By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

Got the backpacks, snacks and reusable water bottles?

Whatever you’ve got on tap for summer vacation, plan to spend plenty of time outdoors. With COVID-19 cases rising once again, it’s safer.

And it’s great for the kids — their mental as well as physical health, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. This at the time when everyone is concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of kids and teens.

Grizzly 99 and her four cubs sighted by road in Teton NP in 2020
Grizzly 99 and her four cubs sighted by road in Teton NP near Jackson WY in 2020

When children spent time in natural settings, they had less anger and aggression, pediatricians say. Impulse control is also better. This might be especially important when normal routines change for children, as has been the case during the pandemic. Stress and depression are lower for people who spend time in nature.

And if you are concerned about their school performance, playing outside promotes curiosity, creativity and critical thinking, research shows.

June, by the way, is designated as National Camping Month.

Another good point about outdoors-oriented trips; It doesn’t cost anything or much to explore a state park, take a hike or go on a bike ride. That’s good news as high gas prices are threatening summer vacation plans, forcing many to consider shorter trips closer to home, AAA suggests.

With our partners at Family Travel Forum, we have just published 51 Great Ideas for your Best Family Summer Vacation, including many focused on outdoor fun and adventure.

No worries if you haven’t planned yet. There are still plenty of options for your gang that won’t bust the budget, nor do you have to leave your pooch behind.

Here are eight ideas — for now or later:

Lake Shasta, Shasta County, California.
Lake Shasta, California.

Anchor your rented RV in one place to save gas and then explore that area. You might find an owner through RV Share who would set it up for you — and give you a beginner’s lesson in RVing. Kalispell, Montana, just 25 miles from Glacier National Park, is a great base camp. It’s on Golf Digest’s list of the country’s Top 50 Places to Play and with more than 500 lakes in the Flathead Valley there’s plenty of water fun, as well as hiking and biking.

“Even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, outdoor time and nature exploration are safe for most kids,” said pediatrician Dr. Danette Glassy, a spokesman for the Academy of Pediatrics. “And we know that the more time a child spends in nature, the more likely they are to grow up to be good stewards of our planet⁠ — an environmental win!”

ADIRONDACKS PARK. New York State’s largest park lies within a day’s drive for much of the Northeast and is one of the region’s most spectacular natural attractions. It’s the place to unplug, whether you want to kayak, canoe, bike or go birding to watch more than 100 species. Make sure to download an app like the free Audubon Bird Guide App to identify what you see and don’t forget the binoculars!

Share a new outdoor adventure on a white-water raft trip designed for families. You can enjoy the back country without the work of lugging your gear, setting up camp, cooking, and OARS offers a number of multi-day family rafting adventures, including destinations like Utah’s Gates of Lodore in Dinosaur National Monument and Oregon’s Rogue River. ROW Family Magic Rafting Tours are designed by a family-owned adventure tour operator and field-tested by their children, appropriate for kids as young as five with a “River Jester, who leads nature-oriented games and activities. Consider Idaho’s Salmon River Canyons.

Sunrise Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Sunrise Great Smoky Mountains National Park .

Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 lakes, bordering Canada and Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. Midwesterners and those who grew up in the Midwest come here to water ski, fish, canoe, kayak and swim. When my kids were small, we had many memorable summer trips to Ludlow’s Island Resort, run by the fourth generation of the same family on a private island in Lake Vermillion. Minnesota has the longest continuously paved rail-trail in the country, the 115-mile Paul Bunyan State Trail and more than 4,000 miles of paved biking paths.

House-boating is not only super laid-back but a great way to distance yourself from summer crowds. Houseboats have plenty of room, too, in case your teen wants to bring a friend. An average houseboat is similar to a Winnebago RV mounted on twin pontoons. Consider Lake Shasta in Redding, California. Clickandboat is like an Airbnb for boaters who can deal directly with owners.

SAUGATUCK, MICHIGAN. Just a three-hour trip from Chicago, Detroit or Indianapolis, this small town is waterfront to the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan. A popular and inclusive community, especially with LGBTQ families, Saugatuck’s gorgeous sand beaches and unusual sand dunes shaded by grass and low trees make it West Michigan’s favorite playground. Try the water activities, beautiful hiking terrain and trails ideal for social distancing. The Saugatuck Dune Rides are also perfect for families – all can go in one dune buggy to explore the dunes in a fun way.

Pigeon Forge and Sevierville Tennessee
Pigeon Forge and Sevierville Tennessee Drone Aerial.

The Smoky Mountains is the birthplace of Dolly Parton (and Dollywood). It also houses the charming tri-cities of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg set amongst the backdrop of the nation’s number one visited National Park – Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Gatlinburg is an ideal base for families, especially on the heels of the pandemic, because the city is built around family fun. Regional adventure parks, a world-class aquarium, arts and crafts activities in the nearby crafts district, festivals, restaurants and music venues are in the heart of the great outdoors. Check out my book “The Kid’s Guide to the Great Smoky Mountains”.

Summer in Ski Country is glorious whether you choose Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Park City Utah, Stowe, Vermont, or Jackson Hole, Wyoming. There are mountains to conquer — and mountain biking to learn; farmer’s markets, ziplines, hikes amid fields of wildflowers, festivals, free concerts and rodeos, even hot springs. And there are plenty of places to stay with your pooch.! It’s true that many come to mountain towns to ski and stay because of the summers.

Happy summer!

(For more Taking the Kids, visit and also follow TakingTheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The Kid’s Guide to Philadelphia and The Kid’s Guide to Camping are the latest in a series of 14 books for kid travelers published by Eileen.)

©2022 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.