As much as I love mountains in winter (and as the BraveSkiMom, I definitely love winter), I admit that there is something special about an alpine summer.
The rugged and austere landscape softens in the warm light. The forest understory bursts to life, a play on variations in green, dotted with startling color. Birds and animals return and even the insects are colorful and alluring -- especially to children.
Many ski resorts operate during summer with a wide range of activities for families of all ages from alpine slides to mountain biking to golf. These activities are undeniably fun. But to really get a feel for the mountains in summer -- and to get a wholly different perspective on our favorite ski runs -- I like to slow down and set out on foot with my family.
Keep It Fun
Think Like a Kid. Kids crave adventure. So when choosing a trail, adults need to think like kids. This means considering what happens along the trail not just distance and destination. Choose trails that have a variety of experiences along the way not just at the end. Trails near water that move from meadow to forest or have big views are often popular. And in old mining and railroad districts, don't discount the lure of history.
Make Time to Wander. As much as they love adventure, kids also love to wander. While adults often hike for exercise, kids hike to explore. Expect to have your plans waylaid. Don't be disappointed if you don't get to the end of the trail. Instead, follow your child's lead and let him or her be the trail boss.
Be Prepared. All good boy and girl scouts know this one. Proper shoes, water, snacks, band-aids and weather-appropriate clothing are necessities. If you're on unfamiliar ground, take a map or GPS. File a trip report: Leave a note at home, in your condo or in your car. Let someone know where you are headed and when you expect to return.
Trails, Trails Everywhere
Deer Valley, Utah: Take a trip back in time and explore Utah's mining heritage along the 2.5-mile Ontario Trail. This uphill trail leaves from Silver Lake Lodge and goes around the backside of Bald Mountain past the remains of old silver mines. At the top of the trail, hikers can either choose to backtrack down or take a free lift ride back to Silver Lake Lodge. (Downhill rides are free. Uphill rides require a lift ticket.) On the second Sunday of each month, June through October, the Park City Historical Society leads a free guided hike along the trail, sharing interesting facts, anecdotes and mountain lore. Other options include a quarter-mile scenic overlook trail at the top of Bald Mountain and the 5-mile round-trip Silver Lake Trail.
Heavenly Mountain, California: Lake Tahoe is a favorite summer destination. And while you'll definitely want to spend time in, on and around the water, a gondola ride, followed by a hike on the trails at Heavenly is a must. Departing Heavenly Village, the gondola soars nearly 3,000 feet above Lake Tahoe. While you can get off partway up at a viewing platform, ride to the top to access Heavenly's three hiking trails: the 1.6-mile East Peak, the 2.2-mile Sky Meadows Trail and the 3.8-mile East Peak Lake Trail (all mileage is round-trip). These trails offer lake and valley vistas, meadows abundant with flowers and an alpine lake where you can while away the afternoon throwing rocks, chasing butterflies and soaking up the sun. Each of these trails depart from the top of the gondola at Adventure Peak, where the tubing hill remains open for summer fun on a special non-snow surface!
Steamboat Springs, Colorado: Steamboat clicks into full summer gear on June 16 when the gondola reopens providing access to the mid-mountain Thunderhead Lodge. Stop by the Nature Den in the lobby at the top of the gondola for interpretive information and to plan your outing. Adjacent to the gondola is the trailhead for the Vista Nature Trail, a one-mile loop with beautiful views, informative signs and picnic tables. For something ambitious, the Thunderhead Hiking Trail leads either up to the lodge from the base or back down over 2,180 vertical feet. It's three miles one-way but is not technical. On Sundays, the Thunderhead Lodge is open for brunch, which must might be the perfect reward after some vigorous family fun.
Crystal Mountain, Michigan: Summer at Crystal Mountain is definitely out-of-the ordinary. While families can find many expected activities including mountain biking, golf and the region's only alpine slide, the hiking is wholly unique. Located 35 minutes from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan, guests can book guided trips to the Dunes through the Crystal Mountain Adventure Zone or visit on their own. Many of the hikes wind through the woods before topping out on enormous bluffs and dunes or dropping down to golden beaches. On-mountain, Crystal Mountain and the Michigan Legacy Art Park have created a two-mile trail with over 40 sculptures along its course up the mountain. These sculptures tell the story of Michigan's history, culture and environment.
Great trails abound across the mountains of North America, and each and every resort with summer operations can help you find something perfect for your family. So grab your boots, grab your daypack and take the hand of your favorite child. It's time to hit the trail.
-- Kristen Lummis, mom, owner, writer and head ski tech at www.braveskimom.com.