our year in review- top-5 family trips of 2015

Posing at Bierstadt Lake on a June 2015 trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, located about an hour from our Longmont home.

Posing at Bierstadt Lake on a June 2015 trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, located about an hour from our Longmont home.

     Our family-travel theme in 2015 was all about the U.S. I could lament the fact that we didn’t get to journey overseas, but the truth is there’s so much we’ve yet to see in this vast country. Add in all the new places we experienced throughout the year in our own colorful Colorado, who am I to complain?

     From a wintery escape to the historic Broadmoor in Colorado Springs at the beginning of the year to a New Year’s ski celebration in Crested Butte—and all of the adventures in between—2015 was a fantastic year of family travel. Here are my Top-5 Favorites in chronological order:


1. Surfing in San Antonio, Texas

     During our first getaway to this vibrant Texan city—a four-day trip in April—we knew we had to see the state’s most famous landmark and revered symbol of Texas independence, The Alamo. Add in the requisite boat tour along the city’s famed River Walk, then a stop there for Mexican food, plus a full day at the San Antonio Zoo, we crammed a host of highlights into the short trip. But ask my boys about their highest highlight, and they’ll most certainly answer, “Surfing!”

     Among the many benefits of booking a stay at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa, located about 18 miles west of downtown San Antonio, my kids loved the FlowRider, a wave simulator for learning body, knee, and stand-up boarding techniques. Of course, they also enjoyed the hotel’s on-site pools and lazy river, Ramblin’ River. But months later, they still talk about the fun “flowboarding” with the help of uber-friendly Edge Falls staff. Click here to read full story in Outdoor Families Magazine (OFM).


2. Lunching with Llamas in Vail, Colo.


     If you grow tired of hearing your kids whine during your next hike, give them a “job” to distract them from the task. Or, more to the point, let them lead a llama on the trail.

     One of our favorite activities during our weekend stay last June in Vail, Colo., each kid led llamas Pacheco and Durango during the half-day “Lunch with Llamas” trek with Paragon Guides. A responsibility they took with all the seriousness a young boy could muster, there wasn’t one complaint during the 3-mile journey along the West Grouse Creek Trail. Bonus? They loved the attention from fellow hikers, who gasped at the sight of llamas, a rarity in Colorado’s high country.

     But, for the record, you don’t ride the llama; you let them carry all your gear so you don’t have to shoulder the burden yourself. Able to carry up to 80 pounds of weight, these intelligent, peaceful creatures are also eco-friendly, with padded hooves that leave less trace than a hiking shoe and scat that is easily processed in the mountain wilderness. And, really, it’s just-plain fun for my kids to say, “I’ve hiked with a llama.” Full stories at OFM and 5280.com.


3. Marveling at Marine Life in Monterey, Calif.

    I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to witness what so many others have told me before: California’s Monterey Bay is an exceptional family destination. Designated “the Serengeti of the Sea” for its plentiful marine life, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) boasts the nation’s largest kelp forest, and includes 34 species of marine mammals, 180 species of seabirds and shorebirds, and at least 525 fish species—many of which we spotted during our four-day trip there in July. 

     On our half-day sea-kayaking tour of Monterey Bay with Monterey Bay Kayaks, for instance, we watched sea lions vying for prime sun-tanning spots atop buoys, saw sea otters frolicking amid the boats and even held a very slimy but strangely cute sea hare slug.

     Another day, we headed to nearby Santa Cruz for a half, day whale-watching tour with Stagnaro Charters. In addition to spotting unique species like Risso’s dolphins and an ocean sunfish (mola mola), a humpback whale was so happy to entertain us that we had to leave before he was done performing!

     But if you’re short on time or don’t feel adventurous enough to set sail at sea, you simply cannot miss visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium, undoubtedly one of the greatest aquariums in the world. Located in the famed Cannery Row, the aquarium’s nearly 200 exhibits and 35,000 creatures—in addition to its world-famous, 28-foot kelp forest—could entertain your kids for days.


4. Biking Wyoming’s Wild West


     Since experiencing our first Western Spirit Cycling trip in 2003—a weeklong tour through Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest in which we camped each night at a different hot springs—we dreamed of taking another one someday with our kids. It finally came true 12 years later in August, when we took a five-day family bike trip from Idaho’s Island Park to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

     A perfect introduction for kids to mountain biking, each day began with an approximately 10-mile ride that included flat pavement, hilly dirt roads and rails to trails—abandoned railroad tracks transformed into hiking, biking and walking trails. Even a small stretch of non-technical singletrack. And if you wanted to ride more after lunch? Head out for another 10 or so miles before pre-dinner, campsite cocktails.

    Not only did we enjoying picturesque river valleys, cow-specked fields and some of the country’s most stunning, remote wilderness via bike, but we did so with the help of a support truck. Translation? We didn’t haul our own gear or food, plus anyone could opt to ride in it to the next stop without shame. And while we set up and tore down our campsites, the biking guides took care of the rest, including cooking delectable meals to rival any I've had back home. As one of the kids said, it was fun getting to camp without having to do all the work. Couldn’t have said it better myself! Click here to read about our 2003 Idaho adventure with Western Spirit.


5. Cultivating Christmas Cheer in Keystone, Colo.

     I was having trouble finding my Christmas spirit until a last-minute, December trip to Keystone Ski Resort, a first for this Colorado native (gasp!). But how could you not feel merry with all of the resort's family-friendly holiday cheer?

     In just two days we saw a Santa parade at Dercum Square Ice Rink, had brunch with Santa that offered pancakes topped with candies and whipped cream, and saw a holiday-themed chocolate village at Keystone Lodge and Spa featuring 8,000 pounds of chocolate crafted into gifts, nutcrackers and a 650-pound white-chocolate Christmas tree.

     And that didn’t even count visiting the world’s largest snow fort, followed by a jaunt next door for Snow Tubing at Adventure Point--both part of the resort’s Kidtopia program offering a variety of kid-friendly activities for guests--and two full days of skiing in powdery delight. That plus an evening gondola journey to the top of North Peak (elev. 11,444 feet) for festive fondue at Bavarian restaurant Der Fondue Chessel banished any further “bah-hum-bugging.” Keystone was exactly what I needed to conquer Christmas and the New Year!

honorable mention-magnolia hotel

     Why an honorable mention? Because the Magnolia Hotel Denver was the one place my husband and I stayed without kids (in December), which is honorable enough.

     But it’s also noteworthy for the building’s historical significance as the First National Bank, which opened in 1911. As well, 2015 meant the start of a multi-million dollar guest-room renovation, ulimately resulting in 297 rooms including a 12th-floor Presidential suite. In addition, its location just off Denver's popular 16th Street Mall made it an ideal location to walk to nearby restaurants and enjoy downtown’s holiday decorations. A perfect home away from home, if only for one night.

A view of the hotel's 12th-floor Presidential suite.

A view of the hotel's 12th-floor Presidential suite.