In this guest post from Helene Vece, we tour the desert landscape close to Las Vegas with the family, for camping, hiking and natural rock formations as well as some family friendly shows in the city itself.
It has been a year since I moved outside of Las Vegas to the sleepy town of Boulder City, Nevada. When I heard that my family, little ones included, was set to arrive in Vegas for a week, I thought I was more than qualified to play tour guide. I lived in Las Vegas for thirty years and thought I knew everything the city had to offer and more. One week later and my adventure took me to the best-unknown spots that Sin City could offer. I was more amazed than my guests because I had lived there. Las Vegas has this mystique about it. It is a city of legendary tales and also legends that headline! After my week in Las Vegas, I had discovered more about the city from a traveler’s perspective than I did living there. Most notable? That Las Vegas is extremely kid-friendly.
Scenic beauty at Red Rock
The family wanted an affordable and unpopular activity. They didn’t want to be crammed into a smoky casino with tons of other tourists, so we piled into two cars and headed west! Only a half hour away from Las Vegas is a beautiful natural display of amber colored mountains. The road to Red Rock is mostly desert. There are enough people on the road, so don’t expect to feel completely isolated. I had only been to Red Rock once and that was years ago. Now, Red Rock had its own visitor’s center and a drive through route for people who don’t like to hike or have mobility challenges. The route is a total of thirteen miles and well worth the cost – yes, you are charged a small fee per car. The sites are amazing and so are the photo opps. You can pull the car over to the side of the road and take photos with the family and/or with the scenery! The only misgiving of this adventure was the gift shop. Everyone was trying to get into the restroom at once so I advise packing a little patience on this short road trip.
Relaxing in the desert
Our family spent the next couple of days touring Las Vegas’ amazing desert landscape. We stopped at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. Howard Hughes once owned this 520 acre ranch, which is now opened to the public. We spent the afternoon having a picnic and enjoying the trees, which are over 400 years old! The older children in our group took themselves on a self-guided tour of the ranch house’s interior. There were also plenty of volunteers around to help us figure out what trees and bushes were from what lineage. The ranch is a great way for the family to spend an afternoon without spending a lot of money. The best part is that it is only fifteen miles outside of Las Vegas. Bring a light jacket since the ranch is higher in elevation which made it about ten degrees colder when we arrived at the picnic area.
Native American history
One of the last natural Las Vegas adventures we took was to the Valley of Fire. We spent a night camping here. You are missing out on all Las Vegas has to offer if you don’t stop here. The Valley of Fire boasts 3,000 year-old Indian petroglyphs and it is only 36 dollars to camp per family! Yes, pets are allowed. The Valley of Fire was only an hour drive outside of Vegas. It is exactly 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas via Interstate 15. I am not the world’s greatest camper, but I was excited to see shaded tables, grills, water, and restrooms were readily available. There are numerous natural rock formations at the Valley of Fire. The kids all loved the different stories behind each formation. We picked up a few brochures to guide us from the visitor’s center. I would say the kids loved the White Domes the best. These formations were only a five minute drive from the visitor’s center. We walked, so it took a little longer. I would have to say if you could only chose between Red Rock, Spring Mountain Ranch or the Valley of Fire adventure, go with Valley of Fire. It is so breathtaking! All the kids had a wonderful time – as did the adults!
Classic Las Vegas showmanship
When we did head back to Las Vegas, our group decided to see the Penn and Teller show at The Rio. I was told this would be a great show for little kids. Of course, a ticket salesperson sold me this line. I would say use your own discretion. The show is fantastic. But there are lots of loud noises and the magic duo shoot a prop gun at the end which can be scary. If your children are sensitive and under age eight, I would hold off. The best part of this show (besides the locals discount) was the meet and greet at the end. Penn and Teller patiently stand outside the theatre and sign tickets or take photos with everyone who was at the show. This is a really nice thing for them to do considering another Vegas show charges a hundred dollars per person for the exact same experience!
My Vegas family adventure went on for several more days. I learned about artwork and gluten-free restaurants that I didn’t know existed. I discovered that Las Vegas has many more kid-friendly concessions than I originally thought or knew about, and I found that being a tourist in Sin City (or on the outskirts) is a wonderful thing that can be experienced with family or when visiting solo!
Many thanks for this article to Helene Vece who regularly writes for Vegaskids.info. She has lived in Las Vegas for 35 years, raised her kids in Las Vegas and for the last few years has been taking her grandchildren on daytrips or weekend trips to Las Vegas.
Photo credits: All photos belong to Vegaskids.info
Other family friendly experiences
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
Ski and snowboard enthusiasts flock to Utah for its legendary dry, light powder and impressive annual snowfall. There’s a reason why the state’s slogan is “Greatest Snow on Earth.”
Most ski enthusiasts fly into Salt Lake City and do one of the following:
- Drive to Park City and spend the week skiing at Park City, The Canyons, and Deer Valley – 3 world-class destination resorts, an authentic western town with great shops and restaurants and activities to keep the whole family satisfied.
- Drive up to Little Cottonwood Canyon and stay at ski-in, ski-out accommodations at either Snowbird or Alta – two mountains where diehard skiers can spend a whole week skiing challenging terrain and not get bored.
- Stay in Salt Lake City and use it as a base to travel to the ski resorts in the Park City area or Snowbird and Alta.
But, Utah has 14 ski resorts under the brand name of Ski Utah, and many skiers will never make it to those resorts. If you’re an avid skier like me, you’re probably always looking for a new ski area to try. The ski areas of Northern Utah have a few things in common: they’re affordable, they’re not crowded, and they get lots of snow! So leave the crowds of Park City behind and exchange those high-priced Deer Valley lift tickets for the laid-back atmosphere of the Ogden Valley.
Easy access from two airports
All of the major airlines fly into Salt Lake City (American, Delta, Frontier, Jet Blue, Southwest, US Airways, and United). Allegiant Airlines has added service from Phoenix into Ogden Airport and now Arizona skiers have affordable, non-stop flights into Ogden, giving them closer access to Ogden Valley ski areas.
It’s about an hour drive from the Salt Lake City Airport and about a 20-minute drive from Ogden Airport to downtown Eden. Drive along the Ogden River Scenic Byway, which starts at the mouth of Ogden Canyon and circles the Pineview Reservoir into Eden. The byway is one of only 26 designated scenic byways in Utah and is rated as one of the 10 best scenic drives in America.
Staying in a town like Eden provides a central location to 3 ski areas in the Ogden Valley: Powder Mountain, Wolf Mountain Resort, and Snowbasin. You’re in downtown Eden when you reach the 4-way stop sign (but don’t blink or you’ll miss it). You’ll find the Village Market at the intersection – stop in to stock up on food and supplies before checking into your accommodations. There are plenty of lodging options in Eden and the surrounding areas; bed and breakfasts, inns and lodges, condos, and timeshare condos. If you’re with a ski group or vacationing with family, a condo is your best option.
The ski areas of Ogden Valley offer 3 distinct experiences: no-frills pure mountain skiing, ultimate luxury, and affordable, family-friendly fun.
Ski at Powder Mountain
Powder Mountain, located in Eden, is about a 15-minute drive from the town center. An adult lift ticket is only $65 – such a deal! The mountain, affectionately known as “Pow Mow,” is a no-frills mountain with a laid-back, down-home atmosphere. If you’re looking for a pure ski experience and lots of powder with no crowds and no lines, Pow Mow is the place. The resort has over 7,000 acres of skiable terrain, receives over 500 inches of snow each year, and is known for its snowcat skiing and tours. There are 7 lifts (only 1 is a high-speed quad) that serve more than 2,800 acres of skiing on 144 runs. The rest of the acreage accounts for snowcat skiing and backcountry skiing. The lifts may be slow, but that keeps people away and the powder stashes last for days!
If you do run out of powder, you can always find some at Powder Mountain’s Snowcat Powder Safari Tour. The tour accesses over 3,000 acres of backcountry bowls and will run you about $425 per person. If you want to watch your pocketbook but love the powder, you can satisfy your craving with single snowcat rides on Lightning Ridge or Rain Tree – all for $18 with a lift ticket. If you’re up for your own adventure, there’s 1,200 acres of backcountry skiing waiting for you off the back side of Powder Mountain. The Powder Country Shuttle (included in your lift ticket price) will transport you back to the lifts. There are ski shuttles from Eden if you don’t want to drive your car up to Powder Mountain ($5 round trip). For other Mountain Adventures, visit their website at www.powdermountain.com.
Ski at Snowbasin
As a contrast to the no-frills ruggedness of Powder Mountain, you’ll find ultimate mountain luxury at Snowbasin (A Sun Valley Resort). The resort had a major upgrade prior to the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games. It’s known for its wide-open bowls, glades and groomers, and has one of the most advanced lift systems in the West. For thigh-burning cruisers, take the Needles Express Gondola for over 2,300 vertical feet of non-stop top to bottom skiing. The 8-passenger high speed gondola is only an 8-minute ride — so you can get lots of skiing in. Although the resort receives 300 inches of snow annually, Snowbasin has the world’s largest automated snowmaking system – so if it’s early season and there’s no snow at Powder Mountain yet, this is your place. Adult lift tickets run $82.
Although Snowbasin is not a destination resort (there is no lodging on the property), Snowbasin has all of the amenities of a destination resort – without the crowds. Three beautiful pine lodges with massive stone fireplaces, ruby and emerald chandeliers, and gourmet fare. Oh, and the bathrooms! Italian marble, bronze and crystal chandeliers, floor to ceiling commodes, beautifully inlaid African Anegre wood and hand-painted walls. I feel like I’m in the bathroom of a catering hall or a posh hotel — not a ski area! Don’t believe me? Snowbasin was among the 10 finalists competing for the 2011 Cintas’ America’s Best Restroom Contest! Visit their website www.snowbasin.com for more info.
Wolf Mountain Resort
Also located in Eden, Wolf Mountain Resort is known as Utah’s most affordable ski resort. It’s a small, family-friendly resort with 22 runs and is considered to be one of the best “learn to ski and ride” mountains in the Rockies. Wolf Mountain’s atmosphere can be compared to Powder Mountain’s in that it’s homey and laid back – the resort’s cafeteria is housed in an old dairy barn. The interior was recently restored to its former glory with open ceilings and the original wooden barn posts.
Wolf Mountain is a great place for kids if you want to give them lessons. From the parking lot, it’s a short walk to the ski school, which is located in a cozy yurt. After you get the kids signed up, all they have to do is exit the other side of the yurt, and they’re right at the learning area and the Magic Carpet beginner’s lift. While the kids are in ski school, adults will enjoy 22 runs on 110 acres. There are some challenging runs at Wolf too, and the mountain is not crowded so the snow stays fresh!
Wolf Mountain is a good choice when the Ogden Canyon road is closed or the roads are icy and you don’t feel like making the trip to Snowbasin or Powder Mountain. Or, if you want to sleep in or do something else during the day Wolf has night skiing, and the mountain is open until 9 pm. But how about just for the skiing itself? It’s great fun for the entire family – if you want to ski a half a day or even a whole day. And, you can’t beat the prices and some of their incredible deals. On Mondays, a group of four can ski for $40 from 4 pm to 9 pm – that’s $10 each! On Tuesdays, skiers can buy one full price lift ticket and get the second one for $10. For more amazing deals, check out www.wolfmountainutah.com.
Shooting Star Saloon in Huntsville
After skiing all over the Ogden Valley you’ll work up a hearty Western appetite so head on down to the Shooting Star Saloon in nearby Huntsville. The saloon was established in 1879 and is the longest continually operating saloon in Utah. The ceiling is covered with dollar bills, and there’s a stuffed St. Bernard head on the wall – it’s the world’s largest St. Bernard weighing in at 298 pounds – the owner had his beloved dog stuffed after he died in 1957. Try the Star Burger – made with two beef patties, cheese, and slices of knockwurst – mouthwatering!
So, if you’re looking to pick up a few new pins and patches, add these Ogden Valley ski areas to your Ski Wish List!
Author Bio: Many thanks to Linda Steinmuller for this Guest Post. Linda is a travel writer, copywriter and reporter for her local newspaper in Brooklyn, New York. She loves to ski and visit new ski areas whenever she can.
Photo credits: Earl’s lodge at Snowbasin by FaceshotsPhotography.com, Cat skiing at Powder mountain by Gregg Greer, The Road up to Powder Mountain by Stan Evans, and Shooting Star Saloon by Linda Steinmuller
For more winter ski fun:
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
The Texas Hill Country is that area between San Antonio and Austin where the flat plains give way to rolling hills with small towns that were founded in the 19th century by settlers from Sweden and Germany. We toured around this area last year, finding things that seemed strange and unusual to our European eyes, even though we share a common language (well nearly). Here are some of the things that we enjoyed on our drive around the Texas Hill Country;
Texas Barbecue and a slice of pie
In England a barbecue would probably mean sausages and burgers cooked over smoky charcoal, but we found that in Texas it means something quite different. At Black’s BBQ in the town of Lockhart, they’ve been serving real Texan BBQ since the 1940s, using only the finest beef brisket marinaded and cooked slowly over oak chippings for 12 hours until it is meltingly tender and delicious. We queued up for our salads and sides then piled the plates with slices of brisket which was sold by weight and settled down at the red checked tables to enjoy, surrounded by hunting trophies and sporting photos. Afterwards we got a behind-the-scenes kitchen tour to feel the heat of the ovens and learn more about how the brisket is carefully trimmed and cooked for that authentic BBQ taste.
Driving back to the Interstate 35 we stopped for something sweet at the Texas Pie Company in Kyle which we easily recognised from the huge slice of cherry pie on the roof. Their slogan is “Life’s short, eat more pie” and with delicious flavours like fudge pecan, lemon chess and strawberry peach to choose from we didn’t need any encouragement. On the wall was a picture of chief pie-maker, Julie Albertson, who uses her grandmother’s recipes to create 18 different pie flavours, with individual sizes as well as the classic 10 inch size. You’ll find home-made pies like these in many local bakeries and diners – it’s a taste of Texan home cooking.
Tubing and Blue Bell ice Cream in Gruene
We passed through the German settler town of New Braunfels and stopped on the outskirts at the smaller historic district of Gruene. A popular local pastime, especially in the sweltering heat of the Texas summer, is to go rafting or tubing on the Guadalupe river that flows through the area. Although it was a little early in the season we hired our tubes at Rockin’R, right by the river and opted for the tubing as we were advised that there wasn’t really enough water in the river for rafting. The company owns a number of camp grounds along the river so you can drift downstream and then they will arrive in the van to give you and your tube a lift back to the starting point. It took an hour and a half drifting along to reach the pick-up point and we took a good look at all the fabulous houses along the banks as well as the river turtles sunning themselves on logs in the river. There was the occasional small set of rapids to get the heart pumping, but nothing too challenging, just enough for a few whoops of delight.
After we dried off and returned our tubes, we took a look around Gruene Historic District which has plenty of cafes, antique and souvenir shops and a nice old fashioned drug store serving Blue Bell ice cream, as well as a famous Honky Tonk Dance Hall. We stopped for a bite to eat at Cantina Del Rio, a colourful Mexican cafe with a deck overlooking the river where we enjoyed some excellent tacos and fajitas.
The Cowboy life at the Silver spur ranch
Further west, we headed for Bandera, another small town with big ambitions that proclaims itself to be the “Cowboy Capital of the World”. Our mission was to get into the Cowboy spirit with a trail ride at the Silver Spur Ranch, one of the many Guest and Dude ranches in the area. While the ranch accommodated guests who would stay up to a week and get to try other cowboy stuff like sitting around the camp fire, learning lasso skills, or even a rodeo, we just went for an hour’s ride into the Hill Country State Natural Area. It wasn’t nearly long enough, even though my city legs were aching afterwards, but we enjoyed our time on the horses who were very gentle with novice riders like us.
Huntin’ Shootin’ Fishin’ at Cabela’s
While staying in San Antonio, we had spent a day on Picosa Ranch and were recommended to stop at Cabela’s, on our drive north to Austin. This enormous warehouse store has everything that the enthusiastic hunter or lover of the great outdoor might need, with a camping section upstairs, but it was a real eye opener for us on the Texas gun culture. First thing was the big sign asking you to check your gun in at the door and then the entire wall of the warehouse given to guns of all shapes and sizes. My 19 year old son was absolutely thrilled that there was a stand where he could just pick up and try the feel of a real gun and there was almost a theme park feel to some parts of the store, such as the central display of stuffed animals with details of where they were shot and by whom. In another side room there were displays of more stuffed animals with a model of a hunter who would start talking to you when the button was pressed. For a family from the city who would never go hunting this was definitely one of those “only in America” moments.
The Alamo and a cycle to the Spanish Missions in San Antonio
The city of San Antonio is the southern border of the Texas Hill country and the home of The Alamo, one of the unmissable attractions in Texas. The Alamo is what remains of the chapel and the buildings of the old Spanish Mission, one of several in the area, and has a huge significance in the struggle for Texan Independence from Mexico. This is where, in 1836, a couple of hundred volunteers made a last stand against the Mexican Army led by General Santa Anna and although they were all killed, the episode became a turning point in the war of Texan Independence with the rallying cry of “Remember the Alamo”. The monument is not as large as you might expect considering its fame, but the attraction is free and the chapel and the long barracks contain plenty of information about the history with several courtyards and pleasant gardens.
After visiting the Alamo we hired bikes from the shop behind the Visitor Centre and cycled along the river bank, through the historic King William district overlooked by old mansions and greenery. Gradually the river widened to become Mission Reach, with a cycle path that takes you all the way to the other Spanish Missions that lie just outside San Antonio. Eventually the path took us to Mission San Jose, known as the “Queen of Missions” for its size and beauty, with a church with a carved stone facade that was under restoration and a working water mill where there was a demonstration on grinding grain. On the way back, we stopped at the Blue Star Brewing company where you can see the big steel brewing containers behind the bar although I ordered a refreshing glass of iced tea.
The Texas Hill Country has plenty more to offer in vineyards, interesting small towns and beautiful wild flowers and is ideal to tour by car for a few days, stopping at anywhere that looks interesting. You can also combine it, as we did, with stops in the cities of Houston, San Antonio and Austin for a holiday that takes in the best that Texas has to offer.
This post is brought to you by www.esta.co, a premium application checking service for the United States Visa Waiver Program. If you are travelling to the United States for a period of up to 90 days, you must apply for travel authorization through the ESTA scheme
More places to enjoy in the Texas
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey