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Into the Woods: Family Outdoors Adventures in New England

Story by Berne Broudy

Nathaniel takes off up the trail, his little feet pattering on the rocks and roots. He shimmies up a rock too tall for his two-and-a-half year-old legs, with the determination and excitement of an explorer who has discovered uncharted territory. In hot pursuit, his dad, Brice, nearly trips over Nathaniel, who has suddenly stopped, his attention captured by a pool of pollywogs.

In a world where television, school and sports take up increasing amounts of a child's time, and parents are busy with work and the pressures of the daily grind, opportunities for families to spend time exploring together are priceless. To escape modern distractions, many families are heading into the woods.

Outdoor vacations, of any level of adventure, can be an opportunity to relax, spend time together, challenge yourselves, learn from each other and develop backcountry skills.

"Being in the backcountry with your family brings you closer because you don't have all the stuff from your daily life going on," repeats parent after parent. "It's an equalizer," says Brice Hoskin, whose family regularly visits Maine and Vermont. "Being in the outdoors with kids is great. They get your undivided attention and you theirs. They're not just visitors in your busy world, but you're sharing new experiences together."

For many families, New England is the four-season outdoor destination of choice. The mountains, valleys, forests, lakes and rivers of the Northeast are ripe with adventure opportunities. New England's most beautiful spots are easily accessible from New York and Boston. So whether you prefer gentle or extreme, guided or independent, educational or recreational, New England is a superb choice for families.

If you and your kids are confident and competent in the outdoors, Phillips Brook Recreation Area, just north of the Presidential Mountains in New Hampshire, offers 24,000 acres of endless possibilities. A multi-use, non-motorized, recreational hut-to-hut trail system, Phillips Brook gives families flexibility.

Rock-and-river-guide-service-iceRock-and-river-guide-service-ice.ou can rough it and camp on the land, stay in Philip's Brook's yurts (round wood and canvas cabins, with a wood stove, bunk beds and everything you need to cook), or spend your vacation in a rustic lodge with running water, electricity and a wood-fired hot tub. If hiking or skiing to a yurt with your family's gear doesn't sound appealing, the Phillips Brook staff will deliver it to your yurt via ATV or snowmobile

Philips Brook features 150 miles of trails for year-round activity. In the spring, summer and fall you can fish, hike, canoe, kayak, mountain bike or llama trek. Winter activities include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and dog sledding.

"Many families don't think of dog sledding as a winter adventure," says Tom Bartlett, owner of White Mountain Sled Dog Adventures. "But everyone always laughs a lot and loves the thrill of the ride." White Mountain Sled Dog Adventures runs educational dog sledding trips where participants learn sled and harness safety, team commands, and participate in harnessing and feeding the dogs before a ride.

If you and your family are looking to ease into backcountry exploration, pre-planned, guided trips may be a good option. The details are taken care of, from cooking to cleaning, to setting up tents, so you can relax. Trained wilderness guides lead Pine Ridge Adventure Center's Family Canoe programs, so parents and kids can have fun and spend time together and with other families.

"Everyone is pretty amazed at the end of the day, no matter what outdoor adventure a family undertakes," says Theresa Palen, co-owner of Rock and River Guide Service. "Parents and kids are amazed at what they can do, what each other can do, and how much they learn from each other." Rock and River offers rock and ice climbing instruction to kids and adults ages five and up in New York's Adirondack Mountains.

If you're interested in a sampler, Unicorn Expeditions, which has been running family programs since the early 1980s, offers a little bit of everything with a focus on rafting. Their base camp is a haven for parents and kids alike: on the edge of a three mile lake with hot tub, swimming pool, sailboats, paddleboats and canoes to complement croquet, pinball and pool. Most trips begin with a day of whitewater rafting, followed by hiking, mountain biking, or a riverside lobster bake.

There are a few rules of thumb of wilderness travel with you family. When Mark Mackillop of Charlotte, Vermont took his 13-year old daughter on a backpacking trip, he was concerned she might get tired of it if it was too hardcore. He recalls, "I was really conscious of not imposing my goals on her. Kids couldn't care less if you get to the top of a mountain. I was flexible about my objectives and made sure to keep my own purist intentions in check."

Saco river kayaking in Maine.Saco river kayaking in Maine.Whatever adventure you choose, be prepared for learning and fun, and don't forget snacks and water, reminds parent Indy Ewald, who regularly takes her six and four year-old children on outdoor adventures. "Being in the outdoors together is some of the best times we've had as a family. We wouldn't trade it for the world."



Unicorn Expeditions
rafting and multi-sport family outings


Appalachian Mountain Club
hiking and camping trips and nature programs


Philips Brook Recreation Area
backcountry yurt-to-yurt trips

White Mountain Sled Dog Adventures
half-day to multi-day sled dog trips


Rock and River Guide Service
rock climbing and ice climbing instruction


Pine Ridge Adventure Center
canoe trips and ropes course programs

Hulbert Outdoor Center
family camping and outdoor adventure trips

Merck Forest and Farmland Center
Over 3,100 acres of pristine trails, family activities, a working farm and camping


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Location: North America, United States
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