Come summertime, many families are challenged with finding the best way to plan and spend vacation. We sat down with Zenovia Stephens, the founder and CEO of Black Kids Adventures, Inc., a non-profit organization based in Huntsville, Alabama, aiming to make sure Black and Brown families have equal access to outdoor opportunities and adventures. She shared some of her favorite ideas that you can do with your kids this summer, as well as practical tips for those embarking on their first outing. The first principle? "Start where you are," she advised. "If this is your first time getting ready to go out and do anything, get adventurous—ignore what you see other people doing and what you think you have to do, and do what works for your family." That means if you only do half a trail, that's ok. Don't have too many expectations, and instead focus on being prepared and safe so that you can enjoy the time together. "I like to tell people to also try to get their kids involved. Let them have some ownership in what you're going to do, because it always makes it more fun for them when they are part of the planning process." Other things to keep in mind: Be flexible and tell someone where you're going. Have a safety kit on hand, as well as sunscreen and bug repellent. (Snacks are also not a bad idea!) Here, Stephens shares five family-friendly ideas.
Going to a family camp is a great way to experience a variety of activities together in one convenient location. It's all about making memories together, instead of hearing about all the fun later. Wood chopping, fishing, and canoeing are all within the realm of possibilities.
"You're going away to camp with your kids and you're experiencing things with them and seeing them light up, not just hearing about it when they come home from camp," Stephens said. "It's a really fun way to just spend some time with your kids and see how they enjoy those activities."
Her family's experience at camps prompted Stephens to create a program at Black Kids Adventures, Inc. Now, twice a year, her organization welcomes families to Camp McDowell in Northern Alabama, which also hosts its own family camps.
For the adventurous types, try your hand at wakeboarding. Stephens and her family enjoy South Town Wake Park in Rock Hill, South Carolina, that has a setup made for families with younger children.
"I like it because it's not on a large lake off the back of a boat, which can be a little bit intimidating or scary," she said. "It almost reminds you of a zip line. You get on your wakeboard and it's attached to the line that's above the lake, operated by a machine. Someone there can stop it and pull you back in [if you fall], so I feel a lot safer than being on the back of a boat."
"Chasing waterfalls is one of my all-time favorite things, which kind of goes hand-in-hand with hiking, but you can also find waterfalls without hiking," Stephens said. Her family enjoys trips to DeSoto Falls, located in DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne, Alabama. The plus? No hiking required.
"You can literally just park in the parking lot, walk down the stairs, and see this massive waterfall—one of the largest in the state," she noted. "It's super family-friendly; they have rails up there to keep everyone safe. You can just sit there and look in wonder at this beautiful waterfall, and most kids seem to enjoy hearing that running water and just seeing what's happening over there."
"One of our favorite trails here in Huntsville is Alum Hollow Trail," Stephens shared. "We like that trail because when we get to the end of it, there is a cave. That's really exciting for the kids to be able to go down. It also has a beautiful waterfall too, which is dependent on the rain flow, but it's fun to get down there and see."
As you start planning your next hike, Stephens recommended All Trails, an app that provides both inspiration and information. With details on over 200,000 trails around the world, you can search by location and see the trail difficulty, type, elevation, and other characteristics.
Click here to read about kid-friendly trails in the South.
This is a great activity for all ages, allowing older kids independence while including the younger ones.
"Kids can actually just sit on the board while the parents paddle, so it's a really fun way to get your kids out on the water," Stephens said. "I love doing that with my oldest son specifically because he makes it fun. Just make sure you have a lifejacket [in case] they tip off so you can get them back up there."