The Value File

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, Family Vacation Guide

The Value File
For a high action-to-dollar ratio, try these six weeklong family trips from $640 to $1,358

Any parent who has priced a package to Disney World knows that kid-oriented vacations don't come cheap. There is hope, however, for moms and dads on the verge of raiding the college fund for a week's worth of family fun. The following six vacations provide plenty of affordable adventure for a family of four.

YMCA Family Camp, Lake Sequoia, California
In a state containing the world's most sophisticated 10-year-olds whose daily routines have been known to include the use of cell phones and personal trainers, it's nice to know that somewhere in California there's a YMCA camp that still espouses a rigorous schedule of macaroni art and campfire sing-alongs.

Fifty-five miles east of Fresno at the corner of Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks, Family Camp at Lake Sequoia sprawls across about 850 acres at an altitude of 5,500 feet, with prime shorefront property on pine-lined Lake Sequoia. The camp prides itself on its age-appropriate programs — a nursery for toddlers; a Kids' Club featuring crafts, stories, and close-to-home activities for five- to 10-year-olds; and an Adventure Program for older kids that includes a ropes course, a climbing wall, and archery. Land-based activities may be segregated by age, but when it comes to the waterfront, all bets are off. Toddlers can splash in the shallows while their elder siblings venture farther out on a sailboat, windsurfer, canoe, or rowboat.

Like all good things in life, Family Camp at Lake Sequoia has a waiting list, so you might need to sit out a summer before the fun begins. In the meantime, you can decide which accommodations you prefer: bare-bones camping (seven days cost $504 per couple, plus $68-$109 per kid, depending on age); a large, newly refurbished rustic cabin without indoor bathroom facilities ($690 per couple, plus $68-$109 per kid); or a two-bedroom apartment with bathroom and shower ($1,196 per couple, plus $68-$109 per kid). Call 559-335-2382 for details.

How Much You'll Spend
Couples $504-$1,196
Child age 4-12 $68
Child age 13-17 $109
TOTAL  $640-$1,414

Sierra Club Outings
Tahoe Rim Parent-Teen Backpack Service Trip, California

Families with a strong work ethic, an interest in the environment, and a desire to meet like-minded souls should consider the Sierra Club's Tahoe Rim Parent-Teen Backpack Service Trip, July 17-24, during which you'll help complete the 150-mile Tahoe Rim Trail, the ridgetop hiking path that circles the lake. Sure, you'll be hefting shovels full of dirt, picking up rocks, constructing water bars, and raking out the rough spots, but at a lofty 8,500 feet with Lake Tahoe sparkling 2,000 feet below, and the knowledge that you're helping to expand the ecologically correct recreational options of your fellow humans, you may even begin to whistle while you work. Besides, on Tuesday and Thursday shovels and picks are set aside so families can explore the mountains around base camp, hiking to the summit of 9,600-foot Mount Rose, or take a dip in Upper Price Lake or Lake Tahoe itself.

The only requirements are that kids be at least 13 and that families have a good attitude. The price is $440 per adult and $295 per child ($1,470 for a family of four). Meals are included, but families need to bring their own tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, boots, and eating utensils. Call 415-977-5522 for more information.

How Much You'll Spend
Adults, $440 each $880
Kids, $295 each $590
TOTAL  $1,470

Boundary Waters Canoe Trip, Minnesota
Few vacations require as much teamwork, patience, and humor as a Boundary Waters canoe trip — but fewer still provide as many rewards. Supersize mosquitoes, hypothermia-inducing weather, and portaging a 60-pound canoe are all part of the deal. But after you've packed the car and headed home, the negatives become "character builders," and friends hear about the loon diving a paddle's width from the canoe and the feeling of solitude within a universe of fish, bear, moose, and deer.

First-timers would be wise to let the experts handle the details — like gathering the appropriate number of life jackets, prepackaging the freeze-dried spaghetti sauce, and navigating a myriad of lakes. Wilderness Canoe Base, on Seagull Lake at the northernmost tip of the 63-mile Gunflint Trail, is a nonprofit camp that specializes in canoe trips for at-risk youth and church groups, but it also doubles as an American Youth Hostel and family camp.

Set on two islands connected by a suspension bridge, the camp includes about a dozen hand-hewn log and frame cabins, an outdoor chapel in the pines, and a kitchen that bakes fresh bread daily. After a half-day orientation, a belly-stuffing dinner of hamburgers and mashed potatoes, and a night sacked out on a bunk bed, you'll be loading the canoes right after breakfast and paddling down Seagull Lake with a wilderness guide leading the way. Five-day trips for a family of four cost $1,295; seven-day trips are $1,495. Prices include all food and equipment. Call 800-328-4827 or 800-454-2922 for more details.

How much You'll Spend
Five-day trip, family of four $1,295
Seven-day trip, family of four $1,495

Bradford Camps, Maine
A hundred and eight years ago, Maine's Bradford Camps was established as a fishing and hunting retreat for stiff-whiskered outdoor types. Today, the cluster of eight rustic log cabins and a main lodge 10 miles north of Baxter State Park is still catering to the same rugged clientele — except now they bring their wives and kids. The only resort on the piney shore of 1,500-acre Lake Munsungan, Bradford Camps provides a week of nonstop fun for kids who have yet to figure out the art of porch sitting. Smack in the middle of three million acres of the north Maine woods, the hiking options are everywhere you look, a favorite being a bushwhack up to Munsungan Ridge, 500 feet above the lodge. Besides swimming, the lake is good for canoeing as well as fishing for landlocked salmon and brookies. At night, kids gather around the campfire to roast marshmallows and tell ghost stories.

Accommodations are in log cabins that contain single and double beds and full baths, with daily cleaning service. The meals are abundant — turkey with stuffing, fresh vegetables from the garden, rhubarb pie — and served family style in the main lodge. A full week for a family of four during July and August costs $1,500. For more information call 207-439-6364 before May 1 or 207-746-7777 after May 1.

How much you'll spend
All-inclusive week during July and August for a family of four $1,500

Mountain Biking the San Juan Hut System
Colorado to Utah

Families who ride together will be used to the slow burn in the quadriceps, granny-gear pedaling, and sweat pouring out from under helmets — the inevitable result of mountain biking seven days between elevations of 4,500 and 11,000 feet along the 206-mile San Juan Hut System. So on day six, when the fun has worn off and you're only halfway up the 22-mile, 4,400-foot climb, remember this important fact: What goes up must come down.

The San Juan Hut System consists of six wooden yurtlike cabins, spaced approximately 35 miles apart, stretching from Telluride, Colorado, all the way to Moab, Utah. The trail itself is a network of Forest Service roads winding along the Uncompahgre Plateau, in view of the San Juan Mountains, into the wide-open spaces of slickrock canyon country. There's no mandatory singletrack along the route, so technical skills aren't a prerequisite, but adequate lung capacity is a must. And since no sag wagons are allowed along the route, the choices are simple — pedal, walk, or expire.

The huts themselves contain eight padded bunks with sleeping bags, a propane cook stove, propane lanterns, a woodstove with a supply of firewood, a kitchen stocked with meals, and drinking water. There are no showers in the huts, but there are lakes and streams along the way.

The San Juan Hut System provides overnight facilities, three meals per day, sleeping bags, liners, trail descriptions, and maps for $395 per person ($1,358 for a family of four). Call 970-728-6935 for more details.

How much you'll spend
Adults, $395 each $790
Kids, $395 each $790
TOTAL $1,358

Adirondak Loj Wilderness Family Camp, New York
Eight miles southeast of Lake Placid, New York, amid 700 acres of forested High Peaks wilderness on the shores of Heart Lake, is the Adirondak Loj, built in 1927 by Melvil Dewey, the eccentric founder of the card-catalog system. A cozy, hostel-like retreat with a stone fireplace and handmade furniture, the Loj turns into Kid Central during Wilderness Family Camp, July 18-23. The camp teaches families how to have fun and survive in the woods, with classes on canoeing, rock climbing, and navigating by map and compass, plus naturalist-guided hikes, morning bird walks, and evening "owl prowls." The classes are optional, so if you want to put your new skills to use by taking a solitary hike in the High Peaks, the camp director won't come tracking you down.

A family of four with kids age 12 and younger can stay in a no-frills family room with bunk beds and a bathroom down the hall for $860. The price includes hot breakfasts, trail lunches, generous dinners served family style in the Loj's dining room, all classes and programs, and use of canoes. The same package for a family of four with kids older than 12 costs $1,060. Call 518-523-3441 for details.

How much you'll spend
Adults, $265 each $530
Kids 12 and under, $165 each $330
TOTAL $860

— Stephanie Gregory

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