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Ships to Hikes, an Activity Guide

May 19, 1996|EILEEN OGINTZ

Families aren't lazing on the beach this vacation. They're sailing the Pacific Northwest, hiking the Sierra or navigating Idaho's white water.

Outfitters and tour companies report they've never seen so many families ready to adventure with their kids, even if the youngest hasn't finished kindergarten.

"The whole idea of a family vacation has changed," observes Debbie Baretta, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Rascals in Paradise, a travel service that specializes in sending adventurous families all over the world. "Families go on vacation now to do things, not to sit and look."

"We have more people who want to go than we have trips," says Johanna Van Hise from the Sierra Club, which offers 26 family trips. Especially popular, says Van Hise, are the Sierra Club's Toddler Tromp camping trips designed to introduce young children to the outdoors.

"The No. 1 reason families say they take vacations is to be together as a family. There's no better way to do that than out in the woods or in a raft," says Peter Mason, the travel marketing director for Better Homes & Gardens magazine, which commissioned a national family travel survey done by the U.S. Travel Data Center. The study found that adventure trips ranked right behind theme parks and family reunions as the top three vacation picks for families this year.

Adventure vacations aren't cheap, however. Outfitters say families should figure on spending $100-$150 per person per day. Sometimes, there's a discount for children. That means a five-day trip typically would cost at least $2,000 for a family of four, not counting air fare. But the price tag doesn't seem to deter families. Two- thirds of all those planning to take adventure trips in 1996 say they're bringing the kids, the survey indicates. That could mean as many as 10 million parents out there canoeing or kayaking, backpacking or riding the trail with their children.

As a result, outfitters are designing trips that work for kids as well as adults: canoe trips with little portaging, river trips with calmer waters or less arduous hikes.

"There are many more family trips offered than just a few years ago," says Steen Hansen, who publishes the Specialty Travel Index, a directory of about 600 adventure tour operators (available for $10 a year for two issues; telephone [415] 459-4900).

Resorts and ranches are joining in too, offering an array of adventures aimed at parents in their 30s and 40s and their pint-size travel companions: fly-fishing clinics, heli-hiking (the helicopter drops you at the top of the mountain so there's no hiking up) and kids' rodeos.

For vacation planners, here's a list of adventures and family-friendly outfitters for a variety of sports. Prices are per person. The trips work especially well for children past the first or second grade:


American Wilderness Adventures--P.O. Box 1486, Boulder, CO 80306-1486. Experienced company representing 67 ranches and offering a variety of pack trips and cattle drives as well as river rafting and canoe adventures. Tel. (800) 444-0099.

The Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Assn.--P.O. Box 300, Tabernash, CO 80478. Has a free directory of 40 Colorado guest ranches, some offering daylong raft trips. Tel. (970) 724-3653.

The Dude Ranchers Assn.--P.O. Box 4716, LaPorte, CO 80535. Has a directory of 109 ranches in 13 Western states and two Canadian provinces; cost $5. Tel. (970) 223-8440.

Equitour--P.O. Box 807, Dubois, WY 82513. Emphasizes wilderness rides. Foreign riding trips are offered, including to Costa Rica and New Zealand. Weeklong trips for adults range from $1,000 to $2,000, not including air fare. Tel. (800) 545-0019.


Backroads--801 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94710. Venerable touring company offers about 40 family trips each year ranging from biking in the Canadian Rockies, Point Reyes and France to mountain biking in Idaho. Weeklong trips are about $1,100 to $2,000, not including air fare or bike rental. Tel. (800) 462-2848.

Mammoth Mountain Inn--P.O. Box 353, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546. Offers packages for the Mammoth Bike Park, one of area's most popular summer attractions, with 65 miles of trails including one that leads to a 14-mile downhill ride. There's also plenty of fishing, hiking and riding, as well as the adventure challenge ropes and junior ropes course. Packages range $156 to $317, double occupancy. Tel. (800) 228-4947.


Family Adventure Tours--Los Angeles-based Dave Wyman has led family camping trips for the last 15 years to Yosemite, the Santa Monica Mountains and other places. He cooks the meals and even tells bedtime stories. Most weekend trips are $95 to $100 for adults, $65 for kids. Tel. (213) 939-2819.

Canadian Mountain Holidays--P.O. Box 1660, Banff, Alberta T0L0C0, Canada. Offers heli-hiking vacations in British Columbia. Families stay in lodges and are whisked by helicopter to wilderness areas. Three-day trips start at about $900 per adult. Tel. (800) 661-0252.

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