The North Cascades Institute
All travel promotes learning one way or another but we make a real effort to choose destinations that offer experiences aligned with our values. We just returned from our second annual 4th of July Family Getaway Weekend at the North Cascades Institute and it was absolutely wonderful. It’s hard to believe that such a remarkable all-inclusive destination exists at the edge of rugged mountain wilderness, on the shores of glistening green Lake Diablo with dramatic snowcapped mountains all around. Lucky for us, it does exist and not only is it kid-friendly, for several weekends a year they offer programs designed specifically for families!
The fun started on Friday morning at 10am. Yes, it was a little tricky to get packed up and ready to hit the road so early (it takes about two and a half hours to drive there from our house) but the early start is well worth the effort to have the whole day to spend on vacation in the forested wonderland of North Cascades National Park. Plus, it makes the trip an even better value with lunch included on that first day. We played a few “ice-breaker” games to get to know the other families and were thrilled to see that there were a lot of kids around the same age as ours. After a hearty, healthy, veg-friendly lunch, sign-up sheets were posted for families to choose their desired activities. We picked something called “Ecosystem Exploration” and also signed up for the Ranger-led Junior Ranger Exploration to earn yet another Junior Ranger Badge (apparently they let kids earn as many as they want from each park and let me tell you, William wears those badges with pride and wants as many as he can get)! Additional activities (various group hikes, free play in the art room, games, and story time to name a few) were offered that didn’t require signing up but plenty of time is also left open for family time, walks, relaxation, or whatever you choose.
Accommodations are Spartan with only two sets of bunk beds, a couple chairs and a small desk in each room but they are clean and well maintained. Pillows and a fitted sheet are provided but other than that, you bring your own bedding. The plain rooms weren’t a problem for us since we didn’t spend much time in the room but the thin walls with no sound-proofing were wearisome. The family staying in the room next to ours arrived after 10pm and had two kids to get settled down… noisy… and I’m sure we were too noisy for them the following morning. Oh well, I guess it goes with the territory if you sign up for a family weekend. Thankfully all the daytime activities had our kids so worn out that they weren’t easily woken during the night. Bathrooms are down the hall but that worked out well so I could shower and get dressed without waking the kids up in the morning.
It didn’t even take 24 hours for William to start insisting on hanging out with his new friends, totally in his element. Sara tends to be more reserved but she loved the beach and participated in a lot of the cooperative games (balls and hula hoops are left out in a common area for kids to play with).
The first night we took a walk down to Diablo Dam then on the second night the next we enjoyed a campfire complete with fun songs, Native stories, a silly skit, and smores (Sara’s turn to totally be in her element). It was especially hard for William to say goodbye to his new BFFs but after the Ranger Exploration, Badge presentation, and a lovely slideshow of moments from the weekend, we took one last walk to the dining hall then headed out. We will be back!