I love the mountains in winter. But I will admit that an alpine summer is something special. The austere landscape softens in the warm light. The forest bursts into life, a play on green, dotted with vibrant color. Animals and birds return and even insects are colorful and alluring – especially to children.
Many ski resorts offer a wide range of summer activities for families of all ages: from alpine slides to mountain biking to golf. These activities are wonderful fun. But to really get a feel for the mountains in summer (and to get a unique perspective on our favorite ski runs), I like to slow down and set out on foot with my family.
Tips for Successful Family Hiking
Use Your Kid Brain. Kids love adventure. So when choosing a trail, think like a kid. Consider what happens along the trail, not just the ultimate distance and destination. Choose trails that offer many experiences en route, not just at the end. Trails near streams or lakes, that link forest and meadow, or have stunning views are good choices. And don’t discount the lure of history in old mining and railroad districts.
Make it Wander-ful. As much as kids crave adventure, they also enjoy wandering. While adults generally hike for exercise, children hike to explore. Expect detours, diversions and distractions. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t reach the end of the trail. Follow your child’s lead. He or she will revel in the role of trail boss.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. Good scouts know this one. Appropriate shoes, water, food, first-aid, and weather-appropriate clothing are necessities. If you’re on an unfamiliar trail, don’t set out without a map or GPS. Leave a note outlining your hiking plans at home, in your car or at your condo. Make sure someone knows where you are headed and when you plan to be back.
Best Ski Resort Hikes for Families
Heavenly Mountain, California: Lake Tahoe is a summer favorite. You’ll definitely want to spend time in, on and around the water. But, a gondola ride, followed by a hike on the trails at Heavenly is another must. Departing from South Lake Tahoe, the Heavenly gondola soars almost 3,000 feet above Lake Tahoe. Skip the viewing platform and ride to the top for access to Heavenly’s three hiking trails: the 1.6 mile East Peak, the 2.2 mile Sky Meadows Trail and the 3.8 mile East Peak Lake Trail (all distances are round-trip). These trails offer lake and valley views, meadows teeming with flowers and a high-altitude lake where you can spend the afternoon throwing rocks, soaking up the sun and chasing butterflies. These trails depart from the top of the gondola at Adventure Peak, where the tubing hill is open with a special non-snow surface!
Deer Valley, Utah: Go back in time and discover Utah’s mining heritage along the Ontario Trail. This 2.5 mile trail leaves from Silver Lake Lodge and goes uphill around Bald Mountain, passing the remains of old silver mines. At the top, hikers can either choose to backtrack down or ride back to Silver Lake Lodge on the chairlift (Downhill rides are free. Uphill rides require a ticket). On the second Sunday of each month, June through October, the Park City Historical Society offers a free guided hike along the trail, sharing mountain lore, anecdotes and even some facts. Other possibilities include a quarter-mile overlook trail atop Bald Mountain and the Silver Lake Trail, which is five miles roundtrip. For more information on hiking and summer lift access, please click here.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado: Steamboat shifts into summer on June 16th when the gondola reopens with access to the Thunderhead Lodge. Visit the Nature Den at the top of the gondola for local information and to plan your outing. Near the gondola is the Vista Nature Trail, a one-mile loop with Colorado views, informative signs and picnic tables. Feeling ambitious? The Thunderhead Hiking Trail leads either up to the lodge from the base or back down over 2,180 vertical feet. It’s three miles one-way. On Sundays, the Thunderhead Lodge is open for brunch, providing the perfect reward for some vigorous family fun. More information about summer at Steamboat is found here.
Crystal Mountain, Michigan: Summer at Crystal Mountain is definitely extraordinary. Families will find many activities including mountain biking, golf and the region’s only alpine slide, but the hiking is what makes Crystal Mountain wholly unique. Only 35 minutes from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan, guests can take guided trips to the Dunes with the Crystal Mountain Adventure Zone or visit on their own. Many hikes wind through the woods before emerging onto giant sand dunes and bluffs, or dropping down to pristine beaches. Back at the resort, Crystal Mountain and the Michigan Legacy Art Park maintain a two-mile trail with over 40 sculptures on the mountain. These sculptures explore Michigan’s history, culture and environment.
Great trails are everywhere in the mountains of North America. Resorts with summer operations can help you find something perfect for your family. So, grab your boots, grab your pack and take the hand of your favorite child. It’s time to hit the trail.
Portions of this post were originally published at Liftopia.com on May 11, 2012.
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