Wilderness Outfitters Help Families Bond

With a little help from your friends—aka, professional outdoor guides—your family can have a safe and hassle-free vacation.

Cozy up with your kids around the campfire after a long day of tromping in the woods. Sing songs; roast S’mores; feel the love.

Family bonding comes naturally in the great outdoors. Adventure outfitters agree; that’s why so many of them offer guided trips specifically tailored to families.

Outfitters offer professional guides that lead your troop on a custom adventure, whether it’s kayaking, backpacking, horseback riding, cycling or rock climbing. Guide services take away all the stress of planning an extended group excursion for your family, while you get to enjoy your trip, relax and spend time with your loved ones. Outfitting groups say that family participants continue to be the fastest growing segment of their business.

Dan Austin, director and founder of Austin-Lehman Adventures, says that families make up close to 70 percent of their business. “In this not-so-optimistic time in the travel industry, [the family travel sector] continues to be a shining light,” says Austin.

If you’re looking for an exciting family vacation your kids will rave about for years to come, consider enlisting the help of the pros. Here are a few top-rated outfitters that cater to family adventurers:

Austin-Lehman Adventure

Austin-Lehman has been guiding groups of adventurers throughout North, South and Central America, and Africa for 23 years. They offer 34 different itineraries for a six to nine-day excursion, where guests eat local food; stay in accommodations that range from guest houses to luxury lodges, and participate in activities such as hiking, biking, paddling and safaris.

Austin says using guides ensures “you’re not wasting precious time” on your family vacation; the guides know which trails to hit, and they’ll teach you about the flora and fauna along the way. In turn, families get to unplug from everyday distractions and really enjoy one another’s company. “Out in the wilderness, everyone’s kind of on equal footing,” Austin says, experiencing something new for the first time, together.

Austin-Lehman offers a dozen family-oriented trips, from an Alaska glacier tour, to a South Africa family safari, to the ever-popular Yellowstone National Park tour called “Geysers & Grizzlies.” The family trips include extra guides that hang with the kids and teach them outdoor skills and local history, while the adults get free time, too. 

Family programs are geared for children ages 7 and older. Package prices vary. The six-day Yellowstone Family: Geysers & Grizzlies tour starts at $1,998; first child rate is $1,798; additional child is $1,598. Airfare is extra. There are extra discounts available for children between 7 and 12 who share rooms with one or more adults. Call 800-575-1540 for booking information or go to www.austinlehman.com.

Western Spirit Cycling Adventures

Ready to hit the road? Western Spirit offers road and mountain cycling tours for all ages. They also offer a variety of family-specific programs—their fast-growing business segment—that are perfect for kids of all cycling levels: whether they’re biking by themselves, or riding in a bike trailer.

Owner Mark Sevenoff says that all family trips include an extra guide, who’ll engage the kids in arts and crafts activities, and outdoor educational lessons. Family trip locations include the Black Hills of South Dakota, Bryce Canyon National Park to Zion National Park in Utah, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone National Park. Sevenoff emphasizes that guides make it easy to have an enjoyable family adventure and a much needed break from the busy day-to-day. “While it’s an active vacation,” Sevenoff says, “it’s mentally really relaxing.”

Next dates for the Grand Tetons and Island Park Family Trip are Aug. 25-29, 2008. Rates start at $1,025 per person, $945 for kids under 14. Sevenoff says that family trips seem to fill up faster than other trips because families tend to plan ahead. Call 800-845-2453 for more details or go to www.westernspirit.com.

Broken Arrow Dude Ranch

Located in Alder, Mont., in the Ruby Valley, the family-owned Broken Arrow Dude Ranch offers guided fly fishing, hunting and riding vacations. Its Family Vacations packages feature easy day hikes and riding trips, and three meals and nights spent at the lodge, for three-day, six-day and deluxe options. For families interested in overnight trips, Broken Arrow offers multi-day Pack Trips where your group will ride all day every day, and sleep in canvas wall tents at night. When not riding, your family will either be fishing, hiking or observing the beautiful scenery and wildlife.

The five-day Pack Trip package starts at $1,575 per person. The six-day Dude Ranch Family Vacation starts at $895 per adult, $450 per child 6 and older; free for children 5 and under. Children must be at least 6 years old to ride a horse; childcare is available at $6 per hour per child. For more information, call 800-775-2928 or go to brokenarrowlodge.com.

River Point Outfitting Company

If you’re looking for an adventurous bargain, check out the outfitters at River Point in Ely, Minn.—literally, a home-grown business. The owner, Steve Koschak, was raised at the site of the River Point resort, which has been in operation since 1944. Choose from complete overnight-outfitted packages, guided fishing trips, or the unique “Wolf-Howling Package,” a six-day canoe trip where guests learn about paddling and the timber wolf. Late July and August are ideal times for this trip. The next Wolf-Howling trip leaves next week, but the company offers this trip annually, so you can start planning now for 2009.

The River Point Web site has a pricing matrix to customize your Ultralight Complete Outfitting packages for your family. A four-day trip will start at $295 for adults, $200 for kids between 8 and 17 years old. Wolf-Howling Packages starts at $895 per person. Next dates are Aug. 17-22. Call 800-456-5580 to www.elyoutfitters.com.


This Angels Camp, Calif.-based whitewater guiding company has been helping families bond since 1969. In the past four years, O.A.R.S. has expanded its family-friendly floats to accommodate children as young as 4 years old. O.A.R.S. spokesman Steve Markle says the company currently runs 23 family-friendly paddling trips in Colorado, California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah.

Fun multi-day floats include Utah’s San Juan River, for families with children ages 4 and up. Families can view ancient cave dwellings and the 800-year-old Native American-carved Moki Stairs. A great trip for ages 7 and up is the Green River Rafting trip through the Gates of Lodore and Dinosaur National Monument, where kids and parents will be awestruck by stunning geology and dinosaur fossils.

Rates for Utah’s San Juan River trip start at $709 per adult, $640 for youth. The four-day Green River trip’s rates start at $675 per person. Call 800-346-6277 for more details or go to www.oars.com

Destinations: Colorado, Montana, Utah, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park

Themes: Family Travel, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Hiking, Camping, Canoeing, Cycling, Horseback Riding, Rafting

User Comments

Wolf trip sounds fun Sign me up for the Wolf Howling package.