the mud was quicksand sucking them into the bay.

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The best part about the walk we took was the variety of landscape. We started off in a garden of grasses, shrubs, and trees, then meandered down to a pond full of frogs and lily pads.

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Next the path led through a wooded area that opened up every once in a while for some great views of the salt marsh.

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Eventually we were on the boardwalk headed toward the bay where we watched fiddler crabs scurry away into their holes and sand crabs float in on the tide.

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The Wellfleet Sanctuary is a place that you could return to again and again with your children (or without!). If I lived in the area, I could easily see us visiting once a week. There are so many different high-interest areas to explore and paths to walk, we left feeling like we had only scratched the surface.

 

Next time we visit, I will look at the activity schedule ahead of time so we can hopefully take advantage of the many kid-friendly programs.

 

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And don’t forget to visit the Marconi Beach Restaurant just up the road for some hearty chow after your visit. If you are bringing along unruly kids make sure to ask for Janine. She’ll take care of you…unless we sent her into early retirement.

21 May

What’s in this Newsletter, Anyway? Tips, Trips, and Reviews (Oh, My)

Some of you have probably noticed me talking a lot about this newsletter we started last month. There is a reason I keep mentioning it: I’m really, really excited about the new format.

We have been blogging for years and our website is full of stories, advice, gear reviews, and campground reviews. When people ask me questions about long car rides with kids or hiking with little ones, I can think of at least 10 posts that have information for them. Only problem? All that experience is spread out over 4 years of writing.

Of course, you can always use our categories and tags to search through our site. But the newsletter is a great way for us to compile the knowledge we have gained after spending over 100 nights traveling with our three young boys. The articles are quick and easy to read and you can easily go back and reference them since they are emailed to you.

Our newsletters are based on questions we hear from readers and friends. Our blog posts will still focus on our travel stories, while we will save many of our tips, tricks, and recommendations for our weekly email.

Check out last month’s archives on our Newsletter Page, or read this week’s newsletter by clicking here.

You can subscribe by entering your email address into the box on the right sidebar.

As always, thanks for reading!

01 May

8 Reasons To Pick Myrtle Beach for Your Next Family Vacation!

1. Touristy boardwalk fun, like the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel, that will make you smile from ear to ear.

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2. Soulful boardwalk fun, at places like Myrtle Beach State Park, that will fill your lungs with fresh ocean air.

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3.  Room to splash and play and greet the waves at places like Huntington Beach State Park.

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4.  Quiet places for your kids to build and dream like the Children’s Discovery Room at Brookgreen Gardens.

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5. Many great places, like the Myrtle Beach KOA, to pitch a tent, rent a cabin, or park your RV. Skip the hotel room, save some money, and let them SCOOT FREE!

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6. Places to explore the past like Atalaya–a summer beach home designed by Archer Huntington for his wife Anna, the sculptor.  This national historic landmark is also incredibly kid friendly.  A rare combination in our experience.

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7.  Places with quality, yummy, family-friendly food.  Duffy Street Seafood Shack was our favorite. Sandwiches and sides were delicious, service was friendly, and the boys could throw their peanut shells on the floor!  Need I say more?

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8.  While many of us Northerners are still freezing our bottoms off in April, the good people of South Carolina are waiting for us with open arms and open pools.  The Lively Little Campers say, Jump in…the water feels great!

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Onward.

17 Apr

Alligators, Architecture, and the Atlantic Ocean: Huntington Beach State Park

I’m going to go ahead and admit something. I have never once in my life seen an alligator in the wild. I’m a little confused by this myself. I mean I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life, and a lot of that travel has been in natural environments with tons of wildlife. But somehow…no alligators.

Well, check something off the bucket list that I didn’t even know was on there.

The alligators are the first thing you get to experience when driving into Huntington Beach State Park, so I couldn’t help but stop on the causeway and gawk…something that we were specifically instructed not to do. We did, however, refrain from feeding them.

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When I finally recovered from my childlike excitement, stopped blocking traffic, and parked in the appropriate parking lot, we walked the path along the causeway that cuts through the freshwater lagoon and the saltwater marsh. Wesley got his first ride in the hiking backpack (last year he was in the Ergobaby)…

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…and we discovered that the only way to push the mute button on Theo and Max is to place them in the presence of large reptiles. (These are not staged photos)

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After the walk–which allowed me to trot out some waterfowl knowledge gained from my recent birding craze–it was historical architecture time. We toured Atalaya, a home built in the 1930s by a sculptor, Archer Huntington. There is a self-guided tour (really numbers with room designations) that actually is quite useful in piecing together the house. If you have watched Downton Abbey (or any upstairs/downstairs drama) that might help considerably as well.

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Here’s the real skinny: if you have kids that need a lot of running around in life, Atalaya is for you. Our boys ran from room to room, up and down hallways and around in circles. They found themselves stuck at dead ends and then just turned around and raced somewhere else. It really is the perfect kind of historical landmark, where the adults can explore the beauty of the past and kids can scream. Win/Win.

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We hadn’t been planning on doing the whole beach thing, but it was gorgeously warm and the ocean called…by which I mean that Max and Theo ended up stripping off their shirts and diving into the waves in their shorts. Wes held his own, experiencing the whole walking on sand thing for the first time in his life.

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For these winter-embattled North Easterners, the sun, sand, and sea was intensely therapeutic. Our day at Huntington Beach State Park was the sort that left you saying, we will come back here…over and over and over again.

The nitty-gritty: We paid $5 per adult (all three kids were free). That entry price is also good for Myrtle Beach State Park, if you choose to do both in the same day. Make sure you pick up coupons for Brookgreen Gardens (good for $2 off each paid admission) at the ranger station. There is a great 2-mile hike, and lots of ranger-led activities, so look at an activity calendar before you go.

 

 

 

27 Mar

Planning that Vacation? Let a State Park Surprise Your Family…

National Parks get a whole lot of attention and rightfully so. They are (across the board) breathtaking and phenomenal experiences, and one of the highlights of our national heritage.

State Parks don’t get as much exposure, but over the last four years they have become a foundational part of our family travel. In general, state parks can be more accessible and affordable, offering wonderful hiking, fishing, canoeing, and swimming without the crowds that many of the national parks attract.

Owls Head State Park, Maine

Owls Head State Park, Maine

Camden Hills State Park, Maine

Camden Hills State Park, Maine

High Point State Park, New Jersey

High Point State Park, New Jersey

Two summers ago we set off for a 16 day jaunt through New York State. I didn’t realize at the time that I was pregnant, but that fact might explain why I had done little to no preparation for our trip. I was definitely in the tired and cranky for no apparent reason stage.

We spent one of our first days in the Finger Lakes Region at Keuka Lake State Park and had an amazing time swimming and kayaking. We ended up leaving the park that day with an Empire State Pass and a plan for the rest of our trip. We would hopscotch from state park to state park until we landed at Niagara Falls.

Buttermilk Falls State Park

Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Letchworth State Park, New York

Letchworth State Park, New York

Niagara Falls State Park

Niagara Falls State Park

North / South Lake State Park

North / South Lake State Park

This was definitely an ‘aha’ moment for us as a traveling family. Most state parks charge a day-use fee, so a season pass can be a budget friendly way to plan out a vacation if you are going to be exploring a few of them in one trip. State parks also have great educational programs, so you can pair a hike with an activity and everyone is happy.

The prices vary dramatically from state to state, so you definitely have to crunch the numbers and see if they work in your favor. South Carolina has a 7-day pass option, so I am looking into that for our trip to Myrtle Beach next month. However, New Hampshire’s pass for out-of-state residents is pretty steep, so we probably won’t purchase one for our trip this summer.

We bought our New Jersey State Park Pass a few weeks ago on a sunny day in February when we were feeling hopeful about spring being right around the corner. For $50 we gained unlimited access to 50 state parks for the next year. Feels like a bargain to us.

A funny thing happens when you buy a pass to anything. You try to use it as much as possible, right? I think about a pass as a form of encouragement. Once you have it, you look for opportunities to use it. If that pushes you to explore a new park, take a guided wildflower walk, or get that kayak down to the boat launch, it is worth every penny.

We would love to hear about your favorite state park. Near or far, we will put it on our list. After all, we plan on getting there one of these days.

Think Spring.

01 Mar

Wanna Camp with Kiddos and have a good time? Respect the Routine…

We went on our first long road trip with Max and Theo when they were not even three months old. We had no game plan; we did no research. Basically, we threw the boys in the car at 6:30 am and took off on a 13 hour drive. Learning to take care of twins is not an easy transition into parenthood, and the idea of staying home with them all summer seemed more painful than the idea of travel, so away we went.

Ten months later, we bought our first camper and committed ourselves to learning how to explore the world with our children. Now Max and Theo are four years old and they have spent well over 100 nights of their life traveling. They love it; they look forward to it. If you ask them why Mommy and Daddy go to work each day, you may well get the answer that we need money for camping. Yes, that has been said.

No doubt, it has been a learning experience for Jeremy and me. Early on we may have pushed things too hard–tried to fit too much in.  But we are teachers and therefore adaptive learners. We realized very quickly that enjoying travel with your children means respecting their needs and their limitations. When we ignored the boys’ regular schedule, we were rewarded with meltdowns and shenanigans. However if we provided them with enough of the comforts of home to make them feel secure and well-rested, then we could experience more with toddlers than we ever imagined would be possible.

Last summer we were back at square one, traveling with a 3 month old and the twins. We were good students and applied all the lessons learned from our early travels with Max and Theo. It went pretty smoothly considering we spent 31 nights traveling through 6 states with 3 kids under 5.

Here are my top 5 suggestions if you actually want to enjoy that time on the road with your little ones…

1. Keep nap times sacred.

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What? I traveled all the way to _______ and I can’t pack every single second of the day with exciting activities? Exactly. We learned to get out early and do the most important (or demanding) activities in the morning when everyone is fresh and full of energy. We pack our lunch before we leave the campground and know that we have a solid three hours of good hiking/exploring/swimming before someone starts fighting/whining/complaining. We almost always get back to the campground for the religious experience of family napping, which if you haven’t experienced, I’m truly sorry. Join the cult today. Our campsite shuts down between the hours of 1 and 4 pm each and every day. It makes us happy people.

2. Keep the food familiar.

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It is easy to wing it with food while you are traveling. You want to get out on the road; you want to get to the next activity. So you decide you will find a restaurant or pick up food on the way. Just don’t. I found one of the best ways to keep my kids happy on the road was to feed them the same healthy food that I feed them at home. This does not mean I have to cook up a large camp breakfast every morning. Oatmeal or yogurt does us just fine. And we rarely leave for the day without a cooler packed with sandwiches, fruit, snacks, and milk. We also have dinner at the campground almost every night. You want to see meltdowns? Then take your darlings to a restaurant when they are tired after a long day of adventure. I admit, there are times to break this rule…but do so with caution.

3. Keep the bedtime routine cozy.

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No matter where we are, bedtime in our camper looks the same as it does at home. I’m convinced this gives our boys a continuity that they need desperately. They get their bath, their books, their treat, their prayers, and their songs. This past summer was the first time they spent time out at the fire before retiring to bed. Even though it was hard for us to get up and go do the ‘routine’, we always did. I’m pretty convinced it means the world to our boys.

4. Give them treats to look forward to.

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I’m not a big rewards parent. I don’t like bribing and I don’t like ‘extrinsic’ rewards. But we have found that offering our boys that little extra special something for being such flexible adventurers goes a looooong way. Letting them know that there is an ice cream at the camp store waiting for them when they finish that really tough hike works wonders. The bottom line is that little things matter a lot to young children and life is one great negotiation. So embrace it and use it.

5. Remember they are kids and they like kid-centric activities.

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Jeremy and I don’t want to spend our vacation days at theme parks and boardwalks. We want to hike, paddle, and swim. For the most part we have learned to negotiate between adults and youths and find activities that make us all feel fulfilled. Nevertheless, we do try to always find a campground with kid friendly activities like a pool, playground, bounce pillow, crafts, or tie dyeing. This means that after every family nap time, there is simple, kid-friendly fun before dinner. We will pay a bit more to stay at a place where we know the boys will be excited to hang out. This guarantees they will be engaged without being exhausted. Wilderness camping can wait.

As they get older, I know our boys will become more flexible. But for now, we are asking our children to absorb a whole heck of a lot when they spend over 30 nights a summer on the road. We want them to know that home is an idea. It is comforting and safe and we bring it with us wherever we go.

Happy (sane) travels.

26 Feb

The Evolution of our Family Hikes (Gearing Up For Spring With L.L. Bean)

My boys are darn good hikers.  Not that they have a choice.  Since Stephanie and I started RVing with them four years ago we have spent over a hundred nights camping, and dozens of days hiking.  When they were just one we threw them in the truck, packed up the pop-up camper, and headed to Vermont and Maine for 16 days.  We were determined to do some serious family friendly hiking with them, and we did.

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Of course that meant carrying them in our hiking packs.  So we carried them–and we carried them joyfully.  After a long winter of working and parenting toddlers our first hike on the Great Head Trail in Acadia National Park was absolutely intoxicating.  The boys felt light on our backs.  While the cool Atlantic breezes and the smell of Pine, Birch, and Maple made us fall in love with Maine all over again.

A year later we decided to head to New York State for our big summer trip, and we hiked extensively in the Catskills and Finger Lakes.  Hiking became a hybrid experience for the boys.  During our hike along the Gorge Trail at Watkins Glen State Park we carried them in our packs again, but only when they were tired or the trail was dangerous.  More often then not they wanted to walk. We were happy to oblige.  Our boys were evolving as hikers–and who were we to get in their way?

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Flash forward one more summer to Vermont to watch the evolution continue.  We researched family friendly hikes and with the help of some great campground owners we found lots of them.  We hiked until our hearts were filled with joy and our lungs were filled with fresh Vermont summer air.  We hiked Mount Putney and we hiked Mount Tom.  And the twins hiked right alongside us every step of the way.

They hiked…

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 and hiked…

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 and rested…

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 and hiked some more…

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 and they reaped hiking’s great rewards…

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Wes was, of course, being carried by Stephanie in her Ergo, but that’s a story for another post.

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We carried the boys in Maine, carried them sometimes in New York State, and hiked alongside them in Vermont.  So what step is next in the evolution of our family hikes?  Backpacks for the boys of course!

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On a recent trip to L.L. Bean I spotted these sharp “Sprout” backpacks for kids and I couldn’t resist.  The colors and design looked sharp, and as alway with L.L. Bean, the quality looked great.  I felt like the boys deserved them after doing so many hikes with such great attitudes.  And now they could carry their own stuff!  The boys were pretty excited too, but instead of asking when we could go hiking again, they asked if they could pack energy bars in them and bring them to school the next day. I told them that these backpacks were special and they would have to wait until our next hike to use them.

This winter seems like it will never end.  But it will.  And I can’t wait to share a couple of those energy bars with the boys on top of some beautiful mountain in New Hampshire.

Onward.

22 Feb

It Was Spring Today At the Jersey Shore… (Manasquan Reservoir, NJ)

When the temperature creeps up into the 50s during this sort of winter, it is almost impossible to decide what to do with the sunny respite. One feels a certain responsibility to enjoy every single second of pleasant weather.

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It is no wonder we ended up at the Manasquan Reservoir, knowing that us grownups could enjoy a refreshing walk and the boys would be happy with the playground at the end. It is a wonder it did not occur to us that melting snow pack on dirt paths might not be the perfect date for our jogging strollers.

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Not to worry. Max and Theo walked/ran most of the trail, while Wes didn’t seem to mind being dragged backwards in the baby slalom event.

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We usually walk the mile from the educational center to the playground, take a break, and then walk back. After our first leg of olympic cross country skiing, we weren’t sure the boys would make it back. Their feet were pretty much soaked from the slush puddles.

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I volunteered to high-tail it back to the truck and drive around to meet everyone. The sun was setting, the air was still warm, and it was quiet except for the crunch of snow under my feet.

I enjoyed every single second. I hope you all did, too.

03 Feb

For Sun and Mud, Thank You Island Beach State Park

It was messy and it was fabulous.

 

We were lucky enough to get some off-season inspiration from a reader, who urged us to head down to the nature center at Island Beach State Park the next time we were hit with some winter wanderlust.

 

 

This morning, citing a 45 degree forecast as sufficient reason for playing hooky from church, we went to the place that we love in the summer but have never explored in the winter.

 

 

It is always the simple things that grab the fancy of the young, and the boys could have played ‘hopscotch’ all day from painted sea creature to painted sea creature. They jumped from animal to animal naming each one in unison, only stopping to argue with me about whether one was a whale or shark.

 

 

 

The nature center was educational in a not so precious way. Fragile and amazing stuffed hawks, gulls, and owls from the collection of the College of New Jersey were sitting out on a table, begging to be touched.

 

 

 

 

Stickers, crayons, clam shells, garbage. We learned to differentiate between a black fish and a bass.

 

 

 

 

And then we went walking.

 

 

First to the bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then back to the ocean.

 

 

 

We remembered how big the sky is in the winter and how little we look at it because we are so often hunched down, chin in scarf.

 

 

 

Not today, though. Today the sun was warm and Theo’s shoe got stuck in the mud. He didn’t even mind a bit.

 

 

 

Lunch in the car with the tailgate open.

 

 

New Jersey State Park pass purchased for the year.

 

It looks like we will be sledding again tomorrow. Building more snowman, drinking more hot cocoa. It will be fun and the best that winter has to offer. But today was like a deep breathe. A smile. A running leap. A spin. A giddy, squishy stomp in the mud. This is warm sun in February.

 

 

 

Thanks, Island Beach.