Four-Season Fun in the Mountains

Experienced outfitters offer peak adventures for every season and fitness level

By Kara Williams

Exploring the outdoors in your own backyard with grandchildren is one thing. But when you’re on a family vacation, you’d probably prefer to venture out in unfamiliar territory with a guide. Local outfitters can take you places you may not be able to access on your own; they can teach you about area history, geology and ecology; and they usually provide all the equipment you need.

Here are four guide services in mountainous parts of the United States that customize activities for multiple generations:

Spring: Fly fishing in Colorado

The experienced anglers at Taylor Creek Fly Shop in the historic railroad town of Basalt, Colo. — just 20 minutes east of the chic ski resort of Aspen — welcome novices on guided fishing trips. “They don’t have any bad habits to break,” says store manager and longtime guide Will Sands.

Sands recalls taking a grandfather and his two young granddaughters fishing below Mount Sopris a few years ago. “The gentleman was so thrilled to simply see his grandchildren catch some fish,” Sands says.

Taylor Creek Fly Shop is within walking distance of the confluence of the Frying Pan and the Roaring Fork rivers, spectacular spots to catch large trout. Guides also fish the high-alpine Crystal River, which flows through scenic Redstone, as well as the wider Colorado River in Glenwood Springs.

Spring is an especially exciting time to fish. Late March and April favor dry fly fishing, where the lure sits on top of the water. “Kids especially like to see the trout rise up from the depths to catch the fly,” says Sands.

Sands recommends wade trips (where you don waterproof waders and stand in the river) for novice anglers and children since guides can offer more hands-on instruction. Children ages 7 and up are welcome on guided half-day wade trips, which start at $310 for two anglers. (Prices may change, so always check ahead.)

Summer: Kayaking, Hiking & Biking in Illinois

The Midwest may not be known for its mountainous terrain, but the rugged hills surrounding Galena, Ill., do include the highest peaks in the state. The Chestnut Mountain Resort ski area perches on a 475-foot bluff about eight miles from town.

Fever River Outfitters crams three different outdoor activities — kayaking, hiking and biking — into a custom excursion for adventurous folks. Give owner Deb Malone advance notice to arrange the summer excursion for a minimum of eight people.

First, get settled in single or double kayaks for a leisurely seven-mile paddle down the Galena River. At Chestnut Mountain, ride the chairlift to the top for a gourmet picnic lunch. Take an optional hike or simply drink in glorious views of the Mississippi before descending in the chairlift, or hike back down the hill.

From the base it’s a nine-mile bike ride back to town along rolling country roads. Mountain bikes and tandems are available for adults; children hop on “junior bikes”; and grownups can also help young cyclists along with a tow-behind “kids pedal trailer.”

“Mississippi Adventure Day” is $85 per person. For a less taxing option, try the two-hour “Mississippi Backwaters Kayak Tour” at $45 per person.

Fall: Mountain Treasure Hunt in New Mexico

The signature family activity of Santa Fe Mountain Adventures combines hiking in the great outdoors and orienteering with high-tech global positioning devices.

Here’s how it works: prior to a group arriving at a trailhead in the Santa Fe National Forest, SFMA staffers hide six treasure boxes in the aspen groves just off the trail. Families are briefed on how to use hand-held GPS devices, compasses and topographical maps.

Using these tools, and answering questions about the area’s flora and fauna, they’re directed to the hidden treasure boxes, which include trinkets like dream catchers and key rings. Rubber stamps and ink pads allow participants to mark souvenir cards. The clue for the next treasure location is in the box, too.

Connecticut grandmother Marypat Ramsey treated two of her children, their spouses and four grandchildren to a Mountain Treasure Hunt recently. “The kids absolutely loved it,” says Ramsey’s daughter, Tracy Spaulding of Denver, Colo. “They had so much fun stamping the cards and finding the little treasures.”

“It was awesome,” says Ramsey, who is “very active” at age 66 and had no problem keeping up with the leisurely hike on the high alpine trail.

Mountain Treasure Hunts are offered all year round, although autumn is particularly pretty when the aspen leaves turn gold. SFMA recommends kids be at least 6 years old to participate, but there’s no age limit.

The Mountain Treasure Hunt is $85 per person (for a minimum of three people). That includes transportation, treasures, tips to guides, water bottles, snacks, drinks, and a one-year subscription to Outside magazine.

Winter: Snowshoeing in New Hampshire

On a winter hike, snowshoers can leap and play in frosty meadows, learn to identify animal tracks and break for impromptu snowball fights. Outdoor Escapes New Hampshire leads snowshoe adventures throughout the state, from the tall peaks of the White Mountains to smaller hills in the central Lakes Region.

Not familiar with snowshoeing? No worries, says owner and guide Lucie Villeneuve, “It’s like walking.” However, snowshoeing is more of a blood-pumping, cardio workout than simply taking a stroll. That’s why Villeneuve sticks to flatter routes for multi-generation tours. Still, she promises, trekkers enjoy pristine mountain views in the backcountry wilderness.

With snowshoes and poles of all sizes, Villeneuve is prepared to outfit anyone. Each itinerary is customized to the size and energy levels of participants. “I let the group dictate the pace,” she says.

All ages are welcome on snowshoeing trips. Cost varies depending on length of the trip and size of the group. A half-day adventure (3-4 hours) for a family of four, plus snowshoe rentals, is $266.


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