It’s time to put down those screens and take your kids outside. Here, five travel writers share their favorite family adventures in the U.S., from salmon fishing in Alaska to hiking the Grand Canyon. Now go make yourselves some memories.
Fishing in Alaska
By Elaine Glusac
My son Seth remembers the day he got hooked—pardon his pun—on salmon fishing in Alaska. At the age of 12, he made three casts with a spin rod into a stream on Kodiak Island and landed a pink salmon each time, going three for three. Alaska makes every beginner lucky.
While fishing normally requires infinite patience—a scarce quality among children—the odds of success are far better in Alaska. The Last Frontier is home to more than 12,000 rivers, 3 million lakes, and more coastline than all of the lower 48 states combined. And while other fish are vital to the state’s $5.7 billion seafood industry, salmon are also the basis of entire ecosystems, swimming upstream where animals such as bears feed on them, leaving their decaying carcasses to enrich the vegetation in so-called “salmon forests.”
In his early years, Seth devoured all the ecological science that inevitably accompanies adventures in Alaska. At age 10, on a cruise on the Inside Passage, he learned the double names for the five kinds of Pacific salmon found in Alaska: chum/dog salmon, sockeye/red, Chinook/king, coho/silver, and pink/humpy. On a subsequent trip with UnCruise Adventures, a small-ship line that sails wilderness itineraries, he hiked a remote trail on Baranof Island where the salmon were so thick in a shallow stream that he was able to pick one up with his bare hands—not exactly fishing, but the ultimate catching.
Such abundance helped instill in him a sense of wonder. Even with the greater likelihood of reeling in a catch in Alaska, fishermen must still study the water and topography. “It’s like a scavenger hunt, where you’re constantly trying to read nature for clues, and you’re not alone,” Seth says, recalling times he has shared the hunt with bald eagles, harbor seals, and brown bears.
My husband and I set our son on this course—to respect the wild, cherish nature, and learn self-sufficiency—but we never imagined where it would lead. Upon graduating from college last spring, Seth took a conservation job in Cordova, in coastal Southcentral Alaska. Between snorkeling to survey invasive species, searching for goose nests in the Copper River Delta, and mapping vegetation on the Prince William Sound, he spent much of his free time fishing streams where all five Pacific salmon species came through, including the prized silver—an aggressive fish known to bite and fight. From generous residents who fish for sustenance, he learned to clean and freeze fish, bringing home 50 pounds of salmon fillets in October. We’re hoping to finish them before he ships off for another season in Alaska this summer.
Take the Trip
You don’t have to go far to find fish in Alaska. Just 100 miles south of Anchorage, Cooper Landing and the Kenai Peninsula offer world-class angling on the Kenai and Russian Rivers, as well as access to rafting tours, hiking trails, wildlife watching, and fishing lodges. Organize your own charter with Copper River Guides, which leads half-day trips for $250 per person and full days for $350 apiece, or contact the knowledgeable travel agents at Alaska Channel to arrange one.Book Your Flight to Alaska
By Everett Potter
For the past 17 years, Alta has been the lodestar of our family skiing adventures. On our first drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Alta Lodge with 2-year-old Emma, my wife said, “You can ski, I’m staying with her.” By the time we reached the lodge, which was covered in a fresh 27-inch powder dump, she said, “I wonder where the daycare is?”
Alta has that effect on fledgling parents. In the ensuing years, we’ve skied all over the U.S. and Switzerland, but it was the magic of this legendary Utah mountain that truly touched the three of us. Alta is quirky, an outlier, redolent of skiing’s early days. When you scan the sweep of the rugged, curved, snow-covered Wasatch mountainscape, you can momentarily be fooled into thinking you’re on an adventure in the Alps, not 40 minutes from Salt Lake City. The mountain may be lauded by experts for its steep runs, but there’s another Alta, a family-friendly destination that offers what feels like a 1950s version of fun. The wooded glades on lower runs are like alpine playgrounds for kids.
We brought Emma back when she was 6 and put her in ski school. At the end of the first day, we discovered a kid with newfound confidence, who hurtled down the aptly named Bluebell, a blue run. She stopped for her breathless parents to catch up and then carried on until she had a spectacular fall. She was crying when we caught up to her, but it was fueled by frustration as much as hurt. Our skier was born.
Our trips to Alta became a touchstone, marking Emma’s progress as a skier. When we brought her older cousins along, she stepped into a newly self-assured role as a guide to terra incognita. She took a visiting friend into the magical landscape of firs and spruces, whoop-de-doos, and narrow paths through glades, which became their private world. They would emerge laughing, filled with tales of leaps, falls, and derring-do. As the years went on, those runs in the trees grew steeper and more challenging. At 15, she was snowcat skiing.
In an era of controlled fun, Alta was liberating. You can’t experience skiing like this at a corporate-driven resort with endless lift lines and hordes of skiers. That’s why Alta generates such fierce loyalty, and why generations of skiers return. And on each trip, as we drove back down to Salt Lake City, we reminisced over the runs we’d taken together, our rides on the old Albion lift, the bumps we’d tackled. The conversations between teen and parents alone were worth the effort of getting to Utah from the East Coast.
Emma is now on her college ski team, her helmet adorned with an Alta sticker. It’s a badge of place but also one of shared history, of good times, freedom, and taking chances—a memento of what a great adventure is all about.
Take the Trip
Twenty-five percent of Alta’s 116 runs are for beginners, which makes it perfect for families. First-time skiers would do well to book a lesson with Alf Engen Ski School (from $85). After a day on the slopes, rest up at the Mid-Century Modern Alta Lodge (from $463), which follows the classic European ski hotel concept, with breakfast and four-course dinner included.Book Your Flight to Utah
Surfing in Oahu
By Jill K. Robinson
Growing up in a Northern California surf town gave my 9-year-old daughter, Veya, all the vocabulary and attitude of a typical grom, but without much of the actual on-board experience. She had no difficulty donning layers of neoprene in any type of weather and getting in the water, but she wasn’t much interested in parental instruction—at least not for more than about 15 minutes. I thought a trip to the north shore of Oahu would give her a different perspective on the sport.
Summer is prime season for beginners, when the massive waves of winter that bring surf pros from around the world to compete have mellowed. Safe opportunities to get wet abound, including at some of the most important spots in surfing history, from Haleiwa Beach Park to Sunset Beach. The variety of settings gives everyone the chance to get in the water and enjoy the laid-back lifestyle of a region that’s still considered a bit country, compared to bustling Honolulu.
The mellow point break of Turtle Bay West is a soft, fading closeout that most local surfers consider a poor excuse for a real wave, but it’s perfect for beginners. Sea turtles swim ahead of the break, kids sitting on boards chat with each other in between sets, and long, gentle waves roll through, giving every surfer a chance to ride past the spectators perched on the cliffs at the edge of the sprawling Turtle Bay Resort.
It seemed like a luxury to get two instructors from the Hans Hedemann Surf School, but the lesson allowed Veya to progress at her own pace, without her parents’ coaching. “Paddle, paddle, paddle!” shouted her instructor, and I limited my input to cheering as she churned the water and surged past me on her knees with a wild smile on her face. Her coach provided cheerleading support, helpful tips, and entertainment in the form of trick moves and headstand rides to emphasize the most important rule of surfing: The best surfer is the one having the most fun.
As more and more people gathered on the cliffs with mai tais, jostling for the best sunset viewing spot an hour in advance, we took one last ride before packing it in for the day. Veya angled toward me on her board, this time standing up. “Party wave!” she exclaimed. “Come on, Mom, let’s go!” We rode in to shore together with the instructors, and Veya gave them a teary goodbye. I’m not sure whether my favorite memory from that day is her wild smile, or the sight of my exhausted grom sleeping deeply on the grass at dinnertime.
Take the Trip
Groms as young as 4 (as well as their parents) can book a two-hour private lesson with an instructor from the Hans Hedemann Surf School (from $145). After a day of riding the waves, recover at the lovely yet budget-friendly Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore (from $303), which is just a short drive from some of the area’s best beaches.Book Your Flight to Hawaii
Cycling in Cape Cod
By Steve Jermanok
The small strip of pavement forms a straight line toward the horizon, like an express lane to freedom. For the Jermanok family of four, the Cape Cod Rail Trail (CCRT) also represents a continuum of time. Not long ago, my son was sitting behind me in his baby bike seat, snoozing as a far-too-large helmet slipped down his face. Now Jake is 25, and he leads the way, followed by me; my 23-year-old daughter, Melanie; and my wife, Lisa. We zip over bridges and through tunnels, past ponds, salt marshes, and cranberry bogs, all while breathing in the sweet smell of summer wildflowers and the potent brine of the sea. The hum of traffic is gone, replaced by the call of the yellow warbler. The only obstacles before us are runners, clumsy folks on Rollerblades, and other leisurely bikers.
Today, all of us are avid bikers, with plans this September to ride some 200 miles along the Danube River as part of a river cruise trip designed by Backroads. But it’s here, on Cape Cod, that we learned the sport, progressing from Burleys to training wheels to 3-speed cruisers to the latest 21-gear Cannondale. On the Cape, bike trails break in every direction, like spokes on a wheel. The best-known of these is the 25-mile-long CCRT, once an Old Colony Railroad corridor used to ship cranberries to Boston. The relatively level rail trail offers a placid retreat that has quickly become one of the most popular biking destinations in the Northeast. Over the years, we’ve also pedaled the Cape Cod Canal Bikeway, which snakes under the Sagamore and Bourne Bridges, and the topsy-turvy Province Lands Bike Trail, a rollercoaster route on the outskirts of Provincetown that dips in and out of sand dunes, weaving through scrub-pine forests and along beaches to make one of the most unique bike paths you’ll ever ride.
The soothing image of sand and sea keeps us returning to the Cape summer after summer. And more than 20 years after our first trip, we still love to seek out new gems. In 2019, we discovered a two-mile bike trail that starts at the Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor Center in Eastham. The route sweeps through the forest to a velvety marsh, where red-winged blackbirds sit atop swaying cattails. At Nauset Light Beach, a stretch of sweeping coastline backed by dunes, we hopped off our bikes to go for a dip. Seals popped their heads out of the water like periscopes, sharing the ocean with us. When we’d had our fill, we jumped back on our bikes, knowing that there would be other trails to traverse, other seascapes to savor.
Take the Trip
Orleans Cycle is one of the many places to rent bikes near the Cape Cod Rail Trail. Stay at The Mansion at Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club in Brewster, and you can walk easily to both the trail and a bayside beach to cool off after your ride (from $485).Book Your Flight to Massachusetts
Hiking the Grand Canyon
By Ellen Carpenter
We were standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, just past the crowds at Mather Point, when my 9-year-old son, Calder, decided he was afraid of heights. He crouched low to the ground, backing away and refusing when I asked him to snap a photo of me jumping in the air. “It’s not safe!” he yelled, fear painted across his face. He left my iPhone on a rock and climbed back toward the trailhead, watching as my husband, Chris, and I continued our descent.
Really though, he just needed a minute.
To take in the awesome power of the Grand Canyon. To realize how small and fragile he is—how small and fragile we all are. Five minutes later, he was scrambling down a rocky outcropping, laughing and daring us to trek out further. “I overcame my fear,” he said, breathless with wonder.
The next day, after a bike ride to Yaki Point, we hiked a portion of the Bright Angel Trail, the canyon’s most popular trek, originally traversed by the Havasupai, who would travel more than four miles to collect springwater at what we now call Indian Garden. We didn’t make it that far. I looked down at the curving path, which Calder noted became redder the deeper we descended, and felt a pang of sadness that I wouldn’t accomplish my goal. Then I looked at my son, red-faced and exhausted—but also brave and proud of what he had already accomplished—and I knew we had hiked enough.
On our way back up, with plenty of stops to rest and drink (you can get a 9-year-old boy to do anything if you promise him Gatorade), we watched the sun dance across the canyon walls, changing oranges to reds, browns to purples. “It looks totally different from when we first started hiking,” Calder said. “There are so many colors.” He picked up a pebble and asked me to put it in my pocket: “Don’t lose it.”
After our ascent, we sat on a rock and Calder completed his Junior Ranger booklet, jotting down his observations, writing a poem about his experience that made me teary when I read it over his shoulder, and drawing his own badge, complete with a soaring eagle. The rangers had the day off (it was a Tuesday), but a kind employee in the bookstore, who said, with a wink, that she was “certified” to swear him in, had Calder recite the oath and presented him with his badge.
That night, after dinner at Fred Harvey Burger at the Bright Angel Lodge, we stopped in the gift shop and I asked if Calder wanted a T-shirt. He shook his head. He had his pebble and his badge. And the memories. That was plenty.
Take the Trip
Reserve a campsite at Mather Campground on the South Rim early, because they book up months in advance (from $18). If you’re flying into Phoenix, make your trip easy by renting camping gear at the REI Co-op Adventure Center in Scottsdale. Kids will also love exploring by bike. Bright Angel Bicycles offers reasonably priced rentals, as well as tasty post-ride sandwiches.Book Your Flight to Arizona