Archive for the ‘things to do’ Category

Kiptopeke State Park, Virginia is for Bird Lovers

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Kiptopeke State Park for long walks on the beach...

Since 1963, Kiptopeke State Park in Virginia has been the site of bird population studies.  According to their website: Volunteers capture, examine, weigh, band and release resident and migratory birds each year from mid-August through November. In the raptor research area, hawks, kestrels, osprey and other birds of prey are observed and banded from September through November. Kiptopeke’s hawk observatory is among the top 15 nationwide.

Famous for: That bird thing sounds pretty cool.

Admission: There are numerous fees for camping, cabins, picnics and swimming.  The rates vary greatly by season and can be found at the Virginia State Park website.

Families with young kids will like: Swimming and fishing

Families with teenagers will like: Hiking and bike trails, bonfires

Other travelers will like: Birdwatching, canoe programs

Best hotel in the park: The park has a number of lodges that can cost over $200 per night.

Best campground in the park: Stay in a Yurt! It is a modern adaptation of an ancient nomadic shelter, combining a beautiful wood frame and durable, electronically bonded architectural fabric. Functionally speaking, it’s a cross between a tent and a cabin.

Best months to visit: October 7, 2010 through the 10th is their annual Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival. Admission is free.

Nearest major cities: Virginia Beach and Norfolk

Related posts:

Reid State Park

A Colonial Christmas in Williamsburg, VA

Photo courtesy of: Virginia Hiker

Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins, MN

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Taking kids to the theatre is much more fun if the content of a play is something they’ll enjoy.  This is where theatre productions specifically meant for children create a winning situation–exposure to the world of theatre without the parental worry of children’s behavior and theatrical content.

In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, there are several venues that offer children’s theatre productions.  The Children’s Theatre Company, located in the same building as the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, is perhaps the most famous, but we’ve found an excellent, and more reasonably-priced, alternative just to the west in the suburb of Hopkins.

Stages Theatre Company poster

Stages Theatre Company puts on plays and musicals that are often based on popular children’s literature.  We saw a rendition of Nancy Carlson’s “I Like Me,” and productions for its upcoming season include “Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type” and “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.”  Located in a modern building in downtown Hopkins, the productions are designed for children, right down to the reminders to use the bathroom before the play starts and the boosters that sit on the theatre seats, allowing even little ones to see the play.

Not only did our children enjoy the play we saw at Stages, but we adults did as well.  The quality of the local talent is excellent, and the play was enjoyable for all ages.

Stages Theatre Company is located at 1111 Main Street in Hopkins, Minnesota.  Ticket information, and listings of upcoming productions, are on the company’s website:

Photo credit: minnemom on flickr

Linda (minnemom) writes about fun things to do with kids in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. 
She blogs at Travels with Children.

Related posts:

Florida’s Best Community Theatre

Hollywood for Families

Long List of Fun at Niagara Reservation State Park, NY

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

One of the best road trips I have taken with my family has been to visit the Niagara Reservation State Park, upstate. The park opened in 1885, making it the state’s oldest park. Made up of over 400 acres of beautiful natural landscape, it also has great biking and hiking trails, wonderful lush picnic areas during the warm moths, and cross country skiing in the colder months. There are also spots to fish. Most of all, it is best known for its most natural attraction of all: the Niagara Falls.

The American Falls, Niagara State Park

Great Lakes Garden is the entry point of the park and has a visitor center which offers information and exhibits about the park, from its history to its geology.  It is also where one can join tours groups on the Viewmobile, which offers three-mile guided tours, opportunities for photos stops at favorite scenic points, as well as access to the Schoellkopf Geological Museum.

Another favorite stop for visitors is the Observation Tower which offers breath taking, clear views of the  American Falls. The Falls have other wonderful amenities for travelers, such as hotels and restaurants. Attractions such as Cave of The Winds and Maid of The Mist are my family favorites, as well as the light displays seen from the falls at night.

Maid of The Mist, Niagara State Falls

Visitors are able to purchase Niagara USA Discovery Passes. These provide significant savings and discounted access to attractions such as: Niagara: Legends of Adventure TheaterAquarium of NiagaraThe Gorge Trip, and Discovery Center.

During the Summer, weekend and national holiday for the U.S. and Canada are celebrated with fireworks display above the Falls. Fireworks shows are every Friday and Sunday from mid-May through beginning of September at 10:00 p.m. Firework displays can also be seen on the following U.S. and Canadian holidays: Victoria Day, Memorial Day, Canada Day, Independence Day and Canadian Civic Holiday.

Photos: Carol Cain

Related: Gilbert Lake State Park, New York.

Waubonsie State Park in Iowa

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Aerial view of Waubonsie State Park Photo credit:

Waubonsie State Park lies along the Missouri River on the western edge of Iowa within the area known as the Loess Hills.  Though loess,a very fine sand particle left by the melting of glaciers 14,000 to 28,000 years ago,  is found in small quantities around the world there are only two areas where you can find landforms of loess- along the Missouri River in Iowa and Missouri and in China. It creates a unique topography of steep and narrow ridge tops and its quick draining soil harbors plants like yucca, which are usually found in much more arid climes.

The park was purchased in 1926 and named for Chief Waubonsie of the Native American Pottawattamie tribe.  The park itself has changed little since its purchase, though the addition of the Wa-Shawtee Girl Scout Camp in 2005 added 642 acres and additional activities such as fishing, cabin accommodations, a youth group camp and a day-use rental lodge.

What to Do at Waubonsie State Park

With its scenic views this is a very popular park for a picnic.  An open shelter is available to rent and many first-come sites are available.

Forty campsites are available, 24 with electric hook ups.  A modern shower and restrooms are on site.  An equestrian campground is also available with 32 sites and non-modern facilities.  Half of the campsites are available for reservation, the other half are first come first served.   Due to the popularity of this park I suggest making reservations in advance or arriving as early as Wednesday to snag a coveted weekend spot.

Both hiking and equestrian trails offer incredible scenery.  The Sunset Ridge Interpretive Trail provides visitors a chance to learn about many of the park’s plants and trees.  Waubonsie State Park is also a part of the national Lewis and Clark Historical Trail.

If you don’t feel like “roughing it” there are quite a few cabin options, available through the park reservation system.  Varying in size from studio to three bedroom all have kitchens, bathrooms, heat, air conditioning and a stone fireplace.  Prices vary depending on the cabin; some cabins may only be available by the week during peak season.

Seven acre Lake Virginia offers a chance for canoeing or kayaking as well as a chance to cast your line; the lake is well stocked with channel catfish, largemouth bass, and bluegill.

Jody Halsted shares her family’s travel
adventures at Family Rambling. She is a
native Iowan and prefers to stay in-state
to enjoy its wonders during the summer.

Denali State Park, Alaska

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Denali State Park

Denali State Park, Alaska

Intro: Denali State Park is really, really big — at 325,240 acres, it’s half the size of Rhode Island!

The park was established in 1970, and expanded in 1976. On the western side it shares a boundary with the similarly named, but much more developed, Denali National Park and Preserve, formerly Mt. McKinley National Park.

Famous for: Denali is the original name for Mt. McKinley. At 20,320 feet, Mt. McKinley is North America’s highest peak. It literally and figuratively towers over South central Alaska from its base in Denali National Park.

Admission: Denali is such a huge park that there are a variety of day, season and annual pass options. See the Alaska State Park Fees page for information about the specific activity you have planned.

Individual Fees:

* Nightly camping: $10 to $20 per night
* Daily parking: $1 to $5 per vehicle
* Boat launches: $10 to $15 per day
* Sanitary dump station: $5
* Firewood: $5 to $8 per bundle where available
* Guided tours of historic sites: $2 to $10

Families with young kids will like: seeing so many wild animals, even from your car.

Families with teenagers will like: Getting out and getting active in the great outdoors. There’s something for everyone, from hunting and fishing, to photography, animal watching, hiking, cycling, dog sledding, boating, canoeing, rafting & kayaking,…if you can do it in a flannel shirt and a pair of hiking boots, you can do it in Denali.

Other travelers will like: “Flight seeing” — a popular way to see the icy expanses of Alaska is from the windows of a small plane or helicopter. See bears from a safe distance!

Easy site seeing: This is pretty rugged country, but it’s easiest to do a drive up George Parks Highway, the major road link between Anchorage and Fairbanks, that divides the park.

Best hotel in the park: Has yet to be built, but a visitor center is in the works for the southern part of park.

Best campground in the park: The park operates three campgrounds, four viewpoints and five trailheads. The park also offers three public use cabins available for rent on Byers Lake. But if you’ve gone all the way to Alaska, you should really go all the way and do some backcountry camping, which is allowed any anywhere along the ridge trail. Just remember to camp away from the trail, avoid spots where others have camped, and bring a stove, because campfires are not permitted on Kesugi Ridge.

Worst lodging experience: Just be careful of bears! Use bear proof containers for your food, and read up on Safety Tips!

Best months to visit for weather: June through early September, but you can catch some pretty cold, wet weather at higher elevations. Be prepared, this isn’t a trip to the beach!

Best months to visit to avoid crowds: The nice thing about a park the size of Denali is that crowds aren’t really a factor. That said, the peak months of June through September will also be the most visited times. For a true adventure, check out the park in the winter!

Nearest major cities: 130 miles north of Anchorage by car, about 100 air miles north of Anchorage, Alaska.

More info can be found at the Denali State Park page

Related posts:
Denali National Park & Preserve
Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
Alaska National and State Parks
Lake Clark National Park

Photo courtesy of: Denali State Park

Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Thursday, April 1st, 2010
franconia state park

A rustic sign welcomes you to Franconia State Park, NH

Intro: One of the most famous parts of 1-93 is the eight mile stretch that winds between the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ranges, and through Franconia Notch State Park.

Franconia Notch is home of the famous Old Man of the Mountain, which could be seen from two spots on the highway until it crumbled after nearly two centuries. The park is filled with easy to get to, family friendly activities, like the Flume Gorge Visitor Center, the aerial tramway at Cannon Mountain, and the New England Ski Museum.

You can swim at Echo Lake, fish at Profile Lake, bike on the Recreational Trail, go rock climbing, see wildlife or hike on the Appalachian Trail.

Famous for: Old Man of the Mountain, gone now, but you can still see cool pix, and where it used to be.

This striking profile was discovered in 1805, and made famous as “Great Stone Face” by notables like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Daniel Webster. Natural erosion finally took their toll when the profile collapsed on May 3, 2003.


Adults: $4.00; Children ages 6-11: $2.00
Children ages 5 & under, NH residents age 65 & over: FREE

Families with young kids will like: Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway

Take the 8 minute tram ride to the 4,180′ summit of Cannon Mountain and see the mountains of four states plus Canada on a clear day. At the top you can walk around, hang out on the observation deck or in the cafeteria. Bonus: restrooms.

Families with teenagers will like: Flume Gorge & Visitor Center

The dramatic natural gorge was discovered in 1808, and extends 800 feet from the base of Mount Liberty. You can walk through the Gorge, or see the whole area on a two mile loop hike, which includes lots of up hill and stairs. You can also get out of the summer heat and watch a 20-minute movie about the park.

Other travelers will like: Boise Rock

It’s a bit of a gory tale, but travelers who enjoy oddities or the travel essays of Sarah Vowell will probably be fascinated by the story of Thomas Boise survived the night by wrapping himself in his horse’s body.

One night in the early 1800s, Thomas Boise got stuck in a blizzard.  He killed his horse, skinned it, and wrapped himself in it, and spent the night under a rock. Rescuers had to cut him out of the frozen hide, still living but in need of a new horse.

If that story doesn’t put you off your lunch, there are some lovely picnic tables and a great view right by the chunk of granite that sheltered Thomas Boise.

Easy site seeing: Echo Lake Beach

Drive up to the lake, hang out at the beach, with life guards on duty, and enjoy a quick lunch from the snack bar. Perfect summer afternoon!

Best hotel in the park: Lonesome Lake Hut

Okay, it’s more of a cabin than a hotel, and you have to hike in with your own sleeping bag. But it’s an easy 1.75 mile hike, great for kids, and it’s open year round. You can even ski in during the winter!

Best campground in the park: Lafayette Campground and Lodge

Centrally located, Lafayette Place can be your base of operations for every kind of park activity, from hiking, to biking, fishing, swimming, plus all of the nearby attractions of the White Mountains.

You’ll find shaded spots, with open fireplaces, parking — and of course a picnic table at each of the 88 “by reservation” campsites, plus seven first-come/first-served spots. Bonus:  coin-operated showers and a camp store.

Open from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day weekend, with self-service/self-pay camping available during the off season, weather permitting.

Worst lodging experience: Getting caught in a thunder and lightening storm while camping in the mountains. Pack rain gear, even if you don’t think you need it.

Best months to visit for weather: It’s a year round park, with summer and winter sports, gorgeous fall foliage, and plenty of stunning waterfalls that will awe you during the spring melt.

Best months to visit to avoid crowds: It’s always pretty crowded, the shoulder seasons will have slightly fewer people, but also worse weather.

Nearest major cities: They aren’t really cities — this is New Hampshire we’re talking about — but these towns are nearby: Franconia, Sugar Hill, Easton, Bethlehem, Bretton Woods, Littleton, Lincoln, and North Woodstock

More info can be found at the always helpful New Hampshire State Park site.

Related posts:

Photo courtesy of: New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Humboldt County, California

Thursday, April 1st, 2010
prairie beach, humboldt county, ca

Prairie Beach, Humboldt County, CA

Intro: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park offers hiking, nature study, wildlife viewing, beach combing, picnicking, a visitor center with year-round exhibits and a nature store. You can see Roosevelt elk, do some whale watching, and see interesting birds like the spotted owl and the marbled murrelet.

And of course, there are 75 miles of trails in and around the Northern California Redwood forest.

Famous for: being a sanctuary of old growth coast redwood trees.

Admission: $8/vehicle

Families with young kids will like: The visitor center with exhibits, the easy trails and glimpses of wildlife.

Families with teenagers will like: Seeing the redwood forest that was the location for Endor in Star Wars.

Other travelers will like: The range of hiking trails, from the 1 mile Loop through Fern Canyon  to the 6.5 mile, 500 foot elevation Gold Bluffs Beach trail.

Easy site seeing: Many trails are accessible to individuals with physical or visual limitations, as well as the Nature Store and Visitor Center with exhibits open year round

Best hotel in the park: None, if you don’t want to camp, check out hotels in nearby Eureka, CA

Best campground in the park: The visitor center & Elk Prairie Campground, located at the southern end of the Parkway.

Worst lodging experience: getting caught in the cold summer fog without warm clothes. You may think it’s summer time, but imagine you’re packing for London in the winter, just in case.

Best months to visit for weather: October in Northern California is ah-mazing. In the summer temps run 40-75 degrees, and it’s cooler along the coast. Morning & evening fog is common. In the winter, 35-55. Dress for rain November to May.

Best months to visit to avoid crowds: You’ll see loads of locals whenever the weather is nice on the weekends, year round. Non-school vacation days during the week will be less busy.

Nearest major cities: The park is 50 miles north of Eureka and 25 miles south of Crescent City.

More info can be found at the always helpful California state park site for Prairie .

Related posts:
Fort Humbolt State Park, Eureka, CA
Samoa Dunes Recreation Area, Eureka, CA

Photo courtesy of: California Coastal Records Project

Brown County State Park, Indiana

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Covered Bridge at Brown County State Park

Nestled in the rolling hills and forests of Indiana, and just a few miles from the artist colonies and unique shops of Nashville, Indiana, Brown County State Park is one of Indiana’s favorites.

Brown County State Park

Famous for: Being Indiana’s largest state park.

Admission: $4-7 for a daily vehicle permit or $36-$46 for an annual permit.  See fees page for details.

Travelers will like: Hiking trails, horse trails, mountain bike trails, and beautiful scenery.

Best hotel in park: The Abe Martin Lodge has 30 guestrooms and a newly completed indoor aquatic center.

Camping in the park: Several different campgrounds appeal to different types of campers: Electric sites for RV’ers, non-electric sites for tenters, and a horse camp for those with horses are included in the 600+ campsites available in the park.

Best months to visit for weather: Summer for many outdoor activities, winter for activities like ice fishing.

Nearest major cities: Small but unique, Nashville, Indiana, is only a few miles away.  Bloomington, home of Indiana University, is about a half-hour’s drive, and Indianapolis is just over an hour away.

More info can be found at: The Indiana DNR’s Brown County State Park page.

Related posts: Indiana Dunes State Park; Romantic Hotels in Indiana

Photo courtesy of: ardee4 on flickr

Post written by: Linda (minnemom) of Travels with Children

Mount Greylock State Reserve, Massachusetts

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

mount greylock state reserve

The view from Mount Greylock, MA

Intro: Out in the Berkshires (the western part of the state) rises Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts. Mount Greylock State Reserve is the historic state’s first wilderness state park, established in 1898. Spread across six towns (Adams, Cheshire, Lanesborough, New Ashford, North Adams and Williamstown), it’s classic rural New England — wild, yet just steps away from civilization.

Famous for: Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts

Admission: Free, with a $2 parking fee for parking lot only. Parking is free for ParksPass  holders, vehicles with Handicapped, disabled veteran plates/placard, and seniors 62 and above with the Massachusetts Senior Pass.

Families with young kids will like: the Visitor Center with nature and science exhibits, and accessible restrooms

Families with teenagers will like: Awesome mountain biking trails

Other travelers will like:

  • 70 miles of designated trails for hiking, including an 11.5 mile section of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail
  • winter sports like back-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling
  • bird watching
  • hunting in season

Easy site seeing: Drive all the way to the summit and enjoy the sunset from the porch at Bascom Lodge. Be sure to make reservations for the fixed price dinner, if you’re lucky there will be blueberry something for dessert!

Best hotel in the park: Bascom Lodge at the summit. Drive up, enjoy the enclosed porch (important during black fly and mosquito seasons!) and they even have wifi!

Best campground in the park: This is not car camping, my friends. There is a “primitive” campground that you hike into, as a well as five trailside backpack shelters, and you hike into all of them. There are 15 tent sites, 7 group site, and you need to make reservations from April1 through November 1.

Worst lodging experience: You are in black bear country. Do not leave out food, and hopefully you’ll never find out about the worst experience.

Best months to visit for weather: April through October — early fall is stunningly gorgeous, although it can get cold fast!

Best months to visit to avoid crowds: Late spring, early fall

Nearest major cities:

  • Lenox, MA
  • Springfield, MA

More info can be found at:

Related posts:

Photo courtesy of: MA Department of Conservation and Recreation

The Cave Is Alive at Kartchner Caverns State Park

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Benson-Arizona-Kartchner-Caverns-Mike-LewisIt’s alive! That’s right, on a visit to Kartchner Caverns State Park in Benson, Arizona, you’ll walk through a living limestone cave filled with brushite moonmilk, birdsnest needle quartz and turnip shields. Water trickles from the ceiling of the “wet” cavern, giving birth to stalactites above your head and giant stalagmites reaching up from the ground. The state of Arizona has taken great measures to protect the integrity of this living cave system. So, leave your stuff in the car and be prepared to follow the rules on this special underground tour to a world you could never have imagined.

Famous for:  Kartchner Caverns was kept a secret for 13 years after the cave was discovered to protect its fragile state as well as determine the best way to develop the cave for tourism.

Admission: Rotunda/Throne Tour tickets are $18.95 for ages 14 and up, $9.95 for ages 7-13, with ages 0-6 touring free. The Big Room Tour tickets are $22.95 for ages 14 and up, $12.95 ages 7-13, ages 0-6 not allowed on this tour. Advance reservations are encouraged.

Families with young kids will like: Young children under 6 might become afraid in the dark cave. You’ll be asked to leave if that becomes a problem.

Families with teenagers will like: The Big Room Tour, available from mid-October to mid-April, is more physically challenging. From April to October, The Big Room is closed as it serves as a bat nursery to thousands of mother bats who give birth and raise pups in the cool cave environs.

Other travelers will like: The Eco-Science Trek which introduces visitors to the conservation techniques used to preserve the cave’s fragile ecosystem.

Easy site seeing: Learn about how the cave was discovered (there’s quite a history behind the story) at the Tenen-Tufts Theater in the Discovery Center.

Best hotel in the park: No hotels are located in the park. Lodging is available 10 miles away in Benson.

Best campground in the park: A two-loop campground is located at the southwest end of the park. Camping fees are $22.00 per night. No campfires are allowed but an electric hook up is included with the fee. Shower/restroom facilities are provided as well as water and a dump station.

Best months to visit for weather: Since the temperature inside the cave remains constant, there is no best month for a visit. However, staying in the campground during the summer months will be extremely hot.

Best months to visit to avoid crowds: Kartchner Cavern tours stay booked throughout the year, so reserve ahead online. Summer offers a cool respite from the outside heat plus Arizona’s winter visitors have returned home.

Nearest major cities: Tucson (49 miles), Phoenix (160 miles)

More info can be found at the always helpful Arizona State Parks site.

Related posts:

Photo courtesy of: Mike Lewis, Creative Commons License

Review by Donna L. Hull, My Itchy Travel Feet, The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Travel