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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02 Jan

A New Year’s Wish for Strong and Adventurous Women

If you are like me and the rest of the world right now, your head is full of ways to make 2017 your best year ever. As much as people dismiss the power of New Year’s resolutions, I personally love the fresh start and the opportunity to think about goals for the upcoming year. 

However, it’s easy to fall into the work out/dieting/decluttering death spiral of the “New Year, New You” marketplace. So if you like setting goals, but also want to avoid the cycle of negativity and disappointment, I wanted to share this piece that I wrote last year for Camp Cabela’s…

Recently, as Cabela’s hosted their Ladies Day Out event, I started thinking about what it means to be an outdoor woman and mother. I immediately recalled a moment from this past summer, when I was hiking in Acadia National Park with Jeremy and the boys.

We had arrived at the trailhead to Bubble Rock Mountain early in the morning and climbed to the summit without much effort. We all had tons of energy and were excited to be back in one of our favorite national parks. We were also excited to be hiking with our new rescue dog, Maggie, as her enthusiasm kept the boys moving forward with few complaints.

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24 Jul

RVFTA #45: Great Smoky Mountains Wrap Up!

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking about the third stop on our Great Smoky Mountains summer tour.

We left Townsend, Tennessee and headed to Cosby on the northern part of our country’s most visited national park. We stayed at one of our favorite campgrounds ever, the Great Smoky Mountains Jellystone. The combination of peaceful creek front sites and awesome kid-friendly amenities suited us just fine.

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And then there was Dollywood! It may be a bit pricey, but listen to hear why we think this theme park is worth every single penny. Oh, and you can’t miss Jeremy describing how he squealed like a small child during his first ride on an upside-down roller coaster…

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Plus you will hear an interview with Keith and Tia Sims of Soulful RV Family. Keith is a retired offensive lineman from the Miami Dolphins and 3-time Pro Bowler. He and his wife love traveling in their RV with their 3 young boys…and they also want to share their experiences with the growing number of African Americans entering the RV lifestyle.

And we are thrilled to welcome back GoRVing as our RVFTA sponsor. Listen for a special message from them just a bit later in our show. To find your AWAY head over to gorving.com/rvfta.

We are on the RVFTA summer road trip and you are listening to Episode #45: Great Smoky Mountains Wrap Up!

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17 Jul

RVFTA #44: Greetings from the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking about the second stop on our Great Smoky Mountains summer tour. We left North Carolina and headed over to the Tennessee side of our country’s most visited national park. Listen to hear about the drives, hikes, and attractions that we discovered in the busiest, most popular part of the park.

The podcast includes information on:

  • Cades Cove
  • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
  • Trillium Gap Trail
  • Grotto Falls
  • Chimneys Picnic Area
  • Clingmans Dome

You will also hear a complete review of the Townsend KOA and an interview with the manager, Mark Chipperfield. Find out why this might be the perfect spot for you if you are looking for a quiet area not too far away from the hustle and bustle of Gattlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

For more images of this campground, check out our blog post from last week, which also includes the details of many area activities.

In case you missed it, last week’s episode was all about the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take a listen to episode #43 and read this blog post for the scoop on Cherokee.

And in our most exciting news of the week, we are welcoming Go RVing as our first RVFTA sponsor. We think they are the perfect partner, since their mission is educating people about the phenomenal benefits of the RV lifestyle. We are talking about their Compare RVs tool on this episode and want YOU to go over, try it out, and tell us what RV you SHOULD have by emailing us, visiting us on Facebook, or leaving a comment below!

We will try to mediate any marital disputes that arise.

We are on the RVFTA summer road trip and you are listening to Episode #44: Greetings from Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee!

 

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09 Jul

Great Smoky Mountains Shakedown (Part Two) With the Townsend KOA

After three full days of exploring the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains, we were in no rush to leave. I was getting used to putting the boys to bed each night then soaking in the indoor hot tub at the Cherokee KOA. But there was so much more to do and see.  So it was onward to the Tennessee side of America’s most visited national park.

We chose the Townsend/Great Smokies KOA because of its great online reviews, its proximity to Cades Cove and the Sugarlands Visitor Center, and its close (but not too close) proximity to the zaniness of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

We had reserved a deluxe patio site back in January, and when I booked the site it was one of two left in the campground for the fourth of July weekend.  It was in the front of the campground near the playground, the pool, and the camp store.  It was busy and bustling in our area, but the proximity to the playground and pool were good for our kids.  If you want peace and quiet, the sites by the river would be better. These deluxe sites are lovely, particularly the large stone fire pits and attractive landscaping.

The playground was designed by the folks who design playgrounds for Disney. It quickly became kid headquarters each afternoon when we returned from our adventures in the park.

The pool was also a perfect place for a refreshing post-hike dip.

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If you want to book a riverfront site at the Townsend KOA we advise that you book VERY early.  This is a popular campground and we spoke to several families who have been coming here for decades.  This friendly couple booked their riverfront site well over a year in advance.

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The campground also has a packed schedule of activities.  We didn’t make the apple pie eating contest, but you better believe that we made the super soaker hayride.  General Manager Mark Chipperfield rallied the troops and explained that he had high expectations for our performance in battle.

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Mark was one of the friendliest general managers that we have met in our travels, so we didn’t let him down. We would head into battle with this guy any day. As long as he provides the hayride and the buckets of water.P1140386

 

There are great adventures to be had both on the campground and in the mountains around it.  The 11 mile, one way loop road around Cades Cove is one of the park’s most famous attractions. It provides a magical window into the region’s agricultural past, and its beauty is breathtaking.  There are many stops along the way, some with spectacular views and some with historical homes, mills, churches, and graveyards. This flat valley area surrounded by mountains is also a great place for spotting deer, foxes, and bears.

In spring and summer the road is closed to automobiles every Wednesday and Saturday morning until 10 a.m. so that hikers and bikers can enjoy its natural beauty without traffic.

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The Townsend KOA is also close to dozens of world-class family hikes. We left early one morning for the North Fork Auto Road and hopped on the Trillium Gap Trail. Destination? 1.5 miles out and 1.5 miles back to Grotto Falls.  This hike is unique because you get to walk behind a waterfall.

We went on July 4th, and the falls were very crowded.  But all of the hikers were happy to be out in the fresh air celebrating their freedom.  Hiking in one of America’s greatest National Parks was a perfect way to spend Independence Day.

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The campground is also a fairly short drive to Newfound Gap Road (which cuts through the park and crosses state lines) and all of its magnificent attractions.  We drove the long and winding road to Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the park,  for the short but vigorous hike up to the observation deck.  It was a bit of a bust. We were socked in by the fog.

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So we decided to head back down to earth where the weather was dramatically different. We ended up enjoying a delicious and adventurous lunch at Chimneys Picnic Area, which was highly recommended by our Missouri podcast correspondent, Kerri Cox.  We loved Chimneys. Thanks Kerri. We owe you a picnic lunch!

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Our family adventures in Great Smoky Mountains National Park have been amazing.  But our boys always love their time at the campground best.  We spent each afternoon and evening back at the KOA enjoying activities at the pavilion…

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tubing on the Little River…

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listening to impromptu jam sessions by our neighbors.

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and we also indulged at the campground’s very own bakery/ice cream/fudge shop.  I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but they offer free samples of the fudge. Try to control yourself.

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The Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is blessed with many good campgrounds.  But some of them are great. The Townsend KOA is one of the great ones.  Maybe it’s because of its location on the river, or its proximity to Cades Cove, or its great managers and team.

If you are looking for a campground that is close to all of the action, but also peaceful and relaxing, you couldn’t make a better choice than the Townsend KOA.

We have been frequent KOA customers over the last five years, but this was a sponsored trip.  Our opinions are always are own.

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.

17 Jan

RV Family Travel Atlas #18: Adventure Guide to the White Mountains of New Hampshire

This week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas is a special Adventure Guide to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We traveled to the Granite State last summer and spent an amazing two weeks exploring the rugged White Mountains.

We will be talking about the all hiking, kayaking, swimming and amusement parking that this great region has to offer. We start off in Franconia Notch and then move on to Crawford Notch.

Plus we review two campgrounds, the Lincoln/Woodstock KOA and the Twin Mountain KOA, that we stayed at during our visit, white knuckle driving on the Mount Washington AutoRoad, and the beautiful scenery of the Kancamagus Highway.

To read all of the posts and find more specific information about any of the places mentioned, visit the New Hampshire tag in the sidebar.

All of this on Episode 18 of RV Family Travel Atlas: White Mountains, New Hampshire Adventure Guide!


 

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06 Dec

RV Family Travel Atlas: Acadia National Park Adventure Guide

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are heading to Acadia National Park, one of our favorite summer destinations. We will give you recommendations for where to stay and what to eat. We will also tell you about the best family-friendly hikes and activities on Mount Desert Island.

Join us as we explore popular tourist attractions and also take you to the quieter side of Acadia, where we have escaped the summer crowds and found lots of local treasures.

Click on the links above to read our articles on the Jayco Journal about all of these Acadia National Park recommendations.

We have another great giveaway this week: Discover Acadia National Park, by the Appalachian Mountain Club. We used this book a ton when planning our trips, and all of the hikes that we talk about are detailed in this book. Enter to win here.

And make sure you listen to this week’s episode to find out about our ‘podcast only’ giveaway this week…

Play
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…

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

24 Feb

What I Learned From a Couple of Nice Weekends in February…

Years ago, long before the boys arrived on the scene, the temperatures hit the high sixties on a weekend in February. Jeremy and I had a different sort of life then, and the weather inspired us to hightail it to a bed and breakfast in Cape May where we spent the weekend walking and eating and laying around in the sand. It was one of those weekends that you hold on to forever, one of those memories that you can feel and smell.

This past weekend we weren’t able to run off to a romantic locale. No, that’s not right at all. We actually did. We ran off to our favorite local places, the reservoir and the beach. We splashed in puddles, played on a new pirate playground, and leapt off of sand mountains. It was the first time Wes sat in the sand, letting it run through his fingers. And he didn’t eat any of it.

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This was one of those weekends in February that I will remember. I will remember how the sun felt and how the melting snow and the sea smelled. On both days, the boys thanked us in that precious, innocent way that 4 year olds have. Thanks for taking us on a hike. Thanks for taking us to the beach.

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And I wanted to say back, Thanks for teaching me that joy is its own sort of romance. And we found some today.

25 Nov

Competitive Birding: The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

A Day at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Preserve
So the government shutdown ended, the National Parks reopened, and we finally got to make our annual trip to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Preserve last weekend.

If you think birding sounds boring, then you haven’t done it with preschoolers. After some initial disagreement on the rules of the game–a duck is not a bird…yes it is…no it isn’t, etc— the boys spent the entire eight-mile driving loop diligently trying to spot a bird and then screaming about who actually saw it first.

Theo: I see a sandpiper.
Max: No, I see a sandpiper.
Theo: I saw it first!
Max: No, I saw it first!
Wes: Coo, Coo.

I tried to focus on the fact that my boys were using the word ‘Sandpiper’ to appropriately identify a species of shorebird.

 

It was a bit easier to tune out their arguments since we finally bought a car that is “appropriate for a family of five” (direct quote from Jeremy, muttered 347 times since we welcomed sweet Wesley into our family). This means the boys are back in row 3 and they can safely pummel each other without Wesley, who is in row 2,  being in danger.

We always have a great time trying to spot egrets and herons in our very untrained, ‘there’s a pretty bird’ way. This year I think we had even more fun since we had just watched A Big Year, a great movie about the world of birding (I am not being sarcastic. Seriously, rent it). The movie gave us a different perspective on the serious groups of birders we found clustered together trying to catch sight of a yellow-rumped warbler that had been spotted earlier that week. We might have joined them at the side of the road if it weren’t for the preschoolers foaming at the mouth in Row 3.

After we completed the loop-drive, we took a hike on the Songbird Trail, a mellow walk that can accommodate the double BOB. The birds on this trail are abundant and energetic enough that I could hear their songs even above our yelling children. I have a suspicion that even the birds got pulled into the competitive spirit of the occasion.

 

Completely drained after the battle of the birding, Max and Theo were fast asleep before we even pulled out of the Preserve.

 

Winners? The parents. Every time.
25 Sep

The Curse of Hawk Mountain: Two Times is Not a Charm

Two years ago, in late October, we took Max and Theo to Allentown for a long weekend. It was beautiful. The weather was perfect and we enjoyed the Lehigh Valley Zoo and a great train ride through the country. There was pumpkin picking and a halloween parade. Quintessential fall weekend, etc, etc.

We figured we would squeeze in one more activity before heading home on Sunday, so we drove (camper hitched and all) to Hawk Mountain, where we planned on a taking in a raptor show and enjoying a nice hike.

Ha. Maybe they were tired from the weekend. Maybe it was too close to nap time. For whatever reason, our boys basically spent the entire time at Hawk Mountain involved in some sort of meltdown. They didn’t want to walk; they didn’t want to go in the backpacks. They didn’t want to hold hands or stay on the trail. It was one of those times where as a parent you look around and think ‘wow, this could be really beautiful and fun…but not today.’

Last week we had our great return to Hawk Mountain. I remembered the beautiful vistas and the great mass of hawks circling overhead and I just couldn’t wait to go back and actually enjoy the sights with our well-behaved preschoolers who are just so much more reliable and mature. I was so geeked out on my raptors, I even rented high-powered binoculars.

 

Ha. Maybe it is just our bad decision making as parents. The boys fell asleep on the car ride to the mountain and we woke them up upon arrival. Cranky from the get-go, we just couldn’t pull them out of their slump. Even Wes wouldn’t settle down in the carrier.

 

Let’s get one thing straight: there are a lot of rocks and steep drop offs at Hawk Mountain. So basically, if your kids are feeling uncooperative, they can make your life a living hell. And ours did. They wanted their sticks; they wanted to climb rocks with their sticks; they wanted to pummel each other with their sticks.

 

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They wanted to get closer and closer to the edge and absolutely under no condition watch where they were putting their feet at any given moment.

 

Oh, and did I mention it was overcast despite a perfect forecast, and I barely spotted a hawk the entire visit? So basically the binoculars were simply there as another bone of contention between me and my children.

 

So here is the thing…Hawk Mountain is beautiful and you should really go. But only on a day when my family isn’t there causing a scene. No worries on that score though, because Jeremy and I have decided that we are not going back until all of our boys are in college and we are wondering what to do with ourselves on some beautiful fall weekend.

Until then, Hawk Mountain will have to wait.

06 Sep

Thank You Vermont. We Can’t Wait to Come Back.

We came home from Vermont over two weeks ago, but part of me still feels like I’m there.   It was one of my favorite road trips of all time–and I’ve been on a few.  Here are my top ten reasons for still wanting to say thank you to Vermont:

1.  For your family friendly hikes and swims filled with beauty and adventure.

2.  For your underrated roadside barbecue joints.  Vermont, the South has nothing on you!

3.  For making me feel like Wordsworth ambling around the Lake District on golden summer days.  I’ll take Stephanie, Ami, Max, Theo, and Wes as hiking companions over Samuel Taylor Coleridge every time.

4.  For the the Vermont Coffee Company and “Simon’s Blend,” available only at the Simon Pierce Glass Factory in Quechee.  The good people of Vermont like their coffee strong and hardy.

5.  For your “American Made” consumer products such as Darn Tough Socks.  The rugged individuals of Vermont still make stuff and sell it in their cozy wood-planked general stores.

6.  For the lovely owners of the Quechee/Pine Valley KOA, and the Brattleboro North KOA for welcoming our family and helping us find our way to mountains, and rivers, and gorges oh my!

7.  For your towering pines and magical forests.

8. For your splendid and lush green quiet.

9. For your cool summer nights, perfect for campfires and restful slumbers.

10. For finally making me understand why we call it “New England.”

29 Aug

Mt. Tom, Vermont (or the day that the "Precipice Trail" seemed like a great option for kids and baby)

When I went to talk to the Ranger about climbing Mount Tom, he took one look at our merry band of pirates and decided that wide paths and gentle upgrades were the way to go. As he highlighted a route to the summit, he specifically told me to stay away from the Precipice Trail. That’s a real trail, he said. Real narrow and steep. You’re best off sticking to the carriage roads.

Like a good mom, I listened to the advice of experts and we climbed the two-plus miles up to the summit, sticking to the wide carriage roads. The trail did not disappoint, and offered continually changing landscapes with lots of interest and stunning views. It was not an easy climb for the boys, but it kept their attention and it was nice that they could run ahead a bit, or fall behind to collect pinecones.

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The payoff at the top was worth it.

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While we were catching our breath and enjoying a snack, a family appeared off of one of the steeper trails that I had been told to avoid. I pounced, of course, asking about the conditions and the difficulty. They said it was steep, but doable, with a rail to hold onto most of the way. Although our hike up had been beautiful, I just wanted a little more than a return ticket on the same path.

I rallied the troops and we decided to go for it. Every adult had a child firmly gripped in hand and, believe me, we did not let go the whole way down. It was steep and rocky and difficult. And fun.

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Every year it seems that we push our own personal envelope a little bit. The boys did such an amazing job slowing down and carefully placing their feet where we were telling them to go. There wasn’t a lot of talking, until the end when we emerged back onto a carriage path and starting high-fiving the kids and celebrating what was definitely the most difficult trail they have done to date.

As parents, most of our accomplishments–promotions, anniversaries–are difficult for our kids to relate to. We spend a lot of our time cheering our children’s successes in school or sports or relationships. It was a particularly rewarding experience to celebrate a shared family accomplishment. Each one of us had done something special, at the same time, all together.

I’ll take more of that, please.