Taking The Kids / Travel & Leisure

"Don't you dare cry! No, I wasn't talking to a 4-year-old about to have a meltdown in the middle of a theme park.

Taking the Kids: And Fulfilling a Long-Held Goal

"Don't you dare cry! You're going to finish this day with a smile on your face!" No, I wasn't talking to a 4-year-old about to have a meltdown in the middle of a theme park. My 21-year-old daughter Mel was talking to me and I was indeed about to cry.

We were two-thirds of the way through a long, arduous 12.5-mile hike from Crested Butte, Colo., to Aspen -- an iconic Colorado hike that included crossing the 12,500-foot-high West Maroon Pass -- when I lost my footing on a slippery rock and fell in a creek with a big splash. I was tired, hungry, wet and in tears. But Mel made me smile, even though I don't think that was her intent.

"Get up, Mom!" Melanie commanded. "Your clothes will dry fast and you are going to finish this hike smiling!"

As I struggled to my feet, I smiled remembering all the times her dad and I had been the ones beseeching her and her older brother and sister when they were tired and hungry and we were trying to avoid a meltdown on a ski hill, a hiking trail, Walt Disney World or in the middle of Paris. Traveling, especially with kids, is full of challenges. Ask my daughter Mel, an accomplished backpacker who this summer has been spending weekends hiking some of Colorado's famous 53 "fourteeners," peaks that exceed 14,000 feet in elevation, and she'd tell you traveling with mom and dad is challenging too.

Some vacations are about relaxing; some are about seeing sights, some about connecting with family and friends. And some are about accomplishing a goal -- whether climbing a certain peak, becoming a certified scuba diver, skiing the back country or eating your way through Hong Kong. We've fashioned trips around all of these goals and others.

For some reason, I'd always wanted to do this hike between Crested Butte in southwest Colorado (www.gunnisoncrestedbutte.com) and Aspen (www.aspenchamber.com). I'd first heard about this hike years ago when we took our kids to ski in Crested Butte, an historic mining town, and one of my favorite ski towns.

My interest was renewed last winter when we were skiing in Snowmass and Aspen (www.aspensnowmass.com). "You gotta do it," locals said. "Amazing wildflowers."

Late summer or fall, by the way, is a great time to go to Colorado -- great weather, great deals (some Aspen hotels are as much as 50 percent off, www.aspenchamber.com, and there are great deals in nearby Snowmass, too, www.snowmasstourism.com), and lots to do whether you are grabbing an adult escape (maybe after the last child goes to college), a long weekend, or traveling with kids not yet in school (Check out Labor Day and beyond deals at http://www.colorado.com/special-offer.) We'd never been out here in summer -- until now. (Read my trip diaries about the rest of our Colorado adventures at http://www.takingthekids.com/category/travel-diary/.)

With our daughter Mel spending the summer in Colorado Springs (www.visitcos.com) where she attends college, we asked if she was up for joining us on this hike, followed by a few days in Aspen, alternating relaxing and good meals with more outdoor fun, even fly-fishing. Since I didn't think my bad knee could handle both ways (some people spend the night in one town or the other before hiking back) we arranged for someone we knew to hike from Aspen and drive Mel's car back over Kebler Pass, a spectacular two-hour drive that can only be done before the snow falls. They kindly left their car for us at the trailhead outside Aspen (though we could have taken the free bus back to town).

Many who do this hike backpack for several days, making a loop in the Elk Mountains of the Maroon Bells' Four Passes. We saw many backpackers, including one mom with a toddler on her back. Her husband shouldered a huge pack that he said was "filled with diapers."

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