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San Juan Island Boating

As the days get shorter and the temperatures colder, it's a great time to start planning (or perhaps dreaming) of Spring and Summer adventures and travels. For inspiration, we're revisiting this story of two amazing weeks boating in the San Juan Islands. We also added resources to help you plan, or simply imagine, a glorious vacation on the water.

What a trip! Bird watching. Kayaking. Whales diving under our boat (and me in tears with a mixture of fear and awe). Dining like royalty on freshly caught crabs. Anchoring and tying up to docks around the islands. Meeting other boaters and reveling in the comaraderie. Feeling more relaxed than I have in years. Meeting up with family and dining with friends on various stops along our cruising route. Ah, that's the life. Now, back to reality and awaiting the Visa bill.

San Juan Island boating vacation

Each island has a unique flavor, as does each harbor and bay. Although the charm of Deception Pass State Park (on Whidbey Island), Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor (both on San Juan Island), Fisherman's Bay and Spencer Spit (both on Lopez Island) is specific to each locale and its inhabitants, I found Sucia Island the most mesmerizing.

Sucia is a state park unto itself without permanent residents, a fossil bed, a tranquil respite from urban sprawl, a sanctuary for birds, vultures, seals, and very possibly a mouse or two. It offered what I needed most - silent nights and a bounty of nature to explore. The abundant plant and tree diversity was pointed out to me by my forester companion (who also doubled as skipper and chef - what would I do without him?!). He identified species as we hiked along the 15 miles of trails around the island. I believe there were approximately 14 tree species alone; each time we saw a new one, our heads would tilt back to find the top (I was looking at the beauty of it all while he analyzed the tree health and age). Madrona, firs, cedar, oak, maple, juniper, aspen, alder, yew - the list seemed as endless as the seascape, viewable from various bays, inlets, rocky embankments, and beaches around the island. Sucia is a wonderland for nature lovers. I know I'll return.

Quick tips for boating trips:

  1. Take a wearable PFD (i.e., a personal flotation device) and wear it.
  2. Learn how to tie knots before the boating or sailing trip.
  3. Practice at least once jumping off the boat to the dock to secure the lines (when docking) so the vacation isn't your first time doing it (this is both for safety and to avoid looking like a novice at the docks when your boat cruises in).
  4. If you're not the skipper, be a great crew member by being alert for instructions and thinking ahead to anticipate problems and needs.
  5. In peak boating season, plan ahead for places you must see by making reservations (and wing the rest - leave room for flexibility based on weather and whim).

Ready to go but don't own your own boat?

Chartering a boat can be a wonderful experience, offering unique opportunities to explore coastal regions, islands, and open waters. Here are three well-regarded marketplaces where you can find boats to charter with and without crews:

When considering a boat charter, always ensure to check reviews, compare prices, and understand the terms and conditions of the rental, including safety procedures and insurance coverage.

Whether you charter a boat, take a cruise, or book a sunset sail as part of a group trip, boating is a great way to go. And many cities and destinations offer fun and accessible ways to enjoy time on the water without requiring any prior boating skills. However you go, getting out on the water offers a unique perspective.

This story was originally published September 2006. Updated November 18, 2023.

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Group-Friendly Golf Meccas

Where do the expert golfers go? You know – the smooth swingers with enviable handicaps. Don’t we all long to tee off at a place of undisputed beauty and repute? And nothing’s better than sharing such a grand moment with friends.

Group golf get-away with friends

Here’s our list of group-friendly golf meccas for you to plan a golf get-away with friends and put your link lovin’ ways to practice.

Arizona: The greater Phoenix and Scottsdale region is one of the biggest golf areas in the U.S. due to both the quality and quantity of courses. Plus, there’s plenty of après golf entertainment - restaurants, nightlife, spas and more - making it an ideal place for group trips. Here are five highly regarded courses in the area. Each of these courses offers something a bit different, whether it's a PGA-level challenge, scenic vistas, meticulous course conditions, or pure natural beauty. Note, the peak season for golf in this area is during the cooler months, roughly October to May.

    • TPC Scottsdale – TPC Scottsdale offers two courses, the Stadium Course and the Champions Course. The Stadium Course is a must-play for its famous 16th hole and overall PGA Tour experience.

    • Troon North Golf Club – This club offers two 18-hole courses, the Monument and the Pinnacle, both of which are highly regarded. They are known for their beautiful desert landscapes and challenging play.

    • Grayhawk Golf Club – With the Raptor and Talon courses, Grayhawk is a great option for all skill levels. The courses are immaculately maintained and offer beautiful views of the McDowell Mountains.

    • We-Ko-Pa Golf Club – We-Ko-Pa also has two courses: Cholla and Saguaro. Both courses offer stunning views free of any homes or urban development, providing a pure golf experience.

    • The Boulders – The Boulders is renowned for its North and South courses which feature a backdrop of dramatic rock formations and desert landscape.

Hawaii: The Aloha State is a brilliantly natural spot for golf. With the sea as scenery (and course hazard) and a naturally hilly landscape to challenge any golfer, it’s no wonder Hawaii boasts so many glorious courses. Here's a handful of the best courses across the Hawaiian Islands to consider:

    • Kapalua Plantation Course (Maui) - The Plantation Course is renowned for its dramatic ocean views and is the host of the PGA TOUR's Sentry Tournament of Champions. The course is a challenge for all levels of golfers and is known for its unique, undulating terrain.

    • Nanea Golf Club (Big Island) - Although more exclusive and harder to get into (as it's a private club), Nanea has stunning views and offers a world-class golf experience.

    • Mauna Kea Golf Course (Big Island) - Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., Mauna Kea Golf Course has been revered since it opened in 1964. The course offers stunning ocean views from nearly every hole and is known for its signature 3rd hole where golfers must tee off over an ocean cove.

    • Princeville Makai Golf Club (Kauai) - The Makai Golf Course at Princeville is one of the most scenic golf courses in the world. With the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop, it offers a series of oceanfront holes that are both beautiful and challenging.

    • Wailea Golf Club (Maui) - Wailea offers three 18-hole courses: the Blue, Gold, and Emerald courses. The Emerald Course is often cited as friendly for a wide range of skill levels, featuring stunning ocean views with less demanding tee shots.

Hilton Head, SC: Hilton Head Island, just off the coast of South Carolina, serves as a fairway haven to numerous golf courses. With the first course opening in 1961, Hilton Head has earned its title "The Golf Island," through careful craftsmanship. But there's more to Hilton Head than just golf. The island offers beautiful beaches, bike paths, restaurants, and other activities, making it an excellent choice for groups that might also include non-golfers or for days when you want a break from the course.

    • Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort - Perhaps the most famous on the island, this course is home to the RBC Heritage PGA Tour event. With its iconic lighthouse at the 18th hole and designed by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus, it is a must-play for any golfer visiting the island.

    • Heron Point by Pete Dye at Sea Pines Resort – This course offers a challenging but fair round of golf. It's a great complement to Harbour Town in a resort that offers multiple top-notch courses.

    • Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III at Sea Pines Resort – This course is a complete reconstruction of the historic Ocean Course, the first built on Hilton Head Island, and has been transformed into a modern masterpiece with native dunes and indigenous flora.

    • Palmetto Dunes (Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course) - Palmetto Dunes offers three courses, but the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course is the most notable. It has one of only two oceanfront holes on the island and offers a good balance of beauty and challenge.

    • The Arthur Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes - Another course within the Palmetto Dunes Resort, the Arthur Hills Course stands out for its beautiful layout, incorporating rolling fairways with plenty of water hazards to navigate around.

Myrtle Beach, SC: This self-proclaimed Seaside Golf Capital of the World lives up to its name with 100 golf courses laid out over undulating low country land and the majority of the Myrtle Beach golf courses being open to the public. Plus, many host professional and amateur tournaments. If you want a golf challenge and picturesque beauty, Myrtle Beach offers both with courses crafted by a host of world-renowned architects. This giant outdoor playground is also great for families. With 60 miles of beach and numerous hotel and resort options, you could also plan a family reunion here and incorporate golf into the mix.

    • The Dunes Golf and Beach Club – This Robert Trent Jones-designed course is one of the most prestigious in the area and is often ranked among the top 100 courses in the U.S. It's known for its history, challenging layout, and stunning coastal views, especially on the par-3 9th hole, which overlooks the ocean.

    • Caledonia Golf & Fish Club – Often rated as the best course in the Myrtle Beach area, Caledonia is known for its picturesque charm and superb course conditions. The course is set on an old rice plantation and is as beautiful as it is challenging.

    • TPC Myrtle Beach – This Tom Fazio design offers a tour-quality experience and has hosted senior PGA Tour events. It's a balanced test of golf that rewards good shots and provides an array of strategic challenges.

    • Barefoot Resort & Golf – With four courses designed by Davis Love III, Greg Norman, Pete Dye, and Tom Fazio, Barefoot Resort is a golfer's dream. The Love Course, in particular, is highly regarded, but all four offer a top-notch golfing experience with unique challenges and design elements.

    • True Blue Golf Club – The sister course to Caledonia and also designed by Mike Strantz, True Blue offers wide fairways, large greens, and an array of interesting risk-reward holes. It's known for being one of the more creative and visually striking courses in the area.

Pebble Beach, CA: Pebble Beach is a legendary spot for golfers, famous for its stunning ocean-side courses and challenging play. The Pebble Beach Resort features four stunning courses that either hug the coast or have spectacular views of the water. There are many other hotels and resorts reasonably close to the courses and in nearby seaside towns such as Monterey and Carmel. Some of the resorts may offer packages that include rounds at several of the courses mentioned below. Also be prepared for changing weather conditions; it can be sunny one moment and foggy the next, so pack appropriately for the course.

    • Pebble Beach Golf Links - No list of Pebble Beach courses would be complete without mentioning this iconic course. A host of several U.S. Opens, it's one of the most famous courses in the world, known for its cliff-side fairways and breathtaking views of Carmel Bay.

    • Spyglass Hill Golf Course - Often considered one of the toughest courses in the world, Spyglass Hill offers a mix of scenic holes with ocean views and forest-lined fairways. It's a challenging but rewarding course for skilled golfers.

    • The Links at Spanish Bay - This course provides a true Scottish links experience, complete with stunning coastal dunes, rolling fairways, and the sound of bagpipes at the end of the day. It's a great place for friends to enjoy a round in a beautiful setting.

    • Poppy Hills Golf Course - This course is known for its firm, fast, and fun play. While it doesn't offer ocean views, its beautiful forest setting provides a different type of serene environment to enjoy a round of golf.

    • Monterey Peninsula Country Club (Shore Course) - Though it's a private club, if you have the opportunity to play here through a connection or special event, it's well worth it. The Shore Course offers a variety of ocean-side holes with spectacular views of the Pacific.

Scotland: Scotland is often considered the "Home of Golf" and has some of the most iconic and historic golf courses in the world. When planning a trip with friends, it’s essential to consider not only the quality of the courses but also the experience they offer, including the clubhouse atmosphere, scenery, and the overall vibe. Here are few of the best courses in Scotland for groups of friends looking for an unforgettable experience:

    • St. Andrews - As the traditional home of golf, the Old Course at St. Andrews is a pilgrimage site for any serious golfer. It's a public course with a ballot system for tee times, so planning ahead is crucial.

    • Carnoustie Golf Links - Known for its difficulty, Carnoustie has hosted multiple Open Championships. The Championship Course is a stern test of golf and is steeped in history.

    • Royal Troon Golf Club - Located on the west coast of Scotland, Royal Troon is another regular Open Championship venue. It offers both the Old Course and the Portland Course, but the former is where the history and the challenge are.

    • Muirfield - The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield is one of the oldest and most esteemed golf clubs in the world. The course is a regular host to The Open Championship and offers a classic links experience.

Of course, there are many other glorious golf destinations and courses for a group gathering. Whether local or further afield, when considering the best options for your group look for courses that offer not just great play but also excellent facilities (including food and drink!) and the right balance of challenge and enjoyment for varying skill levels. The green fees at many of these prestigious courses come with a steep price tag, particularly during their peak seasons, and securing a tee time can require booking well in advance. To help streamline planning and find better deals, look for multi-course packages that provide better rates and allow your group to experience more than one course during your trip.

November 9, 2023.

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Travel Light, Sans Golf Clubs, Skis or Other Sports Equipment

There are several companies that will ship luggage and sports equipment (golf clubs, skis, bikes, snow and surf boards...) to your travel destination. These services take the hassle out of traveling with bulky bags and heavy items and make it easier to get your luggage and gear from point A to B. It’s a great way to simplify and de-stress the travel experience. Particularly larger, busier airports can be difficult to navigate. Skipping bag check lines and long waits at the baggage carousel (not to mention the oversize baggage area) can ease and streamline your trip. Plus, you won't have to rent equipment once you arrive.

Ship sports equipment and luggage to your destination

Shipping options, pricing, and terms of service vary from company to company, so it's important to review the latest info from each provider including their shipping guarantees and insurance options. That said, in general, here’s how these service work:

    1. Online Booking and Scheduling: Visit the company’s website to set up and book your shipment. During this process, you will be asked to provide details such as your pick-up location, destination, desired shipping dates, and information about the luggage or equipment you are sending. There may also be service level options (e.g., economy to express) based on how quickly you need your items to arrive.

    2. Pricing: Pricing is determined by factors such as the size and weight of the items, the distance they will travel, and the chosen speed of service. Each company offers a quote at the time of booking.

    3. Packing Your Items: You are responsible for packing your bags or equipment as if you were going to check them in at an airport. For specialty items like golf clubs or skis, companies like Ship Sticks may offer guidance or provide specialized packaging to protect your gear during transit.

    4. Labeling and Documentation: After booking, you typically need to print out shipping labels and, if you're shipping internationally, any necessary customs documentation. In some cases, the company might send you label pouches or even arrange for a driver who will attach the shipping label upon collection.

    5. Collection: You can arrange to have your items picked up from your home, office, or other specified locations. The actual collection is usually handled by third-party couriers affiliated with major shipping carriers like UPS, FedEx or DHL. Alternatively, you may also have the option to drop off your luggage at a local carrier store or a designated drop-off location.

    6. Shipment and Tracking: Your items are then shipped through the company's logistics network, which is often a partnership with well-known carriers. Throughout the journey, you can track your shipment using tools provided by the company, receiving updates on their progress to your destination.

    7. Delivery: Your items are delivered directly to the destination you specified, such as a hotel, golf course, vacation home, or even directly to a cruise ship or sporting event.

    8. Guarantee: Many of these services come with a guarantee for on-time delivery, adding a layer of assurance. Their customer support teams are also typically available for inquiries and to resolve any issues that may arise.

Here's a list of some well-known and well-reviewed shipping services:

    1. Luggage Forward - Luggage Forward specializes in door-to-door luggage and sports equipment shipping worldwide. Luggage Forward is known for its dependable service and has earned 4.7 stars on Trustpilot.

    2. SendMyBag - SendMyBag has also gained a positive reputation for its international luggage shipping, often being noted for its competitive pricing and clear communication. SendMyBag has a 4.6 star rating on Trustpilot.

    3. Ship Sticks - ShipSticks Ship Sticks has received accolades from golfers for their reliable and easy-to-use service, which is tailored to the needs of golf travel. Ship Sticks has a 4.7 rating on Trustpilot.

    4. BikeFlights - For cyclists, BikeFlights is often the go-to service. The company has built a solid reputation for careful handling and efficient delivery of bicycles, which are items that require special attention during shipping. BikeFlights has a 4.8 rating on Trustpilot with over 40,000 reviews, the most of any company on this list.

    5. Luggage Free - Luggage Free has been noted for its premium, white-glove service, and is often highlighted for providing a stress-free experience with high levels of customer satisfaction. Luggage Free has a 4.7 star rating on Trustpilot.

Each of these companies provide varying levels of service, tracking options and customer support to ensure your items arrive safely and on time. Availability of these services may also vary by location. We recommend visiting their websites to confirm availability, compare prices, service options, and recent customer reviews to find the best option for your specific needs. You may also want to consider choosing a company that specializes in the type of shipping you require.

Lastly, it's also worth considering the oversize baggage fees of the airline you're planning to travel. These fees vary airline-to-airline based on the size and weight of the baggage as well as the route (especially for international flights). Oversize and overweight baggage fees change over time but typically start at $100-$200 per bag, each way, and are often in addition to any standard checked bag fee. Some airlines may waive oversize fees for items like skis or golf bags on particular flights.

November 6, 2023

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Tailgate Party Winner: Ole Miss

Tailgate parties conjure up images of football fans gathering near stadiums, camped out for the pre-game hours and sometimes well-into the game to celebrate their alma mater or favorite team. The tailgate party may be as American as applie pie, bringing college friends together for weekend reunions or regular reconnections.

Top 5 places to tailgate.

While there are many great tailgating spots, here are five of the top places for college tailgating, known for their festive atmosphere, passionate fans, and great food:

1. University of Mississippi ("Ole Miss") - Oxford, Mississippi

The Grove, a 10-acre green space in the center of the Ole Miss campus, is one of the most famous tailgating spots in the country. Fans arrive days in advance to set up their tents and prepare for the game. The atmosphere is festive and welcoming, with fans dressed in their best outfits and enjoying Southern hospitality at its finest.

The New York Times describes the Grove as the social event in Oxford, Mississippi, not just for the students or alumni, but for the whole town:

"Ole Miss's stadium accommodates 60,580 people, and devotees of the Grove argue that the Grove accommodates more. It is every kind of party you can describe, at once: cocktail party, dinner party, tailgate picnic party, fraternity and sorority rush, family reunion, political handgrab, gala and networking party-hearty — what might have inspired Willie Morris, one of Mississippi's favorite sons, to declare Mississippi not a state, but a club... The party is technically a picnic. Originally an informal tailgating get-together when most serious pregame socializing took place at Ole Miss's fraternity and sorority houses, by the 50’s the Grove started to become its own pregame tradition.

2. Louisiana State University (LSU) - Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tailgating at LSU is a unique experience, with fans setting up grills and cooking delicious Cajun and Creole dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and crawfish boils. The air is filled with the sounds of live music and the smell of delicious food, creating a festive atmosphere that is unmatched.

3. University of Wisconsin - Madison, Wisconsin

Tailgating at the University of Wisconsin is a great experience, with fans gathering on State Street and Regent Street to celebrate before the game. The atmosphere is fun and lively, with fans enjoying brats, cheese curds, and other Wisconsin favorites.

4. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, Michigan

The Big House, as the University of Michigan stadium is known, is one of the largest stadiums in the country and provides an amazing backdrop for tailgating. Fans gather in the parking lots and green spaces around the stadium to enjoy barbecue, play games, and celebrate their team.

5. University of South Carolina - Columbia, South Carolina

Tailgating at the University of South Carolina is a true Southern tradition, with fans gathering at the State Fairgrounds and other locations around the stadium to enjoy barbecue, play cornhole, and celebrate with friends and family. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, with fans from both teams often mingling and enjoying the festivities together.

October 2, 2023

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Hooked on Mountain Biking

No, not via foot clips. I'm not ready to be clipped to my pedals. I recently went mountain biking with friends and saw other groups on the trail doing the same. In talking to one of my trail pals about biking tours, biking trips, and the mountain biking world, I realized there's a whole new world of exploring out there for me. I've biked before, but not like this. And, while I'm discovering the joys of mountain biking long after the rest of you, it's never too late to tackle a new adventure, right?

In the ever-evolving landscape of adventure travel, mountain biking has ascended to be a mainstream pursuit, offering an invigorating blend of physical challenge, nature immersion, and communal spirit. For groups of friends and family, the allure of mountain biking lies not just in the thrill of the ride, but in the shared experience of exploring diverse terrains and creating lasting memories.

Top mountain biking destinations and tour operators.

Top Mountain Biking Destinations & Tour Operators

Recognizing the growing demand for guided mountain biking adventures, tour operators across the U.S. offer high-quality, safe, and memorable experiences tailored for groups of all sizes and skill levels. With their guidance, travelers can delve into the heart of America's most stunning landscapes on two wheels. Here are some of the most popular mountain biking destinations and select tour operators in each of these markets:

1. Moab, Utah: Moab is the jewel in the crown of American mountain biking destinations. Its iconic Slickrock Trail, a rollercoaster of petrified sand dunes, offers a unique biking experience that's both challenging and exhilarating. Beyond Slickrock, Moab's vast network of trails weaves through a Martian landscape of red rock formations and deep canyons. For groups, Moab offers a range of trails suitable for various skill levels, ensuring that everyone from beginners to experts can enjoy the adventure together.

    • Rim Tours: With over 30 years of experience, Rim Tours offers expertly guided mountain biking tours across the Southwest. Their tours are known for their attention to detail, safety, and route selection, making them an excellent choice for groups and families. Rim Tours' guides are not only experts in biking but also in the geology and history of the regions they explore, adding an educational element to their trips.

    • Western Spirit Cycling: Based in Moab, Western Spirit Cycling specializes in multi-day mountain biking tours. Their itineraries cover some of the most scenic trails in Moab and beyond, including the majestic landscapes of Utah and Colorado. Known for their guides and well-planned routes, they cater to both novice riders and experienced mountain bikers, ensuring a rewarding experience for everyone.

2. Crested Butte, Colorado: Often hailed as the birthplace of mountain biking, Crested Butte's charm lies in its extensive trail network set against a backdrop of stunning Rocky Mountain scenery. Trails like the 401 offer breathtaking views of wildflower meadows and aspen groves. The town's welcoming vibe and diverse trail options make it an ideal destination for groups and families looking to combine biking with a taste of Colorado's mountain culture.

    • Chasing Epic Mountain Bike Adventures: Operating in several top biking destinations, including Crested Butte, Chasing Epic offers all-inclusive, multi-day mountain biking trips. Their packages include guides, high-end bikes, and personalized itineraries, making them a popular choice for groups seeking an upscale biking adventure. They excel in creating trips that balance challenging rides with the enjoyment of local culture and cuisine.

3. Bend, Oregon: Bend stands out for its unique high desert geography, offering over 300 miles of trails. The Phil’s Trail Complex is a favorite, with routes winding through dense forests and open meadows. After a day on the trails, groups can enjoy Bend's renowned craft beer scene, with many breweries offering a relaxing backdrop for recounting the day's adventures.

    • Cog Wild Bicycle Tours: Cog Wild offers a wide range of tours suitable for all skill levels, from leisurely half-day rides to challenging multi-day adventures. Cog Wild is acclaimed for their local knowledge, which ensures that each group experiences the best trails and sights that Bend's unique landscape has to offer. Their tours often include delicious meals and the option to sample local craft beers, making them a hit with groups seeking a holistic Bend experience.

    • Pine Mountain Sports: Pine Mountain Sports offers guided mountain biking tours that cater specifically to the needs and skills of the group. They are known for their personalized approach, ensuring that each experience is tailored to the preferences and abilities of the riders. Whether it's a family outing or a group of seasoned bikers, Pine Mountain Sports provides a safe and enjoyable adventure on Bend's extensive trail network.

4. Brevard, North Carolina: Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Brevard offers a different take on mountain biking. Here, riders can explore the Pisgah National Forest with its lush forests and cascading waterfalls. The area’s trails range from smooth, flowing singletracks to challenging technical descents, making it a versatile destination for groups of varying abilities.

    • Sacred Rides: As one of the pioneers in mountain bike tourism, Sacred Rides offers guided trips in Brevard and other notable biking destinations. Their tours are renowned for combining thrilling rides with cultural immersion, providing an all-encompassing experience. They cater to a range of skill levels and place a strong emphasis on sustainable travel practices.

    • The Bike Farm: The Bike Farm offers guided rides in the Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Forest. They are unique in their approach, providing custom experiences that match the skill and interest levels of the group. Additionally, The Bike Farm offers skills clinics and camps, perfect for groups looking to improve their mountain biking abilities while exploring the trails.

5. Park City, Utah: As the first IMBA Gold Level Ride Center, Park City boasts over 400 miles of trails. The Mid Mountain Trail epitomizes the area's appeal, offering a mix of easy riding and more challenging sections. The town itself provides a picturesque base for groups, with its historic Main Street, diverse dining options, and range of accommodations.

    • White Pine Touring: White Pine Touring offers a range of tours that showcase the beauty and diversity of Park City's trail system, which is renowned for its variety and accessibility. Their expert guides are not only adept at navigating the trails but also in providing insights into the local ecology and history, making each trip educational as well as exhilarating.

    • Park City Bike Demos: While known for bike rentals, Park City Bike Demos also offers guided tours. Their unique approach allows groups to test out different types of bikes while exploring Park City's trails, making it an ideal choice for those looking to combine a biking adventure with the opportunity to experience the latest in biking equipment. Their knowledgeable staff ensures a safe and enjoyable experience for all participants.

Not quite ready to book a trip to one of these amazing destinations? Love the idea of bringing bikes along on your next camping trip or planning a mountain bike adventure with friends? The MTB Project, Trailforks and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's TrailLink are great resources for finding mountain bike trails close to home.

Weaving through trees on a trail of bare roots and rocks left my wrists a wee bit jarred. But the thrill of zipping around corners, splattering mud, and enjoying this with good friends was exhilarating. I'm hooked.

July 10, 2023

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Underwater Poker

For a trip with a little adrenaline and other worldly experience, try an underwater poker tournament. Merging the excitement of scuba diving with the cerebral challenge of poker, underwater poker offers a novel way to enjoy these two popular pastimes.

Play poker underwater.

To participate in underwater poker, you will need a full scuba set, including a tank, regulator and, depending whether indoors and on climate, a wetsuit. Communication underwater is key, so an underwater writing slate and/or establishing hand signals in advance is a good idea. And, as this underwater poker player explains, "if you’re thinking of setting up an underwater game, make sure to have enough weights on hand for the table, chairs, players, and cards. Most plastic poker cards are waterproof, but it may be worth it to double check and invest in some that are especially heavy." Managing buoyancy and strategizing in poker simultaneously offers a distinctive challenge and twist. Note: You must either be scuba certified or willing to be trained how to dive.

We haven't found a site that maintains a list of places you can play underwater poker but here are a few examples of past tournaments to inspire your search!

Whether you're a seasoned poker player seeking a new challenge or a diving enthusiast looking for a novel experience, underwater poker offers a unique experience that will test your skills in a completely different world.

Image source:

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Snowshoeing: An Eco-Friendly Winter Activity

As winter blusters its way in, snow fans who want to get their fill of the powder, but away from the crowds and off the beaten path, can reap magnificent rewards with snowshoeing. It's a great group sport for the following reasons:

  1. Like skiing, you can snowshoe at your own pace. Like hiking, this often leads to good conversation with various members of the group, depending on your speed, etc. Unlike skiing, you rarely lose your group to lift lines and runs and can mostly stick together yet with the freedom hiking allows to stop and snack, look at vistas, etc.
  2. Safety in numbers: Should avalanche danger exist, or one person gets injured, there are multiple people to take action and mitigate problems or help in any other way.
  3. Orientation: If solo trekking while snowing, your tracks can easily get erased with new snow, causing some disorientation of where the trail is or which way is north; therefore, it's always good to count on at least one other to share responsibilities for staying on track.
  4. Photo ops: You won't just get scenic shots. You can get proof you were there by having a friend take your photo next to Mt. Spectacular.
  5. Green travel in action: Snowshoeing is one of the best ways to experience winter without noise pollution (as in snowmobiling), expensive gear (as in skiing + lift tickets), and low impact on the environment (it's essentially you, the elements, and your snowshoes).

Want to learn more? REI has a great beginner's guide to snowshoeing that covers everything from how to choose snowshoes to how to dress for snowshoeing, and some basic techniques.

And if you're looking for inspiration, AllTrails makes it easy to explore the best snowshoeing trails in U.S. and to find great trail options near you.

Finally, thanks for all of the great comments!

Kristen C. wrote, "I once had a friend try to convince me to snowshoe and originally I had no interest. But later, I discovered that snowshoeing is nothing more than hiking with stunning views and more access. Now it's one of my favorite pastimes."

Jackson B. shared, "I justy tried snowshoeing recently and it was a really great experience! A few people have told me how great it was, so I decided to try it for myself. I'm not a big skier, so I was looking for a new winter sport. Now I'm convinced that snowshoeing is a great option!"

Marlene N. "Thank you for the motivation, spring is almost here but there is still lots of snow in Montana - I am going to dig out my snowshoes once again."

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Ironman Quest: Smells Like Team Spirit

Whether you're scoring points on the field or rooting in the stands, team sports are a bonding experience among groups of friends and like-minded jock and jills. Athletes of all levels compete in leagues of softball, football, soccer, hockey, tennis, year-round.

Others choose individual sports and only race against the clock and their own athletic skill in marathons, triathlons, walk-a-thons, and race for the cure type events. Groups can occasionally join forces for training, but when it comes to the fiercest, most grueling sports, it takes a unique individual with an independent spirit.

Such is the case with the Ironman triathlon, a famous event where fit athletes swim for two miles, bike over 100 miles, and finish by running a marathon. It's inspirational for anyone who's attempted a race, played sports, or even tried to stay in shape. Ironman participants are in a league of their own. The athlete in all of us has to admire them, which is why they usually have a team of supporters cheering them along the route and ready to share in the momentous accomplishment of crossing that finish line. Groups of athletes, fans, friends, and family often travel to these events to witness a bit of athletic history.

A new movie, What It Takes, documents four Ironman participants' training and preparation for the 2005 event. You don't have to be an Ironman to appreciate the sheer physical and mental prowess it takes to do a triathlon of this magnitude. This film follows Peter Reid, Heather Fuhr, Luke Bell, and Lori Bowden (three of them previous world champions) for a year on their quest to the 2005 Ironman finish line. For an insider's look at one of the pre-eminent sports competitions, take a look. It opens in select cities across the U.S. this  month. And you can enjoy the movie from the comfort of a theater seat, popcorn and drink in hand.

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Clubs and Teams Travel Guide

You're a member of a church that takes spiritual retreats. Perhaps your tennis or ski team travels for competition. Or your alma mater organizes football tailgate parties for home and away games. You could be a soccer parent planning away games with other parents. Or even belong to a swanky book club that travels to Italy after reading Under the Tuscan Sun. Whatever your lifestyle is, membership organizations (clubs, teams, associations, etc.) are great ways to stay active and pursue interests while meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends or colleagues.

For like-minded individuals who travel together, here are planning resources for organizing your next group trip.

How to Book Group Reservations

How to Pack Properly

Tips for Traveling en Masse

Quick Checklist for Club, Team, or Organization Group Trips

  1. Prepare a budget. How much will it cost? What are the shared expenses? What are deadlines for deposits, etc.? A basic spreadsheet with all big pre-trip shared expenses will help if you're organizing or on a committee for a given trip or retreat.
  2. Collect money for shared expenses such as hotel rooms and transportation. You can track money owed using TripHub's money tracking tool.
  3. Get release forms. If your trip is a school scenario with kids traveling with parents, coaches, and chaperones, you'll need to make sure release forms are signed.
  4. Make dining reservations and arrangements for your group. Depending on group size, some restaurants may or may not be able to accommodate you, so book well in advance (even a couple of months). Groups get cranky when not fed, which makes for a stressful, less fun experience for everyone. Arrange for meals on group trips to people sated and/or energized.
  5. Order custom group t-shirts. Nothing screams "team spirit" like a gaggle of people wearing matching uniforms. Geeky though it may sound to some, it's still unifying. Not only can you easily identify each other in crowds, but you'll have a memento from traveling together. You can even put a logo, photo, or pithy slogan on it.

TripHub allows you to easily plan and coordinate trip details so everyone stays informed about trip plans and itineraries. It's ideal for groups where there are varied interests, budgets, needs, etc. Here's how TripHub can help clubs, teams, and similar groups plan trips:

  1. Determine location and destination for the trip
  2. Create a trip home page
  3. Invite team/club/association members (ski team, church group, school mates, professional organization members)
  4. Discuss trip details with travel companions
  5. Create an event schedule of dinner reservations and other key itinerary details
  6. Shop for flights, hotels, rental cars, activities and attractions (or share travel information if already booked elsewhere so the group knows when people arrive, leave, and where they're staying)
  7. Discuss hotel options

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Scuba dreamin' on such a winter's day

Since I'm terrified of being masked and submerged for extended periods, my water activity typically consists of snorkeling in shallow bays near shore but I hope to one day get up the courage to take my first dive. The underwater world promises an experience unlike any other full of adventure and serenity.

Tips and resources for your first SCUBA trip.

Whether you're planning your first or fiftieth dive, here are some of the world’s most famous and beginner-friendly scuba diving destinations to inspire your next trip:

    1. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia: The Great Barrier Reef is an iconic diving destination, perfect for beginners. With its warm, clear waters and abundant marine life, it’s a diver's paradise. The reef is home to a kaleidoscope of coral and fish species, providing an ideal and gentle introduction to the underwater world.

    2. Roatán, Honduras: This Caribbean gem offers crystal-clear waters and a mesmerizing array of sea life. The shallow dive sites and minimal currents make Roatán an excellent choice for novices. With its affordable dive packages, it's also a great option for those looking to dive on a budget.

    3. Koh Tao, Thailand: Known as the ‘turtle island’, Koh Tao is famous for its easy dive sites and vibrant marine biodiversity. The island’s calm and shallow bays are perfect for beginners, and there’s a high chance of encountering sea turtles, making for an unforgettable first dive.

    4. Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands: Bonaire is renowned for its accessible shore dives and exceptionally clear waters, ideal for beginners. The island's protected marine park ensures healthy coral reefs and a rich assortment of marine life, providing an excellent environment for new divers to explore.

    5. Maui, Hawaii: The island of Maui is a dream for novice divers, with its diverse marine life and stunning underwater topography. Molokini Crater, in particular, offers sheltered and calm waters, teeming with colorful fish, making it a safe and enchanting spot for your first dive.

Booking Your Dive Trip:

Several websites offer dive travel packages tailored to beginners including:

Preparing for Your First Dive:

Before embarking on your underwater journey, it’s smart to be well-prepared. Here are some things to consider before your first dive, ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience:

    1. Choose a Reputable Dive School: Your safety and learning experience depend largely on your instructor's expertise. Opt for a certified and experienced dive school or instructor, preferably affiliated with recognized organizations like PADI or NAUI.

    2. Health and Fitness: Scuba diving can be a physically demanding activity. Ensure you are in good health, and if you have any medical conditions, consult a doctor beforehand. Fitness is essential, but you don’t need to be an athlete to dive.

    3. Understanding the Basics: Familiarize yourself with basic diving principles and techniques through introductory courses. Understanding how to use the equipment, managing buoyancy, and learning about pressure changes are crucial.

    4. Breathing Techniques: Learning proper breathing techniques is vital. Unlike on land, divers should breathe slowly and deeply to conserve air and control buoyancy.

    5. Equalizing Pressure: As you descend, pressure increases. It’s important to learn how to equalize pressure in your ears and mask to avoid discomfort.

    6. Communication Underwater: Underwater, you can't speak, so divers use hand signals. Learn the basic signals for communication with your instructor and dive buddy.

    7. Respect for Marine Life and Environment: Underwater ecosystems are delicate. Learn about and practice responsible diving etiquette, like not touching or disturbing marine life and being mindful of your fins to avoid damaging coral.

    8. Dealing with Anxiety: It’s natural to feel anxious before your first dive. Breathing exercises and open communication with your instructor can help alleviate anxiety. Remember, it’s okay to go at your own pace.

    9. Equipment Familiarization Before diving, get familiar with the scuba gear. This includes the mask, snorkel, fins, regulator, buoyancy control device (BCD), and wetsuit. Knowing how to use these properly enhances safety and confidence.

    10. Practice Makes Perfect: Most beginner courses include practice sessions in a pool or shallow water. Take advantage of these to get comfortable with the gear and the feeling of being underwater.

Finally, a good friend added that you shouldn't dive the day before flying home from your vacation. The general rule recommended by most diving organizations, including PADI and DAN (Divers Alert Network), is to wait a minimum of 18 to 24 hours after your last dive before flying. This guideline applies regardless of the depth or duration of your dive. For those engaging in multiple dives or deep dives, a longer interval may be advisable. This precaution helps reduce the risk of decompression sickness, which can be exacerbated by the lower air pressure in airplane cabins. By adhering to this guideline, you can enjoy your diving experience and subsequent flight with peace of mind and safety.

Article updated December 2023.

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Guys Getaways vs. Mancations

Mancations. (Men, are you cool with this term? Sounds a little goofy to me...) The term emerged in the 2000s and since then hotels and resorts have been adding male centric vacation packages that include a range of activities, from poker and off-roading to spa treatments and culinary instruction.

Here are some of the most popular mancation activities:

The Urban Dictionary defines a mancation as: "The most ultimate man-only vacation. Usually this trip involves heavy drinking, getting kicked out of something, and nearly dying. At camp sites, everybody who is not a mancationer hates the mancationers, likely because they can not understand the sheer awesomeness that is mancation."

That said, mancations are not just about indulging in stereotypical male activities. Rather they are about the opportunity to bond with the guys. And spending quality time with friends can mean different things to different people.

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The Passion of World Cup 2006

By guest blogger John George

Oh, the tension.  It's a four year cycle, and I've been riding it since it was at the low point in 2002, just after the US lost to Germany in the quarters.

It's hard for most Americans to understand the tension that builds as the World Cup approaches.  Soccer is a European thing. It's a South American thing. It's even an African thing. It's far from being baseball, hot dogs, apple pie or Chevrolet. Back in 2005, while 99.9% of the country was watching the AL beat the NL for the tenth time running in the All-Star game, I was with a dozen soccer buddies and chewing my nails.  Would the US get a result in Costa Rica (even a tie would be good) and actually qualify for the tournament?

But it's not just tension. It's passion. Being a soccer fan is something that permeates your entire being. Supporting the national team goes without thinking. And after the great run by the US in 2002, I just couldn’t suppress the idea of going to Germany for the 2006 tournament. So I scored some tickets, made plans with my roomie to visit a friend in Geneva and booked an expensive flight.

I arrived a week into the tournament and a day before the US/Italy game in Kaiserlautern. Changing trains and cramming into to progressively more crowded cars – fun times. The last leg was standing room only, but it was nothing like the bedlam of the stadium.

Kaiserlautern was teeming. It took us 40 minutes to fight the crowds, get around the stadium, through the gates and to our seats. Then we had 90 minutes of standing and yelling with 50,000 fans. I've been to a lot of US games, probably 15, but I've never been surrounded by so many US fans. It was intoxicating (and it wasn't just the effects of the rosé!) The cheers were all new to me, but, you know, it's all pretty easy.  Clap ten times in a simple pattern then yell "U.S."  Repeat repeatedly. Whistle when Italian players fall down (which was often). Do the wave when the game gets slow. Our section was nearly silent when Italy scored, and I felt the stands move when the US got a tally.  Huge cheers when an Italian got thrown out. Then booing at the ref when each of two US players got a red card. The last 20 minutes were pandemonium and the tension peaked. If they US could hold on for a tie–a valuable tie–they could still become world champions.  And they did hold on.  That 1-1 tie gave the US the slimmest hope that they could advance to the knock-out round where anything can happen.

That hope dissipated before I got my voice back.  The US lost to Ghana five days later in Nurnberg – another raucous event– and was eliminated from the World Cup. The tension was gone. I could just enjoy soccer for the next two weeks and tour Switzerland and environs without all that pesky worry about how the US will do in the next game. I could just enjoy the tournament in bars and pick a new team to support as the last one was eliminated–which was often as I generally root for the underdog.

With the Cup now over, the four year ebb and flow of tension is rising again. Qualifiers start next year. And so does the nail biting. I'm already starting to wonder how South Africa will compare in 2010.

John's lifelong passion for soccer is equalled only by is passion for outdoor recreation that doesn't require a lot of expensive gear, catching bands while they still play in small venues, and consuming cold pilsner (or rose'). He still plays recreationally when his knees allow.

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Boating, the Great Urban Escape

Ah, cities with water. Whether its lakefront, oceanfront, bayfront, or riverfront, living in or visiting a city with water access can be bliss in the sultry summer months.

Dangling my toes from the bow, I went on a boat ride this past weekend with a few others. A potpourri group of friends and family. This activity is highly group-oriented, especially in a city known for having the highest number of boats per capita. Seattle waterways were jam-packed on Sunday with kayakers, power boaters, wooden boaters, canoers, rowers, floaters, pedalers, sailors, wake-boarders, water skiers, and the list goes on.

Watching other boats pass our boat, I noticed that regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status (believe me, you can tell a lot by someone's boat), everyone had a perma-grin. Water can be the great equalizer. People on boats of all shapes and sizes (passengers to match) waved and smiled as they floated by each other.

With so many people crowding the waterways, I felt privileged to help the skipper navigate by yelling, "Canoers on the port side!" and other super official-sounding lingo. I was luckiest girl in the world, for the day. Warm breeze, water splashing, scrumptious food and drinks, all in good company.

I highly recommend some form of a boating this summer, kicking your feet up, and letting the wake be your guide. Even within city limits, you can be miles away.

Explore cities by water.

Here are some fun and accessible ways to enjoy time on the water without requiring any prior boating skills:

    Chicago, Illinois: Chicago offers diverse water trails, from Lake Michigan to the Chicago River, making it a haven for paddlers. Kayak Chicago is a notable outfitter providing tours on both the lake and river, including a unique fireworks paddle to view the light show at Navy Pier.

    Miami, Florida: Surrounded largely by water, Miami is a hotspot for various water sports, including kayaking. Paddlers can explore places like Biscayne Bay, the Oleta River within a state park, or the Coral Gables Waterway. Outfitters like South Beach Kayak are known for their excellent services, especially for beginners.

    Portland, Oregon: Yacht Tubs rents 6-person hot tub boats. These boats are also powered by a quiet electric motor and controlled with an easy joystick, requiring no previous boating experience or license. The service, starting from around $360 to $399 for two hours, launches from Riverplace Marina, providing a splendid opportunity to explore the Willamette River and enjoy the city skyline.

    Seattle, Washington: Hot Tub Boats offers a unique and leisurely boating experience. Their boats are also equipped with easy-to-use joystick navigation and can accommodate up to 6 people. Rental prices range from approximately $350 to $450 for a two-hour slot, and the service is available year round. Enjoy Seattle's scenic views from the comfort of a hot tub!

Updated November 2023.

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Tips for Group Golf Trips

Golf is one sport that you can play year-around... at least if you're willing to travel.  So, there's always an opportunity to get out the clubs and enjoy the sunny fairways on a challenging course. It's tee time somewhere.

Golf Groups

Tips for planning a memorable golf trip with friends:

Have fun and keep it in the short grass.

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