Explore the cool communities of Arizona's White Mountains for a refreshing family summer getaway.
This summer, tell your kids to step away from the video games and the television. Put your foot down and refuse to take them to the mall and the multiplex.
Instead, pack up everyone and have some family fun in Arizona's White Mountains.
The White Mountains region, located in eastern Arizona, is a high-country, pine-scented retreat dotted with small lakes.
Although some of the area was damaged by the recent Wallow Fire, there is still plenty of beautiful country offering cool respite and fun, family friendly activities.
The region cradles portions of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, the White Mountain Apache Reservation and communities such as Pinetop-Lakeside, Greer, Springerville and Eagar.
Away from big-city distractions, kids love the activities available to them in the White Mountains - camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding and more.
Outdoor Fun in Town
Start your White Mountains adventure in Pinetop-Lakeside's family friendly Woodland Lake Park, where you'll find picnic tables, ball fields, a playground and easy trails encircling a small lake. Kids can also try their hand at fishing off the pier.
The park is part of a 583-acre complex that also includes the Big Springs Environmental Study Area, an outdoor classroom for kids, where trails and signage explain wildlife and flora.
The park and study area are linked by paths that are part of the White Mountains Trail System, some 200 miles of scenic, looping multiuse trails that largely emanate from Pinetop-Lakeside.
If your kids would rather ride than walk, try horseback riding. Porter Mountain Stables, just outside Pinetop-Lakeside, is one of several White Mountains stables.
At Porter Mountain Stables, riders aged eight and up can opt for a trail ride to Scott Reservoir or a sunset ride up a mesa.
Head Into the Wilderness
The White Mountains communities are ringed by the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, more than two million acres of wilderness and recreation - and the center of White Mountains camping.
What kid doesn't like to sleep in a tent, especially with the promise of no baths and plenty of s'mores? You'll find many developed and dispersed camping areas, but check ahead with the local ranger districts to see which areas may be closed due to the recent Wallow wildfire.
Take the kids out on a day hike within the national forest. Try the popular, 14-mile (round-trip) West Baldy Trail.
The first few miles are perfect for younger children - traversing over level footing through a lovely meadow. The last few miles might appeal to more athletic hikers - climbing steep switchbacks up to 11,200 feet along the flanks of Mt. Baldy, the heart of the White Mountains.
Summer Ski Resort Adventures
An easier way to get vertical is to visit Sunrise Park Resort. During the winter, it's Arizona's largest ski area. In the summer, a scenic chairlift ride offers views and access to descending trails.
Do your kids like mountain biking? The resort offers bike rentals and lets you take the bikes on the lift so everyone can barrel down the trails. The resort also has disc golf, horseback riding and fishing.
Lakes, History & More
There are plenty of other things to do in the White Mountains. Not far from Sunrise Park Resort, the tiny town of Greer boasts the Butterfly Lodge Museum, a historic hunting lodge that once belonged to Western writer James Willard Schultz and his artist son, Hart Merriam Schultz.
If your kids drag their heels at the thought of going to a museum, point them toward the naturalist programs - kid-friendly scavenger hunts and a freestanding tepee that's the site of weekend story hours and crafts projects.
Want your kids to really run loose? Head out of Springerville to Lyman Lake State Park, a 1,200-acre park set around a 1,500-acre reservoir.
Here, you can camp (kids love the cabin and yurt rental options), swim, fish or meander the hiking trails. Feel the need for speed? The lake is big enough to accommodate the family ski boat.
Finally, if the kids (and you) need a break from nature, circle back to Pinetop-Lakeside and the White Mountain Family Fun Park.
For a few hours, everyone can knock themselves out with go-carts, miniature golf and arcade games. Trout, squirrels and pine trees can wait.
About the Author
Nora Burba Trulsson
Nora Burba Trulsson is a long-time Arizona resident and a freelance writer specializing in travel, food, lifestyle, architecture and design topics. Her articles have appeared in Phoenix Home & Garden, Arizona Highways, Sunset, houzz.com, Valley Guide, Modern Luxury Scottsdale and other publications and websites.