Family Adventure Travel in West Virginia

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent
Lost World Caverns.

This was the year the Meloun family of Hilliard decided to trade in their traditional family trip to Disney for adventure travel.

"The boys asked if we could do something more active," said Stacy Meloun.

Nine-year-old Keegan and 8-year-old Brendan were thinking big - really big! - and decided this year they would tackle real adventures such as whitewater rafting, rock climbing and caving. While apprehensive at first, Meloun and her husband, Grant, decided it was a doable idea for the family.

They found Adventures on the Gorge (AOTG), an extreme-experience adventure company in Lansing, W.Va. AOTG caters to both adrenaline junkies who want to tackle Class VI rapids as well as families like the Melouns who want their adrenaline rushes served up incrementally.

In the course of five days, the Meloun family packed in Timber Trek Aerial Adventure Park (a challenging, outdoor obstacle course), rafting on the family-friendly Upper New River, hiking, paddle boarding, kayaking, rock climbing, swimming and cave exploration.

The adventures not only challenged everyone in the family, but Keegan and Brendan came home with newfound confidence and, frankly, bragging rights they earned the hard way.

"The kids did stuff I wasn't sure they would do. Keegan wasn't sure about rafting," said Meloun, referring to her trip in a two-person boat with her son. "Keegan didn't even paddle at first. I paddled. Then he paddled a little and, by the end, he was the only one paddling."

Brendan earned his adventure stripes by stepping up to a challenge that would intimidate most adults: caving at the Lost World Caverns. He was the youngest AOTG participant to date (new age limits are now 10 and up) to navigate two miles of caves 250 feet below the ground with knee and elbow pads. Meloun admitted the tight crawlspaces and pitch-dark trek were challenging even for her. But the real reward was hearing young Brendan emerge with an exuberant, "I can't believe I made it, Mom! I did it!"

When Stacy and Grant wanted to try a more extreme adventure on the TreeTops Canopy zipline tour (ages 10 and up only), the boys tackled their own adventures at Kids Camp, where they learned how to read a compass and enjoy kid-friendly activities.

"It (Kids Camp) was a great option for things that we can't all do if the kids are too young," said Meloun. "It was nice for Grant and I to do something together."

Adventures on the Gorge is a company made up of the top four rafting and adventure outfits in the region that merged into one company, and it offers dozens of activities ranging from a bridge walk (851 feet above the New River) to ATV tours to horseback tours, hiking and even paintball.

The company is not alone in expanding its outdoor-adventure options. Many companies now include experiences that suit varied age ranges so the whole family can enjoy outdoor adventures together. In a 2014 Industry Snapshot report by the Adventure Travel Trade Association, 17 percent of adventure travel tour operators around the world say their customers now travel in family groups.

This kind of adventurous family vacation is valuable far beyond the cool photos and bragging rights of tackling rapids together.

"Bonding with the outdoors is important because these experiences have purpose and create character," said Dave Arnold, vice president of Adventures on the Gorge. "Every day, as families are on the river or engaged in obstacle courses, I see them share extraordinary personal and bonding moments."

This proved true for the Meloun family.

"It was a great bonding experience for us," said Meloun. "There was a sense of camaraderie. Those are the kinds of experiences we want the boys to have. It was by far our favorite vacation. There's no comparison."