Alaska with teens in tow

by • July 15, 2013 • AK on the GoComments (0)2211

Balance family time with adventure


Zipping across the lake at Denali Zipline Tours’ course in Talkeetna. Erin Kirkland

Zipping across the lake at Denali Zipline Tours’ course in Talkeetna. Erin Kirkland

Teenagers are a tough crowd. Striving for independence, yet still unconsciously so dependent, teens generally approach family vacations as weeks through which to be suffered. I’ve been there, stuffed in the back of a Volkswagen Bus for a thousand miles of road trip with my older brother and younger sister, each of us at different stages of adolescent development.

It’s a wonder my parents didn’t leave one or all of us beside a lonely stretch of I-90, with only our snotty attitudes and a boom box of mix tapes as company.

Why do we take teenagers on vacation, anyway? They don’t want to be around us; they want freedom, unlimited choices, and their own schedule. Parents are but a speed bump in the otherwise awesome road of emerging independence.

Perhaps, but not always in Alaska. The beautiful scenery that attracts parents to book a trip north is the same natural environment holding a wealth of adventures appealing to teens. You just need to strike a balance between viewing and doing. I like to employ a simple mantra my own parents created when my siblings and I were growing up:

Engage. Enlist your teen’s assistance with planning the trip. Hand over a map and visitor guide, and let your kid call the shots. Valuing a child’s input for activities means trust on both sides, and starts your journey with a positive attitude. Be sure to discuss both planned and spontaneous family fun, factoring in topics of appropriate budgeting and allowable free time, too.

Empower. We all know teens think they are invincible, so why not let them push the envelope in a controlled environment, feeling the adrenaline rush on a zipline tour, or the tip of a crampon into glacier ice. Adventure-style vacationing is on the rise in Alaska, and many companies are responding to the teenage demographic with equipment and trip packages geared toward younger visitors.

Embrace. Hot tip, parents; your teen is becoming his or her own person, with definite preferences for vacations. What a thrill, then, to send your son or daughter down a mountain bike trail or up into the forest canopy, even if it scares you to death. I bet you’ll all come away with new perspectives.

Need some ideas? Check out three great Alaska adventures for teens.

Alaska Railroad’s Spencer Glacier Ice Climbing tour departs Anchorage each morning and is suitable for kids age 13 and up. Enjoy hiking, climbing, and geology, and recreation under the leadership of local guides, Ascending Path. (, 800-321-6518, 907-265-2494)

Alyeska Resort features mountain bike trails to meet rising demand for summer activities. Kids with strong off-road biking skills can use lift-access to take their bikes to new heights. Or enjoy the less adrenaline-inducing Winner Creek Extension toward popular Winner Creek trail and the hand-tram over Winner Creek. (, 907-754-2553)

Denali Zipline Tours in Talkeetna includes a three-hour tour through a boreal forest, over suspension bridges, and shooting out over the woodsy canopy. The final zip flies 200 yards over a mountain lake. Weight at least 90 pounds and be in reasonably good shape. (, 907-733-3988, 855-735-3988)


Erin Kirkland is a freelance travel writer and publisher of, a website dedicated to family travel and outdoor recreation in Alaska.


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