Escape to Luxury in the Forest at Lake Quinault Lodge

 

Enjoy Lake Quinault Lodge with kids.
Lake Quinault Lodge in the Olympic National Forest was featured in the PBS series, Great Lodges of the National Parks, Volume Two. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A skipping stone from Olympic National Park, Lake Quinault Lodge regally sits on the shores of its namesake in the Olympic National Forest. With resort activities and amenities that most national park properties lack, Lake Quinault Lodge offers families a refined national park adventure.

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park offers over 900,000 acres to explore in Washington State. A year-round outdoor destination boasts rugged Pacific coasts dotted with tide pools, hidden trails meandering through dense rain forests and accessible mountaintops with inspiring views. 

Explore Olympic National Park at Lake Quinault Lodge with kids.
Hike a trail in Olympic National Park while staying at Lake Quinault Lodge. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Olympic National Park offers three distinct ecosystems to explore. For this reason, The United Nations designated Olympic National Park a biosphere reserve in 1976 and later proclaimed it a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.

What I loved at Lake Quinault Lodge

  • The secluded setting along the lake allows families time to reconnect.
  • Kids can play games on the lawn or game room.
  • The heated pool and sauna are luxuries in an historic property.
  • In-room coffee maker features Starbucks coffee. 

What could have been better Lake Quinault Lodge

  • Parked cars crowd the entrance of the lodge and distract from the building’s architecture.
  • Inconsistent bathroom renovations

The Hotel

Constructed in 1926, the main building at Lake Quinault Lodge features cedar shakes and original divided light windows. The evergreen shutters match the towering centuries-old spruce trees that surround Lake Quinault Lodge, adding charm to this hidden gem.

Discover Lake Quinault Lodge with kids when exploring Olympic National Park.
The cedar shake exterior and divided light windows add to the charm of Lake Quinault Lodge. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The front of the main lodge is understated and a bit crowded with the guest cars. To get a true appreciation for this historic lodge, walk around to the back of the building.

A large, gracious lawn slopes towards the Lake Quinault, during the summer mature hydrangeas soften the lines of the hotel. Adirondack chairs dot the lawn, an ideal place to enjoy a book, a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. Guests gather here from sunrise to sunset to decompress.

Enjoy the activities of Lake Quinault Lodge with kids.
Along the shore of Lake Quinault, I found rental canoes and kayaks along with stand-up paddle boards. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A white gazebo sits at a corner of the expansive lawn and overlooks the lake. When not hosting a wedding ceremony, guests watch the sun set over the lake.

The Atmosphere

Lake Quinault Lodge features 91 rooms plus one suite across six buildings centered around the historic two-story lodge. Perched on a hillside on the shores of Lake Quinault, families can enjoy water sports as well as rainforest hikes during their stay.

Enjoy a book by the fire when staying at Lake Quinault Lodge.
The lobby offers lots of places to sit and enjoy the fire or play a game of chess. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Inside of the Lake Quinault Lodge, guests relax in over-sized leather chairs next to a roaring fire, year-round. Steps away, I found a lobby bar, covers every thing from cocktails to Starbucks coffee.

Next to the lobby, I found the Roosevelt Dining Room that welcomed Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. FDR visited Lake Quinault Lodge when he toured the area before creating Olympic National Park in 1938.

Enjoy dinner at the Roosevelt Dining Room at Lake Quinault Lodge with kids.
I enjoyed desert while watching the birds eat from feeders right outside the dining room windows. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With historic rooms in the lodge to modern rooms with fireplaces and balconies, Lake Quinault Lodge offers lodging to accommodate most guests. Conveniently located on the southern end of Olympic National Park, it’s a couple of hours to drive from Seattle.

I enjoyed Lake Quinault Lodge for the rustic lake scenery, the refined common areas of the historic lodge and the rain forest hiking. My kids, 8, 12 and 13, enjoyed the rental boats, a heated pool and a game room.

My Room at Lake Quinault Lodge

A lakeside room at Lake Quinault Lodge.

During my stay, I enjoyed a room with two queen beds dressed with white linens and a pink coverlet in the Lakeside Building ($$). The lakeside rooms offer modern furnishings and a balcony overlooking Lake Quinault.

In my room, I found a TV along with a chocolate-colored pull-out sofa, a convenient option for families. My room also featured an armchair upholstered in hues of the lake along with a coffee table. My room didn’t include a phone.

I found the granite bathroom counter with a white vessel sink and upgraded vanity lighting outside the rest of the bathroom. The room with the tub and toilet was a tad small. My room didn’t have a closet but had a handy coat rack next to the front entrance. I use the closet in hotel rooms to keep the kid clutter to a minimum.

Enjoy lakeside activities like paddle boarding, canoeing and roasting marshmallows at this lodge near Olympic National Park in Washington state.

The balcony overlooking the lake offered a perfect spot to enjoy the in-room Starbucks coffee and I found two chairs and a small table. The siding glass door remained open my entire stay so I could hear the lake.

I entered my room from an outside corridor and parking was convenient to my room.

Family Activities at Lake Quinault Lodge

The pool at the Lake Quinault Lodge.
I don’t find many pools in historic National Park properties so my kids were thrilled.

Lake Quinault Lodge features a heated indoor pool along with a men’s and women’s sauna. Features I don’t find in many national park properties. My kids found a game room stocked with a pool table, Ping-Pong and foosball.

Lake Quinault Lodge rents kayaks, small row boats and stand-up paddle boards along the shore. On the lawn, my kids found a basket with a football, a baseball, bocce balls and a Wiffle ball plus the bats.

Lots of activities at Lake Quinault Lodge for kids.
The game room kept my kids busy along with skipping rocks along the lake. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In the evening, Lake Quinault Lodge lights a fire pit on the lakeshore and the gift shop sells s’mores kits for $4. Toasting a marshmallow while the sky glows like a campfire ember really can’t be beat.

Lake Quinault Lodge is located on South Shore Road, next to National Forest Information Station. The lodge is within walking distance of hiking trails and the general store.

Lake Quinault Lodge’s Roosevelt Dining Room

The historic Roosevelt Dining Room offers breakfast, lunch and dinner with a kids’ menu. Breakfast starts at 7:30 a.m. and the dining room closes at 9 p.m. during the summer.

The Roosevelt Dining Room features tables overlooking Lake Quinault and offers traditional selections for breakfast, like omelets and eggs benedict. For lunch, diners can choose from resort-inspired offerings. The dinner menu features Pacific Northwest seafood along with traditional favorites like Roosevelt’s Classic Pot Roast.

Family Hiking in the Lake Quinault Rainforest

During our visit, I took my kids on a hike. Hiking trails start on property and vary in length and difficulty.

  • Rain Forest Nature Trail Loop, a .5-mile trail that partially accessible, an option for strollers
  • Lake Quinault Loop Trail, an .9-mile accessible section along the lake
  • World’s largest Sitka spruce, a .3-mile trail located close to the post office

Excursions at Lake Quinault Lodge

The Lake Quinault Lodge features a couple of excursions that depart from the property.

A four-hour guided bus tour takes visitors to the best photo opportunities in the Quinault Rainforest and if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of an animal. The knowledgeable local guide discusses the history of the area along with the Quinault Indian Nation. This tour includes short hikes into the rainforest to see the magnificent Western hemlocks and Douglas firs up close.

A Lake Quinault Boat Cruise departs from the lodge’s dock three times a day. Scenic tours offer passengers a sunrise, afternoon or sunset cruise.

The third weekend in October celebrates the mushrooms of the Olympic Peninsula with the annual Mushroom Festival. Guests can learn how to forage for wild mushrooms and the Roosevelt Restaurant’s chef creates a special menu for weekend featuring mushrooms.

Disclosure:  My family was hosted by Lake Quinault Lodge. The opinions are my own.

Know Before You Go:

  • Complimentary Wi-Fi available in the common areas.
  • Lake Quinault Lodge doesn’t have air-conditioning, though I didn’t need it during my July visit.
  • Lake Quinault Lodge is a pet-friendly property.
  • If your kids require a bathtub, request one. Not all rooms have a tub.
  • Just need to feed the kids? The Quinault General Store makes pizza to-go along with sandwiches and ice cream, located across the street.
  • Paddle the lake in the morning for calmer water.
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Best Time to Explore Glacier to Wow the Kids

The red tour buses are things to do in glacier national park with kids.
The Rubies of the Rockies glide along the Going-to-the-Sun Road as the Jammer, or tour-guiding driver, finds all the best views. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Glacier National Park, known as the Crown of the Continent, offers one million acres to reconnect as a family in Northwestern Montana. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, visitors relax in mountain chalets after hiking through the backcountry, rich with wildlife. Take a vintage red bus or a restored wooden boat to tour a park known for its ecological diversity. For the horse-lover, saddle up at one of three corrals in Glacier National Park.

What Makes Glacier Spectacular

Glacier National Park sits at a convergence of the Rocky Mountain, the Pacific Northwest and the prairie ecosystems, each bringing their specific species. From the Triple Divide Peak rain flows into the Pacific Ocean, the Hudson Bay or the Gulf of Mexico, depending on the side of the mountain it falls.

Logan Pass Visitor Center is one of the things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
A stop at Logan Pass Visitor Center along the Going-to-the-Sun Road tops my list for must-dos for families in Glacier National Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The park owes its rugged landscape to the glaciers that cleaved its mountaintops then gouged its valleys thousands of years ago. Today, the majestic pointed spires rise up from the alpine meadows painted with summertime wildflowers. Glacier National Park features 25 glaciers, take a hike to see one up close.

History of Glacier National Park

The Great Northern Rail Road (GNRR) completed their line near present-day Glacier National Park in 1891, connecting Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Seattle, Washington. The Great Northern wanted to increase tourist travel to the area and planned a string of luxurious lodges.

Tour the historic Lake McDonald Lodge for things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
Walk through Lake McDonald Lodge to appreciate the building even if you don’t have a reservation. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Great Northern lobbied extensively for the protection of the area and Glacier National Park was established in 1910, after Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks. Later in 1910, GNRR opened their first Glacier property, Belton Chalet, in the present-day town of West Glacier.

An International Peace Park

Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park was created in 1895, just north of Glacier National Park. In 1932 the world’s first International Peace Park was created after the two national parks joined at the international border.

Explore Glacier National Park in the northwest corner of Montana.
Glacier National Park along the Canadian Border is a Top 10 National Park, offering glaciers, waterfalls and animal sightings for the whole family. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In 1995, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique landscape. Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park features its own seasonal border crossing. Located along the Chief Mountain Highway and open from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

When to Visit Glacier National Park

The park is open year-round though the Going-to-the-Sun Road that bisects the park remains closed until late June most years because of the snowpack. Since it’s closed from Lake McDonald Lodge to St. Mary, I suggest visiting Glacier no earlier than late June.

Drive the Going-to-the-Sun-Road for things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Going-to-the-Sun Road offers epic scenery. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Tours, lodging and activities begin in June too. If trying to avoid crowds, consider visiting Glacier in September before the snow falls and the seasonal lodging closes.

Family Fun at Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park provides several concessionaires that offer activities like guided boat tours, guided horseback rides and vintage bus tours. Glide across the glassy waters on several of Glacier’s lakes. The Glacier Park Boat Company has been ferrying passengers since 1938. Tours are available at Lake McDonald, Saint Mary Lake, Swiftcurrent Lake and Two Medicine Lake, reservations are recommended.

Glacier National Park offers lots of family fun like a boat tour on the Desmet, the flagship wooden boat of the Glacier Park Boat Company.

We took a 1-hour boat tour along the glassy waters of Lake McDonald. Narrated by a park ranger, our tour fulfilled the Junior Ranger program requirement. The tour provided a relaxing way to see Glacier National Park from the water. I highly recommend it for families though make reservations in advance. Tickets are $18.25 for adults, $9.25 for kids 4 to 12, and free for lap children under 4.

Red Bus Tours offer another way to explore the park. With 33 vintage red tour buses from the 1930s, see all the sights with an informative guide. I found several tours to choose from and several departure points.

Horse back riding is one of the things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
For kids over 7-years-old, horseback riding offers an exciting way to discover Glacier National Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For kids, 7-years-old and older, Glacier National Park offers guided trail rides from the horse corrals at Many Glacier, Lake McDonald and Apgar.

Things to do Glacier National Park with Kids

Glacier National Park offers a Junior Ranger program for families to learn more about the park. To earn the collectible badge and certificate, complete a booklet filled with age-based activities and attend one ranger program. Kids love to touch and feel. During the summer, park rangers open up the Discovery Cabin located near Apgar Visitor Center. Kids can touch their way through a frontier mountain cabin.

Take a hike along the Trail of Cedars as one of the things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
Looking for a hike for the whole family, try Trails of the Cedars, a .7-mile loop that’s accessible and stroller-friendly in the Lake McDonald Valley. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found several hikes for families.

  • Trail of the Cedars, a 1.7-mile accessible hike
  • Apgar Bike Path, a 1.5-mile paved path
  • Sunrift Gorge, a 200-foot walk with a 40-foot gain
  • Redrock Falls, a 1.8-mile hike with a 100-foot gain
  • Baring Falls, a .3-mile hike with a 250-foot gain
  • St. Mary’s Falls, a .8-mile hike with a 260-foot loss

Lodging in Glacier National Park

Stay at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn for family comfort.
Swiftcurrent Motor Inn features a restaurant with a kids menu along with a stocked camp store and laundromat. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I always recommend staying in the national park properties to extend the park experience. I reserved a room at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins. Located through the Many Glacier Entrance on the eastern edge of Glacier National Park, it offers a restaurant, coin-operated laundry and fully stocked camp store.

Swiftcurrent Motor Inn features a relaxed atmosphere that fits the needs of families. At the main building, we enjoyed a pizza at the Swiftcurrent Restaurant. We returned for breakfast of family favorites and a separate kids’ menu. The Swiftcurrent Restaurant is open 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. from early June to mid-September, along with the lodging.

Stay in Glacier National Park to continue your national park experience.
The interior of my room at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn featured a pair of queen beds and white linens. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

An easy commute from the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Many Glacier’s lodging is more secluded compared to the other lodges. The Many Glacier Hotel offers rustic elegance perched on the edge of Swiftcurrent Lake in an historic Swiss-inspired property.

Tour a historic hotel as one of the things to do in Glacier National Park with kids.
Many Glacier Hotel’s interior is just as impressive as the exterior with the massive timbers hauled in by horse from the train station. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Where to Go for More Information

For in-depth information, I suggest Moon Travel Guide’s Glacier National Park by Becky Lomax. I found her guide packed with information and entertaining with honest, usable tips.

The updated Moon Travel Guide’s Glacier National Park by Becky Lomax will be available after May 31st. Courtesy Photo

What I liked:

  • Best times to visit
  • One week itinerary
  • List for fun activities with kids
  • Best spots for animal sightings, like grizzlies or wolves.
  • Where to see glaciers and other geologic features of Glacier.

Order a copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble, available after May 31st. Or enter to win below.

Moon Travel Guides TMOM Twitter Party 5/1/17 Void where prohibited.

Where’s Glacier National Park

In the northwest corner of Montana, Glacier National Park lies 275 miles northeast of Spokane, Washington. Due to its remote location, I suggest exploring it by car.

To reach by air, use the Glacier Park International Airport, near Kalispell, Montana, about 30 miles away. Though Missoula International Airport or Great Falls International Airport offer more air carriers, each about 150 miles away.

Amtrak services Glacier on both sides of the park. The Glacier Park Express offers shuttle service from the train depot through the western entrance to Apgar Visitor Center.

Details for Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or other annual pass. Purchase a 7-day pass for $25 per vehicle for a 7-day summer pass (May 1 until October 31) or $20 per vehicle for a 7-day winter pass.

Glacier National Park offers two main entrances. The west entrance near Apgar Visitor Center and the east entrance near the Saint Mary Visitor Center offer lots of travel services.

Drive the seasonal Going-to-the-Sun Road to bisect Glacier National Park. It opens in late June or early July depending on the winter’s snowfall. Many Glacier Entrance and Two Medicine Entrance offer park ranger stations, campgrounds and picnic areas.

Note about Bear Safety:

Two types of bears live in Glacier National Park,  black bears and Grizzly bears. Since each species uses different behavior to communicate, knowing the difference is important.

I suggest attending a ranger program to learn more about bears in Glacier National Park. I did and my boys loved the bear program and I felt more confident afterwards.

Park Rangers offer some guidelines to reduce bear encounters:

  • Hike in groups of 4 or more.
  • Keep a clean campsite.
  • Make noise while hiking by wearing bear bells and talking.
  • Carry bear spray. Keep it accessible when you hiking and know how to use it.

Know Before You Go:

  • Make reservations as early as possible.
  •  Lodging reservations are available 13 months in advance.
  • Visit popular spots early or late in the day since parking is limited.
  • Don’t feed wild animals and give them space. The NPS recommends 25 yards between you and most animals and 100 yards for bears.
  • Bring food and refillable water bottles for your visit.
  • Dress in layers and carry a rain jacket, even in the summer.
  • Most parks allow adults to complete the NPS Junior Ranger booklets for the same badge or patch.
  • The cell coverage limited to Apgar and Saint Mary Visitor Centers and the Lake McDonald Lodge.
  • No Wi-Fi in Glacier National Park.
Disclosure:

This is a sponsored post and I received the Moon Travel Guide’s Glacier National Park book.

 

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From the Top of the Mountains to the Beach in a Day at Olympic

Explore Olympic National Park with kids
Catch the sunset at Kalaloch over Destruction Island in Olympic National Park. Photo Credit: National Park Service

Olympic National Park offers over 900,00 acres of wilderness for families to explore. The year-round outdoor destination boasts rugged coasts dotted with tide pools, hidden trails meandering through temperate rain forests and mountaintop meadows all within two hours of Seattle, Washington.

History of Olympic National Park

A British Captain gave Mount Olympus its name back in the 1700s though the Native Americans, like the Quinault and the Hoh, lived and hunted on the peninsula for a millennia before. Theodore Roosevelt protected the Olympic Peninsula as a national monument in 1909. After a visit in 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt designated the monument a national park in 1938.

Explore the mountains and beaches of Olympic National Park with kids.
Discover the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Olympic National Park with your kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Olympic National Park offers three distinct ecosystems to explore. For this reason, The United Nations designated Olympic National Park a biosphere reserve in 1976 and later proclaimed it a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.

The Beaches of Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park touches the Pacific Ocean on the west side. Tide pools and rugged beaches dominate the landscape. Stop by the Kalaloch Ranger Station (open seasonally) for a special Junior Ranger booklet to complete while exploring the beach.

Explore the beaches of Olympic National Park with kids.
I found deserted beaches in Olympic National Park to explore with the kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Rudy Beach and Beach 4 offer tide pool opportunities. Be sure to check on the low tide times at the ranger station. My kids loved exploring the tide pools looking for ribbed limpets, acorn barnacles and giant green anemones even more than hiking in the rainforest.

Kalaloch Beach offers a campground, lodging and a restaurant along with an expansive sandy beach. Ruby Beach offers the more parking than Beach 3 and Beach 4. All beaches are conveniently located along U.S. Route 101.

Explore the tide pools of Olympic National Park with kids.
Kids love tide pools so check in at the Olympic National Park Visitor Centers for information on low tide times. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Lake Crescent

Lake Crescent is located in the northern part of Olympic National Park 20 miles east of Port Angeles, Washington. The glacial blue water of Lake Crescent meets the surrounding evergreen forest for a picture perfect location.

Storm King Ranger Station offers information and a starting point for several hikes. Hike to Marymere Falls (.9-mile trail, one way) from Storm King Ranger Station for a stunning view of the 90-foot waterfall. The Moments in Time Nature Trail is a .6-mile loop that’s just the right length for little kids.

Lake Quinault and Hoh Rain Forests

The temperate rain forests of Olympic National Park offer shaded trails dripping with moss in every shade of green. My kids, 8, 12 and 13, loved hiking along the rain forest trails where streams and small waterfalls break the silence of the spruce and cedar forests.

Discover the Olympic National Park rainforests with kids.
Take a walk through the rain forests of Olympic National Park with kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

If limited on time, Lake Quinault offers more trails, a shorter drive and a general store for snacks. Hoh Rain Forest offers a visitor center though no concessions. Both are equally as stunning and offer family hikes.

Be sure and hike to the world’s largest Sitka spruce on the .3-mile trail, located close to the Lake Quinalt post office.

Put the largest spruce tree on your Olympic National Park to-do list. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Sol Duc Hot Springs

After a long day of hiking, I stopped for a soak in a mineral-rich hot springs at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. A family-friendly environment offers a fresh-water swimming pool (78F) for the kids and three small soaking pools (99F – 104F) along with changing rooms, a restaurant, cabins and lodge rooms.

My kids spent the majority of their time in the fresh-water pool while I relaxed in the hot springs. I could keep an eye on them while soaking. Kids under 4 must remain in the coolest hot spring pool.

Explore the natural pools at Sol du Lac in Olympic National Park.
Kids need a swim? Dive into the pools at the Sol du Lac. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Sol Duc Hot Springs is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the summer and closes at 8 p.m. during the spring and the fall. Admission for adults is $15.00, kids 4 to 12 is $10.00 with kids 3 and under entering for free.

Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge offers visitors the only accessible viewpoint of the the Olympic Mountains. A 17-mile drive from Port Angeles, the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center offers an introductory film and concessions are located nearby.

The towering peak of Mount Olympus rises up 7,980 feet as the tallest point in the Olympic National Park. Part of the Olympic Mountain Range, it’s home to 266 glaciers. Alpine wildflowers that sway in the mountain breezes make Hurricane Ridge a favorite with visitors.

Lodging in Olympic National Park

During my visit to Olympic National Park, I stayed at Lake Quinault Lodge, located on the southern edge at Lake Quinault in the Olympic National Forest. Featured on the PBS series, Great Lodges of the National Parks, it offers modern amenities and kids’ activities in a family-friendly environment.

Lake Quinault Lodge in Olympic National Park offers lodging for families with a pool.
The Lake Quinault Lodge offers historic, yet family-friendly lodging in Olympic National Park with an indoor pool and lake sports. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The north side of Olympic National Park offers several options from the rustic to the refined. Lake Crescent Lodge also offers gracious rooms in a historic lodge. Log Cabin Resort offers family-friendly camping cabins and kayaks. Sol Duc Hot Springs offers lodging close to the Hot Springs pool.

Olympic National Park in One Day

Due to the immense size of the park, don’t try to see it all in one day. Instead, concentrate on one area for the day, like Hurricane Ridge or Lake Quinault. Each offers hiking, concessions and a visitor center or ranger station. Both are about a two-hour drive from Seattle.

Olympic National Park with Kids

The Junior Ranger Program offers families a way to discover a national park site together in about 2 hours. Olympic National Park offers kids several Junior Ranger patches and badges to earn during their visit.

Earn all the Junior Ranger badges and patches in Olympic National Park with your kids. I've got all the details to plan your trip including the best beaches for tide pooling and a swimming pool in the park.

I found Olympic National Park Junior Ranger booklets at visitor centers and ranger stations. At the visitor center, kids can check out a Discovery Packet, a backpack filled with field guides, binoculars and magnifying lens to explore Olympic National Park more thoroughly.

For the National Park Centennial, Olympic National Park launched a new patch for Junior Rangers to earn. The Ocean Stewards Patch guides kids 4 and up through the diverse marine life in the park.

Where’s Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is on the Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle, Washington. Port Angeles and Forks, Washington, offer services for travelers, like gas, groceries and lodging outside of the park.

Quinault Rain Forest Ranger Station at the southern entrance of Olympic National Park is 146 miles from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA or SeaTac as the locals call it). Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, in the northeast portion of the park, is 147 miles away from the airport.

No reliable public transportation around the park, including Amtrak. Though private tour companies offer tours.

Getting Around Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $25 per vehicle.

Olympic National Parks is not a drive-through park, meaning roads don’t bisect the park. U.S. Route 101 wraps around the Olympic Peninsula and park roads dead-end at ranger stations or visitor centers.

Know Before You Go:

  • Olympic National Park doesn’t have roads that bisect the park.
  • Be prepared for rain, carry rain jackets at all times.
  • If swimming at Sol Duc Hot Springs, limit the time kids soak in the hot springs pools, usually an hour is enough.
  • A swimming pool (78F) is located next to the soaking pools.
  • The Sol Duc Hot Springs have a faint sulfur smell that might bother some kids.
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How to Explore a National Park for Free

Mount Rushmore for Kids, What to do in the Black Hills with kids, South Dakota for families,
Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln gaze across the western horizon. Photo Credit: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Want to explore National Parks for free?

National parks offer priceless beauty and for 10 days in 2017 the admission price is just that–priceless. The National Park Service will waive the usual admission over several weekends in 2017. Only 124 of the 417 total national park sites charge admission ($3 to $30) and the remaining sites are free to enter year-round.

With iconic destinations like Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the Statue of Liberty National Monument, your family can explore for free. Throw the tent in the SUV and it’s a budget vacation kids will remember for years. Most camping spots are less than $30 a night and even gourmet marshmallows are a bargain when toasted over a campfire.

History of the National Park Service

Explore the National Park sites of Texas, like Big Bend.
Explore Big Bend with your family for a taste of the Chihuahua desert, one of four deserts of North America. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The idea of a national park is an American innovation that’s been adopted across the world. The first national park, Yellowstone in Wyoming, was set aside in 1872 to protect and preserve it for future generations. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service to govern the 35 national parks in the U.S. at the time.

Since then, the National Park Service has blossomed into 417 national parks, national historical parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national battlefields and national seashores. Some parks feature vast, iconic scenery like Big Bend National Park in West Texas. Others are recognized for their historical significance like the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

Explore the San Antonio Missions, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Explore Mission San Juan, only mission to have a white stucco exterior, and part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

National Parks for Free

The National Park Service charges reasonable fees for their parks, a week in Grand Canyon National Park is $30 for seven days. Though the National Park Service offers several fee-free days sprinkled throughout the year.

Note: Fee-free days does not include user fees like camping, boat launches, shuttle buses, ferry rides, parking fees and tour fees.

Fee Fee Days 2017

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday January 16, 2017
Presidents Day February 20, 2017
National Park Weekends April 15-16 & April 22-23, 2017
National Park Service Birthday August 25, 2017
National Public Lands Day September 30, 2017
Veterans Day Weekend November 11-12, 2017

If you plan on visiting several national parks, an annual pass might be for you. I found several options and I’ve been an annual pass holder for years.

National Park Service Annual Passes

Type of Pass

Eligibility

Cost

America the Beautiful Pass All visitors $80
Military Pass Current U.S. military members and their dependents Free
Every Kid in a Park Pass 10-year-old U.S. students that complete requirements at EveryKidinaPark.gov Free

Program funded until August 31, 2017

Senior Lifetime Pass U.S. citizens and permanent residents 62 years and older $10
Access Pass U.S. citizens and permanent residents with a permanent disability Free
Volunteer Pass Visitors volunteering 250 hours a year Free

Explore a National Park Service Site with an annual pass or during the fee-free weekends.

Know Before You Go:

  • National Parks are popular destinations during school breaks and holidays. Make reservations as early as possible.
  • Reservations for lodging are available 13 months in advance.
  • Parking can be an issue at popular destinations during the middle of the day.
  • Watch your children at all times, many features have barricades kids can climb over.
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Mazda Crossovers for Moms

Consideration for brands mentioned.

Mazda crossovers for Mom at the Houston Auto Show
After 15 years in the same SUV, it might be time to move on to a Mazda crossover for Mom.

After a 15 year love affair with my Mom SUV, it’s time to think about another. I attended the Houston Auto Show to try on cars like I would try on a pair of shoes. Looking for a vehicle that feels right requires that I try on a lot of SUVs and crossovers.

Why attend an Auto Show

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, the local Auto Show should be your first stop. And here’s why:

  • Get an overview what’s new in the industry–from safety to style.
  • Shop brands efficiently and effectively without the pressure of salespeople.
  • Sit in different types of vehicles. Try on that convertible, sit in the luxury SUV.
  • Find a new car crush. A totally out-of-your-league dream.
  • Have some fun. I test drove a stick shift convertible and took a spin on a truck obstacle track.

Mazda

I haven’t owned a Mazda though I’m researching it for my next Mom crossover. And here’s why.

Mazda prioritizes the driver experience by meshing technology and performance from styling to safety. As a Mom, I appreciate that.

I’ve driven across a continent so I enjoy driving. Mazda understands that the technology used for safety gives drivers the confidence in their vehicle. Fuel economy is important though I shouldn’t sacrifice power when merging on the interstate.

Finding a new Mazda crossover for Mom.
At Mazda, the drivers experience is paramount from the displays to the seat.

The details Mazda incorporates into their designs helps transform a Mom from the school pick-up line to the s-curves of the Pacific Coast Highway. The interior reflects their craftsmanship and design aesthetic.

Consumer Reports recommends the entire 2017 Mazda line-up.

My Mom SUV

She feels like a trusted friend, always reliably waiting for me and my three kids. Never left me stranded or failed to start, and always ready for an family adventure.

Through the years, I installed my first car seat in her. I strapped my last baby in her. We struggled together as I mushed three kids into a combination of boosters and carseats in her.

Showing for a new crossover or SUV? I'm comparing the features of the Mazda crossovers for Moms.

She still looks good on the outside with timeless styling and a paint job that’s held up but she’s been demoted to short-haul trips. I don’t take her on the long road trips I’ve made into a career.

So the time has come to thing about replacing my first Mom SUV and passing her down to my kids. Though the thought makes me sad, I’m looking forward to new technology and especially the new-car smell.

Mazda Crossovers for Moms

In a line-up that concentrates on sedans and a sporty convertible, Mazda offers three crossovers for Moms. All feature the low ground clearance that makes getting in-and-out easy. Pack with safety, technology and power outlets, Mazda offers a stylish family-friendly vehicle.

Try on the Mazda MX-5 to have some top down fun.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata RF offers a Mom a vacation in the drivers seat along with a stick shift.

Mazda CX-3

Big on style, the CX-3 is Mazda’s smallest family-friendly vehicle. The sporty sub-compact crossover, or CUV, starts at $19,900, magic to Mom’s ears. With seating for five, I can accommodate my kids in the CX-3.

The Mazda Crossover CX-3 offers lots of cargo space.
The Mazda CX-3 offers lots of space for hauling gear.

The CX-3 features 146 horsepower with a MPG of 29/35, a factor for most family budgets. The cargo area hauls an impressive 44.5 cubic feet of gear with a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat. A feature I look for and a must for hauling stuff (like a small piece of furniture) and kids. The CX-3 features AWD as an additional option, important for my annual ski trip.

With push button start and steering wheel mounted audio, phone and cruise controls, the Mazda CX-3 offers lots of tech. The 7-inch full-color display, one USB and a 12-volt power outlet keep everything powered and the trip on track.

The interior of the Mazda CX-3.
The interior of the Mazda CX-3 offers sporty styling with lots of travel tech.

Though I love the sporty styling, the CX-3 is a tight fit for my full-sized kids.

The All-New Mazda CX-5

The all-new CX-5 offers a driver-centric design that impresses the passengers too. With a starting price just over $24,000, the CX-5 gives families lots of value-driven performance and seating for five.

The Mazda CX-5 crossover for families.
The all-new Mazda CX-5 offers sleek styling with power under the hood and outlets in cargo area.

The Mazda CX-5 features 187 horsepower with a MPG of 24/31. The cargo area hauls over 65.4 cubic feet with a 40/20/40 split one-touch, fold-down rear seat. And the CX-5 features AWD as an additional option.

The 7-inch full-color display, two USBs and two 12-volt power outlets (one in front and one in the cargo area) keeps everything powered.

All the features along with the stylish interior keeps the Mazda CX-5 on my list. I need to get behind the wheel and feel the performance and handling.

Mazda CX-9

Mazda crossovers for Mom at the Houston Auto Show
The Mazda CX-9 offers power and refined style for families on the go.

A favorite among Moms for its refined interior and budget-friendly starting price of $31,500. Mazda’s CX-9 is the only SUV in its line-up that concentrates on sedans.

The CX-9 features 250 horsepower with a MPG of 22/28. With three rows, I found a seating capacity for seven people. The second row features 60/40 split, fold-down and reclining seats with tilt and slide access to the third row. The third row offers 50/50 split, fold-down seats. I found underfloor storage as well.

The interior of the Mazda CX-9 offers classic styling.
The Mazda CX-9 exudes luxury with a two-tone interior and wood grain accents along with the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

The Mazda CX-9 features steering wheel mounted audio, phone and cruise controls. In addition, I found a 7-inch full-color display, two USBs and two 12-volt power outlets (one in front and one in the cargo area)to keep everything powered and the driver on course.

The interior styling and the driver-centered design of the Mazda CX-5 and the CX-9 beg for a test drive. Stay Tuned.

 

 

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7 National Park Sites to Discover in Texas

In the wilderness of West Texas, Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Discover the remote wilderness of West Texas at Guadalupe Mountains. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Texas offers more National Park Service sites than most visitors or residents realize. I’ve explored a national seashore, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a desert national park, a mountain national park even a national monument dedicated to Texas-sized dinosaurs. Explore a National Park Service site with your family on May 20, 2017, for the National Park Trust’s annual Kids to Park Day, a national day of play.

A Sanctuary for Animals at Padre Island

Until a recent visit, I didn’t know that nearly half of the North American bird species can be found on Texas beaches. And the most endangered sea turtles in the world nest on a Texas beach too.

Padre Island National Seashore offers a refuge for animals and a respite for animal lovers. As the longest section of undeveloped barrier island in the world, it protects 70 miles of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline and the Laguna Madre, a hypersaline lagoon.

Explore a Texas National Park site like Padre Island National Seashore.
The Kemp’s Ridley turtle hatchlings race for the protection of the Gulf of Mexico. Photo Credit: National Park Service

With over 130,000 acres of dunes, prairies and tidal flats for protection, birds and turtles take center stage at Padre Island. The Gulf of Mexico is home to five different species of sea turtles, all federally listed as endangered or threatened, especially Kemp’s ridley.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles lay their eggs in shallow sand nests where predators and human disruption can destroy them. Since the 1970s the National Park Service has recovered the nests and released the tiny turtle hatchlings along the shore. Watching the turtles crawl to the safety of the Gulf of Mexico delights kids and adults alike.

Texas offers world-class birding during the winter. The central flyway, a bird migration route, runs though Padre Island offering migrating birds a protected winter home.

Located in South Texas, Padre National Seashore is open 365-days a year, 24-hours a day. Admission is $10 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.

The Big Bend of the Rio Grande

Big Bend National Park, a personal favorite, offers rugged western scenery that conjures up images of cowboys on horseback. In a land where roadrunners outnumber the residents, Big Bend offers campers ample roaming room and a nightlife glittering with stars.

Explore the National Park sites of Texas, like Big Bend.
Explore Big Bend with your family for a taste of the Chihuahuan desert, one of four deserts in North America. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found hiking trails where visitors can catch a glimpse of a mountain lion or a black bear, both residents of the park. Or float on a raft through Big Bend’s most remote scenery, Santa Elena Canyon with its sheer rock walls.

The Chisos Mountains, the only mountain range located entirely within a national park, offers a lodge and family-friendly trails. Big Bend National Park even offers its own border crossing so visitors can tour the tiny village of Bogillas del Carmen.

Explore the National Park Service sites like Big Bend with your family.
The Window View Trail offers views and an easy trail for the youngest hikers. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Located in West Texas, Big Bend is open 365-days a year, 24-hours a day. Admission is $25 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.

High Pointing at Guadalupe Mountains 

Guadalupe Mountains features the high point of Texas at 8,751 feet. With a developed trail, high pointers easily reach the summit and mark another peak off their list.

Discover the National Park Sites of Texas, like Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers a trail to the high point of Texas. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With its remote wilderness, Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers dark skies and quiet hiking. El Capitan, a rugged mountain backdrop, offers over 80 miles of hiking trails, some accessible and over half open to horseback riding.

Located in West Texas along the New Mexico border, Guadalupe Mountains is open 365-days a year, 24-hours a day. Admission is $5 per person for a 7-day pass.

Texas-Sized Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs ruled the world and for the dino-loving kids, the mammoth tops their list. Discover a mammoth nursery herd with your family at the Waco Mammoth National Monument. In 1978, a couple of young men discovered a large bone when out fossil hunting. After the pair dug up the large bone, they took it to Baylor University for identification.

Discover a land of dinosaurs at Waco Mammoth National Monument in Texas.
The mammoth bones of Waco Mammoth National Monument offer a day of fun for dino-loving kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Baylor University staff identified it as the femur bone of a Columbian Mammoth from the Ice Age. Columbian Mammoths, named after Christopher Columbus, inhabited the more temperate areas of North America from Alaska to Costa Rica. Reaching 13 feet tall and weighting more than 9 tons, Columbian Mammoths are larger and less furry than their distant relatives the Woolly Mammoth.

Baylor University dispatched groups of volunteers and excavation took over 20 years. In all, the group discovered 19 mammoths killed at the same time between 65,000 and 72,000 years ago in what appears to be a flash flood. Additional floods occurred in the same spot at different times  covering six additional mammoths, a Western camel, a dwarf antelope, an American alligator, a giant tortoise and the tooth of a Saber Toothed cat.

Discover Texas dinosaurs at the Waco Mammoth National Monument.
My boys loved the tour of the mammoth excavation site in Central Texas.

The Waco Mammoth National Monument is located in Central Texas. Open every day, except Thanksgiving, December 25 and January 1 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tour admission is $5 for adults and $3 for kids 4 to 12.

A Western Frontier Fort

Fort Davis offers one of the best examples of a frontier fort in the Southwest. During the 1800s, the Comanches and the Apaches made traveling on the San Antonio-El Paso Road dangerous.

This fort was strategically placed to protect mail coaches, freight wagons and emigrants traveling west to the land of gold—California. At one time, Fort Davis housed 600 soldiers, 5% of the Army at the time.

Explore a western frontier fort in West Texas at Fort Davis.
Explore a western frontier fort as the bugle bellows at Fort Davis. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

We discovered another time in history as we walked from one restored building to another, including six furnished buildings. As the brassy bugle bellowed over the loud speaker, it transformed my boys into Army recruits. To their delight, my boys discovered a Gatling gun, the first machine gun, in the armory building next to the Visitors Center.

Fort Davis National Historic Park is located in West Texas and open every day, except Thanksgiving, December 25, January 1 and Martin Luther King, Jr’s Birthday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 per person for a 7-day pass.

San Antonio Missions

Long before Texas became a state or the United States became a nation, a group of Franciscan friars built five missions along the San Antonio River. Starting in 1718 with the Alamo and later the Mission San José in 1720, the Spanish friars offered the Coahuiltecan people protection and sustenance.

Explore the San Antonio Missions, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Discover the San Antonio Missions for world-class history, like Mission San Juan. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In this area, the Coahuiltecan people suffered from frequent Apache and Comanche attacks and European diseases. The San Antonio Missions offered protection and the Franciscan friars taught the Coahuiltecans new vocational skills along with a new religion and a language.

Recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mission Concepción, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission Espada can be explored in one day. The missions are located on Mission Road, two to three miles apart. Mission Hike and Bike trail, 16-miles roundtrip, offers families another way to explore the San Antonio Missions.

The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is located in San Antonio and open every day except Thanksgiving Day, December 25 and January 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. The San Antonio Missions are free.

Texas offers families seven National Park Service sites for kids to explore across the state.

The Texas White House

Tour the Texas White House, feed some prize-winning cattle and climb abroad the president’s jet. Lyndon B. Johnson, or LBJ as he was commonly called, was the vice president under President John F. Kennedy and became the 36th president after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

Explore the Texas White House with your kids.
LBJ’s Ranch features an air strip and former presidential jet. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Born in 1908 of humble roots in Johnson City, Texas, he spent the majority of his life in politics. LBJ finished high school at 15 and after graduating college, he taught school. In 1930 Johnson began his political career. For his presidential run, he campaigned on his vision of a Great Society by improving civil rights, education, transportation and protecting the environment. Many of those ideals can be traced back to his formative years in Texas.

For generations, the Johnson family worked cattle along with politics. In 1951 LBJ bought his uncle’s 250-acre ranch along the Pedernales River and eventually expanded it to 2700-acres. He raised 400 head of prize-winning Hereford cattle and the descendants still roam the ranch.

Explore LBJ National Historical Park in Texas.
Stop by the show barn to learn about LBJ’s cattle herd. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Located in Central Texas, the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park has two districts—one in Johnson City and one 14-miles away near Stonewall, Texas. Open every day, except Thanksgiving, December 25 and January 1 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. LBJ National Historical Park is free and the Texas White House tour is $3 for adults and free for kids.

National Park Trust Kids to Park Day

Did you know the National Park Trust has a National Day of Play on May 20, 2017. The 7th Annual Kids to Parks Day encourages kids to discover a community, state or national park.

The National Park Trust encourages kids to explore a park near them.
Take the kids and find a park for National Park Trust’s Kids to Parks Day. Photo Credit: National Park Trust

 

Register to participate and enter to win a camping package from The North Face on the National Park Trust’s website.

NorthSide Shoes

Northside USA Shoes is a proud sponsor of the National Park Trust’s Kids to Park Day. They have generously donated a pair of shoes to each website ambassador.

Northside USA provides value and durable for families who explore.
My boys grow like a non-native plant so I love the value of Northside USA’s hiking boots for kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The carful of kids took their Northside hiking boots out for their maiden hike over Spring Break. As a Mom of three, I understand that keeping kids in shoes gets pricey. And hiking boots are usually a splurge for most families. I appreciate the value of the Northside USA provides along with the rugged durability.

Enter to Win Northside USA Shoes

Celebrate Kids to Parks Day early with a pair of Northside USA shoes. I’ve got a code for one winning reader, good for one pair of shoes from the Northside website–mens, womens, or kids  (Retail Value $34.99-89.99).

Open to US Residents, ages 18+. Enter using form below. Void where prohibited.
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As a Blog Ambassador for the National Park Trust’s Kids to Park Day, my family received shoes from NorthsideUSA.

Know Before You Go: 

  • National Parks are popular destinations during school breaks and holidays–make reservations as early as possible.
  • The Kemp’s turtle releases are open to the public when the conditions are favorable though advance notice is limited.
  • Terlingua and Marathon, the tiny towns outside of Big Bend National Park have limited services.
  • Big Bend is a designated International Dark Skies Park, so outdoor lighting is minimal in and around the park. Just remember your flashlights or lanterns.
  • Bring food and refillable water bottles for your visit. Food service is limited.
  • The San Antonio Missions are active churches, please be respectful of ceremonies, especially on the weekends.
  • Mission San Jose has a visitor center, interpretive film and park rangers.
  • Watch out for venous snakes and fire ants.
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Climb a Crystal Tree in a Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest National Park for kids as Arizona Road Trip Stop.
A light dusting of snow enhances the beauty of the painted desert in Petrified Forest National Park.

Petrified Forest National Park, conveniently located next to Interstate 40 in Northern Arizona, can be explored in a couple of hours. It offers a scenic drive including a section of historic Route 66, the Painted Desert Inn and family-friendly hiking trails. Kids that love dinosaurs should love petrified wood. For those yearning for a landscape from old western, the colorful mesas that dot the horizon as wide as the sky itself will satisfy.

Petrified Forest National Park

Over 200 million years ago, ancient Arizona was a rainforest, with roaming dinosaurs and lush forests. As the continents moved and the climate changed, the rainforest slowly died off. The huge trees fell to the earth and slowly transformed into stone.

Explore the Arizona family road trip stop at Petrified Forest National Park.
The giant logs of a downed stone forest offer families a unique landscape to explore. National Park Service

In the late 1800s, visitors started to collect the petrified wood and threatened the unique landscape of Petrified Forest. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt created the Petrified Forest National Monument and in 1962, it became a national park.

History of Painted Desert Inn

Built in the 1920s, the Painted Desert Inn has been a part of the park’s landscape. Originally constructed of petrified wood and native stone, a park ranger, Lyle Bennett, redesigned it in the Pueblo Revival Style in the 1930s.

Add the Painted Desert Inn to your Arizona Family Road Trip in Petrified Forest.
Stop and tour the Painted Desert Inn during your visit to Petrified Forest National Park. National Park Service

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) added the stucco masonry walls, flat roofs and viga beams using ponderosa pine and aspen poles from nearby forests. The CCC made the light fixtures of hand-punched tin as well.

With a convenient location along Route 66, the Painted Desert Inn provided travelers with meals, Native American arts and crafts and lodging until the start of World War II. It closed for five years along with the majority of the National Park Service sites during the war.

Tour The Painted Desert Inn during your Arizona Family road trip.
The interior of the Painted Desert Inn offers original furniture and murals. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Fred Harvey Company arrived in the 1940s to freshen up the Painted Desert Inn. Mary Jane Coulter, the lead architect for Fred Harvey, oversaw the renovations and added a new color scheme. By this time, Coulter was well-known for her work from the nearby Grand Canyon Village.

The Fred Harvey Company brought the Harvey Girls to the Painted Desert Inn, who served customers from the 1940s until the 1950s. The Painted Desert Inn became a National Historic Landmark in 1987 after escaping demolition.

Route 66

As America grew so did the need for roads. In 1853, Congress authorized a study to find a rail route between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. By 1857, a wagon road extended from New Mexico to the Colorado River. In 1926 Route 66 opened as one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System.

The Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park to protect a portion of Route 66. Near the Painted Desert Visitor Center, I pulled over to see the fabled route that enchanted a nation with the romance of cruising the open road much like the cowboys did a generation before.

What to do in 2 Hours

With 28 miles of paved park roads, Petrified Forest National Park offers a convenient one-way drive through the park. Start at the either the north or south entrance.

If limited on time, stop by one of the visitor centers for an interpretive center and family-friendly hikes nearby. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found a visitor center at each entrance, the Painted Desert Visitor Center at the north entrance and the Rainbow Forest Museum at the south entrance. Each visitor center offers an interpretive area along with an introductory movie. Outside I found marked trails, perfect for families with small children.

Stop at the Painted Desert Inn (open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) for a quick tour of the historic property. Drive along the park road and stop at the viewpoints along the route.

Kids at Petrified Forest

The Junior Ranger Program offers the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

An Arizona Road Trip destination at Petrified Forest National Park.
The Petrified Forest National Park offers families a unique road trip stop in Northern Arizona. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

 

Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at either the Painted Desert Visitor Center or the Rainbow Forest Museum and turn them in at the other end of the park. This Junior Ranger booklet doesn’t require attending a ranger program and can be completed within an hour or two while exploring the park.

Family-Friendly Hikes in Petrified Forest

Stop at the Rainbow Forest Museum, several hikes originate in this area. The Giant Logs Trail offers a .4-mile trail where I found Old Faithful, a petrified tree that’s 10-feet wide at its base. Not an accessible trail or suitable for strollers, I found several sets of stairs.

For families who want a longer hike, try the Long Logs Trail, a 1.6-mile loop, or the Agate House Trail, a 2-mile roundtrip hike. Both trails originate at the Rainbow Forest Museum parking lot and can be combined for a 2.6-mile hike.

With three unique features at one Arizona national park, it's a must for your family's road trip itinerary.

The Puerco Pueblo Trail offers an accessible and stroller-friendly .3-mile hike about half-way between the entrances. On this trail, I found petroglyphs, or rock carvings.

Add Petrified Forest National Park to your road trip through northern Arizona. I found picnic tables and restrooms at the Painted Desert Visitor Center, Painted Desert Inn, Chinde Point and the Rainbow Forest Museum.

Where’s Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park is located along Interstate 40, 25 miles east of Holbrook, Arizona. There is a regional airport in Flagstaff, Arizona, 92 miles away. Grand Canyon National Park is 200 miles west.

For eastbound travel, take I-40 exits 285 or 286 at Holbrook, Arizona, the Petrified Forest National Park entrance is 21 miles south along Highway 180. Drive north through the park and re-enter I-40 at the exit 311.

For westbound travel, exit I-40 at exit 311 and enter the park through the north entrance and exit through the south entrance. Drive 21 miles to Holbrook, Arizona, where you can re-enter I-40. 

Details for Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park is open every day except December 25. The park hours fluctuate during the year though winter hours (October 30 until February 20) are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; summer hours (May 29 until July 23) are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Purchase a 7-day pass for $20 per vehicle or use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80).

Know before you go:  

  • Arizona stays on Mountain Standard Time year-round, no day-light savings time.
  • Petrified Forest National Park doesn’t offer a campground. Find lodging in Holbrook, Arizona, 21 miles away.
  • Register at a visitor center for a free backcountry camping permit.
  • Collecting fossils, plants, or artifacts within National Park Service sites is prohibited.
  • Stay on marked trails or paths.
  • Drones aren’t permitted at any NPS location.
  • Bring food and refillable water bottles for your visit.
  • Carry extra water year-round.
  • Temperatures can reach over 100F in the summer.

 

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Celebrate Spring with San Antonio’s Battle of Flowers Parade

Fiesta San Antonio Battle of Flowers Parade is a good choice for families.
Enjoy an afternoon in the shadow of the Alamo as the Battle of Flowers Parade parade floats roll down the route. Photo Credit: Visit San Antonio

The flowers bloom in April for San Antonio’s largest festival as the city takes a break for fun, families included. Fiesta San Antonio offers a 10-day celebration with hundreds of thousands of people filling the streets for a couple of the largest parades in the country. Add foodie festivals and the crack of cascarones, or confetti-filled eggs, and you have the recipe for family fun.

The Texas Cavaliers River Parade

As the first of three parades for Fiesta San Antonio, take a seat under a cypress tree along the San Antonio River Walk for an illuminated night parade. On Monday, April 24, 2017, 45 river floats light up the night sky in a family-friendly event.

Watch the Fiesta San Antonio's Texas Cavaliers Parade along the San Antonio River Walk.
The Texas Cavaliers River Parade floats by the revelers watching from the San Antonio River Walk. Photo Credit: Visit San Antonio

The parade starts at 7 p.m. and lasts until 9 p.m. Advanced reserved seating is available from $14 to $26.

Battle of Flowers Parade

Infused with tradition and history, the Battle of Flowers parade gives the city of San Antonio a reason to celebrate. Even the school kids get the day off to enjoy the fun.

Catch the Battle of the Flowers Parade on Friday, April 28, 2017, for the largest parade organized entirely by volunteers. Since 1891, ladies dressed in yellow direct the spectators to their reserved seats for the second largest day parade in the country.

During our visit, we secured reserved seating in the shadow of the Alamo. The Battle of Flowers Parade kicks off with a band, military, university and local high school bands all march. The bedazzled members of the Fiesta Court dressed in historic sequined costumes don elaborate flowered floats enchanted the tiniest girls. Giant helium balloons and drill teams made an appearance in the parade too.

Tradition is king at Fiesta and extended families sit in the same spots every year to make a day of it with elaborate parade-side picnics. Though food vendors provide everything from traditional Tex-Mex favorites to carnival classics.

The parade starts at 12:20 p.m. and lasts until 4 p.m., the route proceeds down Broadway and E. Grayson. Advance reserved seating is available from $12 to $25.

Fiesta San Antonio offers families three different parades each April for family fun.

Fiesta Flambeau Night Parade

The next day, Saturday, April 29, 2017, San Antonio pops a million glow sticks for the Fiesta Flambeau Parade. The largest illuminated night parade in the country with 700,000 people in attendance and another 1.5 million watching on television.

A lively parade, that’s similar in style and length to Battle of Flowers Parade but not the same participants. Fiesta San Antonio is a family affair, though younger kids might get cranky at the end.

The parade starts at 6:30 p.m. and lasts until 10:00 p.m., the route proceeds down Broadway and E. Grayson. Advance reserved seating is available from $16.50 to $30.

Taste of Texas Food Festival

New for 2017, enjoy an evening of exclusive offerings from some of the most notable chefs in Texas. The ticketed VIP event includes local wine and craft beer and celebrates the culinary uniqueness of Texas.

The Tower of America guides the way during Fiesta San Antonio.
Rising up 750 feet, the Tower of Americas stands as a beacon for visitors to downtown San Antonio.

From the rich seafood available from the Gulf of Mexico to the cattle heritage, Texas cuisine and its products take center stage. Of course, the Tex-Mex cuisine allows guests to enjoy new takes on the comfort food of San Antonio.

Located in the Marriot Plaza at the intersection of S. Alamo and E. Cèsar Chavéz Blvd on Thursday, April 20, 2017, from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets are $75 in advance per person.

More Family Fun in San Antonio

While in San Antonio, tour the Alamo. Built in 1718 by Spanish missionaries, the Texas Revolution escalated and the Alamo became the center of the conflict. In 1836, after a nearly two-week long siege, the Battle of the Alamo broke out between William B. Travis, commander of the Alamo and General Santa Anna and the Mexican troops.

The Alamo offers a history lesson for families.
Built in 1718, the Alamo was the site of a two-week long siege during the Texas Revolution where many Texans died.  Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Though the defenders of the Alamo died in the battle, the legend lives on. In 2015, the United Nations designated the Alamo and the remaining four San Antonio Missions a UNESCO World Heritage site.

After the parades, some history and a couple of tacos, the kids need to play. The Yanaguana Garden, named after the Payaya Indians that inhibited this area, offers a crazy fun climbing structure, a sandscape, a splash pad and a public art area with changing rooms and restrooms all located in the shadow of the Tower of Americas in HemisFair Park.

Where to Stay:

To enjoy all that downtown San Antonio offers, I always stay at a River Walk hotel. The Hotel Contessa, 306 W. Market St., is an all-suite boutique hotel on the River Walk in San Antonio with 265-rooms across 12 floors.

The Contessa Hotel is an all-suite boutique hotel along the banks of the San Antonio River Walk. Hotel Review,
The Contessa Hotel is an all-suite boutique hotel along the banks of the San Antonio River Walk. Courtesy Photo

The location can’t be beat–just steps away from La Villita, HemisFair Park and the Briscoe Western Art Museum. A quiet location perfect for families that’s still in the middle of the action, just not the bars.

Where to Eat:

Be sure and grab a table next to River Walk to share a plate of nachos and sip on a margarita as the river boats float by. My favorite place is the original Tex-Mex restaurant on the River Walk, Casa Rio, 430 E. Commerce St., serving up steaming plates of enchiladas since 1946. Got a picky eater? Try a bean and cheese taco, my boys love them.

Casa Rio Mexican Food offers San Antonio River Walk dining and kid-friendly tacos.
Grab a taco and a table along San Antonio’s River Walk at Casa Rio, the original River Walk Mexican food restaurant.

Getting Around Downtown San Antonio

Most major airlines service the San Antonio International Airport, that’s 10 miles north of Downtown San Antonio. Cab service or pubic transportation is available at the airport.

Love to Ride? Try out San Antonio’s B Cycle, a bike sharing program. The cycles are rented by the hour after a small fee and bike from one attraction to the next.

Via Streetcar, operated by San Antonio’s public transportation system VIA, offers several color colored routes to popular tourist destinations, like El Mercado and the King William District. My kids love riding the streetcars and a $4 day pass offers an easy way to get around downtown on the cheap.

Know Before You Go:

  • Downtown hotels charge for parking, some offer self-parking.
  • The Alamo is especially hallowed ground for Texans, please remove hats and photos are prohibited inside of the mission, the main building.
  • With the majority of attractions located within walking distance, walk or take public transportation instead of driving since parking is limited during busy events.
  • The Alamo doesn’t have designated parking though a parking lot is nearby.
  • Arrive early for the Fiesta Parades before the streets close to vehicle traffic.
  • Reserved seats for the parades sell out.

 

 

 

 

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Finding Mom a New Toyota SUV to Love

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Shop an auto show for convenient vehicle shopping
An auto show is the ideal place for vehicle shopping with all the major manufacturers steps away.

I just wrapped up a day at the DFW Auto Show and after I propped up my feet, I started to think. With tears in my eyes, I was actually thinking about finding a new SUV to love. It seemed so wrong but I had to admit I was in the market to replace the trusty, reliable, super fun-to-drive Toyota 4Runner.

Why attend an Auto Show

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, the local Auto Show should be your first stop. And here’s why:

  • Get an overview what’s new in the industry–from safety to style.
  • Shop brands efficiently and effectively without the pressure of salespeople.
  • Sit in different types of vehicles. Try on that convertible, sit in the luxury SUV.
  • Have some fun. I test drove a stick shift convertible and took a spin on a truck obstacle track.
  • Find a new car crush. A totally out-of-your-league dream.

I attended the DFW Auto Show to see what’s new with my go-to manufacturer, Toyota. I’ve got a teen itching to get behind the wheel coupled with an aging (sniff, sniff) family SUV.

My Toyota History

My relationship with Toyota began in 1990 with a light blue Corolla 4-door with a manual transmission and air-conditioning. It didn’t even have intermittent wipers or a rear window defogger. But hey, I was a kid and who needed that stuff anyway.

Vehicles are like family members.
Our Toyota 4Runner is a member of the family and the kids love her too.

Next I moved on to my current Toyota, a 2002 4Runner 4WD. A hard-working member of the family that’s hard to replace.

Then a red 2007 Toyota Matrix, nicknamed Britni, came and went. My husband (and the primary driver) said she was a girl car.

Then came the first crossover, the 2012 Toyota RAV4 that was allegedly stolen by a Russian international car theft ring in Montreal, Canada, and shipped to West Africa. Then a 2013 Toyota RAV4 AWD that replaced the stolen RAV4 after our insurance check came through.

My Girl

She’s a trusted friend, always reliably waiting for me and my three kids. Never left me stranded or failed to start, and always ready for an adventure.

I installed my first car seat in her. I strapped my last baby in her. I struggled with mushing three kids into a combination of boosters and carseats in her.

I can’t spill water on the back seat, or I’ll rehydrate a childhood of chocolate milk. I don’t know if she dreamed of being a Mom SUV, but she adapted and became a Mom SUV extraordinaire.

Finding a new SUV to love? I need to replace my beloved 2002 Toyota 4Runner in a few months so the research and the test drives start here.

Moms that drive 4Runners are fun, the guy’s girl that grew up and had a family. As a Mom driving an older 4Runner, I get a tiny thrill when a 20-something guy asks me about my 4Runner. Makes me feel younger, (I know he just wants to buy her but still…).

She’s still looks good on the outside with timeless styling and a paint job that’s held up but I demoted her to short-haul trips. I don’t take her on the long road trips I’ve made into a career.

So the time has come to think about replacing her and passing her down to my kids climbing into the driver’s seat. Though the thought makes me so sad, like putting down a pet. I guess that’s when you know you’ve owned a great vehicle.

The New 2018 C-HR

Toyota CHR, a Toyota Crossover, is a new this year.
The 2018 Toyota C-HR is a compact crossover new to the Toyota line up. Courtesy Photo

As the newest to crossover Toyota line-up, the C-HR offers a compact option to the popular RAV4 and Highlander crossovers.

The new 2018 C-HR offers a distinctive athletic build at an affordable price point, starting at $22K with a premium option at $24K. The rear spoiler and the sport alloy wheels, standard on the XLE, add to its sporty personality.

The estimated MPG is an impressive 27/31. The cargo space offered by the 2018 C-HR is 36.4 cubic feet with folded-down seats and 19.0 cubic feet behind the second row.

With ground clearance coming in at 5.9” along with the lack of AWD, keeps this crossover on the paved roads. A consideration for me, and drivers in rugged locales or snow-prone areas, since I need more control and traction. The seating for five accommodates my three kids.

Though I love the styling, the C-HR doesn’t fit my needs for AWD or cargo space. A sporty option for the younger, less entangled drivers. I’ve got too many things to haul in my life and my SUV.

The RAV4

The Toyota RAV4, Toyota Crossover, hauls 73.4 cubic feet of gear.
After five years of ownership, I’m still amazed by how much the RAV4 hauls and the stability of the AWD.

The RAV4 offers proven performance and versatility that I’ve come to rely on for the last five years. As my husband’s primary car, I drive it on extended trips throughout the seasons. The starting price point of $24K entices many families into the mid-point Toyota crossover.

The estimated MPG is an expected 23/30. The cargo space offered by the RAV4 is impressive 73.4 cubic feet with folded-down seats and 38.4 behind the second row. I am amazed by how much luggage I can haul in the RAV4 during our trips. Coupled with a soft-sided roof carrier, I spent nine weeks on the road in our RAV4.

The Toyota RAV4, a Toyota Crossover, is loaded for a trip.
My RAV4 packed and ready to go on a multi-week long road trip.

The ground clearance is a comfortable 6.1” and easy on the knees for climbing in. The optional AWD has me driving with stability and security to the ski resort. With seating for five, it accommodates my three kids.

Though I love our RAV4, I don’t think we need another.

The Highlander

The Toyota Highlander, a Toyota Crossover, offers 3 rows of seating.
The Toyota Highlander is the largest of the crossovers and offers three rows of seating. Courtesy Photo

As the largest crossover in the Toyota lineup, the Highlander offers Moms lots of versatility. With refined styling and more space, the Highlander finds its way into many garages at a starting price point of $30K.

The estimated MPG at 20/23 is a little lower than I expected. The Highlander offers 83.7 cubic feet of space with the second and third row of seats stowed. With the second row down, it offers 42.3 cubic feet. And 13.8 cubic feet behind the third row, so no road trips will all the seats up.

The ground clearance is a generous 8.0” so a primitive camping spot with the best view isn’t a problem. The optional AWD has me driving with stability and security on the annual ski trip. With seating for eight, it accommodates my three kids and a couple of friends.

The Highlander intrigues me with its style and performance. Sounds like I need an extended test drive to help me make a decision.

The 4Runner

The 2017 Toyota 4Runner offers rugged style.
The Toyota 4Runner offers off road abilities with city sensibilities. Courtesy Photo

This SUV is an icon. It offers rugged performance that’s a breeze in the city with its tight turning radius. Its starting price point of $34K is manageable too.

With a 4×4 option and the TRD Pro option, the 4Runner wants to get dirty, in my case in a national park. I’ve used the 4WD option lots over the years and realistically never pushed my 4Runner to its limits.

The estimated MPG is a 17/21 that hasn’t changed much over the years. The 4Runner offers 89.7 cubic feet of space with all the seats down. With the second row down, it offers 47.2 cubic feet. And if you opt for the third row of seats, it offers 9.0 cubic feet of storage. Ouch.

The ground clearance in the 2×4 is 9” and the 4×4 option is a generous 9.6”. Though climbing behind the driver’s seat requires grabbing the bar to yank myself up. With seating for five, it accommodates my family.

A newer 4Runner is a contender. Though I love the rugged styling now, will I love it in a few years?

As in most major decisions, more research needs to happen. Stay tuned.

 

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Retreat to Family Fun at Chickasaw Center

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Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center has a hiking trail.
The Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center offers a mile-long hiking trail on the grounds.

Located steps away from the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, formerly the Platt National Park, I found the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center set on top of a bluff in the Arbuckle Mountains. It offers families a secluded area to discover the rolling landscape of South Central Oklahoma.

What I loved at the Chickasaw Retreat 

  • The secluded area allows families to reconnect with each other without roughing it.
  • The hiking path located on the property features superb views of the lake.
  • The Wellness Center offers health club style facilities.

What I wanted at the Chickasaw Retreat 

  • Families always want an outdoor poolscape.
  • More breakfast options, like make-your-own waffles.
  • Real glassware in the rooms along with real creamers for coffee.
Stay at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma.
The Great Room at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center offers a space to gather and reconnect with your group or family.

The Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center

With over 1,750 acres of secluded mountain top to explore, the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center offers the ideal spot for families to reconnect. The facilities are large but not the crowds. With just 43 rooms on the property, I found a table at the complimentary breakfast and a chaise by the pool.

If traveling with a group of extended family or friends, I found a Great Room on the second floor. With unparalleled views of the mountains from the floor-to-ceiling windows, this space offered seating groups and a central fireplace, gaming table and television. The opportune spot to congregate in the evening.

The Chickasaw Retreat features a guest laundry along with a business center, meeting and conference space.

My Room at Chickasaw Retreat 

During my stay, I enjoyed a Junior Suite with my family. With a spacious room, I found plenty of space for a roll-away or pack-n-play. With neutral walls and modern art, my room exuded calm sophistication.

Stay at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma.
My family enjoyed an Junior Suite at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center.

A large balcony with a pair of chairs allowed for morning coffee, thanks to an in-room Keurig maker with coffee and tea. I found an in-room safe, an alarm clock with a iPhone dock along with charging plugs on all the lamps. The large flat-screen TV sits on top a full-size credenza.

A separate kitchenette provides a small refrigerator, a full-size microwave and a separate sink. Lots of storage, but I didn’t find any dishes. I would have liked to see real glassware and mugs to accompany the deluxe ice bucket.

The work desk at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center.
I used the work desk outfitted with extra outlets at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center.

My Bathroom at the Chickasaw Retreat

The luxurious bathroom includes a soaking tub for rejuvenating. The stone vanity offers ample space along decorative lighting and upscale toiletries. I found a closet area in the bathroom area along with the ironing board.

The bathroom at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma.
My bathroom at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center featured a soaking tub and a separate water closet outfitted with a glass-enclosed shower.

My room included a separate water closet area with a separate glass-enclosed shower with decorative tile work. A family-friendly feature that allows for sink use with a kid in the shower.

The amenities at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center.
Moms always love the amenities in a room, like the Bedrè Chocolates, locally-produced.

Dining at the Chickasaw Retreat

A complimentary continental breakfast buffet is served daily from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily, in the dining room, next to the registration area. During my stay, I found muffins, pastries and cereals along with coffee. Yogurt, hard-boiled eggs and biscuits and gravy were on the buffet along with orange and apple juice. 

Activities at the Chickasaw Retreat 

In a separate building, I found a wellness center that rivals any health club. Equipped with treadmills, stationary bikes and Cybex equipment.

Stay at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center for the Wellness Center.
The Wellness Center at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center offers lots of equipment, a steam room and a sauna.

After entering an immaculate, modern locker room, I found a separate shower stalls with curtains. Finish getting ready at a vanity lined with sinks and mirrors, outfitted with decorative lighting.

With a steam room and a dry sauna, relaxing comes easy at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center. I also found the Sole’renity Spa, with services like manicures and pedicures, massages, facials, wraps and waxes.

The indoor pool at Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma.
My boys, 9 and 12, enjoyed the indoor pool during our trip.

The indoor pool is a standard rectangle but includes a spa. With the deepest section at 4-feet, kids rule the pool in the evening.

Family Fun in Sulphur Oklahoma

During our visit, we explored the Chickasaw National Recreation Area along with the revitalized downtown Sulphur. With its unique shopping and outdoor activities, like swimming, hiking and boating, my family explored non-stop for our entire weekend away.

Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma, offers over 1,750 acres of mountain views, along with a wellness center.

 

Where’s the Chickasaw Retreat 

Located in South Central Oklahoma 12 miles from Interstate 35 and 87 miles south from Oklahoma City. The address is 4205 Goddard Youth Camp, Sulphur, Oklahoma, the closest town. 

Know before you go:

  • Self-park is complimentary.
  • The Pool and Gym are open till midnight.
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi that doesn’t require a password, a great feature for tech-savy kids.
  • Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center is a pet-free and smoke-free facility.
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