Celebrating 100 years of America in Historic Ways and in Amazingly Beautiful Places.

There is plenty good news for families planning vacations. At the top of the list is the celebrating 100 years along with the National Park Service which will waive entrance fees on special days throughout the year.

Arches National Park Story Circle

Arches National Park in Utah offers story circles by day and star gazing by night.

All national parks, including locations in Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands will be participating is the celebration and the free admission days. On the island of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park will be celebrating its own centennial anniversary.

Kicking off the celebration is National Park Week April 16-24. which includes free admission. The in-park events and activities launch the celebration which culminates with the official National Park Service Birthday four-day celebration August 25-28.

The rest of the year looks impressive with all locations offering unique events which expand beyond ranger talks and Junior Ranger adventures. The expanded menus of cultural and natural experiences reinforce a sense of place and add extra value to a visit or a family vacation. Mark your calendar, find your park and make it happen in 2016.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park near San Antonio is also a UNESCO World Heritage.

During the year-long celebration parks will host innovative family activities, kid oriented activities, and distribute the new Centennial Junior Ranger booklet and badge. A preview is already available on line.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park near San Antonio

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park near San Antonio is also a UNESCO World Heritage.

The best way to become inspired about celebrating is to browse FindYourPark.com to view upcoming centennial events near you, share your own stories, and plan a visit.

Family friendly events span the gamut from living history moments to wonders of nature. At Guadalupe Mountains National Park join in an interactive session about javelinas the most curious canyon residents often confused with pigs.

Rangers from Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park will join forces providing telescopes so that visitors may experience the awesomeness of Utah’s night skies.

On the Atlantic coast Fort Moultrie National Park visitors will have a chance to view the night sky with Low Country Stargazers on Sullivan’s Island.

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park celebrates 100 years

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park celebrates 100 years on its own with cultural games and awesome lava bed hikes.

Visitors to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park during its centennial year will have the opportunity to take an adventurous guided hike into a large lava tube formed by Kīlauea volcano centuries ago and to participate in a variety of historic island games.

The best of America may be seen in our national parks. I am ready to celebrate this summer at Mt Rushmore in the Black Hills, Glacier National Park in Montana, and on Lake Superior’s awesome Isle Royale.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

Ireland on My Mind.

My screensaver for the month is the Cliffs of Moher; I watched River Dance last night; I am listening to Celtic Thunder at the moment and on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day I am planning to bake Irish soda bread. I have Ireland on my mind.

Cliffs of Moher along Ireland’s western coast

Cliffs of Moher along Ireland’s western coast embrace the power of the sea connecting the island to its destiny.

I think of Ireland and smile. It is known for its friendly people and engaging music plus I know it to be artful, festive, magical, mysterious, quirky, beautiful,  energizing, and welcoming which makes the destination perfect for families on holiday.

For families of all age combinations the choices for having fun and making memories are many. Want to enjoy miles of awesome bike trails, hike into the morning mist, or walk along ancient island pathways?  Want to listen to energizing music, hear local stories, and laugh every day? Maybe the taste creamy cheeses, soda bread, and scrumptious ginger bread sounds appealing? How about sailing lessons or a falconry session at a castle? Ireland with kids is a natural high. The fresh air and ready-made adventures make achieving a healthy vacation balance easy.

Historic Kinsale Harbor

Historic Kinsale Harbor is a stopping point on Thomson Family Adventures Ireland adventure.

For families the vacation options are plentiful from fly/drive circuits to escorted island adventures customized for small groups. Thomson Family Adventures has a quintessentially Irish family vacation experience. The escorted multi-sport tour includes Dublin and focuses on the dramatically beautiful southwestern coast and includes sailing lessons in the harbor of historic Kinsale, biking through the Gap of Dunloe, and kayaking around the shores of Baltimore. Adventures by Disney has a family tour which begins in Dublin, includes a castle stay and concludes at Shannon. For more independent families I very much like the Ancient & Medieval Mysteries vacation offered by Authentic Ireland.

Clonmacnoise Heritage Site

Nun’s Chapel ruins along the River Shannon at Clonmacnoise Heritage Site date from the 10th century depict evidence of Ireland’s rich history.

Of course I have dozens of notes and suggestions posted on our Ireland page. The punch line Ireland is a terrific place to vacation with kids of all ages.

Níos déanaí.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

Cross-country skiing near Traverse City, Michigan

Winter Trails Add Extra Energy to “Learn a Snow Sport Month.”

For most of North America January is all about snow sports and celebrating winter in the snow. We have been announcing this month-long celebration for more than a decade because it spans the country and always offers super deals and screen-free ways to share the fun with your kids.

Cross-country skiing near Traverse City, Michigan

Cross-country skiing family fun near Traverse City, Michigan

The Winter Trails component focuses on Nordic sports of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing two popular ways to have fun, burn calories and later eat all the chocolate or pasta you want. Because the best cross-country skiing spots are in beautiful surroundings where cell phones usually do not work the chance to escape with your kids for a day is easier. The result will yield more smiling, laughing, and maybe a few breathless moment if your kids are setting the pace.

Vail Resorts Nordic Center snowshoe treks in Colorado

Vail Resorts Nordic Center snowshoe adventures will energize any Colorado family vacation.

During January at participating locations there is no charge for the use of equipment and trails plus most locations offer snowshoeing and cross-country skiing instructions for newbies. Organizers have made registration easy with an online service that allows participants to sign up for their preferred location before leaving home. Those who register on-line have the chance to win prizes from sponsors.

Lapland Lake Adirondacks cross-country skiing.

Adirondacks cross-country skiing at Lapland Lake.

Winter Trails locations with offerings include popular alpine resorts like Sugar Mountain Resort near Boone, North Carolina and bucolic Lapland Lake Resort in New York’s Adirondacks as well as state parks, National Park Service, and U.S. Forest Service land. YMCA of the Rockies has terrific Nordic facilities.  Vail Resorts in Colorado offer Nordic adventures for families and kids of all age may enjoy the trails in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Information about other snow sports learning programs may be viewed at www.winterfeelsgood.com.

Happy trails,

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files

Hey Dudes, Saddle Up with Your Kids.

As the year comes to an end, it is time to think about next summer and making vacation plans. Given 2016 is an election year and it seems like there will be no end to the absurdities which will likely be super-sized by summer, I think a dude ranch might be the answer. A dude ranch vacation provide opportunities to escape the 24-hour news cycle and to get real. Time on a guest ranch delivers new experiences with every sunrise and no fact checking will be needed.

Dude Ranch Vacation Smile

Smiling comes naturally for kids on a dude ranch vacation.

Our family has enjoyed many Wyoming campfires with sing-a-longs, trail rides in Colorado, Arizona starry nights with coyotes yelping, and cowboy poetry in Alberta. Our daughters learned to saddle and ride, rope and shoot skeet, track and identify scat before they were teens.

I can say honestly no two days on a ranch will ever be the same but every day is guaranteed to be interesting and rewarding. Expect horses, hats, hospitality, heritage, honesty and heart with a little music, a lot of storytelling, and plenty of reasons to smile or laugh out loud. Expect screen-free family fun.

Located in some of the most breathtaking areas of the U.S. and Canada, dude ranches are usually all-inclusive and generally flexible with activities. One of the best resources for planning a family dude ranch vacation is the Dude Ranchers’ Association (DRA). Their website features more than 100 accredited guest ranches.

Browsing is part of the fun.

Happy trails,

Nancy Nelson-Duac, Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files

A Harvest Time Farm Stay Is the Remedy for Nature Deficiency Disorder.

An escape to rural America is an easy way to create your own free range agri-adventure enjoying the simple pleasures of a lifestyle enjoyed by a select few. The great thing about a farm stay getaway is that it will be beautifully screen free and most likely can also be labeled  free range.

Farm Stay Pumpkins and Kids

Pumpkins and kids make any farm stay extra special.

An authentic farm stay is not is a bed & breakfast in an old farm house no longer part of a working farm but instead it is an immersive experience and a tonic for those suffering from  “Nature Deficiency Disorder.”

Through hands-on experiences children have to possibility to learn the values of conscious, responsible living. What a great way for kids to learn that milk comes from cows and not cartons in the supermarket and that goats are not just curios and gregarious, they are a source of scrumptious cheese.

Farm Stay Egg Collecting.

During a farm stay nothing creates more excitement for tykes than collecting fresh eggs.

No two locations are the same and each experience is unique not just to the farm or ranch but also to the season of the year. There will always be daily livestock chores (optional), and often times harvesting, and maybe even wrangling. Little urban bunnies may participate in animal grooming, apple picking, pumpkin hunting, hayrides, campfire stories, and stargazing without the intrusion of city lights.

Western Pleasure Ranch in Idaho Horseback Rides

Experiencing autumn from horseback at Western Pleasure Ranch in Idaho is the stuff from which family memories are made.

The perfect resource for planning a farm or ranch stay in North America is Farm Stays US – a site offering oodles of un-hotel vacation experiences. Their rich menu of listings spans coast to coast including all 50 states. A useful guestbook tab features comments from guests who often times are parents or grandparents..

Some farms host guests in the farmhouse while others provide separate spaces including converted farm buildings, cabins, floored safari tents, or campsites. No two locations are the same and each offers unique benefits – the most obvious advantage – a chance to unplug, disconnect and discover the gift of time.

Who doesn’t need more time to enjoy life?

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff  for www.thefamilytravelfiles.com  and a lover of pumpkins, horses, and goat cheese.

Free Adventuring for 4th Graders All Year Long.

Do you know a fourth grader better yet do you live with a fourth grader?  If so then you are in luck. Starting today every fourth grader in the US is eligible for a pass that provides free access to all federally managed lands and waters – including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and marine sanctuaries.

Every Kid in a Park Pass

We come and go, but the land is always here and the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it for a little while. Willa Cather

The new federal initiative with the moniker “Every Kid in a Park” offers the possibilities for ready-made family adventures. The program is expansive, inclusive and I think terrific. No matter where you live in the United States, there’s a site within two hours of your home. Think about stargazing on the rim of the Grand Canyon or hiking to an ancient pueblo at Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff.

Next year is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service and this program makes it easy to select a park and celebrate with a visit. The pass is valid for the 2015-2016 school year and grants free entry for fourth graders and three accompanying adults (or an entire car for drive-in parks) at more than 2,000 federally-managed sites.

Grant Kohrs Junior Ranger Program

Grant Kohrs National Monument in Montana connects kids with the spirit of the American West.

From Boston and Philadelphia to Yellowstone and Yosemite the possibilities are endless. From hiking within the shadow of Mount Rainier or taking selfies at Mount Rushmore to air-boating in the Everglades or snorkeling within the US Virgin Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the choices for a world-class family adventure are many.

Fourth graders are invited to log onto http://www.everykidinapark.gov  and complete an entertaining, educational activity in order to obtain and print their paper pass. The paper version may be exchanged for a more durable one at participating federal locations nationwide.

Pueblo at Wupatki National Monument

The ancient pueblos of Wupatki National Monument are perched between the Painted Desert and Ponderosa highlands of Northern Arizona.

Parents visiting the new website will find additional links for more information on planning trips to nearby public lands and some of the most remarkable places in America. Grant Kohrs National Monument demonstrates the cowboy spirit typical of the American frontier. Think about walking in the cloud forest of El Junque in Puerto Rico or counting roadrunners in Saguaro National Park near Tucson.  Fly a kite on Cape Hatteras in North Carolina or kayak within Acadia National Park in Maine.

So many great ways to celebrate 100 years with or without a fourth grader.

Nancy Nelson-Duac         Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

 

Color Your Summer Vacation with Extra Blue and More Fun.

Children learn what they live so it is never too early to share planet-friendly experiences and in this case sea-friendly experiences with children enabling them to build their own positive connection with our planet.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Discoveries and Family Fun.

Monterey Bay Aquarium special summer activities offer great ways for families to experience the wonders of the ocean together, enjoy a diver’s-eye view of marine life, and watch jellies dance.

Green spots, meaning earth-friendly family vacation ideas, are abundant but what about a blue version. The bluest family vacations include experiences at facilities and working labs that share a love of the ocean and enable families to discover amazing things about life in the sea. These seaside centers and labs have family-friendly programs and activities which add extra “blue” to any vacation. The interactive, engaging programs provide opportunities for family fun and make the perfect launch to next year’s school year.

These beach vacation locations have all the benefits of paradise plus “blue,”  planet-friendly activities at sea life centers and interactive marine labs. These 10 examples demonstrate the best of  blue possibilities.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Underwater Explorers program gives kids have the chance to surface SCUBA in the Great Tide Pool.

Dauphin Island Sea Lab Center discovery cruise in Mobile Bay.

Dauphin Island Sea Lab Center offers exciting discovery cruises in Mobile Bay perfect for adding extra blue to any family vacation.

At Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama share the adventures of a grain of sand.

Virginia Aquarium on Virginia Beach has interactive catamaran sealife excursions.

MOTE Aquarium & Marine Laboratory in Sarasota invites visitors to serve brunch to a shark.

Port Townsend Marine Science Center in Washington is the place to go tide pool trekking.

At Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach caress sharks in Shark Lagoon.

At Seymour Marine Discovery Center in Santa Cruz it is possible to pet a shark.

South Padre Island Dolphin Research and Sealife Center in Port Isabel is the place to meet the dolphins of the Laguna Madre.

At Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward visitors are invited to shake hands with an octopus.

Beluga Whales at Mystic Aquarium.

Mystic Aquarium is home to some of the most amazing Beluga whales in captivity.

Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration lets guests paint with a Beluga whale.

As always I welcome feedback. Do you have a favorite blue experience to share? If so just Tell Mom.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.