The six-mile round trip hike to Sioux Charley Lake in Montana’s Beartooth Mountains provides of visual feast of nature’s bounty. The initial views include tumbling waterfalls through a canyon-walled section of the Stillwater River known locally as “the washtubs.” The river braids and the canyon widens as hikers move toward the Beartooth peaks, ambling through forest and meadows dotted with wildflowers. The lake area or intermittent rock outcroppings provide the perfect setting for a family picnic, quiet reflection, drawing or journaling.
Contact: visitmt.com; MTHikes.com
3. Paddle through peaceful waters. Ely, Minn.
Ease your canoes into the pristine waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) and look forward to peaceful days of paddling amid a sparsely populated, 1 million-plus acre expanse of wilderness. Listen to the waves lapping against the shoreline and the haunting lullaby offered by local loons as you drift to sleep in one of 2,000 secluded campsites that dot the lake region. Wake to the sounds of birds chirping in the birch trees and enjoy breakfast over a campfire. Then set out to explore more of the 1,500 miles of canoe routes that criss-cross the waterways.
Contact: www.boundarywatersoutfitters.com; www.ExploreMinnesota.com
4. Explore Ecosystems in Belize
Experience the calming effects of nature within this Central American gem where rainforests and expansive barrier reefs are a part of the 87 distinct types of ecosystems. Snorkel and dive in coastal areas or go inland for dense greenery and the chance to see colorful native birds. Stay at the Lodge at Chaa Creek for early-morning bird-watching tours, to visit the Blue Morpho Butterfly Farm and for medicine trail tours where you’ll learn about the native plants that provide globally significant remedies.
Contact: www.ChaaCreek.com; TravelBelize.org.
5. Camp in the backcountry
For the purest connection to nature, make your way off the beaten path. Hike, paddle or float into a pristine location where your family can learn or hone their wilderness skills. Choose a destination suitable for the ages and abilities of your crew. Encourage each person to take responsibility for the adventure whether that be early research, carrying a small pack, collecting kindling or serving as master storyteller around the fire. For those families that want to go deep into a National Park but aren’t ready for rugged, REI offers an alternative. Oversized tents are outfitted with cots, comfy bedding, floor coverings and lighting. Community areas offer a gathering place for families with hammocks and covered dining areas.
(Lynn O'Rourke Hayes (www.LOHayes.com) is an author, family travel expert and enthusiastic explorer. Gather more travel intel on Twitter @lohayes, Facebook, or via FamilyTravel.com