Hike, bike, swim and raft your way around the world with Austin Adventures, on a soft adventure with ages 7+ or on a more challenging trip with teens.
They call it “Big Sky Country,” and just one day of hiking in the mountains gave us proof that this was no misnomer. A couple of days of our Austin Adventures were spent in Montana’s Paradise Valley, and again this was proof that Montanans choose their names wisely.
Having been in the business of luxury multi-sport vacations for more than 20 years, Austin Adventures (formerly Austin-Lehman Adventures) seems to have perfected the art of active travel. Because their trips are restricted to 12 guests (up to 18 on family trips), personalized attention is a specialty. With a perfect blend of invigorating activities such as biking, hiking, and rafting, as well as first class dining and accommodations, Austin Adventures gave us one of our most memorable trips ever.
A Wide Range of Choices
The most difficult part of this vacation was deciding which itinerary to take, for the selections are as inviting as they are numerous, with a variety of trips in a number of different states including Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, as well trips in Canada, Costa Rica, Belize and Mexico. Recently introduced trips include south-of-the-border programs to such places as Patagonia in Chile, the Galapagos in Ecuador, Machu Picchu in Peru and Mexico’s Yucatan, plus an all-new trip to Hawaii’s garden isle — Kaua’i — appropriate for adults and/or families with children above age 16, as our trip was.
The company also offers different Family Adventures in Montana and Wyoming, all with some great hiking, biking, rafting and horseback riding opportunities, plus visits to Yellowstone National Park, with a schedule similar to ours. Four other current trips are also designated family adventures, designed to appeal to families with children ages 7-years and older. The family trips have the flexibility of providing quality time for parents and children to be together, as well as time apart for adult and child-specific activities. Austin Adventures can also provide you with tag-along bikes for your smaller ones.
The choices for each season are varied and have ranged from a Kenai Peninsula Family Adventure to Alaska to explore the Kenai by train, small ship, sea kayak, mountain bike and foot; to the Yosemite National Park Family Adventure which includes hiking through forests of huge redwoods, rafting the Class II – III Merced River Canyon with a few stops at some classic swimming holes, and a chance to experience a little of what draws many thrill-seekers to Yosemite – rock climbing with professional instructors, learning the basic techniques of belaying and rappelling. Some trips accept children as young as 5-years.
Concern For Your Comfort
Our Austin Adventure was a five-night, six-day action vacation jammed with activities, beautiful scenery, great eating and fun time meeting new friends. Don’t let the idea of an “adventure vacation” scare you, however. Yes, you should be reasonably fit for the 24-mile bike ride or the six-mile hike at 10,000-feet altitude. But this tour company has planned everything for this trip so that a more strenuous day is followed by a less active one. And any time that someone has had enough, say after 20 miles of biking, he or she can just pull over to the side of the road and wait for the van to pick him or her up.
Our trip took us to Big Sky, Montana for two nights, one night in Yellowstone National Park, and the final two nights at Chico Hot Springs Resort in Pray, Montana. Activities on our trip included biking, hiking, horseback riding and whitewater rafting. Another thing not to be confused by is the idea that an “adventure” vacation calls for some (in Mark Twain’s words) “roughing it.” Both are misnomers. There wasn’t anything rough about our accommodations or meals, which were nothing short of superb.
Montana’s Big Skies & Gorgeous Scenery
Our first two nights were spent at the Rainbow Ranch, and again, don’t let the word “ranch” throw you. Our room, done in modern western design with hand-crafted lodgepole beds, was wonderful and had a fireplace (which we used the first night as the temperatures dipped into the high 50’s).
A small deck overlooked a world-class trout stream, the Gallatin River, where portions of “A River Runs Through It” were filmed. We read somewhere in the ranch’s literature that the resort was so named because of the oft-seen double rainbows that appear over the river. And wouldn’t you know it…
Our evening meal was at the ranch’s restaurant, and the quality of the cuisine and service would rival any restaurant that we have experienced. It was clear from all aspects of the trip that Austin Adventures is dedicated to providing nothing but a top-shelf experience. At first look a trip may appear to be expensive, but our experience, as well as those of everyone else on our trip, was that the trip was worth the price. One woman on our trip was making her third excursion with the company.
Great Guides Make It Even Better
Our tour was comprised of 13 guests and the two tour guides, Travis and Callie. If the rest of their tour guides are anywhere near as friendly, helpful, flexible, knowledgeable, and attentive as Travis and Callie, then those Austin Adventures will surely measure up to ours.
In addition to outfitting us for our biking, providing a wealth of information about the natural environment, and attending to all of our needs (such as the little “potty pack” that came in handy for some on our all-day hike), Travis and Callie prepared each of our lunches as well as numerous snacks — all perfectly timed at the end of a hike or long bike ride. These lunches and snacks were more like feasts. (At least we got a lot of exercise to work off the calories.)
The guides thought of everything; for instance, after finishing our lunch at the end of a hike to the top of Beehive Basin, Travis discreetly filled a silver platter with fresh and dried fruit and Mint Milano cookies and served us as we reclined in the sun overlooking an alpine lake. What a touch!
Our day in Yellowstone was spent viewing all the major attractions such as the Lower Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the spectacular Lower Falls. We stayed at the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, a splendid jewel with a picturesque setting on Yellowstone Lake.
As we exited the park on the fourth day, we enjoyed an interesting morning activity. Just before the North Entrance, near Mammoth Hot Springs, Callie and Travis took us to what they call the “Boiling River.” Actually this is a spot in the Gardiner River where some hot springs flow down the hillside and into the river creating a “natural” hot tub. It would be hard to imagine a more relaxing time then soaking in nature’s own hot tub while gazing up at the sky and surrounding mountains.
Our relaxing soak in the Boiling River was followed by an exciting raft ride on the Yellowstone River. We experienced some Class II and Class III rapids — nothing that was going to put any of us in peril of drowning, but nevertheless a lot of fun. This was evident by all the laughter that accompanied our trip.
After the raft trip and a riverside pizza lunch arranged by Callie, we enjoyed an invigorating 15-mile bike ride to Chico Hot Springs, where we spent our last two nights. This rustic-chic inn, famous for its mineral hot-spring-fed pools, was loaded with character and had exceptional gourmet dining.
Day Five included a horseback ride from the Flying Diamond Ranch which took us high into the Absaroka Mountains with spectacular views of Paradise Valley, the site for the film “The Horse Whisperer.” By this time it was quite evident to us why Montana is called “The Last Best Place.” Our last night’s meal was in the resort’s private wine room, which gave us all a chance to spend some final time together as a group.
Ready to Start All Over Again
Actually, while we were all soaking in the Boiling River, we discussed our feelings about the trip. Even at the risk of sounding like something out of the catalogue, everyone of us felt that there was no way to improve the trip; it was that enjoyable.
Believe it or not, you may have to start planning your adventure vacation a year in advance for a spring, summer (the busiest season for family trips) or fall departure. Contact your travel agent, log on to Austin Adventures or call for a catalogue 800/575-1540 and you can begin planning, and enjoy anticipating, the trip that is right for you.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.