On the Road Again

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Are We There Yet?

On the Road Again

F a m i l y   V a l u e s
              hollywood style
Planning to curl up in front of the tube before you take off? First, consider these VCR dos and don'ts: the five best movies to plop the gang in front of, and five better left on the Blockbuster shelf.
Do watch:
The Sound of Music
Swiss Family Robinson
Return to Walton Mountain
A Very Brady Sequel
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Don't watch:
National Lampoon's Vacation
Throw Mama From the Train
Thelma and Louise
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey

--Adam Horowitz

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Scottish-Canadian inhabitants here greet "from-aways" (visitors) with a Gaelic Ciad Mile Failte, or "a hundred thousand welcomes." Cape Breton's hospitality is outstripped only by the island's abundant opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing, sailing, kayaking, and whale-watching. Access is via a pair of linked routes. The 187-mile Cabot Trail loops around the finger projecting from Cape Breton's skeletal fist, a roller-coaster ride that passes beaches along the Atlantic shore, ventures into wilderness highlands, crests sea cliffs lining the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and then winds through the pastoral Margaree Valley. The 250-mile Bras d'Or Lake Scenic Drive encircles a lochlike inland sea that divides Cape Breton into highland north and lowland south. Day one: Sydney to Ingonish Beach. Mileage: 76. Drive time: 2 hours. Route: Highway 125 to 105 (Trans-Canada Highway) to the Cabot Trail. Stopovers and side trips: At North River Bridge, about 45 miles from Sydney, drive two miles south of the Cabot Trail on Murray Road to North River Kayak Tours. Half-day and day-long paddles down the Murray River pass an abandoned 1899 paper mill that looks like an old monastery, and head up the sheltered coast toward St. Anns Bay, where there's a 90-percent chance of sighting bald eagles and, on a full-day tour, a 100-percent chance of a shoreline lunch of steamed mussels (1-888-865-2925; $63 per person for a full day; ten percent off for three or more).

About 24 miles from North River Bridge, on a massive headland called Cape Smokey, a 3.5-mile trail winds through a provincial park of birch, spruce, and fir to the edge of a 900-foot granite cliff, where eagles and hawks soar on updrafts. At Ingonish Beach you can alternate freshwater and saltwater swimming by crossing a narrow barachois, a natural breakwater of rock and sand. Bedtime: Camp in the park at Ingonish (tent sites, about $11-$12 per night plus $6 entrance fee per family; 902-285-2691). Day two: Ingonish Beach to Fishing Cove. Mileage: 71. Drive time: 3 hours. Route: Cabot Trail and White Point Road. Stopovers and side trips: From here the Cabot Trail loops in and out of 367-square-mile Cape Breton Highlands National Park (the park's daily family entrance fee is $6 per family). At Sea Spray Cycles (902-383-2732) in Smelt Brook, you can rent mountain bikes ($19 per day) and a bike rack ($3.80), then pedal into the highlands or along the shoreline.

At Cape North take a side trip north to Nova Scotia's most isolated coast. From St. Lawrence Bay skipper Dennis Cox cruises uninhabited, cliff-rimmed coastline in search of humpbacks and minkes; the cetacean-sighting success rate is better than 95 percent (902-383-2981; $19 per person; $15 for kids 12 to 15; $9.50 kids 6 to 11; kids under six free). Beyond Pleasant Bay, the Cabot Trail switchbacks up MacKenzie Mountain to the highland plateau.

From Boarsback Ridge, a five-mile hike suitable for children ten years and older winds 1,100 feet down the steep valley of the Fishing Cove River to cobbled Fishing Cove, which offers the park's only coastal wilderness camping, as well as fishing for brook trout. Bedtime: Camp at Fishing Cove ($11 for a backcountry permit from the Ingonish visitor center; 902-285-2691). Day three: Fishing Cove to Margaree Valley. Mileage: 42. Drive time: 2 hours. Route: The Cabot Trail to Egypt Road. Stopovers and side trips: Watch for moose in the barrens atop French Mountain, and then stop at the roadside Cap Rouge scenic viewpoint and look for the black fins of pilot whales slicing gulf waters. Turn right off the Cabot Trail onto the Chëticamp Island Road and unwind at St. Pierre Beach, which is strewn with seashells and lapped by shallow 75ù F waters. Farther south, the Margaree is one of North America's finest salmon rivers, with 33 pools in 20 fishable miles of crystalline water. Dave MacDonald of the Normaway Inn, two miles off the Cabot Trail on Egypt Road, can set you up with a guide ($75-$99 a day), tackle ($15 a day), and license ($32.50 for a week-long permit). You can also rent mountain bikes at the Normaway ($18 per day) and head into the hardwood hills that shelter the valley. Bedtime: Normaway Inn (doubles, $64-$84; 800-565-9463 or 902-248-2987). Day four: Margaree Valley to Roberta. Mileage: 106. Drive time: 3 hours. Route: Cabot Trail to Highway 105 to Bras d'Or Lakes Scenic Drive. Stopovers and side trips: Baddeck, a yachting center on Bras d'Or Lake, was the summer home of kite-enthusiast Alexander Graham Bell. Go fly a borrowed Parks Canada kite (or make your own sled kite) at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site (902-295-2069).

Loch Bhreagh Tours (902-295-2016) and Amoeba Sailing Tours (902-295-1426) will take you past Bell's rambling estate, Beinn Bhreagh ("beautiful mountain" in Gaelic) on a nearby headland. Island Eco-Adventures in Baddeck (800-707-5512 or 902-295-3303) rents hybrid bikes ($23 per day) for customized self-guided rides, and also leads guided day trips ($11.50 an hour, minimum four hours). Kids ten and older can handle the four-hour Baddeck River loop with a swimming stop at Uisge Ban (ISH-keh ban) Falls. Bedtime: The Diana Resort, two miles west of Roberta, has three two-bedroom cottages and eight motel units ($75-$85 for cottages; $50 for motel rooms, including breakfast; 902-345-2485). Day five: Roberta to Sydney. Mileage: 115. Drive time: 3 hours. Route: Bras d'Or Lakes Scenic Drive to Highway 4 to East Bay, then southwest along the north shore of East Bay on Highway 223 and along the coast of St. Andrews Channel. At North West Arm, take Highway 125 to Sydney. Stopovers and side trips: Half-day paddles ($30 per person) with Kayak Cape Breton (902-535-3060) include instruction in a sheltered bay and a short paddle to a lake island. For the best ocean swimming hereabouts, drive eight miles east of St. Peters on Highway 247 to the uncrowded, miles-long sandy beach at Point Michaud. Super Natural Sailing Tours departs Johnstown for 2.5-hour excursions on a 50-foot catamaran. A marine biologist entertains everyone with food-chain demonstrations; just try getting your kid up on deck to see a cormorant colony when he can stay in the cabin and watch a starfish extrude its stomach to scarf down a mussel ($20 adults; $9 for children 6 to 12; children under six free; 902-535-3371). Bedtime: You can camp and swim on the Mira River at MacKeigan's Bay Beach Park ($12 for tent sites; 902-727-2369); to get there, take Highway 327 about 12 miles south of Sydney.
--David Dunbar

D O N ' T   F O R G E T
   day pack
   zipper-pull thermometer
energy bars
star chart
water bottle
California's North Coast
It's just 65 miles north of San Francisco, but Bodega Bay still looks like it did when Hitchcock filmed The Birds there. This is your starting point for a five-day coastal ramble, mostly on two-lane blacktop hugging steep mountains that plummet to the sea. Many people blast through in one or two white-knuckle, carsick days, but this is a coast for dawdling. The route takes you slowly up the Pacific Coast Highway past the most remote parts of the California shoreline, inland to the heart of the Eel River canyon and redwood country, and back to the beach again at Arcata, a quirky timber town in Humboldt County 300 miles from San Francisco. Day One: Bodega Bay to Salt Point State Park. Mileage: 32. Drive Time: 1.5 hours. Route: North from Bodega Bay on the Pacific Coast Highway (California 1). Stopovers and Side trips: If you start your trip on a Friday, get off on the right foot with a tour of the University of California's Bodega Marine Laboratory (open Fridays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.), a major aquaculture research center where kids will love the gurgling tanks and fascinating experiments.

Twelve miles north of Bodega Bay in Jenner, the mouth of the Russian River is a large harbor-seal rookery filled with quickly growing pups in the summertime; orange-vested volunteers will lend you binoculars and keep you a safe distance from the seals. Everyone knows about the Spanish history of California, but how many know that this part of the state was settled by Russians? Fort Ross State Historic Park ($6 per vehicle; 707-847-3286), 12 miles north of Jenner, is a reconstruction of a Russian fort and Orthodox Church built here in 1812.

Once you reach Salt Point State Park (707-847-3221), about eight miles farther, check out the tide pools in Gerstle Cove, then hit the 1.6-mile trail up the blufftop to Stump Beach. Bedtime: Camp at Salt Point State Park ($12-$16 per night, reservations recommended; call Destinet, 800-444-7275). Day Two: Salt Point to Manchester State Beach. Mileage: 40. Drive Time: 2 hours. Route: North on California 1. Stopovers and side trips: At the border of Sonoma and Mendocino counties in the town of Gualala, the Gualala River runs parallel to the Pacific for just under two miles. The dirt road on the left on the north side of the California 1 bridge leads down to sandy beaches and freshwater swimming holes, a perfect midway stop.

After a swim, continue 14 miles to Point Arena; beyond the tiny town, turn left onto Lighthouse Road to visit the tall concrete lighthouse that was built to replace a brick lighthouse that tumbled during the famous 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Keep your eyes peeled for migrating whales, which often round Point Arena close to shore. Bedtime: Manchester State Beach, four miles north of town, is a first-come, first-served primitive campground stretched along a long sandy beach with dunes.

If being without a reservation makes you nervous, book a campsite ($27-$34 per night) or a cabin ($39-$49 per night) at the KOA campground (707-882-2375 or 800-562-4188) near Manchester Beach on Kinney Road. Day Three: Point Arena to MacKerricher State Park. Mileage: 40. Drive time: 2 hours. Route: North on California 1. Stopovers and side trips: About 20 miles north of Point Arena stop at Van Damme State Park to show the little tykes something they'll surely appreciate--a unique pygmy forest where the average old-growth cypress tree is four feet tall and the tallest tree in the forest only seven feet tall. If the quarter-mile loop trail leaves you wanting something more strenuous, the 4.7-mile (round-trip) Fern Canyon Trail follows Little River through a Jurassic-Park-style grotto.

Six miles up the coast, whalewatching kids will love a stop at Mendocino Headlands State Park. Late in the summer, blackberry bushes along the blufftop trails provide a finger-staining feast. Bedtime: MacKerricher State Park has eight miles of beach, sand dunes, tide pools, and fine campgrounds spilling back into the woods ($16 a night, with hot showers; reservations recommended; call 800-444-7275).

Young bikers can practice their not-quite-ready-for-the-highway moves along the eight-mile Haul Road (no motor vehicles allowed), and Lake Cleone in the park is periodically stocked with trout for fishing. Day Four: MacKerricher to Richardson Grove State Park. Mileage: 64. Drive Time: 2 hours. Route: California 1 about 44 miles north to Leggett. From there take U.S. 101 about 20 miles north to Richardson Grove State Park. Stopovers and Side Trips: You'll be leaving the coast soon after passing Westport-Union Landing State Beach, so take the time to walk down to any of the beautiful pocket beaches along this stretch.

After the junction with U.S. 101, stop for a swim in the Eel River at Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area. For an excellent neck-craning hike to old-growth redwoods, take the 2.1-mile Big Tree Loop to the 1,200-year-old Standish tree--easy enough for anyone over five years old. Bedtime: If you were able to reserve a site in Richardson Grove State Park's Huckleberry Campground, sleep peacefully under a grove of enormous coastal redwoods in one of the 36 sites there. Otherwise, the park has 133 less-secluded campsites near the Eel River ($16 per night; call 800-444-7275 to make reservations. Day Five: Richardson Grove to Patrick's Point State Park. Mileage: 106. Drive time: 2.5 hours. Route: U.S. 101 north.Stopovers and Side Trips: Only 11 miles north of Richardson Grove, Benbow Lake is a 123-acre reservoir created every spring on the south fork of the Eel River; you can rent a canoe or sailboat at Benbow Valley Resort (707-923-2777).

Farther up U.S. 101, Eureka is the biggest town on the north coast and an important port, but for a more interesting dose of local color stop off in Arcata, the home of Humboldt State University. Just east of town on 11th Street is the 25.8-acre Redwood Park, which backs up to the 600-acre Arcata Community Forest. Trail 8 is a good 1.7-mile loop through the woods near Jolly Giant Creek, but in this heavily-used mini-wilderness, feel free to improvise on intersecting trails--it's hard to get lost for long. For hiking maps and information, call 707-822-8184. Bedtime: In Patrick's Point State Park (707-445-6547), 123 campsites with toilets and showers are split between several campgrounds ($16 per night; call 800-444-7275 for reservations). In the morning hike the two-mile Rim Trail to Agate Beach, littered with millions of these water-smoothed semi-precious stones.
--Andrew Rice

Missouri Ozarks
South of St. Louis is a sparsely populated region where it's said that "the hills ain't too high, but the hollers sure are deep." Welcome to the Missouri Ozarks.

Part of a 60,000-square-mile plateau--the largest area of highlands between the Appalachians and the Rockies--the Ozarks are a rolling landscape of hills and forest, where pioneer cabins hide among the vast hardwood tree cover, and life takes on a slower pace. A 620-mile loop drive from St. Louis traverses the region, yielding plenty of opportunities en route for hiking, fishing, rafting, and exploring. Day one: St. Louis to Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Mileage: 164 to Van Buren. Drive Time: 3 hours. Route: U.S. 67 south to Missouri 34 west to U.S. 60 west. Stopovers and side trips: The Ozark National Scenic Riverways (573-323-4236) encompasses 100 miles of the Current River and 34 miles of its main tributary, the Jacks Fork, and is highlighted by cold springs, mysterious caves, richly hued forests, and limestone bluffs up to 200 feet high. The deep-green pools of the Current are perfect for casting for bass; daily or three-day licenses can be purchased in any of the nearby towns. Fast-flowing but smooth, the river is also perfect for novice canoeists or floating in innertubes. Big Spring Canoe & Tube Rental in Van Buren (800-567-8701) offers an 11-mile float, including canoe rental, equipment, and transportation, for $25 per person; "Cadillac" inner tubes (a deluxe version) rent for $10 per day per person.

A good spot for hiking is the Between the Rivers section of the Ozark Trail, which winds past cedar glades, springs, and sinkholes, with exceptional views of the Ozark landscape. The trailhead is located four miles west of Van Buren off U.S. 60.

A few miles south of the U.S. 60 bridge at Van Buren is Big Spring, the granddaddy of Ozark gushers. America's largest single-outlet spring, Big Spring discharges 277 million gallons of water per day into the river, enough to supply the needs of several midsized cities. A short walk from the parking lot leads you there. Bedtime: The National Park Service manages seven campgrounds that offer car-camping facilities ($8 per night). Along the Current River, most families prefer Big Spring because of its proximity to Van Buren, which makes quick trips to town easier. Day two: Spend an extra day exploring the Ozark National Scenic Riverway; finish at Alley Spring Campground on the Jacks Fork River, or at Montauk State Park. Mileage: 34 from Big Spring Campground to Alley Spring; 50 to Montauk State Park. Drive Time: 1 hour direct; all day with stops for sightseeing. Route: U.S. 60 west to Missouri 19 north to Missouri 106 west. Stopovers and side trips: Before leaving Big Spring, check out the interpretive area that offers slide shows and information about the area's pioneer history.

Head next to Coldwater Ranch on Missouri 19, three miles north of the town of Eminence on Farm Road 208, for guided trail rides into the Ozark hills ($15 per person the first hour, $100 all day; 573-226-3723). At Round Spring, 13 miles north of Eminence on Missouri 19, you can accompany park rangers on a two-mile guided tour of Round Spring Cave. The tour runs Memorial Day through Labor Day, ($4 adults; $2 for age 12 and under).

At Alley Spring, five miles from Eminence on Missouri 160, visit a one-room schoolhouse and a historic roller mill that used to grind wheat and corn.

As an alternative, visit Montauk State Park (573-548-2201), about 30 miles north of Round Spring. Here, seven clear, cold springs form the headwaters of the Current River, which is regularly stocked with rainbow trout. Bedtime: Alley Spring Campground offers good swimming in a pleasant, wooded setting ($8 per night). Montauk State Park has campsites (call 573-548-2201), motel rooms and sleeping cabins (both $44-$56 per night), housekeeping cabins ($65-$77 per night), and dining at Montauk Lodge (573-548-2434). All cabins have heating and air conditioning, and the housekeeping cabins are furnished with linens, cooking utensils, and dishes. Day three: Alley Spring Campground to the Eleven Point Ranger District of the Mark Twain National Forest to Gulf Island State Park. Mileage: 124. Drive Time: 3 hours. Route: Missouri 106 east to Missouri 19 south; then to U.S. 60 east (back through Van Buren) to Missouri 21 south for 23 miles to Missouri 142 west. Stopovers and side trips: A wealth of outdoor recreation opportunities await within the seven ranger districts of the 1.5-million acre Mark Twain National Forest (573-364-4621). Although most roads through the forest are picturesque, the four-mile paved Skyline Drive in the Eleven Point Ranger District (573-325-4233) offers especially inspiring vistas of the surrounding hills and forested valleys. The Skyline Drive follows a ridgetop off Missouri 103 south of Van Buren.

There are hundreds of miles of trails along the way. The Skyline Trail follows ridges across the upper end of Sweezie Hollow and returns to Skyline Drive in 1.3 miles; the trailhead is located 1.5 miles from Missouri 103 on Skyline Drive. Songbird Trail, a 1.2-mile loop, passes Watercress Spring, backwater sloughs of the Current River, small coves, bluffs, and the remains of Civil War gun emplacements. The trailhead is in Watercress Spring Recreation Area.

In the afternoon, drive southwest 48 miles from Doniphan in the southeastern corner of the Eleven Point Ranger District to Grand Gulf State Park (573-548-2201), six miles west of Thayer off County Road W. Often called the "Little Grand Canyon," the gulf was created when the ceiling of a giant cave collapsed. The intriguing canyon winds for a mile through vertical walls as high as 120 feet. Bedtime: Greer Crossing Recreation Area (Missouri 19 north eight miles). Campsites are $6 per night; call 573-325-4233. Day four: Greer Crossing Recreation Area to Sam A. Baker State Park. Mileage: 80. Drive Time: 1.5 hours. Route: Missouri 19 north to U.S. 60 east; then two miles on Missouri 21 north to Missouri 34 east to Missouri 143 north. Stopovers and side trips: Sam A. Baker State Park (573-856-4411), four miles north of Patterson on Missouri 143, is a family favorite. The 5,164-acre park comprises an expansive wilderness that surrounds Mudlick Mountain, a nature center, and a clear stream for summer splashing. Big Creek and the St. François River attract anglers and canoeists (rentals about $25).

There are numerous hiking trails in the area. Some paths take only a half-hour or so, but a more energetic family can tackle the 12-mile Mudlick Trail, a moderately strenuous loop route (good for ages seven and up) that climbs from an elevation of 415 feet to 1,313 feet at the top of Mudlick Mountain. Here you can see the dramatic effects of harsh climatic conditions on a summit forest amid unobstructed vistas of the surrounding landscape. Bedtime: Sam A. Baker State Park has 193 vehicular-access campsites ($6-$12 per night) with hot showers and a convenient coin-operated laundry.

You can also choose from 17 modern housekeeping cabins ($44-$150 per night) and one sleeping cabin ($36 per night; reservations necessary; call 573-856-4223). Day five: Sam A. Baker State Park to Onondaga Cave State Park. Mileage: 112. Drive Time: all day, with stops. Route: Missouri 143 north to Missouri 49 north to Missouri 32; then Missouri 49 again to Missouri 19. Stopovers and side trips: From south to north, there's a tight cluster of state parks, each worthy of a visit. First is Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park (800-334-6946), eight miles north of Lesterville on County Road N, where you can prowl the Black River's unusual canyonlike gaps or shut-ins carved through Missouri's oldest exposed rock.

If you backtrack through Lesterville to Glover and head north on Missouri 21 for several miles, you'll find the new Taum Sauk Mountain State Park (573-546-2450), site of Taum Sauk Mountain, at 1,772 feet, Missouri's highest point. A few miles north, in Pilot Knob on Missouri 21, is Fort Davidson State Historic Site (573-546-3454). And nine miles north on Missouri 21 west of Graniteville is Elephant Rocks State Park (573-546-3454), with giant red boulders dating back 1.2 billion years. Bedtime: Onondaga Cave State Park (573-245-6576) has 73 campsites and a store. For more creature comforts, stay at the Meramec Farm Bed & Breakfast (doubles, $50-$65; ages 13 to 18, $15-$20; 6 to 12, $10-$15; dinner and/or breakfast included in some rates; under six free; 573-732-4765) nine miles south of the town of Bourbon. The 460-acre cattle ranch, located along the Meramec River, has three rooms in a 114-year-old farmhouse and a cabin that sleeps three to eight. Farm-to-farm mountain biking is offered as well; rates vary. Day six: Onondaga Cave State Park to St. Louis. Mileage: 70. Drive Time: 1 hour. Route: I-44 east. Stopovers and side trips: Before heading back to St. Louis, take a guided tour of Onondaga Cave to view the outstanding onyx formations (daily tours, $7; age 13 to 19, $5; age 6 to 12, $3; under six free).

At the Eagle Hurst Resort & Dude Ranch (800-257-2624), an hour south of the park on Missouri 8, there's horseback riding, family-style meals, free pony rides, tennis, swimming, tubing, and cottages for rent ($58-$65 per person per night).
--Larry Rice

Rocky Mountain National Park
Bisected north to south by the Continental Divide, with a third of its 415 square miles above tree line, Rocky Mountain National Park provides a generous dose of unmolested Colorado ideally suited to an active family vacation. Only 65 miles from Denver, the park encompasses more than 350 miles of hiking trails and some of the most renowned rock climbing and mountaineering routes in the West. The spectacular scenery includes dozens of pristine glacial lakes; large populations of deer, elk, bighorn sheep, beaver, hawks, and coyotes; and thousands of species of summer wildflowers.

Two cautions: Plan hikes so that you're below tree line by early afternoon to avoid lightning storms, and be prepared for sudden and drastic changes in weather. Up high, August snow is not unheard of. For weather, camping, and other updates, contact the park's public information office at 970-586-1206. An excellent introduction to the area is The Insiders' Guide to Boulder & Rocky Mountain National Park, by Reed Glenn and Clair Walter (Boulder Publishing Company and the Insiders Guide, $16.95). Day one: Denver to Grand Lake. Mileage: 85. Drive time: about 2.5 hours. Route: I-70 west to Empire, then north on U.S. 40 to Granby, then north on U.S. 34 to Grand Lake. Stopovers and side trips: This is the long way from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park, but it introduces you to the park via its less crowded (but no less spectacular) west side. Grand Lake is a relatively laid-back six blocks of resort--an alpine beach town at 8,367 feet--with a pleasant stretch of sandy shoreline.

Just outside town, the national park is a hikers' paradise, and visitors centers stock plenty of maps and guidebooks. Two especially thorough guides are Rocky Mountain National Park: A Family Guide, by Lisa Gollin Evans (The Mountaineers Books, $12.95), and Rocky Mountain National Park: Classic Hikes and Climbs, by Gerry Roach (Fulcrum, $14.95).

A safe bet for day hikers: Start at the North Inlet trailhead, about a mile outside town, then catch the trail to Cascade Falls (a gentle seven-mile round-trip through evergreens, aspens, and mossy cliffs good for kids about eight and older).

Though mountain bikes aren't allowed on national park trails, there are plenty of routes in the surrounding national forest; Rocky Mountain Sports (970-627-8124) rents bikes ($22 per day, $8 per hour; kids' bikes half-off). For a few hours (or a day) on the water, Spirit Lake Marina (970-627-8158) rents fishing boats and Boater's Choice (970-627-9273) rents canoes and fishing boats you can take out on Grand Lake.

Afterwards, plan a dinnertime picnic at Lake Irene, 15.8 miles into the park from the west entrance, to spot deer and watch the sun set behind the Never Summer Range. Bedtime: The Rapids Lodge in Grand Lake (doubles, $45-$80; 970-627-3707), built in the early 1900s and restored with Victorian decor, abuts the rushing Tonahutu River; ask for a room on the creek side. Grand Lake central reservations (800-462-5253) can also help with booking accommodations.

Timber Creek Campground, eight miles into the park on U.S. 34, has 100 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis for $12 a night, with a seven-night maximum stay. Day two: Grand Lake to Estes Park. Mileage: 50. Drive time: 3 hours, including stops at roadside overlooks. Route: Trail Ridge Road (U.S. 34) east through the national park. Stopovers and side trips: Trail Ridge, with 11 miles of road above tree line (it'sthe nation's highest continuous paved road), snakes through windswept, fragile alpine tundra 20 miles or so to 12,183-foot Fall River Pass. The road is usually open from Memorial Day to mid-October, weather permitting, and features many overlooks with jaw-dropping views of snowfields, tundra, and glacier-sculpted peaks, with marmots and pikas in the foreground. There are numerous trailheads here, including one for the half-hour tundra walk that leaves from the Alpine Visitors Center.

From Fall River Pass on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, you begin the descent into Estes Park, the somewhat honky-tonk eastern gateway to the park, where you'll find lodging and restaurants. One of the best ways to take in the east side of the park is on horseback; Hi-Country Stables (970-586-3244 or 586-2327) has two locations within the park and offers one-hour to full-day rides (one hour, $18; eight hours, $70; half-price for kids under five). Bedtime: The Aspen Lodge at Estes Park, seven miles south of town on Colorado 7 adjoining a 3,000-acre ranch, offers hayrides, swimming, tennis, horseback riding, and a hot tub (three-night minimum; adults, $430 for a three-night stay; kids 3 to 12, $260; under three free; meals included; call 800-332-6867).

Streamside Cabins, on a forested hillside overlooking the Fall River, offers 19 units in five cabins, some with skylights, gas grills, steam rooms, and fireplaces--the sybarite's answer to camping out (call 970-586-6464 or 800-321-3303 for reservations and information). Day three: Estes Park to the Longs Peak Trailhead. Mileage: 22 round-trip. Drive time: 30 minutes. Route: South on Colorado 7 from U.S. 36 nine miles, then west for one mile on the road marked by a sign for the Longs Peak Ranger Station and Campground. Stopovers and side trips: Longs Peak is the crown jewel of Rocky Mountain National Park--the park's highest peak (at 14,255 feet) and the northernmost "Fourteener" in the entire Rockies. For the well conditioned (suitable for ages 13 and up), the steep trail to Chasm Lake is an invigorating nine-mile round-trip hike to a glistening glacial tarn with excellent views of the hard-core alpinists scaling Longs's sheer east face, "the Diamond." Along the way you should make a stop at Columbine Falls, where the Roaring Fork River plunges more than 100 feet into a dark-blue pool.

Colorado Mountain School offers rock-climbing instruction and guided climbs in the park and the surrounding area for adults and kids seven and older (970-586-5758).

For an alternate day's jaunt, Colorado Bicycling Adventures (970-586-4241) in Estes Park rents bikes ($20-$40 per day) and offers a no-exertion rush: a one-way ride downhill from the top of Trail Ridge Road ($65; minimum age 12). Bedtime: The Goblins Forest backcountry campsite, marked by eerily gnarled pines 1.2 miles up from the Longs Peak trailhead, sits along the route to Chasm Lake and Longs Peak (permits required, $15; call the Backcountry Office (970-586-1242). Day four: Estes Park to Denver. Mileage: 65. Route: U.S. 36 south to I-25 south. Drive time: 1.5 hours. Stopovers and side trips: No outdoors-oriented vacation to the Front Range is complete without at least a good portion of a day spent in Boulder (32 miles from Denver), fondly known to locals as the "People's Republic." A stopover here should include a walk, run, bike, or skate along the 16-mile Boulder Creek Path, which winds through parks, under busy streets, and along a gurgling stream; Central Park, at Broadway and Canyon, is a good central access point.

The path also leads to the base of the Elephant Buttresses and the Dome, two especially popular climbing spots. Instruction is available through the Colorado Mountain Club (303-449-1135), the City of Boulder Parks and Recreation Adventure Program (303-441-4401), and the Boulder Rock Club, which also has two indoor climbing gyms (303-447-2804).
--Mike Grudowski

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