Family Togetherness On Exciting Holidays

Discovery, participation, spontaneity . . . all qualities that bring a spirit of adventure to family vacations.

In America there are many ways to include adventurous activities in holiday plans. Your family can learn to ride horseback, canoe a river, sail a boat. Or pack into spectacular mountains by horse, hike with llamas, experience wilderness camping for the first time and absorb the awesome beauty of a majestic canyon.

As for adventure abroad, you can even take young children trekking in Nepal, cruising on canals in England or riding a safari vehicle in Kenya. For all but the very youngest, consider exploring the Galapagos Islands or touring Down Under in a motor home.

An astonishing number of special services offer rich and varied experiences for all ages. Here are 10 recommendations for out-of-the-ordinary vacations, both in America and abroad.

Hiking With Llamas. The key to family camping in spectacular wilderness areas used to be the ability to tote your own food and equipment in a backpack. Now youngsters and oldsters alike who do not carry backpacks can walk into these scenic regions while friendly llamas carry their gear.

The whole idea is a natural for families . . . as well as llamas. These gentle, intelligent creatures have inherited remarkable mountaineering skills from ancestors who for centuries transported goods and military supplies for the Incas from sea level to Andean passes at 16,000 feet. Along with their toting skills, the docile animals are both curious and lovable, and they often establish a close bond with the hikers who lead them.

Stephen Biggs, who first recognized the ability of llamas to assist and entertain hikers, raises and trains the woolly, quick-learning beasts at Mt. Shasta in Northern California.

In that area you'll experience alpine meadows, riverbeds with deep bathing pools, glaciated ridges, grand views of Mt. Shasta, sunsets you'll never forget, and lush lakes with self-sustaining populations of brook, brown and rainbow trout. Most hikes are rated easy to moderate.

Mt. Shasta and other nearby towns are the meeting points for three- and five-day trips into the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Trinity Alps regions. Both venues offer magnificent views, well-organized camping and companionable four-legged trail mates. Trips are scheduled from mid-June to mid-September.

Rates for three-day trips, Friday to Sunday, of easy to moderate modes: $350 per adult, $315 for children up to 12 years. For five-day trips, Monday to Friday, moderate to strenuous: $500 per adult, $450 per child up to 12 years.

Paddling and Poling. The St. Croix River, which marks part of the northern border of Maine with Canada, has lots of easy white water and exceptionally beautiful campsites with river vistas. This combination makes it ideal for family canoe trips.

Martin Brown, an expert canoeist who also offers excursions in Texas and the Yukon, considers the St. Croix the best of all family canoe trips.

Brown schedules small groups on the river every Sunday through Friday, this year from May 21 until Sept. 3, and offers either shorter or longer custom trips to private parties who want to canoe the river according to plans developed especially for them.

Canoeing the St. Croix becomes a traveling classroom. Brown's lessons include the forgotten art of poling. "Our system of coaching can turn almost anyone into a strong, graceful, solo canoeist with both pole and paddle in just a few days," he says. Brown's guides are experienced professionals.

The headquarters of Martin's company, Sunrise County Canoe Expeditions, is on Cathance Lake, a two-hour drive from the Bangor airport. Van service goes to the lake every day at 4 p.m. ($10 per person); float plane transport can also be arranged.

You arrive at camp on Saturday in time for a welcoming feast that may start with baked stuffed clams, steamers and barbecued chicken, and end with blueberry cake. There's no scrimping on menus and no packaged food on these trips; fresh baking takes place at every meal, and wine, candles and flowers at campsite dinners.

Six-day trips are open for up to 12 canoeists. Family rates are $565 per adult and $377 for children 7 to 21.

Back at the Ranch. When a 3-year-old rides horseback at the Averills' Flathead Lake Ranch, carefully held on the saddle in front of a kindly wrangler, it's a moment to be remembered. At 6 years, children receive horseback instruction and go on real trail rides.

There are fast rides and slow rides, half-day and all-day rides, breakfast rides, evening rides and dusty rides.

Every morning at 6 the more enthusiastic kids are down at the barn brushing and saddling the horses and helping the wrangler with the day's chores.

Some children, along with some parents, will be out in the arena later trying to rope cattle. The Averills are basically a cowboy family that loves rodeo competition and enjoys teaching horsemanship and cowboy skills.

The ranch is in the Rocky Mountains of northwest Montana, just south of Glacier National Park. With 2,000 acres bordering 30-mile-long Flathead Lake, it was inevitable that water sports would vie with riding as a favorite activity.

You learn to sail on a small fleet of 14-foot boats or on the 1929 Q Class racing sloop. A cruiser provides transport down the lake to Wild Horse Island for a day of observing its horses, donkeys and bighorn sheep.

Or you cruise to the put-in on the Lower Fork of the Flathead River for a day of rafting. Powerboats tow you on water skis while you practice your skills, and Boogie boards help young ones who need to gain confidence before trying the skis.

Even with all this going on at the ranch, many guests take a day to drive to Glacier National Park (45 minutes away) and over Going-to-the-Sun Highway to the top of Logan Pass.

Other sorties in the area are made by plane--up to Spotted Bear Wilderness for fly fishing, or for rafting back on the Swan River. Hikers go into Jewel Basin, a Primitive Area just five miles from the ranch; it's like hiking in Glacier. And back at the ranch, four professionally surfaced tennis courts absorb some guests' time.

With unusually comfortable accommodations for up to 100 guests, Flathead Lake Ranch is open from the end of May to early September at all-inclusive rates of $989 a week per adult, double occupancy, $797 for teens, $671 for ages 4 to 12 and $96 under 4 years.

Cruising British Canals. The Brits offer a holiday of cruising old canals that were used 200 years ago for floating harvests to market. Today they consider canal boats the biggest thing in the Isles for family outings. UK Waterway Holidays (represented by Ambassador Travel in Ft. Collins, Colo.) offers more than 150 family- or company-owned boats that can be booked by vacationers.

The network of canals in England, Wales and Scotland opens 1,500 miles of waterways, with two categories of boats for cruising: hotel boats, which offer cabins and meals for up to 12 guests (who must be 15 or older), and self-skippered boats. At a top speed of 4 m.p.h., you cruise about 10 to 15 miles a day.

Reasonably energetic and agile people discover how easy it is to skipper a boat. The steering is usually by a simple tiller, and a route-planner map keeps you from getting lost. Villagers direct you to special features along the way, and a guidebook describes the best places to stop for meals or where to buy food to cook in the galley.

The boats are equipped with everything needed in the kitchen, bathroom and cabins. Other provisions include heat, electric power, wet-weather gear, lockable external doors, TV and/or radio, and safety equipment.

A basic rule is to choose a boat that accommodates two more than are in your party; that way you won't have to convert the dinette to a double bed.

Boats have from two to 12 berths. Boatyards are established at more than 30 points in the canal network. Tour organizers will either pick up passengers at nearby rail stations or advise them on taxi fares.

As an extra service, they'll go to market for your initial grocery list and stow it in the galley, ready for your arrival.

For children, the more locks the better. They walk the towpaths and help to work the locks or swing bridges. Another highlight is biking at some of the ports. But just cruising along is untiring fun for all.

Rates vary according to season and size of boat. For a family of four, the average weekly rate for a six-berth, self-skippered boat in high season, June 23 to Aug. 31, is $1,408.

Riding and Rafting. From the Tavaputs Ranch on a 9,100-foot plateau in Utah, you gaze out upon red-rock canyons and far peaks of the Uinta Mountains and Colorado Rockies.

The ranch borders the Green River, and from the canyon rim you see the river flowing through Desolation Canyon, 5,000 feet below. This is the locale for an outstanding combination riding and rafting trip, provided by Western River Expeditions of Utah.

It starts with a scenic charter flight from Grand Junction, Colo., to the landing strip at Tavaputs Ranch, where four generations of the Wilcox family have raised cattle. You explore mountain overlooks and slickrock canyons on horseback and in four-wheel-drive vehicles. This is an area where Butch Cassidy once rode. He was an acquaintance of Wilcox forbears.

Meals are memorable, with cowboys and guests sharing family-size tables. After dinner there's music, reading and relaxing around the lodge's big stone fireplace.

On day 3 your pilot flies in to transport you to the Sand Wash put-in point for a few days of rafting and camping on the Green River. The scenes change constantly as you wind through the colorful canyon in neoprene rafts that carry up to seven passengers plus a boatman.

Six- and seven-day expeditions include two nights at Tavaputs Ranch, three or four nights (depending on dates) on the river, plus charter flights, bus transport, all meals and activities, at $845 per adult and $495 for 7- to 17-year-olds. Departures are scheduled for June 4, 12, 19 and 28, July 6, 14 and 21, and Aug. 7 and 15.

Horsepacking in the Canadian Rockies. What better way for an unhurried look at the glory and grandeur of the Canadian Rockies than from the back of a sure-footed, gentle horse? Drink in the magnificence of snowcapped mountains with glaciers and waterfalls and pine-circled lakes deep in hidden valleys.

It's exciting to penetrate this spectacular wilderness, and you don't have to be an experienced rider. Even beginners can make it with the competent help of mountain guides, although it's not a trip for children under 10.

Among the guides who take visitors into this majestic area are the McKenzies, a family team of specialists who work together to make you feel at home in the high country.

Visitors are picked up at the Calgary airport and driven to a town called Rocky Mountain House. Overnight accommodations are at Walking Eagle Inn. Next day you drive to the trail head and mount up for six days of riding and camping. It's "superb, breathtaking, unbelievable," according to one trekker.

The first night's camp is along the trail. Then you ride on to the McKenzies' base camp at Jobs Lake for three days of riding and exploring.

These six-day excursions are scheduled to start every Monday from the last week of June to the last week of August, at a rate of $795 Canadian per rider. The rate includes Calgary pickup and return, but not overnight at the Walking Eagle.

Family Trek in Nepal. Take the children trekking in Nepal? Why not? The younger ones will soon be playing okhar kuti, gatthi and kamakuti with Nepalese youngsters--variations of hopscotch, jacks and jump rope. In Nepal the family unit is of prime importance, and a trekking family receives a special welcome all along the way.

A Massachusetts-based company, Above the Clouds, keeps children in mind in planning both the menu and the route for a 17-day trek. Porters carry not only your gear but small children, and infants ride in safe, comfortable baby backpacks.

Starting in Katmandu you drive to Gorkha to start 8 days of trekking in elevations of 2,000 to 4,500 feet, with superb close views of the Annapurna, Himalchuli and Ganesh Himel massifs. Most days the treks are easy, and the more strenuous trips are limited to half-days. Nights are spent in villages, with ample time to rest and visit with the Nepalese (with the help of your bilingual guides).

Few trekkers have used this route, so contact with the people in secluded villages is all the more authentic.

The 17-day Family Trek is scheduled to leave the United States Dec. 23, and Feb. 10 and June 23, 1990. The rate (not including air) is $1,400 per adult, $800 for ages 8 to 15, $700 for ages 2 to 7 and $400 under 2 years.

An Enchanted Expedition. Stroll the beach with a 200-year-old tortoise. Talk with a fur seal. Play in the surf with a sea lion. Make friends with a blue-footed booby. Smile at an iguana. No, this is neither a set for "Sesame Street" or a scene from "Alice in Wonderland." That's what travelers do when they visit the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.

Start with a flight from Los Angeles to Quito in Ecuador, and from there to the Baltra airstrip in these enchanted islands. Board a motor sailer, schooner or ketch carrying from four to 10 passengers and several crew. This is your home for a week of sailing and exploring the volcanic islands, where quite unself-conscious animals and birds observe you . . . and vice versa.

Each yacht is staffed by experienced seamen, a cook and an expert American or English naturalist guide, trained and certified by the Darwin Research Station in Academy Bay. Most inter-island sailing is accomplished at night, so days are free for shore visits and, of course, for swimming and snorkeling. These are not luxury cruises, but bunks are adequate and food good and plentiful.

Wilderness Travel, a California company, has scheduled departures to the Galapagos on May 22, June 12 and 26, July 10 and 24, Aug. 14 and Dec. 18. Groups consist of up to 10 participants 14 years and older, except for the July 10 trip, which is designated specifically for families with kids 5 and older.

The rate for 11 days, including air fare from Los Angeles, the rate is $2,690 per adult, $2,390 for children 5 to 11.

Family Safari in Kenya. Imagine seeing a lion, elephant, buffalo, cheetah or leopard from your safari vehicle, all in the same day in Kenya's Amboseli National Park. In succeeding days you can become familiar with many other species--giant hogs, giraffe, eland, zebra, rhino and hippo, to name a few.

Whether you are 4, 44 or 84, each member of the family can find excitement in the sights and sounds of game viewing, the sheer beauty of this land and the easy life at bush camp.

Safari hands at tented camps provide services that include cooking, doing laundry, making beds and bringing hot water for showers.

Starting from New York, you stop in Geneva before flying on to Nairobi. The 18-day itinerary includes several days at Amboseli National Park, and overnight at the famous Treetops in Aberdare National Park, where you have a close look at animals who visit the flood-lit salt lick after dark.

The second week takes you to Lewa Downs and an opportunity to approach game on foot and on horseback. Then it's on to Lake Naivasha with its thousands of birds, and to the Masai Mara Game Reserve. From Nairobi, the flight home is broken by a brief stop in Zurich.

Special family departures are scheduled July 10 and Aug. 7, though additional departures accept family bookings. The land cost for adults is $5,200, and for children under 12 sharing tents with parents, about $3,400.

On Your Own in a Motor Home. Driving and camping is a favorite pastime for family travel in America. As a luxurious counterpart Down Under, exploring the thousand miles from north to south in New Zealand, a motor home adjusts to spontaneous planning, stopping and going as you wish. There are good roads and light traffic, and numerous options for overnights at comfortable hotels, motels, guest farms and camping parks.

Or just pull off for the night beside a lake or stream. A 3 1/2-hour ferry ride takes you and your vehicle across Queen Charlotte Sound between the North and South Islands.

There's so much to discover in New Zealand. Cruise the Bay of Islands in a catamaran. Visit the glowworm caves, thermal geysers, settlements of the Maoris, sheep farms, vineyards and magnificent beaches. Go skiing or trout fishing. Ride a jet boat through waterways only four inches deep.

Trek (in New Zealand it's tramp ) along an excellent network of paths, trails and huts. You can raft or canoe down the Waitroa River, explore the back country on horseback, soar over scenic Milford Sound in a small plane or land by ski plane on the rugged slopes of Tasman Glacier.

From June to mid-October, daily rates are $117 for a six-berth motor home and $70 for three berths, plus insurance and tax. Rates during the U.S. winter months (New Zealand's summer) are higher.

Mount Cook Line provides a complete "travelpak" with discounts for its motor-home customers as well as offering other travel services and help in planning an itinerary.

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Reservations for the trips described here also may be made through the following outfitters that operate these and other adventure vacations:

Hiking with Llamas: Shasta Llamas Ltd., P.O. Box 1137, Mt. Shasta, Calif. 96067, (916) 926-3959.

Paddling and Poling: Sunrise County Canoe Expeditions Inc., Cathance Lake, Grove Post, Me. 04638, (207) 454-7708.

Back at the Ranch: Flathead Lake Ranch, Bigfork, Mont. 59911, (406) 837-4391.

Cruising British Canals: Ambassador Travel, 3030 S. College Ave., Ft. Collins, Colo. 80525, toll-free (800) 234-8040 or (303) 223-6771.

Riding and Rafting: Western River Expeditions, 7258 Racquet Club Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah 84121, (800) 453-7450 or (801) 942-6669.

Horsepacking in the Canadian Rockies: McKenzies' Trails West, Box 971, Rocky Mountain House, Alta., Canada T0M 170, (403) 845-6708.

Family Trek in Nepal: Above the Clouds, P.O. Box 398 V, Worcester, Mass. 01602, (800) 233-4499 or (617) 799-449.

An Enchanted Expedition: Wilderness Travel, 801 Allston Way, Berkeley, Calif. 94710, (800) 247-6700 or (415) 548-0420.

Family Safari in Kenya: Special Expeditions, 720 Fifth Ave., New York 10019, (800) 762-0003 or (212) 765-7740.

On Your Own in a Motor Home: Mount Cook Line, 9841 Airport Blvd., Suite 904, Los Angeles 90045, (800) 468-2665 or (213) 649-6185.

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