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Call of the Wild: Adventure Vacations for Families

For families looking for a vacation that's out of the ordinary, nature meets adventure at these popular -- and activity-driven -- destinations.

By Sunshine Flint

Yosemite, Salt Lake City, and San Juan Islands Geocaching in Yosemite
Geocaching in Yosemite
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Jae Feinberg

The destination: The central Sierra Nevada mountain range offers 1,200 miles of vast wilderness with waterfalls, meadows, and trails -- and myriad opportunities to hike, fish, camp, and explore.
The adventure: The modern-day equivalent of a treasure hunt, geocaching is as much fun as discovering a chest of pirate's gold. Using GPS (global positioning system) technology, geocachers enter latitude and longitude coordinates into a handheld receiver to locate "caches" of trinkets, candy, and other items hidden near various destinations. At Evergreen Lodge, bordering Yosemite National Park, you'll learn how to use the GPS units, which will point you to waterfalls, park vistas, and other scenic locales in the wilderness ($15 for geocaching, evergreenlodge.com).
Don't miss: The breathtaking Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is home to trees that are 2,700 years old. Take an open-air tram to the Upper Grove for a great view from the top ($16 adults, $10 kids). For info: nps.gov/yose.
Where to stay: The cabins at the historic Evergreen Lodge don't have televisions or in-room phones, but many have heat and private bathrooms. One-bedroom cabins for two to four people start at $209 a night; family cabins for four to six start at $249 (evergreenlodge.com).

Zip Lining in Salt Lake City
Zip Lining in Salt Lake CIty
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Utah Olympic Park

The destination: Nestled in the valley between the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountain ranges, Salt Lake City has a vibrant downtown and unparalleled access to natural beauty.
The adventure: Utah Olympic Park has two zip lines (cable and pulley systems set on an incline) that let riders zoom down the mountain at 50 miles an hour. The Xtreme Zip ($20) is the world's steepest; it runs down the park's K120 ski jump hills and drops more than 430 feet. (Riders must weigh at least 100 pounds.) The slower Ultra Zip ($15) travels down the winter freestyle hill; minimum weight for riders is 50 pounds. Park admission is free, and there's also an alpine slide and bobsled rides (ages 14 and up). For info: 435-658-4200 or olyparks.com.
Don't miss: Spend an afternoon at the Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake and trace your family's roots. This is the largest library of its kind and has a database of more than 1 billion family names. For info: 866-406-1830 or familysearch.org.
Where to stay: Park City's 106-room Best Western Homes Landmark Inn is located at the base of Olympic Park. The kids will enjoy the heated indoor pool. Rates start at $110. For info: 800-548-8824 or bwlandmarkinn.com.

Kayaking off San Juan Islands
Kayaking Off San Juan Islands
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San Juan Safaris

The destination: Situated off the coast of Washington State and British Columbia, the San Juan Islands boast rugged shorelines and soaring evergreen trees, and afford awesome opportunities for seal spotting and whale watching.
The adventure: The best way to see the roughly 450 islands is from the water. San Juan Safaris offers a three-hour tour for families with children as young as 6 in two- to three-person kayaks. The guides provide equipment, give paddling lessons, and will point out sea birds and marine animals ($65 per person). For info: 800-450-6858 or sanjuansafaris.com.
Don't miss: Learn about the mammals that inhabit the local waters at the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. Then, in the spirit of Free Willy (some scenes were filmed on the islands), adopt an orca for your family for $60 -- all funds go to whale studies and conservation. For info: whalemuseum.org.
Where to stay: Children 12 and under are free at the 74-room Elements Hotel and Spa, just steps from the ferry dock, restaurants, and shops. An on-site spa can save a rainy day, although San Juan Island gets almost 250 sunny days a year. The extra-large Sun Places rooms begin at $199 (hotelelements.com).

Block Island, Albuquerque, the Florida Keys, and Jackson Hole Biking on Block Island
Biking on Block Island

The destination: Block Island offers beachfront, nature trails, and quaint shops and eateries.
The adventure: In this biker's haven, rolling hills connect fields to beaches. The high-speed ferry from Point Judith (one hour from Providence, Rhode Island) brings you to Block Island's main harbor ($10.60 adults, $5.20 children). From there, walk to your hotel and ask about bike rentals; a full-day rental is about $12. For info: 401-364-9124.
Don't miss: Climb up Mohegan Bluffs, then ascend to the lantern room of the Southeast Lighthouse for a view of the waves crashing below (visitrhodeisland.com).
Where to stay: The National is in the center of town. Rooms for four from $309 (blockislandhotels.com).

Hot Air Ballooning in Albuquerque
Hot Air Ballooning in Albuquerque
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Rainbow Ryders

The destination: With a rich history, excellent food, world-renowned arts and cultural institutions, and about 310 days of sunshine a year, Albuquerque is guaranteed to keep everyone -- even a hard-to-please teenager -- happy.
The adventure: Albuquerque is the hot air ballooning capital of the world because of the "Albuquerque box," the unique weather and wind patterns created by the high mountains and river valley. Take off with Rainbow Ryders for a flight above the Rio Grande River and next to the Sandia Mountains. A one-and-a-half-hour ride costs $170 for adults and $110 for kids. For info: 800-725-2477 or rainbowryders.com. Then visit the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum ($4 adults, $1 children; balloonmuseum.com).
Don't miss: Wind through the Pueblo-Spanish architecture of Albuquerque's Old Town, whose galleries feature works by Native American and Southwestern artists. Browse the locally owned shops selling handcrafted jewelry. For info: 800-733-9918 or itsatrip.org.
Where to stay: The 146-room Nativo Lodge has decorative touches like Native American carpets and rugs, dream catchers and a tepee alongside the pool. Rates start at $39. For info: 888-628-4861 or nativolodge.com.

Snorkeling in the Florida Keys
Snorkeling in the Florida Keys

The destination: The Florida Keys island chain comprises complex ecosystems -- and its residents are passionate about preserving the area's beauty.
The adventure: Go snorkeling in the shallow, clear waters of the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. Board the catamaran at the Looe Key Reef Resort & Dive Center and explore a pristine coral reef teeming with schools of fish and sea turtles (snorkeling is $40 for adults, $30 for kids). For info: 800-LOOEKEY.
Don't miss: Hike the Mannillo Nature Trail in the National Key Deer Refuge. For info: 305-872-0774.
Where to stay: All rooms at Parmer's Resort on Little Torch Key have porches or decks (from $119). For info: 305-872-2157 or parmersresort.com.

Rock Climbing in Jackson Hole
Rock Climbing in Jackson Hole
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Mark Fisher

The destination: Known primarily for its skiing, Jackson Hole heats up in the summer with activities like golf, rafting, horseback riding, and rock climbing.
The adventure: The Jackson Hole Mountain Guides & Climbing School has a Kid Rock! program for ages 7 to 10 at Boulder Town in Grand Teton National Park. The seven-hour class covers safety, knots, belaying, and climbing. The school provides the equipment, from helmets to harnesses, but a parent must accompany each child ($100 per person). For info: 800-239-7642 or jhmg.com.
Don't miss: Witness cowboys test their calf-roping and bull-riding skills at the Jackson Hole Rodeo (every Wednesday and Saturday evening; $40 family rate includes two adults and all children). For info: 307-733-2805 or jhrodeo.com.
Where to stay: The Best Western Lodge at Jackson Hole has a pool and sauna. Mini-suites start at $249 per night. For info: 800-458-3866 or lodgeatjh.com.

Originally published in Family Circle magazine, August 2007.

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