Category Archives: Outdoors

Twelve Fun Places to Take Your Kids This Summer in Salt Lake Valley

Summer is coming. I sense it with a mix of excitement and dread. I love having my kids home and getting to see their cute faces all day. But ALL DAY is a long time when we are talking about 2 and a 1/2 months. We need a plan. They have a few things going on that I can count on–sports and art camps and a few daily must do’s, like chores, music, math, and reading. But I find that having one day a week where we plan a fun outing together gives us all something to really look forward to. Call it “Take-a-Trip Tuesday” or “Field-Trip Friday” or just “Let’s-Get-Out-of-the-House-Before-Mom-Goes-Crazy Day.”  Whatever you call it, you’ll feel armed and ready to experience plenty of adventures with your kids this summer if you have a list in your back pocket. Here are some of our favorite stops in the Salt Lake Valley:

  1. Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City. I’m a grown woman who has never tired of watching orangutans, gorillas, giraffes, lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). All of these and so many more amazing creatures you’ll find at the zoo, along with a great little water play area for cooling down when it gets hot. Admission: $16.95 (adults), $12.95 (children 3-12). Annual family membership: $149 
  2. Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake. We love the free interactive exhibits at the planetarium, where kids can learn about Earth, our solar system, and outer space. Cool educational IMAX and Dome Theater shows about the sun, black holes, the Amazon, extreme weather, the moon and more play daily. Show tickets for ages 3 and up are $7. Make it extra fun by riding TRAX downtown.

3. Hiking in Big Cottonwood Canyon. We love getting up in the mountains to explore rocks, trees, water, animals and all the other beauties of nature. And guess what? If you live in Salt Lake Valley,you are only minutes away from some amazing options. A few of our favorite fairly easy hikes are Mill B South Trail, Bells Canyon Reservoir, and Donut Falls Trail. I have a two year old, so he would normally ride in a backpack (on my husband’s back!) when we hike. But he can meander for a ways on his own, and I can get a great workout if I decide to haul him on my shoulders. Win-win!
4. Red Butte Gardens in Salt Lake City. This is a fun way to explore the outdoors (without as much hiking as you’ll get in the canyons). You’ll find over 100 acres of display and natural gardens, walking paths and hiking trails. The whole family can enjoy activities year-round including concerts, classes, festivals, events, and exhibits. Admission: $12 (adults), $7 (children 3-17).5. The Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City is a fun and fascinating look at natural history subjects, with an emphasis on Utah and the Intermountain West. Kids will enjoy the many interactive exhibits (mine especially love the dinosaurs). Admission: $14.95 (adults), $9.95 (children 3-12). 6. Tracy Aviary and Liberty Park in downtown Salt Lake. If you love birds, this is the stop for you. With 8 acres that feature our colorful feathered friends, you might just feel like you’ve entered the Amazon. Admission: $11.95 (adults), $7.95 (children 3-12). Also in central Liberty Park are a few fun carnival rides that my kids love to hit (the ferris wheel especially). Before you head home, consider stopping by the pond to see the ducks and maybe rent a paddle boat! 7. Discovery Gateway in downtown Salt Lake is a hands-on, interactive children’s museum with dozens of fun options for kids of all ages, including obstacle courses, a pretend grocery store and gardens, a fun gravity exhibit, and a life-flight helicopter to explore. Admission: $9.508. Treehouse Museum in Ogden offers interactive, hands-on exhibits and experiences with a focus on literacy and creating a lifelong love of reading. I haven’t been here yet but hope to take my kids this summer. Admission: $5 (adults), $7 (children 1-12).9. The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper is a beautiful hands-on aquarium, home to 4,500 animals representing 550 species. Our favorite part is the underwater shark tunnel that makes us feel like scuba divers in the Caribbean. Admission: $19.95 (adults), $14.95 (children). Family membership for up to four children: $189. 10. Lagoon in Farmington offers spinning, soaring, flying, and falling for all ages.  If theme parks are your thing, look no further. Admission: $39.95 (48 inches and under) and $55.95 (over 48 inches).11. Thanksgiving Point in Lehi. You truly could spend your whole summer here. You’ll find Farm Country, the Museum of Natural Curiosity, the Museum of Ancient Life, and the Thanksgiving Point Gardens along with concerts, summer camps, cooking classes, restaurants, gift shops, and a farmers market. Annual family membership: $220. Museum admissions: $15 (adults), $12 (children), .

12. Seven Peaks in Salt Lake City and Provo. After receiving 17 emails from Groupon and KSL about this deal, I finally caved and bought the Pass of All Passes for $20 a person. But guess what? We’ve been to these waterparks twice already and it isn’t even summer yet! My kids have had a blast. Tubes, slides, waves, and rivers…this may very well be our favorite stop all summer (and we’ll go again, and again, and again…because we can).

So, yes. Summer is coming, ready or not. Don’t worry. Aside from the daily bouts of sibling squabbles and occasional boredom, you’ll have a wonderful time together. Especially if you have a few fun plans along the way. And before you know it, those favorite people of yours are going to be back in school all day, and you’ll miss them like crazy. It happens to me every summer. Let’s make every day count.

8 Reasons to Take Your Kids Camping This Summer

I like a nice hotel as much as the next gal. You know . . . jacuzzi, swimming pool, soft king-sized bed, fluffy pillows, crisp white sheets, and cushy slippers. What’s not to love? But every summer from the time our first child was 6 months old, we have taken our kids camping. We’ve been to dozens of beautiful places filled with natural wonders that you just can’t experience the same way unless you are sleeping right there in it. With the stars above, songs around the campfire, and sleeping with now 6 of us in one tent, it’s a tradition that I now treasure. Here are five reasons you might want to consider pitching your own tent this summer too:

  1. It fosters a break from technology. Technology is running rampant in our fast-paced, plugged-in, high-tech world and it is stealing the attention of our little ones. Don’t get me wrong–I like a good movie and I appreciate my iPhone with all it’s cool gizmos and gadgets. It’s how I listen to podcasts on my morning jog or audio books while I’m folding laundry. And it is a perfect tool for capturing photos and videos of our life. BUT recent research says that kids ages 8-18 are spending an average of SEVEN HOURS a day in front of screens. That’s a lot of time that kids aren’t having experiences in the real world–spending time with family, exploring, playing with friends, and problem solving. Which brings me to my next reason:
  2. Being in nature makes you better at problem solving. According to cognitive psychologist Dr. David Strayer at the University of Utah, being in nature (away from technology) for three days actually made people 50 percent better at solving problems! I read about this research in National Geographic and called Dr. Strayer to ask for more details. What is it about getting away that makes our brains function better? As he said, “The technology actually makes us pretty distracted. Our brains can only process so much.”
  3. Being in nature makes you healthier physically. I don’t know about you, but when we go camping, we are not sitting around our tent all day drawing in the dirt with sticks. Yes, we do that for some of the day, but mostly we are out and about. We have picked a place to explore for some reason or another (maybe because of its beauty or its history or its cool hiking challenges) and we spend our days exploring. The childhood obesity epidemic is real enough, and the problem is linked to inactivity. It is impossible to be stationary when you are hiking to see beautiful waterfalls in Yosemite or biking a path with dozens of geysers on either side of you in Yellowstone or swimming in the luke warm waters of Lake Powell (all things I highly recommend).
  4. Being in nature makes you healthier mentally. Think about it–how do you feel when you are sitting in a park, green and blue surrounding you? Or lying down in the grass, watching the clouds go by? Or walking a trail surrounded by the brilliant colors of flowers? Stress goes down, relaxation goes up. Researchers who study this have found that people who simply live near parks are less likely to have 15 diseases, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and asthma. In one study, even being able to see trees through a window helped people perform better in school, recover faster in hospitals, and get along better with others! What surrounds you when you are camping? Usually–trees. Lots, and lots, of trees.
  5. You connect more as a family. Our kids LOVE playing with their friends. Our oldest son especially is asking almost constantly to have friends over to our house or to go hang out at his friends’ houses. I thought this phase wouldn’t happen until he was a teenager. He’s eleven! Still, friends are healthy and good, so I support it (within limits). BUT I love getting so much of his attention when we steal away together as a family. You know who else loves it? His sisters! They don’t get a lot of his time when we’re at home. But when we are hanging out together camping–with no screens or friends to be seen–our three older kids can’t seem to get enough of each other. (I mean, we go through the normal family spats too, but overall, they discover how much they like each other). Yay for family time!
  6. You get to see beautiful places. Truly–some of the most incredible places I have ever seen I experienced camping. Some of my favorites are Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. Over spring break we took our kids on a beach trip to San Diego and stayed at an amazing campground called Campland By the Bay, complete with hot tubs and swimming pools (seriously, if you like California, you should check it out). This summer we are taking our kids to explore the San Juan Islands and two other national parks in Washington. And for my husband’s 40th birthday, we are backpacking in Kauai. These are adventures of a lifetime, and they are doable!
  7. You get to work together as a family. I don’t know about you, but our regular life doesn’t consist of a whole lot of working all together as a family (especially when Dad works all day at an office). Sure, everyone has their individual chores–but it’s not like living on a farm where EVERYONE was involved in working hard toward the same end goal. Camping gives us that opportunity. There is a tent to set up and sleeping bags to unroll and mats to lay out and food to cook and dishes to clean and we are all right there doing the work together. It’s a very bonding experience.
  8. It’s cheap. Think you can’t afford to travel? Think again. Once you have your tent, sleeping bags, and maybe a little camping stove, you’re set. It only typically costs around $15-$20 for a campsite through the National Parks Service at www.recreation.gov.

So, yes, I like hotels. And I like the creature comforts of home. But camping has so many awesome benefits that it’s hard to find an excuse not to go. If you think you aren’t a camping sort of person, I dare you to try it. I bet you’ll be surprised.

 

Summer in Yosemite

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Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park

After experiencing gorgeous waterfalls, blue skies, granite cliffs, and colorful meadows, Yosemite is now one of my favorite places on the planet. Our family visited at the end of July, and I just couldn’t get enough of the cool hiking experiences and breath-taking views. I think I said “Wow” more times in one day than ever in my life. If you haven’t been here, please go.

My favorite hike was on Mist Trail, where we hiked the few miles and hundreds of stone steps to this incredible waterfall. You could actually see a rainbow in the sunshine and mist at the bottom of the falls. This was a great hike for our kids–challenging but doable, with a great reward at the end. We thought the end of our journey would be the falls, but to our surprise, just past the falls was a giant pool of water, complete with natural rock waterslide!

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Natural waterslide at Emerald Pools.

Despite none of us having swimsuits, most of us somehow ended up in the water. My son was the first to throw his shirt and shoes to the side and jump in. Then my daughter joined. My husband and his brother got in and swam over to the waterslide. Then my sister-in-law (more adventurous than I ever realized) said she was going for it, fully clothed. I started to realize this was not an opportunity to miss, so I counted down (my perennial weakness) and jumped in the frigid water alongside her. We swam over to the waterslide, hiked up the smooth rock surface where it was dry, then slid down into the water. Super fun!

If that wasn’t enough of a surprise, we also saw a bear (the only bear I’ve ever seen in the wild) traipse across the rock surface not 50 yards from where we had just slid down the rock. A bunch of teenagers who were on the same side of the pool started screaming and running toward the water. Luckily, the bear took no interest in them and just kept walking along until it disappeared back into the brush.

At night we camped just outside the park’s south entrance at Summerdale Campground. As we were setting up our camp, our camp neighbor shouted, “Scott, look!!” We looked up in the sky and there was a huge orange and pink meteor streaming across the sky, with tiny pieces breaking off so it looked like a dozen blazing shooting stars all together. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen in the night sky. Our kids were enthralled. Amazing! Come to find out, it was apparently some kind of Chinese satellite junk. Not quite as cool, but still.

The other neat and unexpected experience at camp was crawdad fishing. I haven’t done this since I was a kid, but our camp host said we had to try it. So we put a hotdog on a string and literally, within minutes, we could see the crawdads in the water creeping toward it and climbing on. It took us a few tries to get the things out of the water and into a bucket, but eventually we caught 8 or so. We kept 6 to cook because, well, why not? We are all about new experiences. We boiled them and cracked them open. They tasted fine. A lot of work for the two bites out of each one, but it was fun.

Our little family miracle of the trip happened to our 10-year-old son Zach. He had just picked out a souvenir from the trip that day, a neat wooden pocketknife with his name etched in. While we were fishing (pretty much in the dark) his pocket knife fell out of his pocket. We all looked around but couldn’t find it anywhere. After all, it was wood colored. We said we’d try again in the morning. We suggested to Zach that he say a prayer, and went to bed. The next morning, Zach and Scott went for a walk and I said a quick prayer that, if it be God’s will for him to find this little treasure, he would find it. I understood that God may want Zach to have the lesson about taking care of his things, and I was open to that result. But that lesson is of course much less fun. The other lesson would be that prayer works, and sometimes you even get the answer you are hoping for. Well, right after I said my prayer, Zach and Scott came back with big smiles. Zach said he remembered walking by a particular poky bush that made him jump the night before, so they went there. Lo and behold, they looked down, in the wood and grass and dirt, and there was his pocket knife. Yay for little miracles!

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Playing at the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls.

Another adventure was, when we went for a hike to Lower Yosemite Falls, which had another little surprise waiting for us: fun pools of water and lots of rocks for the kids the play in. We hadn’t learned our lesson about wearing swimsuits in this water haven, but we got in, again, in our clothes. The kids climbed and swam and splashed for hours. Too much fun.

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Granite Point

For a view of the valley, we drove out to Glacier Point, where we did a short walk to a lookout point. From there, we could see two waterfalls and 360 degrees of rocks, trees, meadows, and mountains. Beautiful.

On our way out of California, we decided to stop at Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park, mostly because we wanted more stamps for our National Parks passport books. OK, not really. Well, partly. We of course were excited to see what made those places so special, especially as we considered the 100-year anniversary of the National Parks system. Both parks were incredible. I especially loved the Congress trail with the huge groups of sequoia trees–the biggest trees in the world. It was incredible to be so dwarfed by nature.IMG_1308

Overall–an amazing, wonderful incredible trip with some of my favorite people. We will definitely do this again.

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Happy kids, enjoying the outdoors at Sequoia National Park.