Wow! I’ve been to Montana and Yellowstone previously, but when my wife and I decided to take our two boys to see one of the natural wonders of America we chose to go on tour with Austin Lehman. We’d never gone on vacation with a tour and were a little apprehensive. The trip exceeded our wildest expectations. Anyone can drive through Montana and Yellowstone and appreciate the grandeur of the area. However, making and keeping 15 and 8 year old boys happy and on the edge of their seats the entire time takes great talent and skill. James, Pam, and Heather managed to pleasantly surprise everyone every day. Our trip involved four different families with kids aged 8 through 16. The group dynamic was tremendous! The kids quickly claimed one of our two vans for themselves. Leaving the adults to enjoy each others company as well as learn from our guides. We were all astounded and surprised with our own children. They acted like they’d known each other for years and were all a part of one family. Tears were shed when we said our good-byes.
James, Pam, and Heather possess boundless energy and intimate knowledge of the area. Our guides managed to show us not only the well-known sights but also areas we would have never found on our own. The entire trip was well thought out and went off without a hitch. If they ever hit a snag the backup to the backup plan was equally fantastic. When we hit a green light on the drive from the airport, my son remarked that James must have planned the change of the light. The level of professionalism throughout our trip was astounding. Our experience was second to none. During the trip we contacted family and friends to urge them to book a trip with Austin Lehman. We hope our friends and family get to experience the trip of a lifetime, just like we did. My family came home with unforgettable memories, a new appreciation for the outdoors, and new friends that we hope to see soon. We all learned a great deal about the area, each other, and ourselves.
They aren’t kidding when they say the toughest part of the trip is going home.
Name: Robert W.
This past July, my family- myself, my husband and our daughters ages 5 & 7, took our first family adventure vacation- the Montana Family Adventure. To say it was life-changing really isn’t far off. But beyond that, our terrific guides- Patrick, James and John- taught us quite a few things… About Montana, about nature and about ourselves.
If you’re lost in the woods, you should start liken’ the lichen
Not that we were in any danger of going hungry (see below), Patrick gave us all a nature lesson the first day about lichen, an edible fungus that, though not the most tasty of substances, is filled with nutrients. Just in case you’re lost in the woods without food. Of course, he also tricked us with mountain goat poo, it was a friendly prank, which tasted surprisingly like carob.
There are no poisonous snakes in western Montana
To say I don’t like snakes would be an understatement. I am terrified of them. So I was (very) nervous about hiking through the wilds of Yellowstone. In fact, one of my first questions was about snakes. Patrick immediately put my fears to rest when he told us that western Montana isn’t warm enough for poisonous snakes. (Yea!)
Don’t run from a griz
“Get your kids and start walking slowly backward towards the vans,” Patrick said.
We had stopped at a pullout- along with at least a dozen other people- due to a Grizzly sighting. As we stood safely at the edge of the road, hoping for a glimpse, others were walking up and over the hill to get an “up close and personal” look. And then Patrick saw one of the men come running back over the hill.
“I was sure we would see an attack,” Patrick told me later. “You never run from a Griz, they will chase you.” So, what should you do? Apparently, you slowly back away, hoping the bear is bluffing. If he does charge, curl in a ball and play dead. (Yeah, I think my “flight” instinct would overrule that, too!)
There’s flat… and then there’s “Montana flat”
We were prepared for most of our hikes. But there were a couple that we were told were flat. Of course, it was our guide John who told us that. What we didn’t take into consideration was that John had climbed Mount Everest, so a somewhat challenging hike to us, was flat to him. About half way through the week we knew to ask, “Is it really flat, or is it Montana flat?” meaning no really steep parts but still uphill.
Humans, though the most intelligent species on the planet, can be incredibly dumb
Not including the bear incident, we witnessed, first hand, the ignorance of people in the wild. I was sure we would see a young man get gored by a buffalo. Tip: stay in your car when a herd is crossing the road. We also saw entire families creeping way too close to Black Bear and quite a few adults walking within feet of a Bull Elk so they could get good photos with their iPhones.
The tales our guides shared put these to shame- and they didn’t end so well. “People can do really stupid things here,” James said. “It’s like they think the animals are tame and the rangers let them out every day for the tourists to see.”
It is possible to be pampered at 12,000 feet when you’re covered in dust
When you’re covered head to toe in dust, some of which is turning to cakey mud as rivulets of sweat trickle down your body, it’s difficult to imagine feeling pampered. And then your guides bring out silver trays of iced coffee. Or they bring you wet wipes followed by sliced apples with caramel dipping sauce. Not only do you feel pampered, but you are so thankful you didn’t have to carry it up yourself!
The Pied Piper is real
Though he wasn’t carrying pipes, Patrick managed to charm all the children on our tour. Wherever he was, they wanted to be. By mid-week the adults had termed him “the Pied Piper” as we knew that if our children weren’t with us, they would be near him.
Sometimes you have to work hard to see magnificence
Sure, you can see amazing things when you stay on the beaten path. But to see truly breathtaking sights, you need to work harder. This was truly driven home to us after we scraped and clawed our way up the steep hill behind the Grand Prismatic. Only 10% of visitors to Yellowstone see this view. It was worth every bruise and scrape.
You’ll never go hungry.
Despite the increased amount of physical activity, you will never feel a hunger pang during your AL vacation. Between the filling breakfasts, fabulous lunches, morning and afternoon snacks on the trail, “just in case” munchies in the vans, and local specialties for dinner each evening, hunger doesn’t stand a chance.
You can trust someone you just met with your kids in less than a week
At the beginning of our trip, we kept near the girls as we hiked. By mid-week we kept them in our sights. By the end of the week, as we were hiking through an area where bears had been sighted only the day before, our girls were separated- one in front of us and one behind- each so far away we couldn’t see or hear them. As Doug and I walked along, we commented on the fact that we weren’t worried at all. We knew that our youngest was at the front of the pack with John, while our eldest was tagging along at the end with Patrick. And we knew that both were completely safe.
Our family so thoroughly enjoyed our Austin-Lehman vacation that we are hoping to do another one next summer! We’re thinking the Yellowstone/ Tetons trip… unfortunately it has no horseback riding- which is a “must” for my youngest, who fell in love with her four legged guide this year.
Jody Halsted is a writer specializing in family travel. You can follow her family’s adventures at FamilyRambling.com.
See Jody's photos from her Austin-Lehman Adventure: Montana Family Adventure Photos
Dear Our Austin-Lehman Guides: James, John, & Patrick~
Carter, Cal, Stewart, and I would like to give you all a heart felt thank you for an excellent adventure in Big Sky Country and Yellowstone National Park. We still can't believe what an amazing job you guys did making sure we all had everything we needed and wanted (there's a difference between the two!). This trip was a big departure for me, a "read a book on the beach" kind of girl, and I was nervous that the boys (and I) could keep up. No worries about Stewart. :) We felt inspired by you to try everything, and never felt pressured. Your enthusiasm was contagious. The hike to Beehive Basin was well worth the effort. Iced coffee 1/2 way up certainly did not hurt. I almost tackled you guys when you walked out with those trays, but then no one would have gotten coffee. I can close my eyes and see those hillsides filled with gorgeous wildflowers and am so happy I'll have that memory forever.
Stewart and Cal had a blast whitewater rafting, and Carter appreciated your offer to take him swimming that day. It was very sweet of you to encourage him. While Carter was unsure about rafting, Cal was nervous about riding a horse. Bless him, he made it through, albeit sideways. I do believe both boys came home taller and more confident. They learned so much about Montana and Yellowstone, and it all came from the conversations you had with us. A vacation and an education...a parent's dream.
Finally, we feel so blessed that we now have new friends from Minneapolis, Boston, & Oklahoma City. Great job matching up families! We miss them already. The Whitmire Family wishes the three of you much happiness and success. You deserve it. You make a great team!
a "hiking, biking, horseback riding, sometime rafting" kind of girl
Greetings travelers I am Josh Fried and I live in Los Angeles, California. I love travelling and have been doing it ever since i was a little pipsqueak. I am now 15 years old and have been all around the country (not the world....yet). I thought traveling was just an activity where you visit a destination and meet people and experience attractions. For me that all changed last year! About a year ago I went on a trip with Austin-Lehman Adventures, we had discovered them several years before but had never had the time to go on one. My Dad and I ended up going on their Canadian Rockies family adventure. Saying we both had the time of our life is an understatement, we had the best time in the world! The area was beautiful, the locals were friendly and best of all we had three amazing guides that knew the area better then the back of their hand. Overall it was the best vacation I've ever had. A few months ago we were planning our summer and my parents asked me and my brother what we wanted to do. The first thing that came to my mind was “how about an Austin-Lehman trip”. My dad said “you should decide which one you want to do” so I was flipping through the catalog and I stumbled across their cycling tour of the Black Hills in South Dakota. It looked so much fun! Biking through the Black Hills, seeing Mount Rushmore, It sounded so much fun. I don't depart for another three weeks, yet I'm am jumping out of my skin in excitement. I love biking and have heard grand stories of the Mickelson Trail from friends, I am also a big history buff and can't wait to see landmarks like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. I can't wait for my next adventure with Austin-Lehman.
See you on the trails!
Some companies say they'll do something but never follow through. You guys follow through. Toby and Blair did too. Casually we mentioned it would be good advertising to have an ALA backpack instead of a Capital 1 bank one. Today it was in the mail. THANK YOU! You're the best. And thank you to Blair and Toby for a fantastic family trip in Utah and remembering us. Our grandchildren loved it - and them.
We'll be back again,
Marti and Chuck Henning Utah Family | Arches to Moab Adventure
Latin America may not be considered one of the most popular areas to visit. But that's because not everyone is willing to give it a chance. My family and I have been exploring these amazing countries for years and I cannot imagine what my life would be like without ever coming here.
So, without further ado, here are some Must-Visit-Latin-America reasons:
1. The People - The genuine friendliness and smiles that greet you make such a difference in the way you experience the country. But it's their absolute adoration for kids and babies that truly make my heart beat faster. I don't know about you, but seeing teenage boys cross the street just to coo and gaa over my baby, makes me wonder what we're doing different in the US.
2. The Hotels - Hotels of Latin America will be glad to accommodate you and your kids. We normally stay at boutique, locally owned hotels, where it feels as though you are staying with caring friends. They love to help with the kids and most times, the staff takes your kids for a bit to have some fun with them giving you a needed break.
3. The Restaurants - We travel with an insanely picky eater, which makes eating out a challenge in any country. I've found that restaurants through out Central America will do all they can for my son to leave with a full belly. And, if they are local eateries, you get great service, the owners kids willing to play with my kids and a nurturing, comfortable environment.
4. The Central Parks - These countries have a park for every occasion. The most common, and one you will find in every single village, town or city is a Central Park usually with a church at one end. Aside from really checking out the locals going about their daily lives, my kids get a chance burn off energy and meet other local kids.
5. The Wildlife - Did you know that Costa Rica has over 5% of the world's biodiversity! Along with lush rain forests throughout Central and Latin America come lots of friendly and not so friendly creatures. I call most of these countries, with fantastic wildlife reserves, Mother Nature's playgrounds where kids get to play and learn about the local fauna.
6.Beaches - Another source of never ending fun for families by far! If I have learned anything is that most kids are crazy about anything that has to do with water and Latin America has it on all sides with coral reefs, crystal clear waters and amazing waves for surfing too.
7. Perfect Climate - I'm a NYC girl and trust me when I say this, weather has everything to do with traveling to these countries, especially central America. Guatemala is called the country of Eternal Spring, Costa Rica is the pure tropics - no wonder it's paradise around her year round.
But don't take my word for it, I dare you to check these places out for yourselves - you might never want to leave.
Your Friendly Latin America Expert,
Marina K. Villatoro
My long-anticipated Adventure Vacation finally happened. My Ecuador/Galapagos adventure started with meeting up with my son Jonathan in Miami and we traveled the rest of the trip together as a father-son adventure.
After spending the night at Hotel Mercure in Quito, the adventure started when our personal guide Andrian from Tierra del Volcan picked us up and took us to Hacienda Santa Rita. There, we collected the necessary gear and hiked up hill until we got to one of the seven Zip Lines the hacienda has to offer. I was excited to try the sport for the first time. What an adrenaline rush, thats me in the photo!
The next adventure at Santa Rita was a hike down a canyon to a waterfall; it was a beautiful "cascada" as they call it in Ecuador. I took several photos of it as well as the wide variety of wildflowers in the area.
After hiking back up we headed south to Hacienda El Tambo, another Tierra del Volcan property where we would spend the next two nights. The hacienda sits at about the twelve thousand foot elevation. There are no power lines in the area so they run there own generator for a few hours after dark, after that it is candles, then nothing. It was already dark out when we got there; being on the equator nighttime comes just after 6 PM. After washing up, it was time for the first of many great meals we would eat there. During dinner we learned that the next day was “Rodeo,” one of three days each year at the Hacienda where their cattle are rounded up and brought down from the higher grazing areas to the big corral near the main house. There, they are checked, sorted, vaccinated and eventually sent to a different area to graze for another four months. It was a great option to be able to travel sustainably to a working Hacienda.
What we thought was to be a simple horseback ride adventure the next day morphed into our essentially being issued a horse, boots, chaps and a wool poncho. We were invited to help with the cattle drive, an adventure beyond my wildest dreams, something that only happens in the movies. How could we say no? Over six hours on a horse going up through rough country to approximately fifteen thousand foot elevation, watching out for rogue single bulls that like to charge anything that moves, falling in behind the cattle and helping to bring them in produced a very sore butt and wobbly knees but it was worth every minute of it. That evening the rodeo celebration started around 7 PM with an outdoor barbequed dinner with the real cowboys (chagras), a good quantity of alcohol, and for some of the people, singing and whooping it up in celebration of a successful "Rodeo". Adventure is not a strong enough word for rodeo, it went far beyond that!
The following morning we did another hike north from the El Tambo main house. We hiked up close to fourteen thousand foot elevation and got to expereience some pretty amazing views. After doing about forty percent of the distance, we turned around and headed back to the Hacienda. We then headed for Tierra del Volcan’s third lodge, Hacienda El Porvenir. Prior to another great dinner, we were assigned rooms and then given a tour of the many different types of rooms available to guests. Every room is decorated in a different theme from the others. My room was actually the “Honeymoon Suite,” a very large room with a large bed and a fireplace that made the room cozy warm. As an additional perk, the maids put a hot-water bottle in the beds when turning them down in the evening.
In the morning, we did a normal horseback riding adventure. I had sufficiently recovered from the rodeo ride to enjoy this relatively slow, two-hour ride. We got good views of the agricultural valley and a few good sightings of 19,347-foot high Cotopaxi Volcano during breaks in the clouds. The final Tierra del Volcan adventure was one final hike to a nearby waterfall. El Porvenir plans to install a generator and tap ten percent of the water from the top to generate their own electricity.
Andrian took us into Quito where we said good-bye. Next we headed to the Galapagos, stay tuned for Part 2
Guest post submitted by Jeremy Burnham