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10 great outdoor adventures for families

Give the kids their first taste of America's epic outdoor adventures. These 10 getaways, including hiking the Appalachian Trail and canyoneering in Utah's red sandstone, are pint-sized versions of legendary experiences you'll talk about for years to come. Best of all, they're trips a family on a budget can actually afford.

Kayaking Lake Superior's Apostle Islands

A cluster of 21 islands off the northwestern tip of Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands are rimmed with enough mystery to intrigue even the youngest visitors. Family kayaking trips for paddlers as young as age 5 lead to secret chambers, honeycombed cave passageways, and visible shipwrecks. On a four-day all-inclusive excursion, you venture out from base camp each day in three-seater kayaks, stopping at wide, sandy beaches and historical lighthouses. Guides also prepare each kid-friendly meal and set up your base-camp tent under towering hemlock trees. They keep kids entertained with splash wars and dares to leap into the chilly waters of Lake Superior. On land there are games and, after dinner, s'mores around the campfire.

Boating through Arizona's Antelope Canyon

To fully appreciate the grandeur of Antelope Canyon, the Southwest's most photographed canyon, you and the kids have to see both sides — and at different times of the day. During a Navajo-led hike ($35 to $46) of the upper canyon on Navajo land, you see shafts of light stream in around noon. Later, the canyon's hues become vibrant reds, blues, and purples. After your hike, drive to the canyon's other side at Lake Powell Resort for an afternoon boat tour ($41 to $65). See the massive 710-foot Glen Canyon Dam from the seat of a boat before cruising up Antelope Canyon until it narrows so much you can almost touch the sides.

Downhill thrills in Keystone, Colorado

Satisfy your kids' need for downhill speed at a fraction of the price you'd pay in winter at Keystone Resort. Just 90 miles from Denver International Airport, Keystone reassigns its ski lifts to bike duty in summer. Families can hop the lift (all day: $37 per adult, $21 per child) with mountain bikes, then barrel down bare ski trails, from easy green runs to double black diamonds, in one of the country's top-rated downhill bike parks. On another part of the mountain you can actually go snow tubing in summer. One hour of lift-accessed tubing, including a $15 lunch voucher, costs $41. Go on a geocaching adventure ($10) and find hidden treasures along Keystone's hiking and biking trails.

Idaho's all-inclusive eco-adventure Lodge

For exhausted parents, nothing simplifies vacation planning like an all-inclusive family getaway. Especially when it's as affordable as River Dance Lodge, an outdoor adventure resort along the Clearwater River in central Idaho's mountain wilderness. Everything is included — your cabin stay, your meals, and the guided activities. Each day you can choose your adventure: horseback riding or rafting, a float trip or fly-fishing, hiking or biking. At night there are songs around the campfire and dark skies perfect for stargazing while you soak in the hot tub on your cabin's deck. There's no cell-phone service here, and Internet access is limited to the cafe, which helps change Facebook time to family time.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

It takes thru-hikers about six months to trek the entire 2,180-mile route from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail, the granddaddy of the world's footpaths. If that would amount to too many "are-we-there-yets" for your family, try one of the Appalachian Mountain Club's affordable, all-inclusive family camps and weekends in New Hampshire's White Mountains.

During hut-to-hut hiking camps (ages 9-plus), you cover small sections of the A.T. with a guide and stay in backcountry huts. Multisport camps (ages 9-plus) take you hiking, climbing, and rafting. Lodge-based family camps, some for ages 5 through 12 and others for ages 3 through 5, have day hikes and activities.

Adventures in the Ozark Mountains

Named one of America's best adventure towns by National Geographic Adventure, Mountain View, Ark., gives you chances to bond in the Ozarks' highs and lows. At Loco Ropes Treetop Adventure Park, you'll hop from log to swinging log, step off the 35-foot-tall platform edge for a freefall experience, and navigate 28 other challenges over the course of three hours ($50 adults, $40 kids). Next, try spelunking at Blanchard Springs Caverns. Take the standard tour ($10.50 per adult, $5.50 per child) or a more strenuous version ($75.50, ages 10-plus).

Swamp fun in Everglades National Park

One-third of Everglades National Park's 1.5 million acres is water, making it Florida's wettest water-park alternative. A ranger-led slough slog gives you permission to venture off-trail and get your feet wet in rivers of grass. At the park's Flamingo area marina, you can rent a four-person canoe for $20 for a minimum of two hours. Paddle mangrove swamps and the open ocean to see manatees, dolphins, and crocodiles.

When you're ready to dry off, bike past the watchful eyes of alligators along the 15-mile Shark Valley loop trail. Bike rentals ($8 per hour) include child seats and youth bikes. Bring bug spray or avoid swarms of mosquitoes by visiting in the dry season, December through April.

Whitewater rafting in West Virginia

Nothing gets a 13-year-old to break from texting like a whitewater-rafting trip on the "Beast of the East." West Virginia's Gauley River boasts the most intense whitewater rafting east of the Mississippi, and several rafting companies run trips for families with older kids. For the younger set there's the nearby New River, which flows slower in the upper sections as it cuts through a gorgeous 1,000-foot-deep gorge and passes beneath a steel-arch bridge. There's still a wow-factor here, but the paddling is safe enough for kids as young as age 6.

Canyoneering In Utah

Hard-core canyoneers descend into Blue John Canyon in Canyonlands National Park. For beginners and families, though, Kanarra Creek Canyon outside Kanarraville and Zion National Park is a great place to start. If you can hike and scramble across rocks, you can canyoneer in Kanarra. It doesn't require any experience, technical gear, or permits. This 3 1/2-mile round-trip slot canyon is shorter than most canyoneering routes and features logs, ladders, and ropes so you can traverse without rappelling or a guide. For families with less experience in the outdoors, Zion Adventure Company leads trips in the area.

Camping in Yosemite

Humility comes in big doses at Yosemite National Park. There are waterfalls taller than skyscrapers, towering granite faces, and ancient giant sequoias in vast swaths of wilderness. Stay at the park's Housekeeping Camp and get a jaw-dropping view of two iconic Yosemite spots: Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. Along a sandy bank on the Merced River, Housekeeping Camp sees generations of families that return each year to the convenient site. The camp's 266 concrete-walled tents, which sleep up to six, are great for families who want to stay outdoors without the hassle of setup and teardown. It's an ideal base for park activities like rafting three miles down the Merced ($29 per adult, $24 per child) and two-hour horseback rides to Mirror Lake.


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