Things to Do in Wilmington with Kids | North Carolina

Wilmington, a small city on the southern coast of North Carolina, has something for everyone, making it a great vacation destination! There are so many fun things to do in Wilmington with kids! There are historic buildings to explore, a battleship full of US military history, an aquarium (nearby), and three amazing beaches to check out: Wrightsville, Carolina, and Kure.

Wilmington with Kids

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BATTLESHIP NORTH CAROLINA

USS North Carolina Battleship Wilmington

As a WWII battleship, the Battleship North Carolina participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific theater. She became the most decorated US battleship of the war with 15 battle stars. Over the course of WWII, she survived many close calls and even a Japanese torpedo hitting the hull. Though the Japanese claimed to sink the ship six times, the Battleship North Carolina survived WWII (with only ten men lost in action!) and was later given to the people of North Carolina in the 1960s. In 1962, she became North Carolina’s memorial to WWII veterans and the 11,000 North Carolinians that died serving their country during WWII.

kids on bunks of USS North Carolina Battleship

Today, you’re able to visit the ship and explore up to 9 different levels on a self-guided tour. You get to climb up and down the ladders and narrow staircases, “play” with the guns, try out the super comfy beds and check out the kitchen and mess decks.

WILMINGTON WALKING TOUR

Wilmington with kids Alton Lennon Federal Building

Wilmington is often regarded as the Hollywood of the East, and over 500 films and TV shows have been recorded in the Wilmington area. Favorites like Iron Man 3, We’re the Millers, Under the Dome, Sleepy HollowDawson’s Creek, and One Tree Hill were all filmed here. One of the best ways to get a feel for the film industry in Wilmington is the Hollywood Location Walk, a 90-minute walking tour of Wilmington filming locations.

The Alton Lennon Federal Building and Courthouse (above) has been used in various TV shows and movies, including Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, and Matlock.

ONE TREE HILL DRIVING TOUR IN WILMINGTON

Lucas Scott house Wilmington One Tree Hill

While you do see some One Tree Hill filming locations on the walking tour of Wilmington, many are only accessible by car, making it the perfect naptime adventure! You can load the kids up in the car and then go see Lucas, Haley, Nathan, Peyton, and Brooke’s houses.

WILMINGTON RIVERWALK

Wilmington with kids standing on Riverwalk

The Wilmington Riverwalk is a great place to explore with kids. At nearly two miles long, the Riverwalk runs from Nun Street to the Isabel Holmes Bridge. There are fun shops to explore, restaurants to enjoy, museums, and even some American history to learn- Orange Street Landing is part of the National Parks Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

CAPE FEAR RIVER CRUISE

Cruise the Cape Fear River in Wilmington with kids

Cape Fear Riverboats offers one-hour scenic cruises of the Cape Fear aboard the CAPTAIN J. N. MAFFIT and JACOB’S RUN. These narrated cruises explain the importance of the Cape Fear River historically and ecologically and interesting information about downtown Wilmington. You’re welcome to bring your own food and drink on the boat (or purchase from their dockside restaurant, Anne Bonny’s Bar and Grill), making them super kid-friendly!

NORTH CAROLINA AQUARIUM AT FORT FISHER

touch tank at the NC Aquarium Fort Fisher - one of our favorite things to do in Wilmington with kids

The NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher is part of the North Carolina Aquarium System that also has aquariums in Roanoke Island, Pine Knoll Shores, and Jeanette’s Pier in the Outer Banks.

Albino alligator at NC Aquarium

The Fort Fisher aquarium focuses on the Cape Fear River system into the open ocean and even has an albino alligator! While the aquarium is nowhere near as big as the Georgia Aquarium or the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, it is still really well done and a great place to spend the morning or a rainy afternoon.

CAROLINA BEACH

The Carolina Beach boardwalk is every kid’s dream. A Ferris wheel, rides, and special events (like fireworks!) beckon vacation-goers and locals alike in the summer. Combine the award-winning boardwalk area with miles of pristine beaches, and it’s a great place to spend a day or a week!

Britt's Donuts in Carolina Beach North Carolina

And if you’re looking for the best of Carolina Beach, make sure to stop by Britt’s Donuts— double check their hours as they’re only open seasonally- for the best donuts around! They’ve been open since 1939 and make hot and delicious donuts by hand as they’re ordered. It’s a must-do if you’re in the Wilmington/Carolina Beach area!

Girl eating Britt's Donuts on balcony by beach

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH

Girl looking towards water at Wrightsville Beach

The town of Wrightsville Beach has cute shops and delicious restaurants along with over 40 different public beach access points. Not all have bathrooms, so be sure to check the beach map if proximity to a bathroom is essential and then head to the beach for some fun in the sun!

Girls in waves Wrightsville Beach so many things to do in Wilmington with kids

Wrightsville Beach is much more of a locals’ beach than Myrtle Beach or even nearby Carolina Beach, and thus, it doesn’t have as many activities or as many people. But that makes it a whole lot easier to have a stretch of beach to yourself! Especially if you go around sunset when everyone is headed off to dinner.

Have you been to Wilmington, NC? What was your favorite place to explore?

Things to Do in Pensacola With Kids | Florida

Pensacola, located in the Florida Panhandle, is a bustling city with BEAUTIFUL beaches. We’ve visited in the summer and winter, and while most people probably prefer a beach vacation in the summer when the water is warmer, we absolutely love going in the winter while crowds are low. Keep reading to check out some of our favorite things to do in Pensacola with kids.

Beach toys on the white sands of Pensacola Beach

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NATIONAL NAVAL AVIATION MUSEUM

5 smiling kids in front of the National Museum of Naval Aviation next to a fighter jet and flagpole

The National Naval Aviation Museum on Naval Air Station Pensacola is the world’s largest Naval Aviation museum and one of the most popular museums in the state. While the museum has long been open to the public, NAS Pensacola has been open only to DOD ID cardholders and their guests since December 2019. The museum is currently open for DOD ID cardholders and their guests.

Variety of military aircraft in the Naval Aviation Museum

The museum houses an impressive collection of aircraft and free guided tours are offered several times a day from retired military volunteers and I definitely recommend checking those out!

Blue Angels flight team practice on a cloudy day

NAS Pensacola is the home of the Blue Angels Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, and if you’re visiting from March-September, you can check out one of their practices. The schedule is posted online here, but as with anything, it’s always subject to change.

FORT PICKENS

Cannon sitting atop Fort Pickens

Just west of Pensacola Beach on Santa Rosa Island, Fort Pickens is the largest of four forts built in the 1800s to protect Pensacola Bay. Interestingly, it is one of only four forts in the south that was never occupied by Confederate forces during the Civil War and is the only Floridian fort under Union control throughout the entire Civil War.

cannon and arches at Fort Pickens

The kids LOVE wandering around Fort Pickens. We highly recommend picking up the Junior Ranger book from the Fort Pickens Discovery Center and completing it while you explore. Technically the book is for the Gulf Islands National Seashore so you can also pick up a copy at the Fort Barrancas Visitor Center or the Davis Bayou Visitor Center.

Old mine tunnels at Fort Pickens Pensacola Florida

With brick tunnels galore, including these mine tunnels, Fort Pickens is a fun place to explore. The tunnel system ultimately led to 3 chambers, each designed to hold as much as a thousand pounds of gunpowder- in the event that the fort was overrun with attackers, the chambers could be detonated.

Fort Pickens

Open year-round and with self-guided walking tours as well as ranger-led tours, Fort Pickens is a can’t miss stop when you’re visiting the Pensacola area.

GULF BREEZE ZOO

2 kids feeding a giraffe at the Gulf Breeze Zoo

Gulf Breeze, in the middle of Pensacola Bay between Pensacola and Pensacola Beach, has a small-town feel and is home to the Gulf Breeze Zoo. The highlight of any trip to the GB Zoo is definitely the giraffe feeding. The leafy greens are an additional charge, but it’s well worth the $5 to feed all of the giraffes and see their loooooong tongues!

Kids feeding goats at the petting zoo

There are 50 acres of wild adventure at the Gulf Breeze Zoo and animals ranging from the goats in the petting area to tigers and gorillas. In fact, there’s something for everyone- click here to read more about our visit to the Gulf Breeze Zoo!

PENSACOLA LIGHTHOUSE

Pensacola Lighthouse and pelican

Built in 1859, the Pensacola Lighthouse is still in use by the US Coast Guard. Like the Naval Aviation Museum, the Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum is located on NAS Pensacola. Currently, only DoD ID cardholders can get through the gate and drive to the lighthouse. However, there are tours available for the general public that include a shuttle to and from the lighthouse, but they do need to be booked ahead of time

smiling kids at top of Pensacola lighthouse

If you just want to look at the lighthouse from the parking lot, that’s totally free. But if you want to get an up-close look at the lighthouse, including climbing the 177 steps to the top, then you must purchase a ticket. For less than $10/person, you get access to all the museum exhibits, the grounds, and climbing to the top of the lighthouse. The restored 1869 keeper’s quarters are definitely worth a look!

view from Pensacola lighthouse

And check out the view from the top of the Pensacola Lighthouse!

PENSACOLA BEACH WITH KIDS

Kids at the beach- sugar-white sands, emerald waters, sun shining through the clouds.

Perhaps the most popular attraction in Pensacola: the beach. With sugar-white sand and emerald green water, Pensacola Beach is one of the most beautiful in the country.

Kids playing in the emerald waters of the gulf coast

With an average water temperature of 73° kids and adults alike can enjoy the water year-round.

2 smiling kids playing with sand toys at the beach

The (usually) calm waters are great for the little ones- they can splash and play to their hearts’ content without worrying about getting knocked over by waves.

Young girl playing in tide pools with the calm gulfcoast waters behind.

Plus, as the tides change, there are fun tide pools and sandbars to play on!

Digging holes on the beach

The kids love digging holes on the beach- maybe even more than making sandcastles! Make sure to fill in any holes with sand before you leave so that people don’t inadvertently trip in them.

Portuguese man o' war at Pensacola Beach

One thing to mention, just like at any beach, make sure to check the surf warning flags. On our most recent trip, we were introduced to the purple flag signaling dangerous marine life (like jellyfish). It turns out, there were tons of Portuguese man o’ wars in the water and washing up on the shore. They look more like an inflated plastic bag than a jellyfish, and they can have tentacles up to THIRTY feet long! Definitely worth it to stay out of the water and make sure not to touch the ones washed up on the beach – they can still sting!

WHERE TO EAT IN PENSACOLA

Flounders Chowder House Pensacola Beach

Trying local restaurants is one of our favorite parts of traveling, and Flounders Chowder House is one of our Pensacola Beach faves!

Teen with a plate FULL of shrimp prepared MANY ways!

If you love shrimp, the Shrimp Boat Platter is our recommendation since you get to try their fresh-caught shrimp so many ways: shrimp cocktail, shrimp on a stick, beer-battered fried shrimp, popcorn shrimp, “U-Peel-‘Ems,” and coconut shrimp, along with hushpuppies and fries.

playground at Flounders Chowder House

Plus, the restaurant has a playground for the littles and offers outdoor seating as well as inside seating with a view of the playground if you want to let the kids play while you eat.

Peg Leg Pete's Pensacola Beach

Also a Pensacola Beach institution, Peg Leg Pete’s is another one of our family’s favorites! It’s loved by locals and tourists alike, and has the wait time to prove it! We put our name on the list – a 2-hour wait! – and hung out at our hotel while we waited for a table. Get there early for a shorter wait. You can’t go wrong with any of the grouper entrees and make sure to also get a cup of fish chowder!

PENSACOLA NIGHT SKY

The sun setting behind the Pensacola pier with a young girl playing in the surf

I LOVE beach sunsets, and the ones at Pensacola Beach do not disappoint.

Crescent moon over the Pensacola Pier

Check out that cute crescent moon in the sky above Pensacola Beach!

Pensacola Beach night sky with three kids watching the stars

Did you know that in the summer, you can see the Milky Way over the gulf?! Pensacola Beach has official stargazing events one weekend a month at the Pensacola Beach Pavillion. In the winter, the Milky Way is not visible, but you can still see tons of stars, more so the further away from the city lights you are. Make sure to bring a tripod if you want to take pictures of the night sky (I forgot mine ????).

Pensacola is a great place to visit with the whole family and I hope we have the chance to get back again soon- I could really use a day (or a few!) relaxing on that sugar-white sand while the kids play in the water, couldn’t you? Have you ever been to Pensacola?? What’s your fave Florida beach??

Things to Do in Washington DC with Kids

Washington DC is one of our favorite long-weekend getaways since it’s only about six hours from our house. There are SO MANY different things to do in Washington DC with Kids – and a lot of it is free! – so we never get tired of going! We make it a point to see or do something new when we’re in town, but we always make time for some of our favorites.

Washington DC with Kids

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY

gravestones at Arlington National Cemetary

The largest military cemetery in the US, Arlington National Cemetery, is the final resting place for more than 400,000 service members and their families. As a military family, ANC is very near and dear to our hearts. While many would balk at the idea of taking small children there, we found it to be the perfect opportunity to talk about our country’s history as well as discuss (and practice!) how we show respect for the deceased. ANC conducts roughly 30 funerals on a typical weekday, so it is imperative that you’re quiet and respectful throughout the cemetery. Some areas, like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, require silence which we practiced many times, well in advance.

We’ve explored ANC on foot, making sure to see both the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the JFK Gravesite and eternal flame, but next time we’re there, I plan to do one of the Arlington National Cemetery Tours for a more comprehensive experience. Now that Jacob is buried at Arlington, I foresee many visits in our future.

kids at Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery

Consider volunteering with Wreaths Across America if you have the time and are visiting on the third Saturday in December (December 17, 2022, for this year). This fantastic organization ensures that a wreath is placed on each and every gravestone at Arlington and 2500 other military cemeteries around the country. Their mission statement: “REMEMBER our fallen US veterans. HONOR those who serve. TEACH your children the value of freedom.” is near and dear to our family. Volunteers of all ages are welcome and highly needed! Registration, which is required, starts around Veteran’s Day on their website.

rows of graves with wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery Washington DC

Arlington National Cemetary is a beautiful place year-round, but there’s something extra special about it during the holidays. I can only imagine what it looks like with a fresh blanket of snow.

TOUR THE MEMORIALS IN WASHINGTON DC WITH KIDS

kids at Jefferson Memorial at night

Washington DC is FULL of monuments and memorials like the Washington Monument and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. While you can definitely see many of the most popular ones on foot, a guided tour offers far more information and saves your feet! We did the DC at Dusk tour through USA Guided Tours on one of our last visits, and it was phenomenal! Over the course of three hours, we saw many of the highlights of Washington DC on our combination bus/walking tour and learned so much about the local history from our guide.

smiling girl touring memorials in Washington DC

While not nearly as popular (crowded) as the other memorials, the FDR Memorial is one of my favorites. It’s on the western shore of the Tidal Basin and leads you through FDR’s four terms in office. Twenty-two quotations from during his presidency are engraved in the granite walls of the memorial.

Washington Monument and cherry blossoms

And if you time your visit just right (late March, early April), you’ll be treated to gorgeous, pink cherry blossoms throughout the city. The best place to see them is at the tidal basin near the Jefferson, FDR, and MLK memorials.

FORD’S THEATRE HISTORIC SITE

Lincoln video at Ford's Theatre

Ford’s Theatre is an absolutely exceptional stop in Washington DC – I’m honestly not sure why it took so long for us to visit. A small museum goes through Lincoln’s presidency, the Civil War and then culminates with his assassination. Right now, museum tours are self-guided, and advanced $3 timed tickets are required.

We were all shocked to see the size of the gun that John Wilkes Booth used to assassinate President Lincoln. And yes, that’s the actual gun! He picked a small gun because it was easy to conceal, but that meant that he only had one chance to kill Lincoln. Kids can hear stories about history over and over, but sometimes it doesn’t stick until they SEE it. And seeing the gun that assassinated a president is something they’ll remember forever.

kids at Ford's Theatre next to the Lincoln assassination box

Thanks to Ford’s Theatre for hosting us. We received complimentary tickets, but all opinions are honest and my own.

After the museum, you can walk into the theatre and see the Presidential Box where Lincoln was sitting when John Wilkes Booth assassinated him. Park rangers are available to answer questions and provide historical information about the theatre. And if you have time, did you know that you can still see live performances at Ford’s Theatre? We saw A Christmas Carol while we were in town, and it was an excellent addition to our holiday trip!

US CAPITOL

smiling kids on the steps of the US Capitol

Seeing the US Capitol up close, or even better yet, from the inside, is such a great way to expose kids to the interworkings of our government. Free tours run throughout the day, nearly 365 days a year, and while advance reservations are recommended, same-day passes are often available. However, we recommend contacting the office of your representative or senator because you can usually get a more private, staff-led tour.

SMITHSONIAN MUSEUMS IN WASHINGTON DC WITH KIDS

Spirit of St Louis at the Air & Space Museum Washington DC with Kids

With 16 museums and the National Zoo in Washington DC (11 of which are on the National Mall), there’s a Smithsonian for everyone! The National Air and Space Museum (pictured) and the National Museum of American History are two of our faves! While we love going back to our favorites, we also try and visit a new (to us!) Smithsonian Museum every time we’re in town.

THE WHITE HOUSE

White House Washington DC with Kids

Nothing screams “Washington DC” quite like seeing the White House! We’ve never been able to coordinate one of our visits with doing a White House tour but it’s definitely on our bucket list. Tour requests need to be submitted through the office of your representative or senators 21-90 days in advance of your trip though right now they’re not currently offered.

THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT

smiling kids outside the Washington Monument

The Washington Monument, part of the US National Park Service, deserves its own place on this list. Like the other monuments and memorials in Washington DC, you can walk up to and around the Washington Monument for free, but the best views are from the top of the 555-foot tower!

view of Lincoln Memorial from the Washington Monument

Tickets are required to ride the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument. To get tickets, you need to have a Recreation.gov account and head to the Washington Monument ticket page. The $1 tickets are released one day in advance, at 10am Eastern Time. In peak season, these go very quickly, so make sure you’re online right at 10am to make your reservation. If your party is larger than 6, you’ll need multiple Recreation.gov accounts in order to get enough tickets.

WASHINGTON HARBOUR

Ice skating at Washington Harbour

A huge thanks to the Washington Harbour Ice Rink for hosting us. We received complimentary tickets but all opinions are honest and my own.

The Washington Harbour in Georgetown is a great collection of shops and restaurants nestled along the Potomac waterfront, and from November-March, they have the largest outdoor ice skating rink in Washington DC! They’re open daily although specific hours vary depending on the day so make sure to check ahead of time. Skate rental is available and they have the cutest penguin skate aids for the littlest ones in your group! We had a blast skating around and it was a great change of pace from the usual museums/tours that we do in DC.

RIDE THE METRO IN WASHINGTON DC WITH KIDS

riding the metro Washington DC with Kids

Our kids LOOOOOVE using the metro/subway when we’re on vacation since we don’t have access to one here. In fact, they often comment that it’s their favorite part of our trip and I think they would be perfectly content to spend a day just riding around town and not actually “doing” anything.

There are six lines running through the Washington DC area (including Virginia and Maryland) and 91 different stations. You can check schedules and fares online as well as utilize their trip planner to ensure that you’re taking the most efficient route.

Washington DC is a great family destination for kids of all ages because there is so much to do! We’ve been multiple times with our kids, at just about every age range possible and while we’ve done a lot, we still have SO MUCH to see!!

Have you been to Washington DC before?? What’s your favorite thing to see??

Things to Do on Mackinac Island with Kids | Michigan

Sitting in Lake Huron, just off the coast of Upper Michigan, Mackinac Island is an absolute dream. It’s been the go-to summer vacation destination in Michigan since the late 1800s. There are no cars and no chain hotels on Mackinac Island, and the only way to get there is by boat or plane. If you’re looking to visit Mackinac Island with kids, KEEP READING for our favorite things to do.

things to do on Mackinac Island with kids summer vacation destination in Michigan

TAKE A CARRIAGE TOUR OF MACKINAC ISLAND

Since Mackinac Island does not have cars, save for a few emergency vehicles, horse-drawn carriages are the easiest way to get around town. Mackinac Island Carriage Tours offers taxi service – though you need to call 906-847-3323 to request a taxi, you cannot hail one on the side of the street. Going from downtown/ferry dock to the Grand Hotel or Mission Point Resort (where we recommend staying!) is $6/person and half-price for kids 5-12. Due to the price, we only took a taxi once.

Gough Carriages pick up at Mission Point Resort

However, we did opt to do a carriage tour. Mackinac Island Carriage Tours offers public and private tours of Mackinac Island. For the public tours, hop in the line at the downtown ticket office and wait your turn – reservations are not accepted. When we walked by, it was over an hour wait to get on the sightseeing tour.

Both MICT and Gough Carriages offer private carriage tours of Mackinac Island and both charge by the hour with a one-hour minimum. Only same-day reservations are available for MICT private tours, but for Gough Carriages, you can make your reservation well in advance, ensuring you get the exact time and date you want.

private carriage tours of Mackinac Island fall color

We booked a two-hour private tour with Gough Carriages and had our driver pick us up at Mission Point Resort. Usually, their carriage tours leave from Marquette Park downtown, but they can also do pick-ups at some of the downtown hotels. It worked really well for us since we could eat breakfast and head right out front.

horse-drawn carriage on Mackinac Island fall color

The fall colors were absolutely gorgeous when we visited in mid-October. I think we were probably about a week before peak color, but it was still breathtaking.

girl with horses things to do with kids on Mackinac Island

We stopped near Fort Holmes to check out the view of Sugarloaf (not pictured), but the kids were more interested in playing with the horses. Did you know that horses like Twizzlers?! I certainly didn’t!

Mackinac Island carriage tour Lake Huron view

Mackinac Island is filled with beautiful Victorian homes. The kids have decided that we need to pack up everything and move there; we’re just short a few million dollars for a house. In all seriousness, though, I think I would pick this one surrounded by trees with views of Lake Huron.

A carriage tour really is a can’t miss experience on Mackinac Island. Whether you do a public or private tour, make sure you do one. We found two hours to be the perfect length for our private tour. It was short enough to keep the kids engaged, including Ellie, who now wants a horse, but was long enough to see the Mackinac Island highlights.

RENT A BIKE ON MACKINAC ISLAND WITH KIDS

Mackinac Island bike rentals

While a carriage tour is a great way to see the highlights, if you really want to explore the island, a bicycle is the best way. You can rent bikes from many places on the island, but we found renting at Mission Point to be the most convenient since we were staying there. Additionally, their bikes are super comfortable – they are custom-made by Detroit Bikes and are in great shape. Mission Point Resort offers bike rentals by the hour, day, or length of stay, on a first come-first served basis.

BIKE THE M-185 HIGHWAY LOOP

kids biking the M-185 Highway loop around Mackinac Island

M-185 is the state highway that hugs the perimeter of the island. This 8.2-mile loop is one of the most popular routes on Mackinac Island. Since there are no cars on the island, bikers and pedestrians have full reign of this highway. In fact, it’s the only highway in the country where vehicles are banned! It takes most people about 3-4 hours to walk the loop or about an hour to bike the whole circle. Make sure to add in time to stop and enjoy the view, though!

Following years of high water and wave action that led to erosion and road damage, Michigan-185 was recently repaired and repaved. The entire 8.2-mile loop is now open for visitors to enjoy.

British Landing and the Mackinac Bridge

At the northern end of Mackinac Island, you’ll find British Landing. As the name suggests, it’s where British troops landed in July 1812. Those living on Mackinac Island at the time, including the troops at Fort Mackinac, were unaware that the War of 1812 broke out.

Under cover of night, British troops arrived on Mackinac Island with a few cannons, made their way inland to the high ground above Fort Mackinac, and demanded the US troops to surrender. Woefully outnumbered, the US troops surrendered without a fight.

Devil's Kitchen Mackinac Island with kids

Devil’s Kitchen is a limestone cave on the southwestern side of Mackinac Island. Legend has it that cannibalistic spirits cooked humans inside the caves leading to the sooty texture on the cave walls. There’s nowhere to really go inside, but it’s a fun place to stop and snap a picture!

girl biking down Main Street Mackinac Island

The M-185 loop also includes Main Street. Technically the loop starts and ends on Main Street at mile marker zero, though you can get on or off at many points around the island. There are over 70 miles of trails on Mackinac Island, so you’re not limited to just M-185. The big kids biked the whole loop with no problems – and wanted to do it again as soon as they made the entire loop. Ellie and I only did a couple of miles and then stopped for an ice cream cone on Main Street, and I think she probably could have made the whole loop if we packed some snacks and took a couple of breaks.

VISIT ARCH ROCK

Arch Rock Mackinac Island turquoise water

Arch Rock is one of the most popular stops on M-185 and the one that I would make sure to make time to visit. The natural limestone arch stands 146 feet above the water and is over 50 feet wide. You can see Arch Rock from above if you do the MICT public carriage tour or either the MICT or Gough Carriages private tours.

kids biking in front of Arch Rock Mackinac Island

If you’re riding the M-185 loop, you can see Arch Rock from the highway as you’re traveling by but make sure to stop at the pull-off to take in the view.

207 stairs up to Arch Rock

And while you’re stopped, if you missed Arch Rock on the carriage tour, do yourself a favor and climb the 207 steps to the top and see it from above, with Lake Huron glistening behind.

Kids biking Arch Rock Mackinac Island with Kids

For a fun photo op, have your kids ride their bikes back and forth so that you can snap a picture of them biking as they pass Arch Rock!

EXPLORE DOWNTOWN MACKINAC ISLAND WITH KIDS

Main Street Mackinac Island horse-drawn carriage

Downtown Mackinac Island is kind of like walking onto Main Street USA with its quintessential charm. There are no cars, just horse-drawn carriages and people riding up and down the street on bicycles. Even without vehicles, there is still a bit of traffic, and it seems most people abide by the drive on the right side of the road philosophy of the United States. The streets are lined with shops selling touristy knickknacks and trinkets, restaurants serving everything from burgers to fine dining, and most commonly, fudge!

MACKINAC ISLAND FUDGE

smiling girl with Mackinac Island fudge

Fudge is a Mackinac Island staple. There are 14 different shops where you can purchase your fill of that sweet, chocolatey goodness that Mackinac Island is known for. In fact, fudge is the MOST POPULAR souvenir on Mackinac Island – and they produce more than 10,000 pounds EACH DAY during peak season!

Though fudge was invented in Baltimore, it was perfected on Mackinac Island. In the late 1800s, the Murdick family moved to the island and opened Murdick’s Candy Kitchen. Owner Rome Murdick was the first to make fudge on marble slabs on Mackinac Island, and the tradition stuck. Other fudge shops popped up, and watching fudgemakers became a public event, often drawing crowds.

But World War I and the Great Depression negatively affected the fudge-making industry with sugar rations and declining tourism. Murdick and his son used fans in their shop to blow the sweet scent of fudge onto the street, enticing people to come inside. Murdick’s Candy Kitchen was the only fudge shop to survive the Great Depression. However, after World War II, the economy took off, and so did Mackinac fudge, and the rest is history.

guy making fudge on marble slab Mackinac Island

Since fudge is the food that Mackinac Island is best known for, you better believe we tried as many fudge shops as we could while we were in town. The kids really enjoyed watching the fudge-making process at all of the shops and commented that fudgemakers must have powerful arms to work and fold the fudge on the marble slabs.

smiling kids Mackinac Island fudge

With four shops on the island and a 60+ year history, Ryba’s Fudge Shops is a solid choice. Their fudge is smooth and creamy and comes in a variety of fun flavors. JoAnn’s Fudge, with 2 Mackinac Island shops, was another good option. We found their fudge to be a little bit softer/meltier than other shops around, which wasn’t much of an issue on a cool October day but could be more of a problem in the summer.

But the absolute best fudge on the island was from Original Murdick’s Fudge. It was creamy; it was sweet, it was a perfect consistency, and exactly how a slice of fudge should taste.

EXPLORE LAKE HURON AROUND THE ISLAND

kids on the shore of Lake Huron

Exploring Lake Huron was a big draw for us Southerners. This was the kids’ first time to the Great Lakes region, and honestly, none of us realized precisely how big the Great Lakes actually are. From many spots on Mackinac Island, you cannot see land in the distance – making it feel like you’re on an island in the middle of the ocean. And it’s crazy, depending on the sky and what part of the island you’re on, the waters of Lake Huron can range from a steely blue-gray color to the bright turquoise colors of the Caribbean.

kids skipping rocks in Lake Huron

We had a great time hanging out on the Great Lawn at Mission Point Resort and just taking in the sights. The kids skipped rocks and looked for fossils, and I enjoyed my coffee on one of their many Adirondack chairs. And bonus, the Great Lawn at Mission Point Resort is open to the public! You do not need to be a resort guest to enjoy the Lake Huron and Straits of Mackinac views.

downtown Mackinac Island - Pink Pony at the Chippewa Hotel

Given that it’s an island, it’s not hard to find great waterfront views on Mackinac Island. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants with views of the water, including the Pink Pony in the Chippewa Hotel downtown. After a delicious lunch on the patio, the kids sat on the dock and watched the boats coming in and out of the harbor.

girl sitting on the rocky shore of the turquoise blue Lake Huron on Mackinac Island

On the eastern side of the island, over by Arch Rock, the water looks like it’s straight out of the Caribbean. Now, it’s quite a bit colder than the Caribbean, so don’t let the turquoise colors fool you! In the summer, the average water temperature is in the low 60s, so still quite chilly!

VISIT FORT MACKINAC

Fort Mackinac with kids

Fort Mackinac is an absolute must-do when you visit Mackinac Island. Boasting the oldest building in Michigan, this is where history comes alive. We only had a couple of hours to explore on our way out of town, and it was not enough time. I would allow at least 3 to 4 hours, more if you want to see all of the demonstrations or take a tour.

firing the Fort Mackinac cannon

Firing the cannon to open the fort in the morning was the highlight of our time at Fort Mackinac. This experience is open to one person over the age of 13 per day (for an additional fee), and you need to make your reservation at least 48 hours in advance. If you’re going to be there during peak season, especially on a weekend, call Fort Mackinac at 906-847-3328 as soon as possible. Reservations are open now for the 2024 season.

We learned all about the cannon and its significance during Fort Mackinac’s military history. Ben learned how to check and prep the cannon, and then our Soldier Saige loaded the cannon. After Reveille played, it was time for: ready, set, fire! and Fort Mackinac was opened for the day.

 

Fort Mackinac with kids rifle demonstration

We’ve been to many military museums and battlefields during our travels, but this was our first time watching a rifle demonstration. The demonstration is done with an original 1884 Springfield rifle, and after getting a brief history of the weapon, we were able to watch the firing demonstration. People were invited to hold the rifle following the demonstration – Ellie said it was REALLY heavy!

hands-on fort building exhibit at Fort Mackinac Michigan

The kids really appreciated how hands-on everything is at Fort Mackinac. This fort-building exhibit was great fun for the whole family. I’m not sure if they had more fun building their fort or knocking it down at the end!

view of Mackinac Island from Fort Mackinac

For one of the BEST views on the island, head to the Tea Room at Fort Mackinac. We sat at one of the tables with the yellow umbrellas and took in the view while we enjoyed a snack! It’s located in the historic Officers’ Stone Quarters, the oldest public building in the state.

Fort Mackinac Tea Room coffee and Grand Hotel Pecan Ball

We ordered coffee and the legendary Grand Hotel Pecan Ball (since the Grand Hotel runs the Tea Room). I highly recommend that you make time to order a Pecan Ball, either at the Tea Room or over at the Grand. It’s honestly a simple dessert – a scoop of vanilla ice cream, rolled in pecans and served over a puddle of fudge – but it’s oh, so delicious.

There’s honestly so much for families to do on Mackinac Island. We were there for two nights, and it was nowhere near long enough. The kids said that next time, we need to stay for AT LEAST a week! Have you visited before?? Let me know your Mackinac Island faves and tips in the comments!!

Mission Point Resort | Mackinac Island | Michigan

Mackinac Island, sitting off the coast of Upper Michigan in Lake Huron, is an absolutely beautiful place. It’s been Michigan’s summer vacation destination since the late 1800s. There are no cars on the island except for a few emergency vehicles, and the only way to get out to Mackinac Island is by boat or plane. It’s totally remote but close enough to the mainland that you can be there in 15 minutes! And if you’re looking to visit Mackinac Island next year with the kids, Mission Point Resort is where you want to stay!

Mission Point Resort pin image

This post may contain affiliate links and we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) if you choose to purchase when you click on the links. Thank you for supporting Love Dwells Here!!

Disclosure: A huge thank you to Mission Point Resort for making this trip possible. We partnered with them to show why Mission Point Resort is the perfect place to stay when exploring Mackinac Island. As always, all opinions are honest and our own.

Mission Point Resort Mackinac Island

Mission Point Resort is located on the sunrise side of Mackinac Island. While it does take some time to get to the resort, it is TOTALLY worth the effort. Most people opt to take the ferry out to Mackinac Island, and you can do that from either Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula or St Ignace in the Upper Peninsula. We boarded a ferry in Mackinaw City; there are two options – Shepler’s and Starline, and I don’t think you can go wrong with either. Both take your luggage before you board the ferry, and it is delivered directly to your hotel, as long as you’re staying at Mission Point or The Grand.

Once you arrive on the island, since there are no cars, you either can walk to the resort or call for a horse-drawn taxi. It was a glorious fall day, so we opted to walk, and if we hadn’t stopped multiple times on the way to sample fudge(!) and have lunch, it would have only taken about 10 to 15 minutes to go from the ferry dock to Mission Point Resort.

Mission Point Resort Great Hall History

Isn’t this lobby gorgeous?! Construction on the Mission Point Great Hall began in the winter of 1955, and it was completed in 1956. Because Mission Point sits on an island in a lake that freezes every winter, 3000 tons of supplies and equipment were delivered before the Straits of Mackinac froze for the winter. Construction screeched to a halt when they ran out of lumber in the spring. Over a warm weekend, dynamite was used to break up the ice in the shipway, and a supply barge was finally able to break through and get much-needed supplies out to Mission Point to complete the Great Hall Complex.

Condé Nast recently named Mission Point Resort one of their Top Ten Resorts in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest for 2021. Mission Point also received the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Award for being one of the Top Ten Resort Hotels in the Midwest. A pretty impressive feat and completely well deserved, in our opinion!

MISSION POINT RESORT MAIN LODGE FAMILY SUITE

There are quite a few different room combinations at Mission Point Resort, ranging from rooms for two to rooms for the whole family. Plus, there are several exquisite suites complete with seating areas and amazing views of Lake Huron.

Mission Point Resort Family Suite

We stayed in a Mission Point Family Suite in the Main Lodge. These rooms sleep six and feature one bedroom with a king bed and a second bedroom with two double beds. Each room has its own sink and vanity area, making it way easier to get ready in the morning, and the two rooms share a bathroom. It was plenty of room for the four of us on this trip and would have worked nicely as a family of six, as well.

The Straits Lodge is where you’ll stay if you’re bringing your pup along on vacation. The Straits Lodge at Mission Point is one of the only dog-friendly properties on the island. Like the Main Lodge, the Straits Lodge has a variety of room configurations ranging from rooms for 2 to family-style suites. Another plus to staying in the Straits Lodge is that it’s closer to downtown, so if you’re planning on walking, it’s a little easier on your feet.

MISSION POINT RESORT GREAT LAWN

Mission Point Resort Great Lawn Adirondack chairs

Mission Point Resort is well known for the Great Lawn. Situated in front of the hotel and overlooking Lake Huron and the Straits of Mackinac, the Great Lawn features 81 Adirondack chairs and is perfect for relaxation. We grabbed coffee from Boxwoods and honestly could have spent all day relaxing on the lawn. Throughout our stay at Mission Point, we spotted couples having picnics, families flying kites and people lounging.

Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island

The Mission Point Resort Great Lawn IS open to the public, so even if you’re not staying at the resort, feel free to stop by and hang out! While you’re there, check out the guided history tours about Mission Point Resort and the eastern side of Mackinac Island on Thursdays at 10am. Leisurely garden tours are offered on Saturdays at 1030am and Wednesdays at 530pm. Or be like Ben and use the resort’s trails for cross country practice!!

Mission Point Resort Mackinac Island beaches Lake Huron

This was our first time visiting the Great Lakes region, and the kids were constantly in awe of how big the lakes actually are. Mackinac Island genuinely feels more like you’re out in the middle of the ocean than in a lake. While I lounged in an Adirondack chair on the Great Lawn with a latte, the kids had a fab time skipping rocks and looking for sea glass and fossils along the shore of Lake Huron.

MISSION POINT RESORT ACTIVITIES

Mission Point Resort has plenty to do without ever leaving the 18 acres of the resort grounds. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t get out and explore Mackinac Island because you totally should, but there is plenty to do if you don’t want to leave.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day (and weekends in September and October), a complimentary kids club is available at Mission Point. We stayed mid-week in October, so I did not have the chance to check out the kids club, but I’ve heard wonderful things!

Bike Rental

Mission Point Resort Bike Rental

Since there are no cars on the island, many people opt for a two-wheeled mode of transportation to get around and explore the island. Mission Point offers bike rentals by the hour or the day on a first come-first served basis. There are bicycle rental shops all over the island, but we found getting them at Mission Point was the most convenient.

Mission Point Resort best of the Mackinac Island hotels

The island has over 70 miles of natural and paved trails. One of the most popular routes is the 8.2 mile Highway M-185 (Lake Shore Boulevard) circling the island. There are no cars on the highway – it’s the only highway in the country where vehicles are prohibited! – so it’s used by bikers and pedestrians.

It takes about 3-4 hours to walk or about an hour to bike the whole loop without stopping for most people. But it’s definitely worth stopping to take in the views.

Mackinac Island bikes at Arch Rock

Arch Rock is one of the most popular stops on the east side of M-185 – and it’s only about a half-mile from Mission Point Resort. You can see the arch from the highway as you’re riding by or stop at the nearby pull-off to take in the view. But you really should climb the 207 steps to the top of Arch Rock and see it from above, with Lake Huron glistening behind.

Putt-Putt

Mackinac Island golf

Golfing at the Greens of Mackinac, the 18-hole putting course at Mission Point Resort, was a fun way for the kids to spend part of the afternoon.

Mission Point Resort best of the Mackinac Island hotels

The putt-putt course is right next to the water, so you can take in the fabulous views while you’re waiting for your turn. Plus, it’s next to the bar at Bistro on the Greens, where you can grab a to-go drink to enjoy while you golf.

Outdoor Swimming Pool

kids in hot tub at Mission Point Resort

If your kids are anything like mine, they think going to the pool is one of the best things you can do while staying at a hotel. We visited the pool EVERY day of our stay! They loved warming up in the hot tub since it was a bit chilly while we were in town.

Mission Point Resort pool outdoors at night

They also really enjoyed swimming at night. We had the pool to ourselves, and the girls had fun splashing around – until it started POURING! We quickly grabbed our towels and clothes and headed back into the resort to warm up and dry off!

We didn’t have a chance to visit the Mackinac Island Movie Theater this time around, but I will make time for it next time we’re in town. It’s a piece of Hollywood history and was the setting for Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. The Mackinac Island Arts Council sponsors movies from May – October.

  • Every Sunday 330pm – Mackinac: Our Famous Island
  • Every Sunday 430pm – This Time For Keeps (filmed at The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island)
  • Every Tuesday 730pm – Somewhere in Time (filmed at Mission Point Resort and The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island)

MISSION POINT RESORT RESTAURANTS

While there are plenty of restaurants on Mackinac Island to choose from, Mission Point has several of their own on the property, and they’re definitely worth a try. Described as a culinary adventure, Chianti features a farm-to-ferry menu with a prix fixe dinner for $125/person. Located by the golf course, Bistro on the Greens features a Mediterranean menu. We didn’t have the chance to try either of those options, but I’ve heard rave reviews about both.

Boxwood

coffee at Mission Point Mackinac Island

If you’re looking for a cup of coffee, a scoop of ice cream, or a quick snack, Boxwood Coffeeshop & Cafe is where it’s at. We grabbed coffees and cones and headed out to the Great Lawn to relax. Plus, they have picnic provisions so you can create a basket and take it with you when you’re exploring the island.

Round Island Kitchen

smiling kids at Round Table Kitchen Mackinac Island

We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Round Island Kitchen. This restaurant showcases Michigan’s twist on classic comfort foods, and we loved every meal. We dined indoors and outdoors and much preferred the atmosphere outside – as long as you can keep the bees away. In all seriousness, there were a lot of bees depending on the time of day and wind speed, BUT they didn’t bother us at all. Ellie freaked out anytime one came near her, but that’s an Ellie thing, not something that would bother most people.

eggs benedict Mackinac Island

Classic Eggs Benedict – Poached eggs, Canadian bacon & baby spinach, on a toasted English muffin topped with hollandaise

Ben ordered the Eggs Benedict one morning and decided he really does like poached eggs – at least when covered in hollandaise sauce! The Whitefish Hash & Eggs, pancakes, and omelets were also faves for our crew.

lunch at Round Table Kitchen

Baked Smoked Whitefish Dip – Tomato jam & chives

Speaking of whitefish, we tried it for the first time on this trip, and it’s delicious! Ben, in particular, was pretty smitten with whitefish and ordered it in tacos, as a dip, panko breaded, and broiled.

outdoor dining Mackinac Island Mission Point Resort

Seared Salmon – Served with basmati rice, grilled broccolini, maggio carrots & charred lemon

Over the course of lunch and dinner, we tried almost half of the menu. The Seared Salmon and the Tarragon Chicken Salad Sandwich were two of the clear winners. We honestly really enjoyed every menu item that we ordered.

Cherry braised beef nachos at Round Island Kitchen

Cherry Braised Beef Nachos – Shaved cherry-marinated beef, wonton chips, purple cabbage, Monterey cheese sauce, fresh jalapeño, cilantro & sriracha-lime crema

Without a doubt, though, I can say that our absolute favorite thing on the menu was the cherry braised beef nachos. I’m kicking myself for not ordering them every single time we sat down. Oh my gosh, it was SO. GOOD. I would never have thought to use wonton chips for nachos, but they totally worked. Absolutely amazing.

FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT MISSION POINT RESORT

We truly LOVED staying at Mission Point Resort and would stay there again in a heartbeat. The kids have not stopped talking about our time on Mackinac Island, and they’ve been begging to return. There are lots of options when it comes to Mackinac Island hotels, but do yourself a favor, and stay at Mission Point Resort, especially if you’re bringing the kids or a dog along. And make sure to order the Cherry Braised Beef Nachos if you eat at Round Island Kitchen – seriously, SO GOOD!!! Have you been to Mackinac Island?? Would you be more excited to bike around the island or hang out on the Great Lawn at Mission Point Resort??

Things to Do in Traverse City with Kids | Michigan

Northern Michigan is a picturesque place full of recreational and cultural adventures. And Traverse City, the largest city in Northern Michigan, is the perfect centralized location to explore all that Grand Traverse, Leelanau, and Benzie Counties have to offer. With lighthouses, over 180 miles of beaches and sand dunes nearby, plus loads of small-town charm, there are so many things to do in Traverse City with kids – or without them!

This post may contain affiliate links and we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) if you choose to purchase when you click on the links. Thank you for supporting Love Dwells Here!!

Disclosure: A big thank you to Traverse City Tourism for making this trip possible. We partnered with them to highlight all of the family-friendly fun that the Traverse City area has to offer. We picked the destinations and restaurants that we wanted to showcase, and as always, all opinions are honest and our own.

Exploring Downtown Traverse City with Kids

Front Street downtown Traverse City

Downtown Traverse City is a walking and shopping paradise! There are tree-lined streets, cute boutiques and specialty shops, and dozens of restaurants. While it is totally family-friendly, it would also be the perfect place to go for a date night.

shopping in downtown Traverse City

We grabbed coffee (and hot chocolate!) from Espresso Bay, a Traverse City local, and hit the streets walking. It rained off and on, so we ducked into different shops to wait out the rain and check out what they had in store. Cherry Republic was a BIG hit with the kids – especially since they have samples of all things cherry!

Did you know that Traverse City is the Cherry Capital of the World?! Traverse City produces over 75% of the world’s tart Montmorency cherries. And with cherry production of that magnitude, there are LOTS of cherry orchards!  I’d love to see them in May when cherry blossoms are covering the trees. Every July, Traverse City hosts the weeklong National Cherry Festival!!

Traverse City with kids in front of mural

Traverse City also has a great art scene – including murals throughout the city. The TC Postcard in the alley next to Kilwin’s on E Front St was a must-do for us! It features landmarks from the Traverse City area like the State Theater in the “A” as well as the beaches the area is known for, and of course, cherries!

There are many other murals to check out as you’re exploring Traverse City, with everything from hummingbirds to a cute fox! Traverse City Tourism has a great post about all of the murals downtown, including a map, so you can do it as a walking tour if you’re interested!

Lighthouses Near Traverse City

I was shocked to find out that Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state in the US (129!!). And six of them are easy to explore from Traverse City! Y’all know I love a good lighthouse, so we set out to explore as many as possible while visiting the TC area.

Mission Point Lighthouse

Built on the 45th parallel (halfway between the north pole and the equator!), the Mission Point Lighthouse opened in 1870 and was operational until 1933. This little lighthouse is a cute one! It was designed to warn ships of the rocky shoals off of the Old Mission Peninsula when entering Grand Traverse Bay.

It’s located at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula and the drive to get there takes you along scenic M-37 through cherry orchards and vineyards. The 45th parallel is a popular winemaking region worldwide – Italy’s Piedmont region, the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux in France, as well as the Willamette Valley in Oregon, are all on the 45th parallel. And in Michigan, the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas, both sitting right at the 45th parallel, produce most of the state’s wine.

Mission Point Lighthouse with sunburst and American flag

Self-guided tours of Mission Point Lighthouse are available from May through November and are $5/adult and $2/child (ages 6-11). The opening hours and days of the week differ based on the season, so make sure to check their website before visiting. As part of the tour, you can climb to the top of the tower and enjoy breathtaking views of Grand Traverse Bay.

Grand Traverse Lighthouse

Located at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse is about 35 miles north of Traverse City, just off of scenic M-22. From 1858-1972, it helped guide ships sailing in the often fog-covered waters between the Manitou Passage and the Straits of Mackinac. Now fully restored, the lighthouse gives a glimpse into the life of a lighthouse keeper during the 1920s-1930s.

Grand Traverse Lighthouse with kids and Lake Michigan

Self-guided tours are available from May through November and are $5/adult and $2/child (ages 6-11). The hours differ based on the season, so please check their website before visiting. Because Grand Traverse Lighthouse is located within Leelanau State Park, there is an $11 entry fee or proof of a Michigan Recreation Passport.

Point Betsie Lighthouse

Built in 1858, the Point Betsie Lighthouse was the last manned light station on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. It was fully automated in 1983 and still serves as an active navigation aid for ships passing through the Manitou Passage. Tours are available from mid-May through mid-October and are $5/adult and $2/child (ages 6-11).

Point Betsie Lighthouse with waves of Lake Michigan splashing kids on the shore

The last call for tickets is at 430pm for the final tour of the day. We didn’t get to Point Betsie until right after the final tour started, so we were only able to explore the outside of the lighthouse. We had a great time watching the waves of Lake Michigan crash onto the shore and even got a bit wet – some of us (me!) more than others!

Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse

North Frankfort lighthouse at sunset

This one doesn’t have a tour, but it is one of the most popular places for Lake Michigan sunsets in Benzie county. You can walk out to the lighthouse along the break wall, but the waves were crashing over it, so we opted not to. Instead, we hung out on the public beach, and the kids played on the playground and chatted with the fishermen (catching steelhead!) while we waited for the sun to set.

North and South Manitou Island Lighthouses

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit either of these lighthouses – which means it’s time to start planning a return trip to Traverse City! The North Manitou Shoal Light Station opened for tours this year, or you can get an up-close look at the light on the ferry that travels from Leland to the Manitou Islands. Built 150 years ago, the South Manitou Island Lighthouse was active until 1958. Now, it is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and is open for tours during the summer. The South Lighthouse is accessible by ferry from Leland.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by Good Morning America, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is packed with beautiful views, unique hikes, and a really cool scenic drive. The Dune Climb is one of the most popular hikes in the park. According to AllTrails, it’s rated as difficult, and it takes 2-3 hours to complete the roundtrip 3.6-mile hike due to the steep sand dunes as well as the up and down nature of the hike.

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Somewhat short on time and unprepared to tackle the Dune Climb, we opted for the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Like other parts of Sleeping Bear Dunes, it does cost $25 per vehicle (or a valid National Park annual pass) to enter the park.

Covered bridge in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a 7.4-mile loop through the forest and sand dunes with overlooks of the Glen Lakes, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and Lake Michigan. While you can see a lot from the comfort of your car, many of these stops are better seen by getting out of the car and exploring on foot.

blue waters of Lake Michigan and sand dunes at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore

The Lake Michigan Overlook (#9 and #10) was one of our favorite stops. Here, after a short walk from the parking lot, you actually get out on the dunes, high above Lake Michigan. And when I say high, I mean high! The observation deck at this overlook (located to the right of the kids, just out of the frame) is about 450 feet above lake level. While going down the very steep bluff face to the lake is not prohibited, it’s definitely not recommended. And there is a $3000 charge if you need rescuing because you cannot make it back up the dunes.

kids hiking in dunes near Traverse City

The kids hiked around the dunes at the top of the bluff for a bit before we headed back to the car. As with any hike, always go with a buddy (or two!) and bring water!

Where to Eat in Traverse City with Kids

There are so many wonderful places to eat in the Traverse City area with kids. Before we arrived, we made an extensive list of places to try and barely scratched the surface. So like all things Traverse City, we still have more to see and do and can’t wait to visit again. I’ll do a separate blog post about all the delicious food in Traverse City, and for now, I’ll leave you with our faves!

Best Breakfast in Traverse City – Omelette Shoppe

There are two locations of the Omelette Shoppe in Traverse City, one on East Front Street and one on Cass Street. We started at the one on Cass because it’s in the more popular, trendy part of town, but the wait for a table was nearly two hours. At the recommendation of the hostess, we joined the waitlist for the Front Street location (less than 10 minutes away) and had a table in less than an hour.

amazing omelette from Omelette Shoppe in Traverse City

We ordered an assortment of items ranging from biscuits and gravy to breakfast burritos, but the New Mexican Omelette was the star of the show. Loaded up with beef barbacoa, jalapenos, onions, green chilies, black beans, jack & cheddar cheese, avocado, sour cream, salsa, and chipotle lime sauce, it was a HEARTY omelette and absolutely delicious.

Best Dinner in Traverse City – Sleder’s Family Tavern

girls standing in front of Sleder's Restaurant Traverse City

For almost 140 years, Sleder’s Family Tavern has been a Traverse City institution. It is Michigan’s oldest, continuously operated restaurant and is a great place to grab dinner with the whole family.

smiling kids at Sleder's

As we always do, we ordered a variety of items – a burrito, a buffalo burger, a club sandwich, cheese curds – and all were delicious! It’s a popular restaurant, so do expect a bit of a wait if you’re coming around peak meal times.

Best Ice Cream in Traverse City – Moomers

smiling kids at Moomers Creamery in Traverse City Michigan

Oh, Moomers!! I’m seriously still dreaming about this ice cream! Moomers is a small family-owned business, growing out of their life on the dairy farm. Can you envision a more picturesque location for a creamery?!

Moomers Ice Cream cone cherries moobilie

And the ice cream is AMAZING! Seriously, a whole lotta love goes into making this ice cream!! They make more than 160 flavors of premium ice cream (though they’re not all on the menu at the same time) and serve them at their store about five miles outside of downtown Traverse City.

Where to Stay in Traverse City with Kids

There are plenty of places to stay in Traverse City, ranging from waterfront resorts to more budget-friendly motels as well as campgrounds – and there’s even a Great Wolf Lodge if that’s your kind of place! We stayed at 539 Bay Street, a brand new luxury condo rental, and it was a fantastic fit for our family.

539 Bay Street luxury condo rental Traverse City

539 Bay Street is located right across the street from the gorgeous Grand Traverse Bay, and all of the units have spectacular views of the lake. It’s walkable to Sleder’s Family Tavern as well as many of the restaurants on Front Street.

539 Bay Street luxury condo rental kitchen and living

Every unit has a kitchen fully stocked with everything (besides food!) that you need in order to whip up a quick meal or even an elaborate feast if that’s how you’re spending your vacation. We often seek out vacation properties with full kitchens because, with a large family, it’s considerably cheaper to cook dinner – even if we use convenience foods like bagged salad kits – than to eat out every night. And breakfasts in the condo are quick and easy and save money for treats (like more Moomers ice cream!) later in the day.

539 Bay Street luxury condo rental master bedroom Traverse City with kids

The master bedroom has a king bed and a HUGE en suite bathroom, as well as a door out to the private balcony. With two other bedrooms (each with a queen bed), another full bathroom, and a laundry room with a full-size washer and dryer, the 3-bedroom unit was perfect for our family. The kids had plenty of room to spread out, but spaces like the living and dining rooms allowed us to spend time together. Do you like staying in vacation rentals/condo-type places when you travel, or do you prefer more traditional hotels?

There’s honestly so much for families to do, eat, and see in the Traverse City area. We were there for three days and still didn’t have time to see it all. Have you visited before?? Let me know your Traverse City faves and tips in the comments!!

The Hidden Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge | Montana

Have you ever seen a picture of somewhere online and thought, “I just have to go there!”? The Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge was that for me – and I wanted to see it so badly that we drove the long way from Whitefish, Montana to Wenatchee, Washington on our trip this summer.

While you're driving through beautiful northwestern Montana, you absolutely MUST stop to see the secret Kootenai Falls swinging bridge and nearby Kootenai Falls.

This post may contain affiliate links and we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) if you choose to purchase when you click on the links. Thank you for supporting Love Dwells Here!!

Swinging bridges are relatively common in the Pacific Northwest (think Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver or the Grove of the Patriarchs bridge in Washington). Still, one of the main perks of the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge is that many people don’t know it’s there.

The Kootenai Falls bridge was initially built in 1937 to help the US Forest Service access forest fires on the other side of the Kootenai River, but a major flood destroyed it in 1948. The bridge was rebuilt in the 1950s, and with the creation of the Libby Dam, it is protected from flooding.

HOW TO GET TO KOOTENAI FALLS AND THE KOOTENAI FALLS SWINGING BRIDGE

Located on the Kootenai River in Montana, the Kootenai Falls Suspension Bridge is a must-stop if you’re traveling through the Kootenai National Forest along Highway 2. The pull-off for Kootenai Falls is located 7 miles east of Troy and 12 miles west of Libby, near Milepost 21 on US-2. You cannot see the falls or the bridge from the parking lot (or highway, for that matter) so make sure to watch carefully for the pullout!

smiling girl at Kootenai Falls parking lot

THE KOOTENAI FALLS TRAIL

paved trail to Kootenai Falls

From the parking lot, there is a short, paved trail through the towering trees. We arrived at the parking lot at roughly 9am, and only a couple of other people were around. The trail takes you across a covered concrete bridge over the railroad tracks. We waited for a bit, hoping to see a train pass under us but didn’t get the chance. These tracks (which are used by BNSF {Burlington Northern Santa Fe} Railway) do get a lot of traffic, though, so keep safety and the potential for noise in mind.

railroad crossing bridge Kootenai Falls Libby Montana

After crossing the tracks and trekking down four flights of fire-tower-like steel stairs, there is a huge blue sign (you can’t miss it!) at a fork in the trail. At this point, you’re about a quarter-mile from the start of the trail. Head to the left for the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge or the right for the viewing area for Kootenai Falls. We started with the route to the left.

KOOTENAI FALLS SWINGING BRIDGE | THE TRAIL TO THE LEFT

uneven trail to Kootenai Falls swinging bridge

This is where the trail got a bit more intense. I still wouldn’t categorize it as a hard trail by any means, but maybe more on the moderate side of easy. It’s about another quarter-mile to the suspension bridge, which isn’t super far, but it was a lot of up and down and climbing over rocks and exposed tree roots on a very well-worn trail.

kids on the new Kootenai Falls swinging bridge

But once we were there, the views of the Kootenai River were terrific and totally worth the hike!

kids on the new Kootenai Falls suspension bridge

Have you ever seen such a pretty color of water?? The bridge pictured was built brand new in 2019 – upstream and a bit lower than the original/rebuilt bridge of the 1930s/1950s. The original bridge, even after rehabilitation, could only hold five people at a time, and its days were numbered.

Kootenai Falls Swinging bridge above the Kootenai River

The new bridge was completed in 2019 and is far superior to the original iterations. For the new bridge, the main load-bearing cables were moved above the deck, providing a useful handrail. It also allows the deck to move more, creating more intense swinging! Once you cross the bridge, there’s a quarter-mile loop trail with views of Kootenai Falls, but we didn’t do that portion. Instead, we headed back to the fork in the trail and continued towards Kootenai Falls.

KOOTENAI FALLS VIEWING AREA | THE TRAIL TO THE RIGHT

hike with kids Kootenai River

This part of the trail is a smidge shorter than the left side toward the bridge and is just under a quarter-mile. We stopped for a couple of pictures near the breathtaking Kootenai River before continuing toward the falls.

making faces on the Kootenai Falls trail

Such cooperation!! Ellie sometimes complains that I take too many pictures (like there’s such a thing as too many!), so to entice her to cooperate, I let her make faces for some of them.

view of Kootenai Falls from trail

We finally made it to the beautiful Kootenai Falls – the largest waterfall in Montana by volume and one of the widest waterfalls in the country!

Kootenai Falls with kids near Libby Montana

The Kootenai Falls viewpoint sits on this giant slab of rock. There are no guardrails and really no safety measures to speak of, so be VERY careful, especially with small children. It was sunny and dry when we visited, but I imagine this rock can get very slippery in inclement weather.

Kootenai Falls waterfall in Montana

TIPS FOR VISITING KOOTENAI FALLS & THE KOOTENAI SWINGING BRIDGE

    • Keep your eyes open around milepost 21 on Highway 2 between Troy and Libby, Montana, so that you don’t miss the small Kootenai Falls parking lot. It can fill up during the day so arriving early or late is your best bet to avoid other people.
    • It’s roughly 1/4 mile to the fork on the trail, and then 1/4 mile left to the Kootenai suspension bridge or 1/4 mile right to Kootenai Falls. If you hike to both Kootenai Falls and the Kootenai Swinging Bridge, it’s just over 1.5 miles roundtrip with 170 feet of elevation gain.
    • Bring plenty of water! The hike felt much longer than we expected – there are some seriously steep switchbacks on uneven ground.

Are you a waterfall fan?? What’s the best one that you’ve ever visited??

Looking for more outdoor fun in the Pacific Northwest? Check out these posts:

Things to Do in Seattle with Kids | Washington

Are you planning a trip to Seattle with kids? Looking for the best things to do while you explore the city? Then look no further; we’re covering it all! We’re sharing our favorite indoor and outdoor attractions, restaurants, and views so that you can make planning your next trip to Seattle a breeze.

pin for planning Seattle trip

Thank you so much to the Seattle Aquarium and Argosy Cruises for hosting us – we received complimentary admissions, but all opinions are honest and my own. This post may contain affiliate links and we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) if you choose to purchase when you click on the links. Thank you for supporting Love Dwells Here!!

Outdoor Things to Do Near Seattle with Kids

Seattle is an outdoor lover’s dream, and there are tons of options if you’re looking to stay outside.

Pike Place Market

Kids standing in front of Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market is one of the first places people think of when you say Seattle. This giant farmers market is open to the public every day of the week. While hours vary a bit seasonally, most stands are open from 9am-5pm, and restaurants are open considerably later. Parking is available in two parking garages on Western Ave and Alaskan Way, and early bird and evening specials are available. Go early in the day for fewer crowds while shopping and later in the evening after the market closes if you want pictures with minimal people (this one was taken at 845pm).

Pike Place Fish Seattle with kids

Pike Place Fish is where you can normally catch them throwing fish all day long – they’ve suspended the fish throwing due to Covid, but hopefully, it’s back again soon. This is the perfect place to pick up fresh seafood to cook at your vacation rental or order and ship it home to enjoy when you get back from your trip.

Fruit stand at Pike Place Public Market Seattle

We loved walking along the highstalls to see what people were selling. These year-round produce stands sell the highest quality produce around and, in non-COVID times, often hand out samples. The produce looked absolutely amazing, and they had the best variety I have ever seen.

Seattle Underground Tour

Underground tour Seattle with kids

Did you know that Seattle has an underground history? We did an underground tour with Beneath the Streets and while parts of the tour were in the tunnels underground, the bulk of the tour is actually outside. This one-hour tour is a can’t miss for the whole family. With group size limited to 20 for a more intimate experience, this walking tour covers four city blocks of Pioneer Square – the first neighborhood in Seattle. The tour covers the birth of the city, the architecture of Pioneer Square, and the history of the underground tunnels.

Freemont Troll

We didn’t have a chance to visit the Fremont Troll when we were in Seattle this summer, but it looks like a fun stop if you have the time. The troll is nestled under the Aurora Bridge and has been entertaining visitors since 1990. He’s 18 feet tall, made of rebar steel and 2 tons of ferroconcrete, and has a shiny metal eye. TIP: Use Troll’s Knoll Park in your GPS to get to the right spot.

Seattle Spheres

Amazon Seattle spheres with kids

We really enjoyed just wandering around the city and seeing the sights. While visiting the Seattle Spheres is technically an indoor activity if you go inside, they were closed when we visited, so we walked around and enjoyed them from the outside. The spheres are part of the Amazon headquarters campus and serve as an employee lounge and workspace. Limited public access is available on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month, and reservations are available 15 days in advance here.

Waterfall Garden Park
UPS Waterfall park Seattle with kids

Did you know that there is a park with a waterfall hidden in the city? Our tour guide on the underground tour mentioned it, so we knew we had to go check it out. Waterfall Garden Park was built in honor of all the men and women of the United Parcel Service (UPS). It’s an excellent place for some tranquility in the middle of the bustling city. There are tables and chairs as well as a few benches, so it’s the perfect place to bring a cup of coffee and just enjoy the sound of the falling water.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier things to do in Seattle with kids

There are three national parks close to Seattle: North Cascades, Olympic, and Mount Rainier but Mount Rainier is definitely the easiest to do on a day trip from the city. In fact, on a clear day, you can see the towering volcano from many places throughout the city. Mount Rainier National Park is about two hours from Seattle, so make sure to get an early start in the morning to beat the crowds if you’re only spending one day in the park.

Mount Rainier National Park Myrtle Falls Skyline Trail

We started at the Nisqually entrance – the most popular and only entrance that is open year-round. After doing a quick hike and eating an early lunch, we headed to the Paradise parking area and hopped onto the Skyline Trail. This 5.5-mile trail is one of the most popular in the park and is filled with views of waterfalls, glaciers, and flower-filled meadows (at least in July/August). We only did the half-mile trek to Myrtle Falls (and back, so 1 mile total) and it was a beautiful hike with amazing views!

Indoor Things to Do in Seattle with Kids

If you’re looking for indoor activities or for something to do on a rainy day, there’s plenty to do indoors in Seattle with kids.

Seattle Aquarium

visiting the Seattle aquarium with kids

The Seattle Aquarium is top-notch. We’ve visited many aquariums over the years, and this one is definitely towards the top of the list. Like many attractions nowadays, tickets are timed, and plan-ahead pricing is available, so make sure to book in advance. The aquarium is regularly open from 930am-6pm, but the last entry is at 5pm – and honestly, you need more than an hour to fully explore, so I recommend getting there no later than 3pm!

things to do in Seattle with kids

Ellie was completely fascinated by the Crashing Waves exhibit. Every 60 seconds, a wave comes through, and you can see how all of the fish and sea life that live in the intertidal zone react to the waves. It’s such a neat exhibit and one I’ve never seen before in another aquarium.

Seattle aquarium touch tanks

And the Life on the Edge touch tanks were phenomenal. So many different things to touch, and the naturalist staff was engaged and informative. We spent close to an hour learning about tide pool life and touching the anemones, sea urchins, and other tidepool inhabitants.

Seattle aquarium with kids underwater dome

But perhaps my favorite part of the Seattle Aquarium was the giant underwater dome. Lots of aquariums have tunnels that you can move through on a moving walkway, but this giant dome has benches on the perimeter so that you can just sit and take in the view of the Puget Sound sea life (including salmon, sharks, sturgeon, and rockfish) swimming all around you.

Museum of Flight

The Museum of Flight is the largest independent, nonprofit air and space museum in the world and brings the history of flight to life. We didn’t have time to visit when we were in Seattle, but it is absolutely a worthwhile stop, from what I’ve heard. Tickets are available online or on a walk-up basis, and docent-led tours and premium experiences are available. Plus, they participate in the ASTC Travel Passport Program, so you can get free admission if you’re a member at your local science center.

Museum of Pop Culture

The Museum of Pop Culture definitely deserves a few hours when you’re exploring Seattle, especially if you’re visiting with teens. I will say that Ellie was a bit bored, and the exhibits didn’t hold her attention very well, but the older kids all really enjoyed this museum. Tickets are timed and there are discounts for buying in advance, so make sure to do that if you’re interested in checking out MoPOP. They also have special exhibitions that require an additional ticket. Currently, their special exhibit is “Heroes & Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume” and includes original costumes worn in many popular Disney features.

Wings Over Washington 4D Ride

Wings over Washington flying ride must-do in Seattle

Located on Pier 57, the Wings Over Washington 4D Ride is very similar to Soarin’ at Disney World/Disney’s California Adventure. The flying theater ride takes you all over the state of Washington on an incredible aerial journey, though the journey is relatively short. You can purchase tickets online or in-person, and it’s right next to the Seattle Great Wheel (the tallest Ferris wheel on the West coast!) so you could do them at the same time if you’re interested.

Space Needle

We didn’t have the chance to visit the Space Needle on this trip but for many people, visiting this Seattle icon is a must to do in the city. Standing 605 feet tall, the Space Needle was built in 1962 for the World’s Fair and offers unsurpassed views of Seattle and the Puget Sound through floor-to-ceiling windows and an outdoor observation deck. Tickets are timed so make sure to purchase in advance if you want your choice of times. And I highly recommend getting the combo Space Needle + Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit tickets so that you can see both while you’re in town.

Where to Eat in Seattle with Kids

Seattle is a foodie paradise, and while there are MANY places to choose from and MANY that we did not have time to try, these were our favorites.

The Crab Pot

Sourdough and clam chowder where to eat in Seattle

Located on Pier 57, The Crab Pot is an easy stop if you’re in the area visiting the Seattle Aquarium or the Seattle Great Wheel. We started with the sourdough loaf and clam chowder, and both were delicious.

where to eat in seattle crab

These two fellas opted to split a pound of crab legs + red potatoes and corn on the cob, along with crab-stuffed salmon. Let me tell you; it was allllll delightful! Honestly, everyone at our table thoroughly enjoyed what they ordered. Happy faces and full bellies all around!

First Starbucks

outside the first Starbucks Pike Place Market

If you’re a coffee lover you can’t miss the first Starbucks, located in Pike Place Market. We waited in line for over an hour(!) for the chance to go inside, buy some exclusive merchandise, and get drinks from the first Starbucks.

kids inside the first Starbucks Pike Place Market Seattle

These coffee lovers all agreed that visiting the first Starbucks was definitely worth the long line! This isn’t one of those things that I would do on EVERY trip to Seattle, but for first-timers that are Starbucks fans, it was a fun experience.

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese

Beecher's Handmade Cheese Seattle Pike Place Market

Another favorite from our trip and recommended by a local friend, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, was a delicious option for lunch. The line wraps around the block but once you get inside service is quick. It can be challenging to find somewhere to sit, but we lucked out and found a few seats along the side where we could watch them making cheese. And my grilled cheese, complete with grilled chicken, arugula, and Mama Lil’s pepper mayo, was to die for.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery

Starbucks Reserve Roastery Seattle

Continuing with the coffee love, the first Starbucks Reserve Roastery is located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Another place with a long line -though we found it to be shorter towards closing time – is a can’t miss if you’re a coffee lover. They have exclusive drinks, including whiskey barrel-aged cold brew – which was a little strong for my taste, but it is VERY popular.

Pike Place Chowder

Line and ordering at Pike Place Chowder Seattle

Waiting in long lines to try all of the popular spots seemed like how we spent a lot of our time in Seattle. However, Pike Place Chowder, with a line down the block, was totally worth the wait, and offered some of the best chowder we had on our trip.

where to eat in Seattle with kids Pike Place Chowder

We ordered a couple of clam chowder bread bowls plus a smoked salmon chowder bread bowl to share, and it was perfect for a light lunch. There is some seating inside and outside the restaurant, but do NOT get a table until you have your food and you are ready to eat. This one is a must-do in Seattle if you’re a chowder fan!!

Best Views in Seattle

Kerry Park (especially at sunset)

Kerry Park things to do in Seattle with kids

If you’re looking for one of the most iconic views of the Seattle skyline, often with Mount Rainier in the distance, then Kerry Park is where it’s at. This small park is located on the south slope of Queen Anne Hill on West Highland between 2nd and 3rd Avenue West. Photographers and families, tourists and locals all flock to the park, especially near sunset, to take in the breathtaking views. Because of the crowds, parking can be difficult. We drove around for about 15 minutes before finding a spot to parallel park on a neighborhood street about a block away.

Gorgeous Seattle skyline and Mount Rainier views from Kerry Park

But seriously, this view was wholly worth the parking headache!! And if you walk down the stairs, there’s a great playground on Prospect Street. Plus, Meredith Grey’s house from Grey’s Anatomy is located about a block away at 303 W Comstock St if you want to drive by – we passed it several times, and I didn’t even realize that’s where it was until we got home.

Ballard Locks Cruise – Argosy Cruises

Ballard Chittenden Locks Seattle

Sometimes, when two bodies of water are connected with a canal, a system of locks is needed to move between the different water levels. Locks are like an elevator for ships. They’re necessary for Seattle because it was important to connect Lake Washington/Lake Union that sits at 20-22 feet above sea level, with the Puget Sound, roughly 20 feet lower. Additionally, the locks help to prevent the mixing of seawater from Puget Sound with the freshwater lakes.

We did the Ballard Locks Cruise with Argosy Cruises and set sail from Lake Union, went down the Lake Washington Ship Canal, into Salmon Bay, and then through the Ballard Locks (above), where we were lowered about 20 feet into the Puget Sound.

Smiling kids sailing in Puget Sound

Once through the locks, we were out in the more open waters of the Puget Sound. There’s a full-service bar plus various snacks available onboard, so we enjoyed popcorn and sodas as we sailed along.

View of Mount Rainier across Puget Sound

As we rounded the corner into Elliot Bay and back towards Seattle, Mount Rainer was visible!

view of Seattle skyline from Puget Sound

For one of the best views of the Seattle skyline, you have to head out onto the water and look back towards the city. The Ballard Locks Cruise with Argosy Cruises was a great way to learn about the history of Seattle and the creation of the locks while also getting those great skyline views. It is important to note that the Ballard Locks cruise departs from the AGC Marina in Lake Union and arrives at the Seattle waterfront – you are responsible for getting back to your vehicle at Lake Union. It’s about a 1.6 mile (hilly!) walk north to Lake Union from the waterfront, but we did it with no problems.

There’s truly so much for families to do, eat, and see in the Seattle area. We were there for four days and still didn’t have time to see it all. Have you been before?? Let me know your Seattle tips in the comments!!

Whitewater Rafting with Kids in Idaho | The River Company

When I figured out our route this summer and realized we’d be driving through central Idaho, I knew I had to look into whitewater rafting because it is HUGE in Idaho. In fact, Idaho is the self-proclaimed whitewater state! MANY outfitters are running various stretches of the Salmon, Snake, and Payette Rivers, but as soon as I saw the website for The River Company, I knew they were the outfitter for us! If you’re looking for the absolute BEST trip for whitewater rafting with kids in Idaho, then look no further than The River Company.

Thank you so much to The River Company for hosting us – we received a complimentary excursion, but all opinions are honest and my own. This post may contain affiliate links and we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) if you choose to purchase when you click on the links. Thank you for supporting Love Dwells Here!!

Gorgeous Sawtooth Mountains in Stanley, Idaho

Driving into Stanely, Idaho, from our hotel near Sun Valley, we were treated to amazing mountain views. My east coast kids repeatedly commented about how big the Sawtooth Range looks compared to our Blue Ridge Mountains back home.

Ready to go whitewater rafting in Stanley Idaho

The River Company prides itself on being perfect for first-timers and families with children. While the big kids have all gone whitewater rafting at the National Whitewater Center, and Christopher and Jacob tackled the Ocoee River in Tennessee a couple of years back, Ellie has never been rafting. Their website was so reassuring and honestly answered every question I had about the trip, plus offered a little extra humor. Highly recommend!! When we arrived and checked in, our guide got us set up with life jackets, and we waited for the rest of the guests to arrive.

Bus to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

The River Company headquarters is located in the small town of Stanley, Idaho, and check-in begins 15 minutes before your scheduled departure. Stanley is about an hour north of the Sun Valley/Ketchum area and three hours from Boise. After a 15-minute bus ride to the drop-in point and a quick safety lesson, it’s time to get out on the river.

whitewater rafting with kids in Idaho

Oh my gosh, these five were SO EXCITED to go rafting – especially Ellie! She wanted to sit in the back as close as possible to our guide, Caleb, to ensure she didn’t fall in, but she LOVED every minute of the trip!

whitewater rafting with kids Middle Fork of Salmon River

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River transverses some of the most beautiful parts of Central Idaho.

whitewater rafting with kids in Idaho

The first set of rapids that we encountered is the class 3, Piece of Cake – a fairly standard class 3 with moderate waves and straightforward maneuvering.

Piece of Cake Class III rapids Middle Fork of Salmon River Idaho with kids

There are photographers from The River Company on hand to take pictures as your raft moves through the Piece of Cake rapids – you can view and/or purchase photos when you get back to the headquarters after making your way down the river.

whitewater rafting with kids in Idaho

Our guide knew that we were looking for adventure, so I think our raft got a bit wetter than others that day. Early in the season, the rapids are more intense due to the higher water levels, and you will get wetter – but that just adds to the fun!

Class 3 whitewater rapids in Stanley Idaho

Piece of Cake was a great introduction to rapids for Ellie – and the whole crew.

whitewater rafting with kids in Idaho

After making it through Piece of Cake, there’s a calm stretch if you want to get in the water and float for a little bit. There is also a jumping rock where the tours pull over, and you can jump from a 10-foot rock into a section of the river that’s about 20 feet deep. Ben was the only one brave enough to jump in!

Middle Fork of the Salmon River

After a quick break, the river picks up again as you make your way through The Narrows, the other class 3 section of the river that you encounter on the Family Trip with Lunch.

The River Company Family Trip with Lunch hot lunch

Speaking of lunch, The River Company is the only outfitter rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River that offers a hot lunch!

The River Company Family Trip with Lunch hot lunch

And let me tell you our lunch was absolutely amazing!! We enjoyed perfectly cooked teriyaki chicken and rice, a flavorful Asian salad, pickled cucumbers, unlimited coffee, tea, and lemonade, and homemade brownies for dessert on the banks of the Salmon River. The kids were excited because they could get seconds – whitewater rafting definitely makes you work up an appetite!

whitewater rafting in Idaho with kids

After lunch it’s back into the rafts for a float down a fairly calm stretch of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

whitewater rafting with kids Middle Fork of Salmon River

Ben and Lexie both decided to hop into the river and float alongside our raft for a while. Getting them back in the raft was hilarious since neither could get themselves back in and required assistance from their big brothers + our trusty guide, Caleb.

Whitewater rafting with kids Salmon River

While the class III rapids were definitely the highlight of the journey, the calmer parts allowed us to learn about the surrounding areas from our guide. We talked about everything from the rapidly dwindling Chinook salmon population to the history of the Salmon River.

Idaho Whitewater Rafting Experiences with the River Company

The River Company whitewater rafting with kids Salmon River

In addition to the Family Trip with Lunch that we enjoyed, The River Company also offers several other rafting experiences from their base in Stanely, Idaho.

  • Scenic Float Trips – These 2-hour trips float through Stanley Basin, and while they have small riffles, there is no whitewater. This trip is great for all ages and is offered from May – September.
  • Straight Shot – This one is basically the Family Trip with Lunch but without lunch. Like the Family Trip with Lunch, this one is great for ages 4+ and runs from late June – August.
  • Class IV Rafting Adventures – Offered for a brief time in May – June, this one is for the 14+ crowd. Neoprene wetsuits, booties, jackets and helmets are all included.

whitewater rafting with kids

We had an absolutely fantastic time rafting the Salmon with The River Company, and everyone was all smiles. As we wrapped up the end of our excursion, the kids were already asking when we can go whitewater rafting again.

WHAT TO WEAR FOR WHITEWATER RAFTING

Perhaps the most important thing to consider when going whitewater rafting, in Idaho or elsewhere, is what to wear. While I practically live in flip-flops, they are not ideal for whitewater rafting unless you’re OK losing your shoes on the trip. We opted to wear our Teva sandals which stayed snuggly on our feet but provided solid soles for walking around the slippery river banks.

Feet in Teva Sandals

It’s important to wear clothing that will protect you from the sun and will dry quickly. The boys all wore their swimsuits – board shorts and rash guards – and that was perfect. The girls wore their swimsuits with a pair of shorts over them, but since they were cotton shorts, they just got wet and stayed wet. Neither complained because it was hot outside, but they would have been chilly if it had been colder outside. Also, make sure to pack (and use!) sunscreen since the sun will reflect off the water and you can end up burning quicker than normal.

Have you been whitewater rafting before?? The kids are begging to go again; do you have any river recommendations??

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