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Au Sable Point Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI
Mom and dad get history, while Junior gets a shipwreck, enough to keep all parties smiling. Take the mellow former Coast Guard road 1.5 miles across the bluffy promenade overlooking Lake Superior to the wooded Au Sable East campsites ($20; reservation required) with views down to the shore. On the return, follow the beach 1.5 miles back to complete the loop.
From camp, visit the Au Sable lighthouse next-door or venture to the 1918 Gale Staples shipwreck, which pokes out of the sand. Older tots may want to climb on the exposed wooden beams, while the younger ones may simply work at excavating them.
Trailhead Hurricane River (46.665616, -86.166941) Permit None Season May to October Contact
Paluxy River, Dinosaur Valley State Park, TX
Kid wisdom: Dinosaurs make everything better. Long-necked Sauroposeidon and T.Rex-like Acrocanthosaurus used to roam through this area, stomping through the rocky area beneath today’s Paluxy River and leaving massive, 3-foot-long prints that fossilized into the limestone.
Set out on a 7.5-mile overnight scavenger hunt on the Cedar Brake Outer Loop Trail. Scan for tracks within the first mile (and wherever you cross the riverbed thereafter). Camp on the wooded ridge overlooking the brown water near mile 3 (reserve in advance) before dropping back down to the river for more sleuthing.
Trailhead Cedar Brake (32.249494, -97.812395) Permit None Season October to June Contact
Big Plateau, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND
Be honest: You pretend like you’re taking the kids to see bison as a favor to them, but, really, you want to see the 2,000-pound behemoths just as bad. A herd of some 300 of the massive animals grazes year-round on the aptly named Big Plateau, so make it the centerpiece of a 14-mile loop into Teddy’s country.
Day one, walk 8 miles through petrified forests (where kids can examine entire trees turned to stone) to camp on the plateau overlooking the maze of ragged, dusty-brown badlands. Next day, follow the plateau 6 miles to close the loop.
Trailhead Petrified Forest (46.995944, -103.604819) Permit Required (free) Season April to October Contact