Lindsay Weigelt and her husband, J.C. Weigelt, travel and outdoor enthusiasts, have been taking their kids, Bennett, 7, and Finley, 4, on cool trips since they were infants.
“We try to travel as much now as we did before kids,” Lindsay says. “Sometimes they’re better travelers than we are as adults.”
Their goal is to see as many national parks as possible. Their most recent undertaking was a three-week summer road trip heading West. To get the kids involved in the planning, they checked out books and researched together online to plan the itinerary, envisioned where they were going and learned how the geysers worked. “They were so excited to see Old Faithful erupt!” she says.
Black Hills, S.D.
On day one, with the help of car games, books, snacks and portable DVD players, the family departed at 6:30 a.m. and drove 10 hours to the Black Hills, S.D., where they spent a few days at J.C.’s family cabin, four-wheeling, hiking and boating.
Yellowstone and Grand Tetons
From there, they drove eight hours to northwestern Wyoming. For four days, with Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Tetons National Park as their base, they immersed themselves in geothermal wonders and magnificent peaks, valleys and wildlife. They also enjoyed a scenic two-hour float down Snake River.
While at the parks, the kids participated in the Junior Ranger program during which they completed scavenger hunts and activity packets, met with rangers, and received a special certificate and badge as they were sworn in as Junior Rangers.
Glacier National Park
Next they drove 10 hours to Whitefish, a resort town on the west arm of Glacier National Park in Montana. To get to their desired hikes in Glacier, they had to first brave the infamous winding and narrow Going-to-the-Sun Road. “It’s constructed right on the side of the mountain with a single lane on both sides,” Lindsay says. “You feel like you’re hanging over the edge of the mountain, but the views are spectacular.”
While in Glacier, they also hiked around St. Mary’s Lake where they spotted their first black bear. “Thankfully it was like 150 yards away and across the lake,” Lindsay says. “Through binoculars, we saw it fishing and catch something pink or orange, maybe a salmon.”
Then, it was time for a real adrenaline rush—white water rafting on Flathead River.
Since daughter Finley did not meet the age requirement, this time it was a father-son outing. Bennett started off sitting in the back with J.C. But right before the first rapid, the guide asked if he wanted to ride in the front. “He didn’t hesitate,” J.C. says. “Everyone in the raft could sense the excitement flowing through his body and was cheering him on.”
From Glacier, they drove back to the Black Hills where they spent a few more days at the cabin again before returning home. Lindsay says she wouldn’t have changed a thing about their itinerary. “It all worked out really well for us. But if we only had a week, we’d probably fly into Montana and spend it all in Glacier National Park. That was the highlight.”
“Wander often, wonder always” is a motto Alicia Oberg lives by. “I will never tire of seeing new lands, experiencing different cultures both domestically and abroad, and giving my kids perspective outside their bubble.”
Typically during MEA week, to celebrate their anniversary and birthdays, Alicia and her husband, Craig, drop off their twins, Campbell and Sullivan, at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and travel somewhere new. But after having a blast with the kids in the Virgin Islands over spring break, they decided to bring them on their fall trip, too.
“Now that they’re 8, it’s such a joy to travel with them,” Alicia says.
After flying to Phoenix, Ariz., they drove two hours to Sedona where they stayed for two nights at the Enchantment Resort.
In the morning they hiked Cathedral Rock, which turned out to be steeper than anticipated. “At one point, I thought gosh, should our children be doing this?” says Alicia. “But they loved it and were engaged the whole time,” adding that the kids were too focused on where to put their feet at every step to do any complaining.
When they reached the summit, they were met with a guy playing a wooden flute. “It was glorious. It was echoing through the rocks. It was one of those times we could truly stop and be present with each other, with nature and ourselves,” she says.
After they trekked back down and had lunch, it was time for a pink jeep tour. “They take you up on rocks. Some of the inclines and declines that these jeeps would go on were bananas. It seems like you’re at a 60-degree angle going down. It was crazy,” Alicia says.
The next day, they drove another three hours to Page, Ariz., for a tour of Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, a red-hued, swirling sandstone formation created by millions of years of water erosion. “The colors, depth and distance were otherworldly,” Alicia says. While she preferred the quiet of the lower canyon, the upper canyon was a big hit with the kids because it included “a rad open air hummer ride,” according to Alicia.
For something different, while in Page, the family rented a houseboat for one night at Antelope Point Marina. “There were four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room … there was even a slide off the back,” Alicia says. “The kids loved it. Their imaginary play on the boat was off the rails!”
The Grand Canyon
Finally, they headed about two and a half hours toward their crown jewel destination—the Grand Canyon. They arrived in Tusayan, Ariz., a small village a few miles from the South Rim entrance, in time to watch the sunset at the Desert View Watchtower, a 70-foot-high stone building that overlooks the Grand Canyon. Then, they caught a good night’s sleep at the Grand Hotel in Tusayan before the big day.
And a big day it was. Not only did they hike the breathtaking rim trail, but they also took a 50-minute helicopter ride over the Canyon. “We would have had no real way to understand the depth and vastness without this experience. There were layers and layers of awe every minute we were in the helicopter,” she says.
Back at the hotel, as the grand finale, Craig surprised his wife and kids by jumping into the pool with his clothes on. “The key to being a successful parent is to convince your children that you are a little crazy. It gives you the upper hand,” says Craig, who’s described by his wife as “a sarcastic and funny fellow.”
“A family trip is a reflection of a million little moments like Dad jumping in the pool with his clothes on,” says Alicia.
Enlisting the help of a travel agent not only gives you access to exclusive promotions, perks and inventory, but also expert advice to avoid unwelcome surprises.
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Bring your swim suits and towels when you visit the national parks so you can take a break at their designated swimming areas.
When visiting national parks, don’t forget Arches National Park! This might end up being your favorite one.
Familiarize yourself with hiking requirements for each of the parks. Some will have ranger-led programs for more challenging hikes and terrain.
If flying, download the “Can I Bring?” app to check if your carry-on items will pass through TSA.
Inspect for bed bugs immediately when you arrive at a hotel. You don’t want even one bed bug hitching a ride back in your luggage back home.
Given the current climate, I advise all my clients to have a contingency plan for emergencies. Give a copy of your travel itinerary to a family member who is not traveling with you, and provide your travel agent with emergency phone numbers.
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Call your phone service provider to ensure you have coverage where you’re going.
If you’re traveling to an area that’s completely new to your routine, call your credit card companies to advise them on your travel.
Strongly consider getting travel insurance. At the very least, purchase primary medical coverage for the duration of your trip from a travel insurance supplier. It’s very inexpensive and often free for kids.
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Many lodges and experiences at national parks book up well in advance. Be sure to start planning early for the best choices.
Consider a group tour. You will be with other families that share your same interests, and they provide an easy “turn-key” approach to planning.
Do your research and book only with reputable tour operators, and keep in mind that some insurance policies don’t provide coverage for adventure sports.
Go by sea! There are some amazing small boat adventure cruise options that have active and adventure itineraries, too.
Even if you are a family that likes to be active, be sure to schedule some time to simply relax.
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