Discovery, participation, spontaneity . . . all qualities that bring a spirit of adventure to family vacations.
In America there are many ways to include adventurous activities in holiday plans. Your family can learn to ride horseback, canoe a river, sail a boat. Or pack into spectacular mountains by horse, hike with llamas, experience wilderness camping for the first time and absorb the awesome beauty of a majestic canyon.
As for adventure abroad, you can even take young children trekking in Nepal, cruising on canals in England or riding a safari vehicle in Kenya. For all but the very youngest, consider exploring the Galapagos Islands or touring Down Under in a motor home.
An astonishing number of special services offer rich and varied experiences for all ages. Here are 10 recommendations for out-of-the-ordinary vacations, both in America and abroad.
Hiking With Llamas. The key to family camping in spectacular wilderness areas used to be the ability to tote your own food and equipment in a backpack. Now youngsters and oldsters alike who do not carry backpacks can walk into these scenic regions while friendly llamas carry their gear.
The whole idea is a natural for families . . . as well as llamas. These gentle, intelligent creatures have inherited remarkable mountaineering skills from ancestors who for centuries transported goods and military supplies for the Incas from sea level to Andean passes at 16,000 feet. Along with their toting skills, the docile animals are both curious and lovable, and they often establish a close bond with the hikers who lead them.
Stephen Biggs, who first recognized the ability of llamas to assist and entertain hikers, raises and trains the woolly, quick-learning beasts at Mt. Shasta in Northern California.
In that area you'll experience alpine meadows, riverbeds with deep bathing pools, glaciated ridges, grand views of Mt. Shasta, sunsets you'll never forget, and lush lakes with self-sustaining populations of brook, brown and rainbow trout. Most hikes are rated easy to moderate.
Mt. Shasta and other nearby towns are the meeting points for three- and five-day trips into the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Trinity Alps regions. Both venues offer magnificent views, well-organized camping and companionable four-legged trail mates. Trips are scheduled from mid-June to mid-September.
Rates for three-day trips, Friday to Sunday, of easy to moderate modes: $350 per adult, $315 for children up to 12 years. For five-day trips, Monday to Friday, moderate to strenuous: $500 per adult, $450 per child up to 12 years.
Paddling and Poling. The St. Croix River, which marks part of the northern border of Maine with Canada, has lots of easy white water and exceptionally beautiful campsites with river vistas. This combination makes it ideal for family canoe trips.
Martin Brown, an expert canoeist who also offers excursions in Texas and the Yukon, considers the St. Croix the best of all family canoe trips.
Brown schedules small groups on the river every Sunday through Friday, this year from May 21 until Sept. 3, and offers either shorter or longer custom trips to private parties who want to canoe the river according to plans developed especially for them.
Canoeing the St. Croix becomes a traveling classroom. Brown's lessons include the forgotten art of poling. "Our system of coaching can turn almost anyone into a strong, graceful, solo canoeist with both pole and paddle in just a few days," he says. Brown's guides are experienced professionals.
The headquarters of Martin's company, Sunrise County Canoe Expeditions, is on Cathance Lake, a two-hour drive from the Bangor airport. Van service goes to the lake every day at 4 p.m. ($10 per person); float plane transport can also be arranged.
You arrive at camp on Saturday in time for a welcoming feast that may start with baked stuffed clams, steamers and barbecued chicken, and end with blueberry cake. There's no scrimping on menus and no packaged food on these trips; fresh baking takes place at every meal, and wine, candles and flowers at campsite dinners.
Six-day trips are open for up to 12 canoeists. Family rates are $565 per adult and $377 for children 7 to 21.
Back at the Ranch. When a 3-year-old rides horseback at the Averills' Flathead Lake Ranch, carefully held on the saddle in front of a kindly wrangler, it's a moment to be remembered. At 6 years, children receive horseback instruction and go on real trail rides.
There are fast rides and slow rides, half-day and all-day rides, breakfast rides, evening rides and dusty rides.
Every morning at 6 the more enthusiastic kids are down at the barn brushing and saddling the horses and helping the wrangler with the day's chores.
Some children, along with some parents, will be out in the arena later trying to rope cattle. The Averills are basically a cowboy family that loves rodeo competition and enjoys teaching horsemanship and cowboy skills.