Backroads, the “active” travel company, has been on my radar for a couple of decades. I remember my friend Leslie coming back from her Backroad’s trips. She returned: positively glowing, more fit then usual and energized from the experience. A memory like that stays with you. And when you have friends that have been on 7 or 8 or even up to 16 trips – that would be Leslie – you figure the company must be onto something. And they are. Having just completed a 6 day 5 night Multi-sport Family Deluxe Camping trip with the company in Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons I can highly recommend the brand IF you like active travel that gets you off of the beaten and dreaded tourist path. If Backroads is not on your radar and active travel is your thing you might consider zooming in on this write up.
6 reasons to consider a Backroads trip with your group:
YOU WILL SEE MORE AND DO MORE ALL ON ROADS OR PATHS THAT ARE INDEED LESS TRAVELLED
This summer Yellowstone is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary. For years now the population of visitors of this magnificent piece of our country has been rapidly increasing. There is traffic and crowds, which is why travelling with a company that’s primary goal is to get you off of the main roads and onto the back roads is ideal. That said, if you are going out there on your own my advice would be this: get onto the trails and see the parts of the park that you want to see on foot as much as you can. 90% of people who travel do not get more then 100 yards from their car when on vacation. We saw evidence of this time and again on the trip. So I repeat. Wear comfortable shoes, pick a path, and head onto it. It won’t take you long to breakaway from the crowds.
The magic of being on the back roads that the company mastermind is that you see more and from multiple angles. It took the group a bit of time to catch on to the genius of how they moved us around. They use two support vans that come in super handy. We felt very lucky to arrive to Old Faithful on our bikes via a dirt trail that we had all to ourselves. Was a bit jarring to pull up to jam packed parking lots and the crowds assembled for Old Faithful to do her thing but a quick walk down a path enabled us to find our own front row seat on the other side of where the mass of humanity had gathered.
The next day we set off on a hike with the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone as our destination. Our group of 21 split into two groups with one guide each while the other guide went ahead in the van to meet up with us for snacks and lunch (you do not go hungry on a Backroads tour). The hike started in some meadows, went through a portion that looked like Mars with bubbling pools of gray mud, and then lead us to the mini Grand Canyon where we got our first glimpse of the magnificent lower falls of Yellowstone. What we did not know at the time was that the day would be almost a study of that waterfall enabling to zoom in and back out and see the falls from different angles as our feet pounded the path. It was a thorough and breathtaking tour that offered much more perspective on the upper falls and lower falls than we ever could have gotten by climbing in and out of a car. The adults hiked a total of 9 miles that day and, when on the trails, saw no more then 10 people. This multiple perspective occurred again when we kayaked next to the West Thumb Geyser Basin and then later in the day biked to and then hiked next to the very geyser’s we had seen that morning from our kayaks. And don’t get me started on the multiple ways we got to gawk at the Grand Tetons – hiking, biking, and a special Teton nightcap were just some of the ways we got to experience these breathtaking feats of nature.
SOME DISTANCE FROM THE KIDS DOES MAKE THE HEART GROW FONDER
On a Backroads Family trip there is part of each day when the kids are whisked away for their own special kid adventure. This could mean that they head out first in the van and you catch up to them by bicycle for a family pedal OR they hike with you a bit and then sneak off with the guides for a more kid friendly experience like a trip to the visitor center, a scavenger hunt, or an ice cream run. Having been on other group tours this divvying up the groups, at least once a day, by adults and kids, was unique to me. Most kids simply can’t cover the same amount of mileage on foot or on two wheels that adults can. While I love traveling with my kids it was a treat to not be tethered to the distances that only they could pull off (which was one of my concerns). And I really enjoyed the adult time on the trail and bike path – not once was I asked “how much further?” or “where’s the bathroom?” by my contemporaries thus allowing me to really take in nature and appreciate every moment of each activity or just breakaway and be on my own which is my most favorite way to experience nature. Alternatively all of the kids loved being with the other kids and they quickly commandeered one of the vans as the “kids ONLY van.” If you want to be with your kids every second of your time away together then this might be a deal breaker for you but I think, in the end, these little respites from one another made for a happier time all around when we were reunited excited to share our respective experiences. The guides made it very clear when they were in charge of the kids and when we were back in charge – the transition was seamless.
YOU CAN CHECK “TAKE THE KIDS CAMPING” OFF YOUR FAMILY LIST OF THINGS TO DO WITHOUT EVER GRAPPLING WITH A TENT
My kids had never been camping. At 11 year olds I thought it was time they checked this box. Turns out, many of the people on the trip had never been camping. Given that our tents (with cots) were already set up when we arrived to the campground and broken down after we left and that really good food magically arrived on a table with flowers at dinner and breakfast and we had access to a restroom facility with running water I am not sure they can exactly check that box off but perhaps shade it in about halfway. It’s not glamping but it is not exactly hard core camping either – something smack in the middle.
CAMPING =’s NO PLUGS SO NO SCREEN TIME THUS MORE PEOPLE TIME
Here’s what our group loved about the camping and, this is important, as it might not be your cup of tea. Camping is more social and social barriers get broken down that much more quickly. When you are camping you can’t hide in your hotel room between activities. The tent, while comfortable, is not a room at the Inn with comfy beds and luggage racks, so you use it more as a destination to stash your stuff and sleep. This means that your interaction with the group goes up. Exponentially. Your new friends will see you when you emerge from your tent in the morning complete with bed head, sleepy face, and morning breath – again breaking down social barriers much more quickly then presenting your more manicured self in the morning. And with nowhere to hide or no screens to hide behind the kids played a variety of card games, told stories and invented untold number of games. The adults, in turn, huddled around the picnic tables the second the appetizers magically emerged and shared stories, laughed, and relished seeing their kids not tethered to electronic devices.
FOOD TASTES BETTER WHEN ENJOYED IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS AFTER MULTIPLE ACTIVITIES
Every “home cooked” meal was eaten outdoors at a picnic table with a tablecloth – very casual and easy and food does taste better outside especially after being active. The camp crew worked wonders with their outdoor kitchen som
e highlights included: vegetable lasagna in a giant cast iron pan, burger night, Thai night, and Mexican night (with margaritas in a bowl that we ladled out). On the subject of adult beverages (cause I know some of you were wondering…)– they bring that too and are quite generous with the beer and white and red wine.
THE GUIDES AND YOUR FELLOW TRAVELERS ARE THE SECRET SAUCE THAT MAKES THE TRIP SO SPECIAL As I always say traveling is, of course, about the destinations that you see and fondly remember but what adds real texture to any voyage is the people you meet along way. This phenomenon is particularly acute on a group trip. On a Backroads trip you are thrust together with complete strangers for a family trip. Again, this might sound like someone’s worst nightmare but we love watching the group dynamics as the group morphs from awkward to cohesive in the span of about 24 hours. The Backroads guides set the tone. They are affable, energetic, knowledgeable and professional. They are the face of the company and the company takes it’s hiring and training very seriously. These guides are employees of the company not contracts for hire and they represent the ethic of the company very well.
While being a Backroads guide teaches one to turn out an amazing picnic being one is no easy picnic. One of the guests likened our engaging guides to ducks on the water: calm and easy going on the surface with legs paddling madly to keep us all afloat. In the span of a 30 minute period I observed one guide unload camp gear, re-load bike gear, have her face painted by a mob of eager tweens and then slice radishes for the evening repast. She did this all with a smile on her face. And as a traveller along on the trip one can’t help but smile back.
Our fellow travellers are not subject to this same careful vetting process but self select by choosing an “active” trip. Backroads calls itself the worlds #1 active travel company. “Go Active” is emblazoned on the water bottle the guides hand you at the start. By all landing together on a trip hailed as active you know you at least have one thing in company with every single person on the trip – a propensity for being active. And engaging in activities together immediately offers ample fodder for conversation. You just feel closer to a person knowing that you had to fight the same fierce wind as you made your way to Old Faithful and climbed the same seven mile hill together on your bikes. And active people tend to have a variety of interests and travel breadcrumbs in their past that everyone is eager to share. This makes for great storytelling by the fire. Our guides told us that our group was particularly cohesive and now via the wonders of social media I get to see these families from afar and watch their adorable children grow from my living room. On the last night we all decided a reunion tour was in order. Croatia 2018 here we come. And with the camping box lightly shaded we will be checking out the Casual Inn trip this time…!
For more dates, detailed itineraries, and destinations go to www.backroads.com.