So it’s summer. And that means you want to get those kids outside. But you want to do it in a way that is fun and relaxing without putting your family in danger of heatstroke. Oh, and cheap, too. Sounds impossible? Here are three fun activities you can do this summer that measure up on all accounts.
It’s hard to find a better summer vacation than crawling in a cave – easy on the wallet, good exercise, fun for all ages, and cool temperatures to boot.
Phil Roberts is a tour guide at Colossal Cave Mountain Park in Tucson, Arizona. He says caving is completely safe for families of all ages. “But,” Roberts warns, “Parents should realize before they come that there’s going to be a lot of walking.” If your children aren’t old enough to handle that, it may not be the time to take a cave tour.
There’s much to be learned inside the walls of a cave. On guided tours, your family will learn about geology, climate changes, animals and plants who live underground and more. Caves are full of history lessons as well. From explorations to the history of tourism down below, it’s fascinating to hear what your tour guide will tell you.
“Kids like to learn about how caves were discovered and who has been down in the caves over the years,” says Roberts. “And of course, they love to see the formations.”
Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico is one of the most famous cave systems because of its amazing formations. Each year, visitors flock to see formations with names such as “Witch’s Finger” and “Longfellows Bathtub.” Kids love the special “Spider Cave Tour,” where they can crawl through tunnels just their size and explore the cave in true kid-form.
Located in Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park is the world’s longest cave system. Jim Shoemaker has been taking his kids there for long weekends for the past ten years. “When they were small, we liked to just go into the entrance of the cave and explore on our own,” he explains.; “As they got older, we began to take small guided tours. My kids loved when the tour guides would extinguish the lights so they could experience total darkness. Now they are almost teenagers and we’ve worked our way up to doing the crawling and climbing tours. Which is fun and challenging for all of us!”
Important caving tips for beginners:
- Dress comfortably with good walking shoes. Most caves are cool, so plan accordingly.
- If you plan on taking a tour, get plenty of information ahead of time to see if it’s the right fit for your family. Some tours are more strenuous than others.
- In general, safety isn’t much of an issue. Areas open to the public are well-lit and marked off for safety precautions. If you and your children can follow directions and stay with the group, you will be fine.
- There’s usually limited access to bathrooms in caves. So keep that in mind, especially when caving with little ones.
- You will be walking! Start small and don’t bite off more than you can chew when it comes to picking tours.
Caves are an amazing natural preservation of history, that can be educational and relaxing for all ages. The National Caves Association has a database of over 80 caving destinations. Search by zip code to find the one nearest you and start planning a long weekend underground for you and your family.
Hiking is the perfect way to get some exercise and enjoy the scenery in the woods together as a family. Even in urban areas, there are usually great hiking paths close by. When hiking with children, make sure to plan your route well. Don’t overestimate how far your children will be able to walk. Consider starting with a small hike (less than two miles) before working up to a longer trek.
Equipment? Make sure you and your children are wearing good footwear and good socks. (Cotton socks can retain moisture and create blisters. Look for hiking socks that wick away the moisture.) You will also need a good first aid kit, a compass, a flashlight, rain gear, snacks such as energy bars or trail mix, and plenty of water.
Plan on packing your supplies in your own backpack on the first trip. Kids can carry their own load once they become experienced hikers.
You may want to bring a camera or a small notebook for sketching nature finds along the way. Kids can keep a few souvenirs by making a bracelet out of masking tape (sticky side up) and collecting some leaves and nuts along the path as charms. You can play games, sing songs, tell stories, or just enjoy the silence together.
If you’ve ever thought about taking your kids fishing and walked into a supply store to get started, you’ve likely felt overwhelmed. Fishing is one of the most relaxing, inexpensive ways to spend a warm summer evening with your family. You don’t have to have lessons or be an expert to take the plunge. But you may need a little guidance on how to get geared up and ready for a family fishing excursion.
Decide where you are going to fish. Ponds, oceans, and rivers all require different gear. So plan accordingly.
Do you need a permit? Check local state guidelines to see what the legal requirements are and to make plans for what you are going to do with your catch. Some fishing holes are catch-and-release only.
Choose some bait. Determine what types of fish you are likely to catch and ask around to see what the best bait is and where to get it. Old-fashioned worms make for great bait if you’re casting in a pond. But fishing in bigger areas can require other types of lure.
Get some simple gear. There’s no need for fancy bait or expensive hooks or even a tackle box. Start small if it’s your first time. You will likely need hooks, a bobber, a rod and reel, and a good set of pliers.
For the best experience, consider going one-on-one with a child and focusing your energy on him. He will need help attaching the hook and bobber, baiting the hook, and casting. Once a fish is caught, your young fisherman will probably also need help removing the catch from the hook.
Consider building on a skill during each trip. Your child may like to spend most of her time practicing casting. Don’t get frustrated that the lack of opportunity to “catch” a fish. Fishing with kids is really about the process and not the product.
By far, the hardest part of fishing is the waiting. Younger children may want to hand over the line to you while they play nearby. You can call them in when you feel a bite so they can reel it in. Older children may like to play some guessing games or make up stories while you sit and wait for that big one to grab your bait. Be prepared that you may have to help keep them occupied. Don’t forget to pack plenty of snacks, sunscreen, drinks, life preservers, bandaids and Neosporin. A good fisherman is always prepared.