Words of Wisdom

Want to take the kids on your next outdoor adventure? Take a gander at these tried and true tips from our four families before you hit the trail.

Start ‘em young!

“When we moved to Charlottesville, to be honest with you, I didn’t even know about the Appalachian Trail. Later we tried taking them to Old Rag, but unless you really start them young, it’s hard.”

—Sophie Carpenter + Rusty Speidel

Keep it fun.

“As adults, we really don’t have too much trouble putting our head down and grinding out a workout, but when you’re 10 years old, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about having fun, and adults sometimes skip the fun part.”

—Jay + Monica Curwen

Bring more food always.

“Pack more food than you think. Exploring the outdoors takes a lot out of not only the kiddos, but the parents. ‘Hangry’ family members can ruin a day in the woods.”

—David + Sue Finney

Keep it short and sweet.

“Keep the length of your trip age appropriate. Younger kids tend to have shorter attention spans.”

—Anne Pagano + Luke Hopkins

Give yourself a break.

“There are educators in the field that can do the job of teaching your kid things, whether it’s a ski instructor or paddling instructor, and I would encourage parents to lean on that resource rather than be the instructor yourself. I’ve seen my kids take the same advice and instruction I gave them from a professional because that instructor was not a parent. It’s money well spent.”

—Jay + Monica Curwen

Be prepared, but embrace spontaneity.

“When traveling, pack lunches and scout out state parks or national forest ahead of time and take back roads as often as possible. Some of our most memorable experiences are the places we stopped for a picnic lunch or a break from driving.”

—David + Sue Finney

Top 10 Destinations for Family Friendly Fun

Our four families shared their favorite places to go outside and play.

Play + Dine

Spy Rock + Devils Backbone Brewing Company

Roseland, Virginia

At 3.1 miles roundtrip, this short hike in central Virginia won’t take all day, but when you’re dragging kids up a mountain, shorter is sometimes better. The trail climbs steadily to the Spy Rock summit, but that means it’s all downhill from there. Spend an hour or two basking in the 360-degree views of the Religious Range before heading back for a lunch or early dinner at Devils Backbone Brewing Company. When the weather’s nice, the outside seating and game area gives kids plenty of room to roam while the adults kick back by the fire pit with a locally crafted brew.

Turk Mountain + Blue Mountain Brewery

Afton, Virginia

What better way to greet the day than a 2.2-mile morning hike to the top of a mountain? You’ll climb 690 feet to reach the peak, but once you’re there, you’ll be greeted with talus slopes to scramble on and classic Virginia Blue Ridge views to soak in. Head back down for brunch at Blue Mountain Brewery, which usually has live music on Sundays during the warmer months.

French Broad + Salvage Station

Asheville, North Carolina

Want a carefree, scenic river float that requires minimal logistics? Head out on the class I-II section of the French Broad River. In the summertime especially, this portion of the French Broad can become crowded with weekend tubers. Start your float early and take out at the Salvage Station. This riverfront bar, concert, and event space is more outdoors than in, and regularly has free music, games, and rotating food trucks.

Hit the Water

Nantahala Outdoor Center

Bryson City, North Carolina

Nothing says summer like whitewater rafting. Take a guided trip down the class II+ Nantahala River with one of the center’s seasoned guides. Kids can also enroll in one of the center’s various paddling schools or clinic offerings to take full advantage of the professional expertise here.

Fontana Lake

Almond, North Carolina

Rent a boat, or bring some floating crafts of your own, and head out onto this spectacular 10,000-acre lake. Engulfed by the majesty that is the Great Smoky Mountains, Fontana’s 240 miles of shoreline afford the adventurous at heart endless opportunities to explore. Quiet coves and defined cliff bands make great stopping points to cool off with a swim or cliff jump.

DuPont State Recreational Forest

Brevard, North Carolina

Hike or bike on DuPont’s 90-mile trail system. Situated at the heart of western North Carolina, this gem is easily accessible and can be as novice-friendly or as advanced as your family’s skillset allows. You would be remiss to plan an adventure here and not pay a visit to the waterfalls showcased in The Hunger Games. Given the stunning beauty of this North Carolina gem, even adults will find it hard not to channel their inner Katniss Everdeen.

Summersville Lake

Summersville, West Virginia

The sandstone cliffs that border Summersville Lake are out-of-this-world cool, whether you’re a pontoon floater, a SUPper, or a climber. Take your craft of choice to any number of boater access ramps and spend the day on this pristine body of water.

New River

Blacksburg, Virginia

Largely overshadowed by the rompin’ class IV-V New River Gorge downstream, the upper stretches of the New River are every bit as scenic and fun. Though the rapids are sizably smaller, they serve as the perfect whitewater introduction for kids of all ages. Put in at McCoy Falls just 15 minutes outside of Blacksburg. Skilled paddlers can get in a quick surf here before floating tranquilly down the rest of the class I-II run.

On Belay

Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness

Knoxville, Tennessee

Only a few miles from downtown Knoxville, this recreation oasis encompasses 1,000 acres across 10 different parks and four civil war sites. There are over 50 miles of multiuse trails here, making the Urban Wilderness a popular destination among cyclists and runners, but new to the scene is the Ijams Crag, Knoxville’s only outdoor climbing area. The climbing crag features a diverse range in beginner to advanced sport routes and affords novice climbers an intimidation-free environment to learn the ropes.

New River Gorge

Fayetteville, West Virginia

No matter if you climb sport, trad, or boulders, the bullet-hard sandstone at the New provides. Hike in for miles on stunning trails to avoid the crowds, or park-and-climb within minutes of leaving your car. Though the New is notorious for sandbagging, there are a handful of walls that offer more moderate routes for families and novice climbers, such as Sandstonia and Butcher’s Branch. Take care in the summer, as these areas in particular can become especially crowded on the weekends.

Photo by Luke Hopkins

Get Schooled

With these 8 outdoor education centers so you, and your family, can feel safe about recreating.

Nantahala Outdoor Center

Bryson City, North Carolina

Voted “Best Raft Guide Company” in our 2017 Best of the Blue Ridge contest, the NOC is also one of the leading instructional centers for kayaking, swiftwater rescue, wilderness medicine, and, should you want to join the NOC raft guide ranks, raft guiding.

Landmark Learning

Sylva, North Carolina

For all things related to risk management, wilderness medicine, and backcountry response, Landmark Learning is the outdoor industry’s go-to educational organization. College students can even receive an entire semester’s worth of credits while gaining important industry certifications like Wilderness First Responder and Wilderness EMT.

Outward Bound

North Carolina, Georgia

No matter your age or experience level, Outward Bound has a course that will suit your needs. Trips can range from four days to almost three months and span all genres of outdoor adventure in every corner of the world, from sailing off the coast of Maine to backpacking in Patagonia.

Fox Mountain Guides

Pisgah Forest, North Carolina

Learn the ropes with Fox Mountain Guides, voted “Best Climbing Company” in our 2017 Best of the Blue Ridge contest and the only American Mountain Guides Association accredited guide service in the region. Beginners will gain a comprehensive understanding of rock climbing in an intimidation-free setting suited to their experience level, while even expert climbers will learn a thing or two from Fox Mountain’s seasoned guides.

Adventure Sports Center International

McHenry, Maryland

Touted as the world’s only mountaintop whitewater course, this manmade whitewater center is unique not only in its setting but its outstanding raft guides and kayak instructors. Learn the basics of whitewater paddling in a relatively controlled environment and without the logistical stress of paddling remote rivers.

New River Mountain Guides

Fayetteville, West Virginia

Want your teen to get hooked on something other than Facebook and video games? Send them to a weeklong rock climbing course this summer with New River Mountain Guides. Between the world-class climbing, nightly campfires, and lasting friendships, it’s sure to be a summer your child will never forget.

Wilderness Voyageurs

Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania

Make the most of your next weekend getaway with a two-day immersion in kayaking. For decades, the whitewater paddling hub of Ohiopyle has churned out some of the world’s best paddlers, so you know the boating here has to be good. All equipment and gear is provided as well as transportation and lunches on the water.

American Canoe Association

Various Locations

Throughout the year, the American Canoe Association partners with outfitters and paddling clubs across the country to offer a diverse array of courses such as swiftwater rescue, coastal kayaking, essentials of river kayaking, and SUP surf skills. Whether you’re a beach bum or a river rat, the ACA is your best bet for learning water safety and skills.