We could argue endlessly about where to go for the best family vacation. Some might say Disneyland; others will name a national park like the Grand Canyon. You’re always right with a trip to Hawaii—and the “Garden Island” of Kauai. It combines some of the best offerings of different vacation options.
For Nature Lovers
Nature’s beauty is everywhere. The Kauai weather is tropical, so the forecast is always warm or warm and rainy—ideal growing conditions. We stayed on the south side of the island (recommended) at the end of January. Temperatures were in the low- to mid-80s, perfect for the best family vacation. Only one day brought extended rain, and it felt gloriously refreshing to be in it.
Some of the most breathtaking views are found on this island in Hawaii. The Waimea Canyon is called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. A few minutes from there is the Kalalau Lookout. My wife called it “the most beautiful spot in the world.” It’s a picturesque view of the Kalalau Canyon and the ocean. A slow drive to the north end of the island brings you to the Napali Coast. It’s another spectacular spot, well worth seeing. But we spent a total of 4 to 5 hours in our rented Jeep Wrangler. If you’re on the south side of Kauai, think twice about making the trip. And to maximize your best family vacation, go as early in the day as possible.
If you love the ocean, surround yourself with it in Hawaii. We stayed at a resort on the famed Poipu Beach. It’s perhaps the island’s most popular beach because it’s sandy, clean, generally calm enough for swimming/snorkeling, and it attracts plenty of sea life. We saw humpback whales in the distance, we spotted monk seals lying in the sand, and my 9-year-old accidentally found himself swimming with a sea turtle.
One of our favorite adventures was whale-watching via Blue Dolphin Kauai. We lucked out with perfect Hawaii weather conditions. We were even luckier on this best family vacation: Our captain found the humpback whales as we were leaving port, and he stayed with them for 2 hours. Around 10 or 12 males were chasing 2 females. The captain told us that the males breach more often during mating season. Sure enough, we saw around 20 breaches!
For Thrill Seekers
If you’re an amusement park kind of person, there’s no shortage of activities. You can try helicopter rides, zip-line tours, fishing expeditions, ATV excursions, and more in Hawaii. My favorite activity on this very best family vacation was mountain tubing with Kauai Backcountry Adventures. We floated down the irrigation system of an old plantation. We traveled in a beautiful rainforest and passed through several dark (and often long) tunnels on our way to a quaint picnic lunch.
There’s no shortage of delicious dishes in Kauai, especially if you love fresh seafood and even fresher fruit. Plus, with Hawaii’s relatively new focus on local farming, a lot of the meats—especially beef—now have that fresh, local flavor. The famous Puka Dog lived up to the hype on our best family vacation. It was so delicious that I ate there no less than four times. Brick Oven Pizza was another fantastic spot, as was Da Crack and their burritos. I enjoyed shave (not “shaved”) ice every chance I got. However, the award for best meal of my week went to the sampler platter at Chicken in a Barrel. The plate of BBQ food was under $20, and my wife and I shared it. Of course, for a combination of food, local culture, and lively entertainment, be sure to book dinner at a luau.
For Couch Potatoes
If your idea of the best family vacation is to “be lazy,” Kauai is a great place for that. You can relax on the sunny beach (perhaps even book a beachfront massage). You can find a comfy spot on the patio. Or you can remain indoors. With a cool ocean breeze always blowing in, just open the windows and enjoy—no air-conditioning needed. Go to CVS and buy the world’s best gummy bears: Island Cravings Baby Gummy Bears. Grab yourself a Mai Tai or some guava juice, and relax.
To find even more fun and adventure for your best family vacation in Kauai, check out AdventureKEEN’s popular guides like Hawaii Trails and Hawaii Wildlife Viewing Guide.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it with this winter season. In Minnesota, it’s been cold and snowy. And cold. And snowy. The weather forecast calls for more of the same in February, March, April, and into forever. We won’t get discouraged, though, right? Winter isn’t going to beat us. We only have between 2 and 700 months to go. To help us persevere, I grabbed a copy of Surviving Minnesota Winter by Brett Ortler. Following are five tips to help us make it through the winter season and to the fabled land called Spring.
Go Shopping for Clothes
Are you looking for a reason to love the cold? Does the weather forecast have you feeling blue? Good news: layering up is never more in fashion than during winter. Treat yourself to new sweaters, hats, mittens, and more. For best results, your bottom layer of clothing should be polyester or wool. Your insulating layer should be wool or fleece. Your outer layer (e.g., a big, warm parka) should ideally be goose down.
Eat, Drink, and Be Toasty
When it’s too cold to go anywhere without an emergency survival kit, stay home. Cook some comfort food. Popular options during the winter season include buffalo wings, pho, wild rice soup, and just about anything else that makes you feel warm inside. For a treat that’s chillier than the weather forecast, winter is traditionally the time to make homemade ice cream too.
Try a Winter Science Project
As awful as the season sometimes feels, it is “cool” to get your geek on. The famous boiling water trick is always a crowd-pleaser. There is a safe and effective method for doing it. Here’s what Surviving Minnesota Winter says about preventing injury: “If you want to try this at home, keep in mind that the effect is more dramatic if it’s colder, and you need to take proper precautions—wear safety gear and be darn sure about the wind direction when you throw the water. A surprising number of people are burned each year while trying this.” Other popular options presented in the book include growing snow (in the house), freezing a bubble, photographing snowflakes, and more.
Find a Winter Hobby
For some crazy people, when snow is in the weather forecast, it’s reason to rejoice. I admit it: the winter season offers some epic options for outdoor adventure. You can start with the basics, like building a snowman or sledding down a hill. Hikers can snowshoe. Runners can cross-country ski. Anglers can ice fish. And let’s not forget pond hockey, snowmobiling, downhill skiing—and more! If I didn’t know better, I’d say winter almost sounds a little fun. Almost.
Go on Vacation
My favorite way to thumb my nose at the frigid temperatures is to get out of town. A week-long vacation in Florida, Arizona, or Hawaii sounds heavenly. But a winter-season getaway doesn’t need to be that elaborate or expensive. A weekend stay at a hotel (with a hot tub, of course) does wonders for refreshing the body and making the weather forecast seem almost bearable.
For more ideas—and for advice on everything from winterizing a home to creating an emergency survival kit—check out Surviving Minnesota Winter. It’s available wherever books are sold.
It’s that time when people across the country make a New Year’s Resolution. The most popular goals range from getting organized to saving money, but tops on most lists is a desire to get healthy. Whether that means exercising more, eating better, or losing a specific number of pounds, it’s a lofty ambition and one that, unfortunately, has a high rate of failure. According to U.S. News & World Report, 80% of these resolutions fail—by February! The news for dieters is even worse, with failure rates reported as high as 95%.
Don’t get discouraged, though. Instead, get active. Hiking is a popular way to go outside, enjoy fresh air, and, yes, get the exercise that will give your New Year’s Resolution a boost. Some hikers prefer to find a favorite route and walk it every day. Other adventurers use the opportunity to explore new and different places. Whichever you choose, the important thing is to set a schedule and follow through. How far will you walk (or for how much time)? How often will you do it? What time of day works best? Answer these questions, and commit to it. You have an advantage because hiking is fun!
Yes, many people find the experience of taking a hike to be rewarding in itself. Perhaps you’ll glimpse wildlife or find a remote waterfall. Or maybe the peace and quiet of an escape into nature is appealing. Of course, even if it doesn’t sound like something you will enjoy, worry not. There are plenty of ways to make your New Year’s Resolution work. Following are few simple ideas to spice up your hike:
Bring a Friend
Everything is more fun when you have someone to share it with. Build your hiking schedule around a friend or family member. Not only are you both more likely to stick with the plan, you’ll also get to enjoy each other’s company.
Bring a Friend, Virtually
Thanks to mobile phones, you can hike with a friend who is somewhere else entirely. Grab a headset with a speaker, and both of you can walk together, even when you’re apart. (Just pick trails with good reception.) Similarly, you can listen to music, podcasts, or a good audiobook.
If you hold an interest in the arts, turn your New Year’s Resolution into a search for inspiration. Bring a camera to take photographs, plan your next poem, or look for picturesque settings to paint.
Turn Hiking into a Learning Experience
Depending on the hike, you might enjoy taking an identification guide with you. If you see plenty of birds, you can discover what kinds are present. Or learn to identify animal tracks. You might also find a new hobby in identifying and collecting rocks. (Make sure you are in a place where rock collecting is allowed.)
Regardless of where you live, chances are good that there’s a wonderful trail—or several—within striking distance. AdventureKEEN has a variety of series to help you find the best options, including 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles, Five-Star Trails, and Top Trails. Make a plan, choose your routes, and turn this New Year’s Resolution into a success in 2020.
Birds in winter are wonderful to observe, and a birding-themed gift is a perfect fit beneath your Christmas tree. A good friend of mine is very enthused about the birds (less so about the squirrels) that visit her feeder during these chilly months. I took it upon myself to create the ultimate bird-watching present. With AdventureKEEN products, that’s easy to do. Following are five ideas for a great gift package.
1. Bird Identification Guide
A state-specific field guide adds an extra personal touch to this gift idea, and that’s always a good thing. Find the Birds of book for your state. These wonderful guides for watching and feeding birds in winter are organized by color. So when you see a yellow bird, jump to the yellow section to find out what it is. Once you find a match, you’ll learn about the bird’s nest, eggs, migration, favorite foods, and more.
2. Birding Journal
Add another level of interactivity to your gift. The Birding Journal allows its users to record their favorite birding moments. Note which birds are seen, including when and where. Document the birds in winter—and all seasons—eating at the feeder. Compare new spring arrivals from year to year. Keep track of a life list and more. It’s a beautiful book, worthy of a spot under the Christmas tree.
3. Bird Playing Cards
A fun addition to a gift package or a perfect stocking stuffer, the Birds of decks of playing cards are available by region. Choose from the Gulf Coast, Midwest, Northeast, Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, and Southwest. Each card features a photograph of different species common or important to the region. So people can learn to identify birds in winter, spring, summer, and fall while playing their favorite card games.
4. An Asylum of Loons
For something fun and entirely unexpected beneath the Christmas tree, this fascinating book is the twist your gift package needs. It introduces strange and unexpected collective nouns for specific types of birds. Discover the surprising number of different terms, and learn their true meanings―as well as the history behind them. Did C.S. Lewis really coin the phrase “a parliament of owls”? Find out in this colorfully designed conversation-starter.
5. Zen Birds
The giftiest item in your bird-lover’s present will be Zen Birds. This small, beautiful hardcover book was inspired by traditional Asian brushwork and haiku. The artwork and text are sure to warm a heart more quickly than spotting one’s favorite birds in winter.
Put these five products in a box, wrap them up, and tuck them under the tree. You’ll win Christmas for just around $50 or so.
Karen Borski Somers felt uneasy before deciding to pen a book about the Lone Star Hiking Trail (LSHT). The Texas native was concerned that her book might bring too much attention to the trail and ultimately ruin its beauty and solitude. Fortunately for everyone, she chose to share her love of the trail. Now, 10 years later, Karen has put together an entirely updated new edition of The Lone Star Hiking Trail (November 2019, Wilderness Press).
The book, endorsed by the Lone Star Hiking Trail Club, is a comprehensive guide to the LSHT. It begins with a history of the trail and then delves into need-to-know information about hiking it—from weather to water to regulations to trail ethics. The bulk of the book is spent on detailed descriptions of the 128-mile LSHT. Karen conveniently divides the trail into 11 sections, so readers can learn about—and hike—it in manageable chunks.
Entries for each section begin with a general overview of the trail and include information about trail access and parking, GPS waypoints, accommodations, and water sources. In-depth trail descriptions give readers a breakdown of what to expect along the way, with ratings and descriptions of all major water sources and campsites. Full-color photographs and maps further enhance the usability of each section.
For Karen, the book is a way to show her appreciation for the LSHT.
“Thanks to the vision of others before us, we have a protected footpath,” she says. “We can walk quietly and alone with our thoughts. We can take our children and show them what all of East Texas once was.”
The LSHT is hidden in the depths of Sam Houston National Forest, a little more than an hour from the bustle of downtown Houston. It is a little-known trail that many consider a magical retreat. It is limited to foot travel and is the longest continuously marked hiking trail in Texas.
Karen ultimately chose to write The Lone Star Hiking Trail because of the people living in southeast Texas.
“Many believe—just as I did once—that the best long-distance hiking trails were far away, in other states,” she says. “I figured those were the people who would most love knowing that this long footpath is in their backyard.”
The author took a gamble that a guidebook would benefit the LSHT, and the risk paid off.
“The trail is in better shape, and there are more people now who respectfully walk on, care for, and protect this unique hiking trail. More than ever before, the LSHT is a singularity and a treasure, for us and for the wild things.”
The Lone Star Hiking Trail, 2nd Edition ($18.95, softcover) is available wherever books are sold, including bookstores and gift shops throughout Texas, as well as popular online retailers.
About the Author
Karen Borski Somers is a native of Spring, Texas. She studied biomedical engineering at Texas A&M University and has spent most of her career working for NASA contractors in Clear Lake, Texas, and Huntsville, Alabama. In 1998 she thru-hiked the 2,165-mile Appalachian Trail solo, and in 2004 she hiked the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail with her husband, Andy. She has hiked and backpacked in 36 states, logging more than 9,000 trail miles. Karen currently resides with her husband, two daughters, and their hiking Sheltie in northern Alabama.
From short nature trails to difficult peak climbs, Los Angeles County is a hiker’s paradise. The diverse topography and geology yield a variety of localized climates, and these climates make for excellent hiking conditions any time of year.
Yet there remains a notion in Southern California that summer is hiking season, even though it tends to be hot and dry. While this belief might make sense in other parts of our vast and beautiful country, it does not hold true in the Los Angeles area. For Southland residents and visitors, prime hiking conditions begin in autumn.
“Late fall brings autumn color to the oak woodlands and wet canyons of the county,” says David Harris, coauthor of Afoot & Afield: Los Angeles County (November 2019, Wilderness Press). Harris adds, “This is a time when the marine layer over the coastline and basin often lies low, while the air above can be extraordinarily clean and dry.”
The region offers plenty of trails to explore. In the updated edition of his guidebook (originally written by Jerry Schad), Harris details 259 spectacular outings. This comprehensive collection of hiking adventures is for everyone from families with small children to experienced mountaineers seeking the ultimate challenge. The guide encompasses almost all public lands within the county, including Griffith Park and the Hollywood Hills, the San Gabriel Wilderness, Crystal Lake Recreation Area, and numerous county and city parks.
Complete descriptions and driving directions are paired with easy-to-read maps with GPS waypoints. At-a-glance essential information—including distance, hiking time, elevation gain, and ratings for difficulty—help readers choose the perfect trail to fit their interests. Plus, readers need not venture far into the wilderness to find the top routes.
“Many of the best hiking opportunities start right on the edge of town, right off the freeway,” Harris says.
He would know. For the fourth edition of the book, Harris rehiked every open trail. In doing so, his field work involved more than 1,500 miles of walking and 20,000 miles of driving, over 2½ years.
Harris divides the trails into 33 regions and includes what he believes is “virtually every hike worth taking within an hour’s drive of the city.” The thoroughness of his approach makes Afoot & Afield: Los Angeles County an essential guide for anyone with an interest in experiencing Los Angeles County on foot.
With so many trails, it would be a challenge to explore them all. Luckily, Southern California’s hiking season lasts a very long time.
“More than 9 times out of 10, your outings in Los Angeles County are likely to coincide with dry weather and temperatures in a moderate register for at least part of the day,” says Harris. “Few other areas around the country, and probably no other great city in the world, can offer such good odds.”
Afoot & Afield: Los Angeles County ($24.95, paperback) is available wherever books are sold, including bookstores, gift shops, and online retailers.
About the Authors
David Harris is a professor of engineering at Harvey Mudd College. He is the author or coauthor of seven hiking guidebooks and five engineering textbooks. David grew up rambling about the Desolation Wilderness as a toddler in his father’s pack and later roamed the High Sierra as a Boy Scout. As a Sierra Club trip leader, he organized mountaineering trips throughout the Sierra Nevada. Since 1999, he has been exploring the mountains and deserts of Southern California. David is the father of three sons, with whom he loves sharing the outdoors.
Jerry Schad (1949–2011) was Southern California’s leading outdoors writer. His 16 guidebooks, including those in Wilderness Press’s popular and comprehensive Afoot & Afield series, along with his “Roam-O-Rama” column in the San Diego Reader, helped thousands of hikers discover the region’s diverse wild places. Jerry ran or hiked many thousands of miles of distinct trails throughout California, in the Southwest, and in Mexico. He was a sub-24-hour finisher of Northern California’s 100-mile Western States Endurance Run and served in a leadership capacity for outdoor excursions around the world. He taught astronomy and physical science at San Diego Mesa College and chaired its physical sciences department from 1999 until 2011. His sudden, untimely death from kidney cancer shocked and saddened the hiking community.