Zipline smiles

Outdoor Adventures with Kids Strengthen Families

I’ve been thinking a lot about why family vacations seem to bring us closer. Developing shared interests and just having time to spend together are big factors, but I think the main reason is that we bond over outdoor adventures with kids.

Family on horseback at Bailiwick Ranch

Seven Reasons for Outdoor Adventures with Kids

When I first read Extreme Kids: How to Connect With Your Children Through Today’s Extreme (and Not So Extreme) Outdoor Sports, I suspected that author Scott Graham’s reasons for outdoor adventuring with kids had merit. Now I know this to be true. His six “practical” reasons:

  1. Most important: It’s fun.
  2. It’s affordable.
  3. You’ll end up with incredibly capable kids.
  4. It’s (don’t let the kids read this) educational.
  5. You’ll instill safety consciousness in your children early in their lives.
  6. Your own life will be enriched.

To this I would add that when you don’t think and just do, petty complaints melt away as the shared experience unites the group. Usually.

Smiling on the Zipline tour at Hunter Mountain

Getting Started On Outdoor Adventures with Kids

Some of our first outdoor adventures with young kids were as simple as walks in the park or beach outings. Still, mishaps and poor planning derailed many a pleasant afternoon, but we got better each time. Over the years, experience and greater maturity enabled us to conquer more ambitious expeditions, until even backpacking in Yellowstone National Park or trekking the Himalayas were doable.

Amy Whitley, wilderness adventures expert and editor of, says, “Don’t underestimate your kids when it comes to backcountry adventures, but maintain a healthy respect for the wilderness, too. While planning for a winter backpacking overnight experience on the slopes of Mt. Hood, we were told by nay-sayers that the adventure would be too much for teen and tween kids, but we proved them wrong armed with the expert advice of backcountry operators, careful packing of the right equipment, realistic expectations (one night was enough!) and a sense of determination. The best way to become comfortable in the backcountry with kids: get out there…after preparing properly!”

Zipline smiles

Finding a Balance on Family Vacations

With my family, it’s been a gradual process, where we’ve tried a lot of different kinds of outdoor activities–some more enjoyable than others. As a general rule, I listen to the kids when choosing what we’ll do together, but it’s a balance between their interests and ours. So, for example, on our recent Catskills getaway, we included a horseback ride (my choice,) a Zipline adventure (my son & I love these,) and a hike (something the entire family enjoys.)

For the most part, there aren’t any outdoor adventures that my family won’t try. But not every activity is a good fit. The Zipline tour at Hunter Mountain–the longest & highest zipline tour in North America–was something I was dying to try. My family was game to give this a go when it opened in 2010, and yet we had to wait until this summer because my youngest didn’t meet the minimum weight requirements until now.

My husband is a good sport, but he is afraid of horses. So while he will join us on a short trail ride like our adventure at the Bailwick Ranch, it wouldn’t be fair to him to include him on a Dude Ranch Vacation (one of my dream trips!)

And yet, in the mix of outdoor activities, we found common ground. Despite big grins during the trail ride, Daddy and son commiserated over how uncomfortable it is for men to ride horses. Facing our fear of heights and finding that the Zipline wasn’t nearly as scary as we anticipated, we left Hunter Mountain on a natural high.

By the time we returned home from our weekend getaway in the Catskills, we were a different family. Relaxed, able to communicate without that accusatory edge that creeps in during prolonged weeks of stress, and genuinely smiling with each other.

Big, happy smiles. That’s the best reason for outdoor adventures with kids.

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