If there’s a greater gift than a brand-new adventure, we don’t know what it is. Whether you treat yourself, your partner, or the whole family, each of these trips holds the promise of an unforgettable time.
Visit a New City
Block out a couple days to road-trip to a nearby city for a weekend of fabulous restaurants, spas, and shopping with your nearest and dearest. Option one: Head five hours south to The Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis, with its beautiful outdoor pool and hot tub, complete with views of the arch. Kids can take pizza-making classes and make their own gelato behind-the-scenes in the kitchen while mom and dad indulge in a couple’s massage. Or, to play out your best treehouse fantasy, there’s always option two: a seven-ish hour drive to Memphis, where you’ll shack up at Big Cypress Lodge, located inside the city’s famed 32-story Bass Pro Shops. Here, you can stay inside a rustic treehouse suite, complete with a screened-in porch that overlooks an alligator pond.
- Even Better: The Four Seasons St. Louis makes it look easy being green — even the key cards, once plastic, are biodegradable bamboo; Big Cypress Lodge supports myriad conservation efforts including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and more.
Hike the Grand Canyon
If the Grand Canyon has been singing you a siren song, don’t wait — go! Link up with Four Season Guides, who’ll lead you on a four-day hike from the North Rim to the South Rim, complete with camping at three different locations along the way. Food and gear will be provided, but you’ll be expected to pack in and pack out your own trash, keeping the environment squeaky clean for future generations of hikers. Keep your eyes out for big horn sheep, scorpions, and snakes on the ground and California condors, red-tailed hawks, and canyon wrens in the sky.
- Even Better: According to the National Park Service, visitors to the Grand Canyon last year spent more than $648 million, which supports the communities near the park and provides nearly 10,000 jobs, sustaining local communities and benefitting the economy.
Explore a Far-Flung Land
If you’re dying to expose your kids to a new country and culture — but not sure where to start — look no further than REI Adventures. Their guided trips, designed specifically for families, whisk you off to magical places like Tanzania, Thailand, Greece, Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, and Peru. The best part: the trip will be full of activities that little ones of all ages actually like — think zip lining, rafting, animal encounters, surfing, hiking, and camping. Not only has REI been planning active trips for more than 30 years, but the tour guides promote sustainability, eco-friendly travel, culture appreciation, and a leave-no-trace ethos while out in nature.
- Even Better: REI invests in partner nonprofits for outdoor stewardship and the co-op uses 100 percent renewable energy to operate, making this company a leader in the industry.
Take Your Taste Buds on an Epicurean Adventure
Breaking bread and carving out time to talk together over a meal is an excellent way to bond, learn about how everyone’s day went, and also dive into new creative dishes. For a healthy, casual, family-friendly restaurant that has loads of gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options, check out LYFE Kitchen — there are four Chicago locations. For a meals-like-mom-makes experience (without the mess or cleanup), schedule a reservation at the super hip River Roast, located along the Chicago River. Expose your family to James Beard Award-winning chefs, enjoy stellar views, and connect with your family over a belly-warming meal with live blues music. Finally, if you want to bring Fido, check out Filini Bar and Restaurant — your pooch can enjoy a special menu while you sip a latte, hot cocoa, or Rishi tea.
Visit Santa Claus — the Real One
Fly into Helsinki, rent a bike, and tour the churches, cobblestone streets, indoor markets, and museums. Visit a music festival like Flow Festival. Then, travel north to the winter wonderland of Lapland. Cross your fingers in hopes of seeing the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), meet the indigenous Sami people, and visit Santa Claus — yes, the real one. The Arctic Circle Post Office receives more than half a million letters annually from children all over the globe. Finland’s low population density facilitates an unspoiled natural environment, which promotes nature conservation and has been rated with high environmental protection standards.
Cheyenne Frontier Days — a Rodeo and Celebration of Western Culture
Listed in the best-seller “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” Cheyenne’s Frontier Days is an epic western 10-day adventure that includes a Native American educational performance and celebration, parade, pancake breakfast, old Frontier Town, carnival, live music, and, of course, a huge rodeo. Nearly 3,000 volunteers donate their time and energy every year to make this event run, including members of the Youth Volunteer Program. The outdoor rodeo has been held annually since 1897 and it’s well-known as the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and western celebration. Watch bronc and bull riding, barrel racing, steer roping, steer wrestling, and a wild horse race. You will remember this experience — “The Daddy of ‘em All” — long after you’ve returned home.
Ride a llama or Take a Jeep Tour — Soft Adventures for Kids is Estes Park
If you have little ones in tow, you may want to check out some unique adventures that are designed for every ability. Go snow shoeing, sledding or cross country skiing when there’s snow, or visit Rocky Mountain National Park, go horseback riding, rafting, and geocaching in the summer. For a safe thrill, take a Green Jeep Tour and visit waterfalls and see wildlife with an expert guide. For a longer trip, go on a llama pack trip with Kirks Mountain Adventures — kids can actually ride the llama. All of these adventures are great for instilling a love of nature in kids, hopefully inspiring them to protect our globe’s green spaces long into the future.
Read the complete 2017 Gift Guide:
Wendy Altschuler is a seasoned travel and lifestyle writer with more than a decade of clips in various publications: MSN, Delta Sky, Modern Luxury, Sun-Times Media, Tribune Brand Copy, Parents Magazine, Yoga Magazine, The Daily Meal, Spafinder, Red Tricycle, Eluxe Magazine and many more. She is happiest when out exploring and adventuring or on a trail with her family and pup. Follow her on social @wendyaltschuler or visit her website: wendyaltschuler.com
Wendy is a big fan of volunteering with her kids and The Honeycomb Project, a sort of nonprofit aggregator that sets up family-friendly service projects for all ages. “We can sign up for community events around Chicago that help protect animals and the environment; fight hunger, poverty and homelessness; and offer joy and support to those in need. Doing good feels good,” Wendy says.