Author: Eric Donley

Mother and daughter riding bikes

Exposing young kids and teens to our national parks, national forests, and to the wilderness is extremely beneficial. It helps young people connect with nature in a meaningful way, it gives kids and teens a chance to step away from digital devices, it is a great way to stay active on your vacation, and most importantly, it’s just fun! Getting outside and riding a bike or hiking and looking over a canyon rim or around a snow-capped peak is not something everyone gets to do every day. Making smores’ next to the fire, and eating a delicious meal during sunset are memories that last a lifetime.

But how do you decide where to go, or what to do? Should we bike, should we hike, should we raft, and should we camp? There are plenty of choices… camping versus hotels, the Northwest versus the Southwest, national parks versus national forests? Fully guided vacations versus DIY style vacations. The possibilities are endless. This guide will help shed light on some considerations to make if you aspire to visit a national park or national forest with your family.

1.Choosing the right place

If you are considering a family vacation that ventures off the beaten path then consider going to a national park. We are very lucky in the United States as we have set aside large expanses of land to be preserved for future generations. Over 3.5% (80 million acres) of all land in the United States has been designated as national parks. National forest also comes in at a whopping 180 million acres of land. That is a tremendous amount of open space.

FIND YOUR NATIONAL PARK HERE

Even with all of that land and the beauty and enjoyment that awaits in these destinations, there are real challenges to choosing a good location to take your family. For example, in places like Grand Teton National Park, or Yellowstone National Park the visitor centers and hot spots can be over-crowded. If you are interested in a national park you should enter the park early in the morning and have everything you need to be packed in your car for the entire day. This technique will help you avoid the areas of congestion during mid-day. Then, use tools like Hiking Project, or Mountain Bike Project to learn about trails in the region rather than relying on the standard maps distributed at visitor centers that everyone uses during their visit. This will help differentiate your hikes from the hikes the masses are doing. Take it one step further and check out the distance, technicality, elevation, and quality ratings in order to gain a deeper understanding of the trail.

National forests are certainly less crowded in most cases. Yet, national forests share being highly protected and coveted pieces of open space. Use national forests as a tool when you plan your vacation to national park hot spots. For example, when you plan to visit Yellowstone National Park take a couple of days and visit the Gros Ventre Wilderness in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. There are hiking, backpacking and camping options in this national forest, yet it will be far less crowded than its national park counterparts in the region. This same technique can be translated in almost any location with a national park close by.

2.Choosing the right adventures

Finding the right adventure can be challenging due to the logistics of making it all happen. For example, if you aspire to bike with your family through Zion National Park then you have to either bring or rent bikes for the entire family, find rides that will work for everyone and hopefully avoid congestion and crowds.

One technique that travelers can use is to hire a day guiding service on the first adventure of their vacation. During that experience, you can ask the guide about her/his favorite hikes, bike rides, and camping spots. This will help you get first-hand information from well informed and knowledgeable people about the specific geographic location.  Rather than spending your time searching for online comments, you can get first-hand information from someone who knows you and, in some cases, will be able to assess your specific abilities.

A second important factor when planning your adventures in and around national parks is BOOK YOUR CAMPING EARLY. Not all campgrounds are reservable online, but some are. In busy areas you should book 6 months in advance. To book campground reservations you can use recreation.gov/. This site will allow you to view national park and national forest campgrounds and it will either allow you to make reservations, or it will let you know that the particular campsite is not reservable online.

3.Choosing the right services

Finally, deciding whether or not to hire a guide service, create your vacation DIY style, or a combination of both can be challenging. One of the most common questions that we hear from our family vacation customers is wondering if they should just try to pull off their vacation without a guide service. Some of the pros to planning your own vacation are being able to change your itinerary on the fly, in most cases, it can be less expensive if you already own all of the necessary equipment, and there is a great feeling of accomplishment when your family succeeds said mission. The pros of hiring a guide service are centered around eliminating stress by allowing experienced professionals to handle the itinerary and letting go of all of the tedious planning necessary for meals and driving. This creates the necessary space so that you and your family can spend quality time together riding bikes, hiking, and camping.

There are pros to both methods and every family has their own experience and goals that will help them decide on what is right for them. If you’re unsure, we recommend a mixture of both options. For example, if you are planning a trip to Grand Teton National Park you can hire a multi-day guide service to handle the technical biking and camping portion of your vacation. Before or after your bike trip you can visit restaurants, hotels, and local attractions where guidance isn’t as helpful. Again, using the guide service at the beginning of the trip is usually the best practice so that you can squeeze all of the information you can get before embarking on your DIY adventures.

Planning a vacation for a national park road trip is a good idea… at least we think so! It can be challenging to pull off all of the logistics to maximize your family’s experience. We hope this list sheds a little more light on the process of taking your family to beautiful places where memories are created.

LIST OF WESTERN SPIRIT FAMILY TRIPS

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Decades of Adventure: The White Rim

View of Washer Woman formation on the White Rim trail, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah.

A Biking Legacy: The White Rim Trail

There are very few established mountain bike routes that are as well known as the White Rim. For good reason, this iconic ride has been in the hearts and minds of mountain bikers for decades. But why? What draws riders here season after season? Here is a quick history to put this biking legacy into context.

The National Park system has been one of the keystone aspects of land conservation in the United States. The White Rim is nestled within the heart of Canyonlands National Park and crosses a 190 square mile piece of conservation history. To be able to ride through this place is truly unique. Around each canyon bend, up and down every wash the rider will wonder, “Has anyone ever stepped foot here?” The remote nature of this place is at the forefront of each visitors mind.

Interested in the MAP of the White Rim?

Hikers on the trail to Fort Bottom ruins from the White Rim trail near Moab, Utah. Canyonlands National Park.

“Not only is the mere beauty of the landscape something to savor, but the geologic history is something to ponder”

Anyone who steps foot on the White Rim cannot help but wonder how the canyons have developed. Not only is the mere beauty of the landscape something to savor, but the geologic history is something to ponder. Layers and layers of rock have been carved and shaped by water and wind over the millennia. Bikers are given a front row seat to this story because their tires are rolling across the most prominent piece of this history: the White Rim layer of sandstone. This layer of stone is much harder than other layers and therefore erosion of this rock happens at a much slower pace. Some moments can feel almost effortless and others are quite slow going, but every biker can appreciate the experience of riding across this unique surface.

Here is a VISUAL AID for the layers of sandstone found in the Canyonlands National Park

Mountain biker on the White Rim trail, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah.

“The undeniably rugged nature of the trail holds years of history and travelers cannot help but tap into that history while passing through.”

Evidence of the humans that inhabited these canyons for centuries can be witnessed along the trail. Ancestral Puebloan rock art and dwellings are scattered among the cliffs and canyons. As Westerners came to the region this area was used for winter cattle grazing before it was designated a national park. Riders will notice that many of the names come from those early ranching days and bear the names of the families that grazed their cattle in the canyons and mesas of the region. However, the White Rim Trail wasn’t created by ranchers. It was blasted and carved out of the canyons by uranium miners during the 1950s when the nuclear arms race was in full swing. The undeniably rugged nature of the trail holds years of history and travelers cannot help but tap into that history while passing through.

Camp along the White Rim trail, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah.

“Outfitters like Western Spirit have been guiding people around the White Rim since the early days of mountain biking.”

Outfitters like Western Spirit have been guiding people around the White Rim since the early days of mountain biking. Year after year people continue to pursue this adventure. Endurance cyclists circumnavigate the 80-mile trail in as fast as 1 day, but most riders choose to ride in 4 days to allow for ample time to experience the awe and wonder of this place. Each campsite has something unique to offer such as side hikes, new vistas, and places to explore. The wildness and remote nature of this place quickly draws you out of everyday life and into something very new and different. Many of our guests who rode the White Rim back in the 1990s have returned with their children, spouses or friends to share the cherished adventure.

Every bike ride has the potential to be great, but by reaching out for new experiences and adventures we can re-inspire our lives. The White Rim offers this type of adventure and for this reason it will continue to inspire more and more bikers throughout history.

Ride the White Rim with us.

Mountain bikers on the White Rim trail, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah.

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