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Family travel 5: Awe-inspiring ways to explore the natural world

by Tribune News Service | May 8, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

There are so many ways to explore our natural world. Here are five to consider.

Discover the National Water Trails System

It's a network of 22 river, lake and other waterway trails, designated as such by the U.S. Department of Interior. The system offers families vacation and recreational opportunities in scenic regions of the U.S.

In southwest Ohio, families can access 291 miles of paddling, fishing and wildlife-watching fun on three rivers and numerous smaller tributaries, including the Great Miami River, Stillwater River and Mad River, as well as Twin, Greenville and Buck Creeks.

The Great Miami River Watershed Water Trail also includes whitewater and kayak parks, world-class fishing and more than 100 natural and urban parks in the region. Maps are available to help families locate the 117 public access points, with bike trail information and to plan an adventure.

Visit Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Visitors to this intriguing landscape have the option to discover two worlds -- one above ground, the other below the earth's surface. Under expansive skies, families can explore 44 square miles of prairie and pine forest, a landscape that, according to park rangers, is brimming with wildlife. Below, Wind Cave, the world's seventh largest caving system, is known for its rare formations, particularly the grate-like structure called "boxwork." The candlelit tour of the caves is highly regarded. Reservations are required.

Explore Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn, New York

Awash in color, scent and texture, gardens are a gift from the natural world. Toddler discovery, tree detective and family weekend programs combine to make Brooklyn Botanic Garden an outstanding place to inspire young naturalists and to encourage families to explore science and nature together.

Pot up a plant or create a nature craft to take home with help from volunteer discovery docents and teen apprentices. The expanded Discovery Garden, created for the youngest garden guests, provides hands-on opportunities to investigate plant and animal life in an immersive landscape. Don't miss the winding pathways and unique beauty of the Japanese Gardens, for which the BBG is noted.

Explore a Natural Heritage Area

Visit a National Heritage Area, one of 55 specially designated places where historic, cultural and natural resources combine to form nationally important landscapes.

Home to some of the most influential crossroads of Alaska's history, Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area offers historic, cultural, scenic and outdoor recreational opportunities for those who venture to the Last Frontier. Explore mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciers and fjords in an area comprised of north-south road, rail and trail corridors from Bird to Seward as well as Girdwood, Portage and Moose Pass. There's also plenty to discover in Cooper Landing, Whittier and the wild waters of Prince William Sound. The area offers a wealth of wildlife watching, history and nature tours, hiking, biking, fishing and backcountry options.

Catch the buzz

Discover the busy world of bees during a self-guided visit to this intriguing bee garden. Your family can safely learn about the importance of honeycomb, nectar, honey and pollen and why we need to preserve the bee population during a visit to the West Seattle Bee Garden. Take time to walk through the adjacent park and talk about plants and their role in the pollination process. Ask about their annual festival, which includes activities for kids, music and enhanced educational programs.

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