Here’s the scoop. Vacations with a natural WOW! Factor deliver not-to-be-missed moments and one-of-a-kind thrills often seen on the Discovery Channel. Things like surfing a river rapid; hearing the roar of the incoming tide; watching a geyser explode; creating echoes from a mountaintop. I know of dozens of amazing family vacation ideas guaranteed to amaze, thrill, and yield unique family vacation memories. My list includes places where Mother Nature will impress even the most jaded adults and generate a WOW! from the kids. I am sharing a few examples on a short list below. For more ideas browse our Family Adventures lifestyle folder and see just exactly who delivers adventures with a natural WOW! Factor?
ACE Adventure Resort near Oak Hill in Southern West Virginia – Roll down a river. ACE has created a micro adventure area amid the forest bordering the New River. The complex is heaven for active families of all ages because from one location day adventures can easily be arranged so no two days will be the same but all will be awesome. Activities include guided zipline canopy excursions, mountain biking, rock climbing, rappelling, horseback riding and giant, crazy-fun lake toys for downtime near the lodge. WOW! Factor: This is the place to share an active day on a river whitewater rafting. The New River and the Gauley offer ways for families to share awesome adventures for any age. Paddle the rapids with your kids – bounce, lean, squeal and even scream before stopping for an awesome lunch along the shore. If the water is just right guides will practice their best raft surfing skills – a high energy WOW for everyone. Bonus points: The meals on site are healthy, tasty and just plain awesome making any stay carefree for mom too. Make it happen. ACE Adventure Resort Oak Hill WV, 25901. Toll-free 1-888-ACE-RAFT (1-888-223-7238), (304) 469-2651 or www.aceraft.com
Lucerne, Switzerland – Hike to the sky and touch a glacier. The Lake Lucerne Region is a “pocket-size version” of the country offering oodles of amazing outdoor activities only footsteps or a short boat excursion from the city center. The city, framed by the Alps, is known for lively festivals and awesome lake sports, family-friendly museums, lakeside cafes and eateries. It makes a comfortable, first-class family vacation base any time of year but I think summer is most magical. You will find mountain-slope slides on Pilatus, dragon spotting moor walks, and oodles of ways to enjoy the lakefront. WOW! Factor: Last August my family and I had the opportunity to spend time in Lucerne and to hike three full days. There is no better way to experience and actually share the awesome beauty of the Alps with your kids and there is no better company to hike with than ECHO Trails. They make dreams happen in style arranging the perfect amount of hiking with unique mountaintop dinning, and cultural encounters including cheese & chocolate sampling and the chance to create your own echoes or try yodeling. Bonus points: The active, lively day tours are led by native English speakers; family discounts apply; and Rene (the founder) is a pro at customizing vacation programs to fit families of all ages. Make it happen: Details for daily departures are available at www.echo-trails.com
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming – Walk on the wild side. It is almost impossible to say where to start for a perfect family adventure. The American West is dotted with WOW factors framed by plateaus, plains, mountains, rivers and raging waterfalls. The shear enormity of the sky and the abundance of wildlife are in itself rewarding. The night skies blanket the earth with millions stars and fireflies dance along trails leading to campfire conversations. There are classic rodeos, cowboy poetry, bison herds, and trail rides to be enjoyed. WOW! Factor: Yellowstone and its sister Grand Teton National Park deliver the richest diversity of wildlife this side of the Serengeti. Expect to see or at least hear grizzly bears, moose, elk, bison, wolves, deer, coyotes, marmots, hawks and eagles – not the same as going to the zoo. Add to that mountain peaks soaring above 13,000 feet, pristine glacier-carved lakes, thick spruce and fir forests, alpine meadows and rushing creeks, and let’s not forget geysers, fumaroles, steam vents and mud pots. Bonus points: Austin Lehman Adventures has organized several family departures to maximize the WOW factor for all ages. Make it happen. Toll-free 1-800-575-1540 or www.austinlehman.com
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – Stand along the edge and hear the Canyon whisper. Northern Arizona is one of my favorite family vacation destinations. Flagstaff because of the Museum of northern Arizona and the Lowell Observatory; Williams because the Grand Canyon Railway’s “Rails to the Rim” living history excursion, and Grand Canyon itself (North or South rim) which must be experienced to be believed. WOW! Factor. The sheer size of the Canyon which measures a mile (1.6km) deep, 277 river miles (446km) long, and in some places 18 miles (29km) wide cannot be explained it must be seen and felt. The sights, sounds, textures and aromas along the rim and in the Canyon, plus the rich menu of things within the park to be discovered and shared, will jam pack a family adventure and create memories good for a lifetime. Raft the Colorado River; hike to the Canyon floor or even rim to rim and make sure to take advantage of the exceptional ranger led programs throughout the park. Bonus points: Check out the Junior Ranger Discovery Pack which enables youngsters to explore the wonders of Grand Canyon ecology. The pack contains binoculars, hand lens, field guides, and other important tools for making discoveries. Make it happen. Visit the Grand Canyon National Park website, www.nps.gov/grca
Bay of Fundy & Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick – Step to on the ocean floor and hear the tidal roar. New Brunswick is naturally beautiful and the perfect “au natural” vacation for families. Once you enter the gates of Bay of Fundy National Park you may never want to leave. The programs offered by the rangers are excellent. The trails in the park are varied and well maintained. Not-to-be- missed are the tidal pools and the ranger led shoreline ecology walks and the nightly fireside talks.Hopewell Rocks Bay of Fundy Family with Ranger WOW! Factor. Not far from the park is world famous Hopewell Rocks Interpretive Center with an amazing story to show and tell about the power of the sea and its connection to all of us. In addition to colorful information panels, large visual and touchable displays that children enjoy, short video and audio clips it is actually possible to walk on the ocean floor. Bonus points: In Alma at the doorstep of Fundy National Park is an outstanding outfitter – FreshAir Adventure – that provides awesome day adventures along the coastal area. Kayak with them for an extra WOW. Make it happen. For kayaking go to FreshAir Adventures and for the big picture go to Bay of Fundy Tourism.
Content researched and posted by Nancy Nelson-Duac; Editor at FTF; images courtesy of ACE Adventure, ALA Adventures, and Hopewell Rocks NB. Copyright 2013.