Sep 102012
 

Boston offers a lot to do any time teens and tweens and their families come to town.  We’ve got a long list of favorites for visiting families to try.

Old Noth Church on Boston Freedom Trail

The Old Noth Church on Boston’s Freedom Trail

Based on years of experience, we are happy to share our Top Ten list of the best things to do in the greater Boston area during a family vacation or college visit with teens and tweens:

Need even more ideas?  Did we mention Boston’s signature museums including the Fine Arts Museum and the Institute for Contemporary Art?  Like the water?  Boston Harbor Cruises offers whale watches, harbor tours and the Codzilla high speed thrill ride.  High speed ferries depart frequently for Provincetown if you want to visit Cape Cod for a day.  Or closer to the city, water shuttles make regular visits one or more of the Boston Harbor Islands where you can explore a Civil War era fort or use a Park GPS to do a little islandcaching.  The Aquarium is another teen favorite.

Hubway offers bike rentals from stations all over town and Segways tours are available starting on Commercial Street not far from the TD Bank Boston Garden – where the Bruins and Celtics play.  After your tour, take in a game or a concert.

There is so much to do, you will almost certainly have to come back more than once.


Jul 242012
 
Balancing Rock at Bryce Canyon

Balancing Rock at Bryce Canyon

Our recent visit to southern Utah’s Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks lasted just a few days, but we managed to cover a lot of ground, including side trips to Las Vegas and Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park.  For families that enjoy the outdoors, southern Utah and the surrounding area offer lots of opportunities for exploration at whatever pace works for your family.

So, whether your group involves teens, tweens, grandparents or younger kids, visits to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks will be remembered for a long time.  Using the Zion-Springdale area as a base camp here is our list of the Top 10 things for families with kids, teens and tween to do.  Visit the links to see our more detailed articles about most of these activities:

  • Start your visit to Zion riding the shuttle buses from Springdale or the Zion Lodge to the end of the Zion Canyon Road.  The quiet propane-powered buses will take you to all the major landmarks while providing a sense of the peaceful setting discovered by the Canyon’s original settlers.
  • Explore the Riverside Walk trail at the end of the bus ride.   The lightly paved Riverside Walk begins at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle bus stop.  The trail follows the Virgin River until it disappears into the river itself.  It is a this point that the sides of Zion Canyon quickly close in and the Narrows Trail begins, allowing adventurous hikers to walk through the water for miles deep into the narrowest parts of the canyon in the summer when water levels are low.  The Narrows requires solid preparation and appropriate gear and pay attention to weather reports as flash floods are common.
  • Explore the Emerald Pools.  The trailhead is located just across the road from the Zion Lodge.  It connects to a series of pools and waterfalls.  The first .6 mile length of the trail takes you to the Lower Emerald Pool where a waterfall provides a cooling break.  Those that want more of an adventure can continue onwards and upwards to the Middle and Upper pools before winding their way back to the Zion Lodge.
The Emerald Pools Lower Trail is accessed via a footbridge over the Virgin River located opposite the Zion Lodge

The Emerald Pools Lower Trail is accessed via a footbridge over the Virgin River located opposite the Zion Lodge

  • Walk or bike on the Pa’rus Trail.  A fairly recent addition to the Zion National Park trail system, the Pa’rus  connects the Campgrounds near the Visitor Center, the Human History Museum and the Canyon Junction shuttle bus stop.  Bikes can be rented in Springdale.  This is the only trail in the park that also allows dogs.
  • Enjoy the local ambiance in Springdale.  We loved the small restaurants and the walkable village feel.  Although we stayed in the Zion Lodge, families that want more amenities might do better in Springdale.
  • Don’t miss the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway  and Tunnel and the amazing formations such as Checkerboard Mesa that lie on the other side of the Tunnel.  The switchbacks require a steady driver and those with RVs need to check out the tunnel height restrictions and escort regulations.
  • Budget enough time to see all that Bryce Canyon has to offer.  We fell short here since we only had one day to spend at Bryce Canyon.  We were able to enjoy the major ampitheaters and overlooks and did travel all the way to Rainbow Point at the end of the road, but wish we had the time to hike some of the under the rim trails.
  • Make a side trip to Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park if you are approaching the Parks via Las Vegas.  The park’s 42,000 acres include about 10 miles of paved roads that provide access to a number of highly eroded and unusual features formed from shifting sand dunes millions of years ago.  We particularly enjoyed the petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock.
Elephant Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Elephant Rock in Nevada’s Valley of Fire

  • Make another side trip to visit the Capital Reef National Park, also in southern Utah.  We missed this one and later heard from friends that we should have made the time.  The Park’s defining feature is the Waterpocket Fold, a  nearly 100-mile long warp in the Earth’s crust that exposes layers of rock that have been pushed upward along fault lines.   It has one very steep side in an area of otherwise nearly horizontal layers of rock. The rock layers on the west side of the Waterpocket Fold have been lifted more than 7000 feet  higher than the layers on the east.
  • Las Vegas McCarren International airport is a great jumping off point for visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks but, beyond getting the rental car and a quick meal, our advice is to minimize your family time in Las Vegas.  Although there are many fancy hotels, shows and shopping, we still are not convinced it is a great place for kids.  After seeing all of nature’s wonders in the National Parks, the manmade wonders of Las Vegas look like cheap thrills.

It is no secret that we are fans of the National Parks.  Southern Utah offers an amazing collection of great family destinations within a relatively short drive from one another, so, get out the maps, program the GPS,  lace up those hiking boots, and go explore Zion and Bryce Canyon National parks and the surrounding areas soon!


Sep 042011
 

Whether you arrive by ship or fly direct to Anchorage it is definitely worth taking a few days (or more) to explore the area around Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.  We spent a little over a week in the area and felt like we barely scratched the surface.   Depending on what else you are doing on your visit to Alaska with teens or tweens you can pick and choose from our top ten list or try to fit them all in.   Each of the links below will take you to a more detailed article about our experiences traveling around the area.  Each article includes lots of photos as well.

Best Teen and Tween Activities in and around Anchorage

Best Teen and Tween Activities in Whittier and the Kenai Peninsula

Hints for a Successful and Sane Alaska Trip with Teens and Tweens

Teens at the top of Mt Alyeska

As with any family vacation that packs a couple of parents and their teens and tweens into cars and hotels for days on end, be sure to build in down time, book lodging situations that will give everyone some room to breath, plan to be outside a lot, and let the teens and tweens have a say in the itinerary.  We also recommend asking the teens and tweens to help out on the photo crew – our #1 Son took many great shots that we might not have noticed, including some really nice ones of Alaska’s summer wildflowers, as well as most of our photos from the Flattop Hike and the Coastal Trail bike ride.

Note that we paid our own own way for all activities and lodging on the entire  trip and were pretty happy with all our arrangements.  However,  there are a couple of folks we just have to give extra kudos including:

  •  The Alaska Serenity Lodge in Soldotna.  On a lake and just off the beat track it was the perfect place to chill out, roast marshmallows, enjoy the hot tub, and be totally amazed about how it never gets dark out in late June and early July.
  • High Adventure Air in Soldotna made our fishing/bearviewing/flightseeing day a major success.  We particularly appreciated their waiting when we forgot our fishing licenses and had to rush back to the lodge to get them first thing in the morning!

We also recommend checking out some of the discount coupon books that are available online.  We purchased the Northern Lights book for about $50 and saved hundreds with two for one discounts on museums, raft rides, tram rides and the glacier cruise.  Just looking through its pages can give you some great ideas on activities and outfitters.

Finally, if you plan to do any amount of driving around the state be sure get a copy of The Milepost guide which is likely to have a better idea of where you are going than many GPS systems.  We found it to be very helpful, particularly when we made the spur of the moment decision to drive to Willow via Hatcher Pass rather than the main highway.

We’d love to hear if reading our blog influences your choice of what to do with your teens and tweens when your family visits Alaska.  Please leave a comment or drop us an email to let us know how you do!


Aug 142011
 

In between fishing, flying and cruising, we also found time to visit two of Anchorage’s major museums during our recent family vacation visit to Alaska.  The Anchorage Museum is home to the Smithsonian’s Arctic culture collection as well as a number of local and travel exhibits.  We spent an hour or two there on a rainy afternoon.   By comparison, the teens and their parents found the Alaska Native Heritage Center to be much more engaging because of the opportunity it provided to talk with representatives of eleven of Alaska’s native peoples.  If you only have time for one, we recommend spending a few hours at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

Native peoples perform at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

The Center houses a relatively small collection of indoor displays that showcase native cultures, the pressures they face and the ways the different native groups have adapted since Alaskan statehood was recognized.   In addition, an indoor performance space hosts a non-stop series of dancing, singing, instrumental, and athletic demonstrations. The real highlights for us, however, were the six authentic life-sized Native dwellings located around a small lake in back of the main building.

Totems representing the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures are on display

Each of these dwellings was staffed by natives of the culture represented by the dwelling.  They were extremely generous in sharing their personal stories and taking the time to answer our many questions.

Traditional dwelling for native peoples from Northwest Coastal Alaska

Many of the cultural representatives grew up actively participating in their cultural traditions.  They also spoke about the lives of their parents and grandparents, many of whom had lived in traditional style dwellings until the 1930s.

The traditional homes of the Unangax and Alutiiq peoples were built to weather harsh winters and wet maritime climates

The teens were fascinated to learn about the ways that small handbuilt kayaks were used to hunt whales and fish.  They even got to try their hands using some of the traditional tools.

Native peoples hunted whales from small kayaks similar to these

We also enjoyed hearing the stories one young woman shared about her summers spent hunting and skinning moose while living the traditional Athabascan lifestyle.

A representative of the Athabascan people recounts her childhood summers spent at traditional hunting camps

We opted to tour the native dwellings on our own rather than joining an escorted tour around the lake.  In many cases we were the only ones inside a dwelling and had ample opportunity to ask questions.  This is a great activity for families visiting Anchorage with teens, but be sure to budget a couple of hours in order to get the most out of your visit.  If you have visited the Center let us know what you thought about it.


Teens Go Fishing Alaska Style!

 Posted by on August 5, 2011  Comments Off
Aug 052011
 

One of the best activities we did as a family during our recent trip to Alaska was a full day flightseeing/bear viewing/fishing day at Big Twin Lake and Wolverine Creek.  We hit the lake on a beautiful blue sky day when the salmon were running and the bears were feeding.  See our article, Alaska: Where the Bears Are, for photos of the black and brown bears we saw.  Today we thought you might be interested in taking a peek at salmon fishing Alaska style.

Our day started out with a floatplane trip over the Cook Inlet to a landing on isolated Big Twin Lake where we transferred to an 18 foot fishing boat and headed toward Wolverine Creek.

Alaska's Big Twin Lake

We soon joined about 10 other boats also looking for salmon and bears.  We were surprised to see so many other folks on such a remote lake, but as we learned, when the salmon are running many Alaskans make it a priority to get out on the water.

Fishing with the masses at Wolverine Creek

We had brought our lunch so the next six hours were spent fishing, bear watching and touring the Lake.  Each person is limited to 3 fish daily.  With the help of our guide Ben from High Adventure Air, the teens both caught their limit and Mary T got one as well.

Our guide Ben, with High Adventure Air, was terriffic!

Of course, once you catch 30 pounds of salmon the question is what do you do with it.  Many of the lodges on the Kenai Peninsula have on site facilities if you want to fillet and freeze your own fish.  We opted to take it to a commercial processor where it was filleted overnight and returned to us in the morning.  We shared about half of it with the Alaska cousins and traded the rest for canned smoked salmon that came home with us as a reminder of our fun Alaskan fishing day!

We linked this article to the Delicious Baby Photo Friday Page with is a great place to find links to lots of other fun family travel photos.

 

 

Jul 272011
 

One of the most exciting things we did during our Alaska family vacation was to take a flightseeing/bear viewing/fishing day trip with High Adventure Air, based in Soldotna, AK on the Kenai Peninsula.  Flightseeing in Alaska can be expensive.  It is not unusual to see prices hitting $700/person for a full day trip similar to ours but leaving from Homer or Anchorage.   By leaving from Soldotna, we paid half that rate and had a thrill of a lifetime!

In addition to catching 30 pounds of salmon and getting the chance to view a number of active brown and black bears at Wolverine Creek, our High Adventure Air pilot treated us to a fly over of nearby Double Glacier.  It was definitely one of the more amazing things we saw in Alaska!

Flightseeing over Double Glacier in Alaska

We had gotten up close views of the tidal facing ice walls of the Beloit and Blackstone Glaciers during our day cruise from Whittier, but having the opportunity to fly over a glacier underscored how immense these rivers of ice really are.  We had not fully  grasped the scale of these monsters or appreciated how deep the crevasses might be,  Neither had we understood how broken and weathered the top layers of ice become during years of compression and weathering.

A view of the crevasses of Double Glacier

We also came to appreciate how the melt water from glaciers impacts the local streams.  We learned that glacier melt carries large amount of fine silt with it into the local streams.  Depending on the level of silt in the water, the rivers and streams can appear white as milk.  In less intense concentrations the water takes on a bright blue color that is very different from the color of  clear water streams.

Silted run off from Double Glacier

The pilots and guides from High Adventure Air went out of their way to make sure we had a terrific time and it didn’t hurt that the weather was spectacular.  From the moment we arrived at the dock and took off in the six seater floatplane we knew it would be a day to remember!

High Adventure Air floatplane ready for our day

We shared these photos over at the Delicious Baby Photo Friday page which is a great place to visit if you are looking for links to some great family travel photos and blogs.


Photos from a Day Cruise on Blackstone Bay

 Posted by on July 24, 2011  Comments Off
Jul 242011
 

Of the many things we wanted to do during our visit to Alaska, seeing glaciers was top of the list.  As we were taught in school, glaciers are moving rivers of ice that result as the weight of snow compresses on itself and converts into thick ice that moves slowly along pushed by gravity and its own weight.  Despite having seen many pictures of glaciers, nothing prepared us for their sheer size and beauty.

Beloit Glacier (L) and Blackstone Glacier (R) in Prince William Sound's Blackstone Bay

Many visitors see glaciers as part of their vacation cruise from Seattle or Vancouver.  However, since we flew to Anchorage for a land based vacation that included lots of time with our local cousins, we opted for a day cruise out of Whittier, about an hour south of downtown Anchorage.  Whittier is on the western edge of Prince William Sound which is home to dozens of active glaciers due to the fact that the area gets hundreds of inches of snow each year.  Access to Whittier is via a single lane tunnel that was built when the US military used Whittier as an active port.  Today, a few hundred year round residents call the town home, but it is an active launch point for day cruises, kayaks trips and other water-based adventures that enjoy the calm waters and scenic views.  This is one cruise where you don’t need to worry about getting sea-sick.

Be sure you know the tunnel schedule so you don't miss your Whittier, AK based day cruise

If you are looking for glaciers, the three major commercial day cruises offered are the 26 Glaciers cruise, Prince William Sound Glacier Cruises, and Major Marine cruises.  We paid for our own cruise and opted for Major Marine because it offered assigned interior seating and promised to spend significant time with a few glaciers.  The boat, Emerald Sea, was smaller and slower than the catamaran used by 26 Glaciers to zip around the Sound in hunt of, you guessed it, 26 glaciers.  The cousins had taken the Prince William Sound Glacier Cruise last year and enjoyed it, but it left earlier in the day that the one we selected.  Given that inbound access to Whittier is limited to 15 minutes once an hour, so that outbound traffic and the train can also use the tunnel, we decided the later cruise allowed us a little more time to sight see on the way to meet the boat.

Sea Otters in Prince William Sound near Whittier, AK

We were fortunate to have a beautiful sunny day.  Once we cleared the Whittier docks, the coastline featured mountains and waterfalls and views of more distant glaciers as well as lots of active eagles, otters and kittiwakes.  We saw a whale with a baby and a steller sea lion as well.  But, the main attractions were Beloit and Blackstone glaciers.

A whale in Blackstone Bay

While several glaciers can be seen at a distance high in the mountains surrounding the Bay, you can tell you are getting close to something a little more significant when the small icebergs start to float by.  Since only 15% of the iceberg is above water, even some of these babies are pretty good size.

Small icebergs start floating by as the boat approaches the glaciers

 

Once you get up close to the glaciers themselves it becomes clear than they are not just overgrown ice cubes.  The ice is jagged with deep crevasses and large holes.  Sections appear to have an intense blue color due to the ability of the ice to filter out parts of the color spectrum when the sunlight shines deep into it.  Dirt and rocks have been scooped up into the glacier during its long journey to the sea and can be seen mixed with the ice.

Blue ice at Beloit Glacier

 

The ice frequently groans and creaks and periodically small, or large, chunks will fall into the water.  We saw a number of smaller cascades but no major calving.  It sounds like a thunderclap in the distance just before smaller pieces break off.  The sound of a major break must be amazing.

We saw some smaller chunks fall from Blackstone Glacier

Of course, being on a boat, we were looking at the face of the glacier as it ended in the waters of the Bay.  The on board naturalist said the ice we saw was at least 10 years old and had traveled miles from the ice field where it was initially formed.   In addition to the glaciers, the melting snow fuels a myriad of waterfalls and cascades, all channeling out to the ocean.

 

Waterfall at Blackstone Glacier

We could have watched all day but unfortunately only got about 20-30 minutes with each of the major glaciers.  Although just about everybody on board was outside due to the spectacular weather we were always able to get a great view.

 

One last look at the glaciers of Blackstone Bay before we go

 

In the end, the cruise you select probably has less to do with how much you enjoy your day than does the weather and the level of activity you see at the glaciers themselves.  We had a beautiful sunny day and spent most of the 5 hour  cruise outside enjoying the sights.  The only thing that we would have changed was to bring a bag lunch rather than paying up for the lunch provided by the boat. The buffet moved slowly and we felt liked we missed out on some eagles and otters while waiting to eat.  We also missed dessert because we were outside with the glaciers when it was served.

Arriving back into Whittier Harbor

We recommend taking a Prince William Sound glacier cruise, even if your trip to Alaska includes time viewing glaciers from a large oceanliner.  The smaller boats that explore the Sound can get much closer to the actual face of the glacier than can the larger ships.  Looking up at the glacier towering above you underscores just how immense these moving rivers of ice really are.