Our Favorite Places

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Family Vacations, Summer 1996

Our Favorite Places
By Bob Howells

Telluride, Colorado
With its four-level spa complex, this place exudes mountain chic--though you won't feel out of place here wheeling a dusty mountain bike or ushering a brood of pool-wet urchins through the lobby. You are, after all, in Telluride, ringed by the 14,000-foot peaks of the San Juan Mountains, and diving into the spate of mountainy things to do is all but mandated. Hike out the door on two-hour trails to the Tomboy Mine Ruins or to Bridal Veil Falls, the longest free-fall cascade in Colorado. Rent a mountain bike from the in-house shop ($20 per day, $45 for a guided day trip) and head off on single-track rides, like the 16-mile Deep Creek Loop, or on Jeep roads in the Uncompahgre National Forest. Fly-fishing for brown or rainbow trout is best on the nearby San Miguel River; call Telluride Outside (800-831-6230), which also runs raft trips on the Class III-IV Gunnison River and the Class III Dolores, plus daylong Jeep tours of San Juan mines and ghost towns. Tours depart the lobby daily at 8 A.M.; $85-$95 per person; reservations required.

Back at The Peaks, you've got a one-acre spa to explore, with a 25-foot indoor climbing wall, Cybex weight room, and indoor lap pool. Kids spend time in the KidSpa, which offers two programs: the Explorers Package (half-day, $25; full-day, $40; lunch included), two-and-a-half- to five-year-olds get to cook, swim, hike, and make T-shirts; and the Mountaineers Package, with gold-panning, horseback riding, aerobics, swimming, and hiking for six- to 11-year-olds (half-day, $40; full-day, $60; lunch included). Doubles run $225-$350; kids under 12 free; $20 for each additional person (call 800-789-2220 for more information).

Eleuthera, Bahamas
It's hard to say which is more appealing: A valentine-pink sandy beach stretching along the transparent turquoise of the Atlantic, or the indescribably cute sight of a formation of floppy-finned, scuba-tanked tykes about to plunge through that same water into an effusion of elkhorn coral and parrot fish. On Eleuthera, Club Med sheds its swinging-singles image, but not its activity-crammed formula--here, though, it comes wrapped in a family bundle. Three Kids Clubs keep the little ones occupied while the adults go fishing, diving, or pink-sand-lounging. In the Baby Club, infants play on the beach, nap, and feed fish in the aquarium-clear water of the club's marina. Petit Clubbers (two to four) might build pink castles between boat rides. Mini Club kids (four to 12) get to snorkel, take scuba lessons, and go water-skiing.

Adults can sail, snorkel, water-ski, and take scuba lessons (extra charge). Certified divers will want to take an excursion to Harbour Island and down to a coral plateau rife with sea whips, sea rods, curious groupers, and angelfish.

Accommodations are clean and simple, brightly Bahamian-hued in greens, blues, and, of course, pink. Weekly rates, including meals and all activities, are $910 per adult and $590 per kid under 12; one kid (five and under) per parent goes free between April 13 and June 22. Call 800-258-2633.

Big Sky, Montana
Ain't no dogies at this ranch, so don't call it "dude," but a stable of 90 steeds can keep a family busy riding the range in fringe-of-Yellowstone country--that is, when they're not hiking with a naturalist, fly-fishing with a guide, or banding birds with an ornithologist. Nestled in a valley of the Spanish Peaks range about 20 miles from the northwestern corner of the national park, Lone Mountain sprawls across 160 acres of glorious alpine country that its owners unassumingly encourage guests to learn about and appreciate.

Besides daily rides, a family week at Lone Mountain is filled with high-country hikes, llama walks, excursions to Yellowstone, and fly-fishing clinics, while other activities are reserved for the small-fry: animal-tracking, making plaster casts, map-and-compass courses, campouts, and low-to-the-ground rope-and-balance maneuvers. Between epiphanies, kids can hang in their own Sarsaparilla Lounge or do crafts in the HideOut.

A one-week package ($1,600 for the first adult; $970 for additional guests over age five; kids two to three are $335; four to five, $675) includes all meals and most activities; one of 23 hand-hewn-log cabins that sleep two to nine; or space in the new, six-bedroom Ridge Top Lodge--which can also be reserved for big family gatherings. Call 406-995-4644.

Campbell River, British Columbia
Equal parts resort and outdoor education center, Strathcona is something of an adventure camp for families. The setting is a private, 160-acre spread next to Strathcona Park--a 550,000-acre wilderness in the heart of Vancouver Island--with snowcapped peaks, steep, glaciated slopes, old-growth forests, and deep, cold lakes. The lodge is a complex of chalets and cabins fronting Upper Campbell Lake. Guests can select from a daily "Best of Adventure" menu that includes classes in canoeing, kayak touring, and sailing; rock climbing; a ropes course; and a wilderness skills clinic. Courses are $33 (U.S. dollars) a day for adults, $18 for a half-day; $26 a day for kids 16 and under, $14 for a half-day (no age limit, but parents must accompany kids), and are taught by pros--most are grads of the Canadian Outdoor Leadership Training Programme, a 100-day course based at the lodge. Another option is one of two Family Adventure weeks (July 14-20 and August 4-10; adults, $450; kids, $227; all-inclusive) in which kids and parents participate in climbing, kayaking, wilderness etiquette instruction, and an overnight canoe journey.

Of course, you can skip the tutorials and opt for hiking in the high country, where turquoise waterfalls tumble into glacial tarns. There's good mountain biking on logging roads outside the park and fishing for cutthroat and rainbow trout on the lake. Or you can rent kayaks or canoes ($6 per hour, $22 per day) and paddle the lake on your own. Accommodations are in lodge rooms ($50-$72) or cabins ($65-$116) that sleep from two to ten. They're equipped with full kitchens, but there's little reason to cook when mountains of wholesome food are served buffet-style in the Whale Room for about $22 a day for three meals (kids under 12 are half-price). Call 604-286-3122.

The Forks, Maine

How wild and remote is Northern Outdoors's setting? Well, a road sign a few miles south of the 100-plus-acre resort proclaims, MOOSE CROSSING NEXT 50 MILES. Whether or not you witness Bullwinkle's browsings, you can count on seeing forests that spread for a few million acres, with some of the best whitewater in the Northeast roiling nearby.

The Kennebec is Northern's primary lure: 12 miles of Class II-IV water with enough froth to get your heart rate up, but without the overwrought challenges of The River Wild--your PG-age progeny will love it. Most families take the one-day trip through Kennebec Gorge ($79- $109; kids eight to 15 half-price). The day's foamy climax is Magic Hole Wave, a recirculating hydraulic that'll stand a 16-foot boat (but not yours) on end. Even cooler is the Family Overnight Adventure ($209 for adults, $109 for kids under 16), with a tame-water paddle, camping, lobster cookout, and raft trip through the gorge. Bouncier outings on the Penobscot and Dead rivers have minimum age requirements of 12 or 15, depending on the stretch of river to be run. But you have tamer options, too. Hire a guide for smallmouth bass-fishing ($75-$180 per person), take a one-day rock-climbing course ($75; minimum age 12), or rent inflatable kayaks ($20-$25; minimum age eight).

The lodge includes six motellike lodge rooms that sleep up to six ($30-$45 per person) and ten kitchen-outfitted "logdominiums" that sleep up to eight ($25-$40 per person). Everyone hangs out in the main lodge, where reruns of the day's rafting video are shown, and nonpaddling deadbeats are resoundingly booed. Call 800-765-7238.

Bryson City, North Carolina
Long known for its paddling school and huge outdoor-gear store--and more recently for a burgeoning mountain-bike program--NOC is the nexus for just about anything there is to do in the Great Smoky Mountains. With five world-class rivers nearby, including the Nantahala, Chattooga, and Ocoee (the Olympic river), the center is a hotbed for river sports, from family-oriented rafting to whitewater rodeo. The courses, ranging from three to seven days, are for anyone over ten of any ability level (four-day all-inclusive package, $610 for adults, $660 kids ten to 15; call 704-488-6737). Families can overnight at NOC's motel-style lodge on Silver Mine Creek or in cabins overlooking the Nantahala Gorge.

NOC's big backyard encompasses 50-plus miles of singletrack in the Tsali Recreation Area, seven miles from NOC, and 300 miles of gated forest roads in Nantahala National Forest. NOC rents specialized bikes--Rockhoppers ($25 a day) or full-suspension Ground Controls ($30)--and runs bike "samplers" three days a week ($70 for ages 13 and up includes guide, equipment, and lunch). The docket also includes sea-kayak or rock-climbing samplers ($70) and short rafting trips on all the local rivers ($25-$85). The Nantahala trip is the best bet for little ones, who only need to weigh 60 pounds. Because Nantahala's cabins often fill up in July and August, you might opt to stay three miles up the road in Nantahala Village (800-438-1507), an old stone lodge with 14 motel rooms ($70) and 43 vacation cabins with kitchens ($80-$225) that sleep from two to 13. Call Nantahala Outdoor Center at 800-232-7238.

Koloa, Kauai, Hawaii
A rare luxury resort that gives more than lip service to its surrounding environment, the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort & Spa actually encourages its guests to venture beyond its tennis court and three-pool-plus-five-acre-lagoon grounds. You can grab a hiking-trail brochure from the concierge and make your way across the island to such north-shore hikes as the Hanakapiai Waterfall trail (eight miles round-trip), where you walk to a waterfall along a cliff overlooking the ocean, or the Awaawapuhi Trail (13 miles round-trip), which takes you through tropical forest to Na Pali coast views. Or sign up for one of the resort's Discover Kauai excursions. You can kayak the placid Hanalei River ($80), one of Hawaii's rare navigable arteries, or bicycle one and a half miles through sugarcane fields to Mahaulepu Beach (for $55, you get a guide and a bike).

Meanwhile, back at the 600-room resort, there's snorkeling, diving, boardsailing, a 500-yard white-sand beach, and a 25,000-square-foot spa. Kids (three to 12) are happily farmed out to Camp Hyatt, where they're busy snorkeling, hiking on nearby petrified dunes, or poking around archaeological sites. For $45 a day, they also get lunch and a T-shirt. The best deal for families is a three-night Hyatt Vacations package--rates start at $440 per adult and include a double-occupancy room, rental car, spa pass, and $3-per-day discount on Camp Hyatt. Kids under 18 are free in the same room as adults, or 50 percent off in their own room. Call 808-742-1234.

Sundance, Utah
Robert Redford's version of the Wild West is a cottage decorated with Navajo rugs and Native American crafts; a view of Mount Timpanogos and the Wasatch Range through your windows; and access to the mountains by way of foot, mountain bike, or horseback. The dried wildflowers in your room are Sundance-grown, and the 17-ingredient granola in your minibar is Sundance-made. It all carries a filmmaker's stylized touch, but the manipulation is welcome.

Amid the orchestration, the beauty of the place is undeniable. And, yes, a river runs through it (a stream, actually; fly-fishing for fat browns is done nearby on the Provo River). Ride horseback through the 6,000 acres, glimpsing deer and elk en route to 350-foot Stewart Falls, then feast on lunch packed by the Sundance chef (two-hour ride with food, $65). Or ride the new quad lift (full-day, $12) up a flank of Mount Timp to mountain bike on 25 miles of private singletrack, hooking up with more rides in Uinta National Forest (mountain bike rentals, $25-35 per day; guided tours available). A new tepee is headquarters for the complimentary Sundance Kids program for ages six through 12. It's actually three programs in sequence: Native American/Environmental Day, with native games, crafts, and storytelling; Recreation/Adventure Day, with horseback riding, hiking, and camping in the woods; and Theater Workshop Day, when kids create and perform an original story based on their previous days' experiences.

As for evenings, you can lie back and watch free Redford videos (among others) in your room, attend screenings of films from the Sundance Festival on Fridays and Saturdays, or partake of live outdoor summer theater ("West Side Story this year, "Mirrette" for kids).

In the same spirit as Sundance granola, the Tree Room uses local organic herbs, veggies, and critters in special dishes that change weekly, such as campfire-style stuffed trout with four different mushrooms and saffron rice. Entr‰es there run $20-$25; $7-$15 will get you pizza and pasta in the Grill Room. Accommodations are in cottages (double-occupancy rooms, $150 per night; junior suites, $225; suites, $275) or two- to four-bedroom mountain cabins ($475-$950 per night). Ask about special family rates. Call 801-225-4107 for additional information.

Grand Marais, Minnesota
Set amid the sprawling north woods of northeastern Minnesota and water-linked to the million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Gunflint is both country-inn-style home base and outfitter for paddling, fishing, hiking, and wildlife-watching excursions. Moose, wolves, and deer thrive in the balsam-fir forests, and Gunflint Lake and its neighbors harbor plentiful walleye, lake trout, and smallmouth bass. What began as a fishing lodge in the early thirties has grown to a comfortable, woodsy resort for 80 guests, with a main lodge and 23 knotty-pine cabins (most with a kitchen and private sauna). The pine-paneled walls of the main building are festooned with carved birds and voyageur artifacts, and there's a big stone fireplace and huge picture windows overlooking the lake. The place has been run by the Kerfoot family since its beginning, retaining a "welcome to our place" feel with a strong family orientation that appeals to parents.

Every cabin comes with a canoe, and the Kerfoots can steer you to easy paddles, such as an eight-miler that traces an early voyageur route. Fishing guides are always available, and Trek mountain bikes can be rented ($15 a day) for rides on forest roads and cross-country ski trails. A daily schedule of free family activities includes naturalist-led walks in the woods for viewing and calling wildlife (yes, the moose do answer--sometimes), evening paddles in search of beavers, kids-only hobo hikes (with lunch wrapped in a bandanna and hung from a stick), and half-day fishing outings for kids. Or you can relax and splash on Gunflint's private sandy beach.

You can book a cabin with full, modified, or no meal plans, but be forewarned that pancake breakfasts, picnic lunches, and such hearty dinners as barbecued walleye and pan-roasted duck breast are hard to resist. Daily rates, including meals, are $269-$309 for two, plus $75-$85 for each additional person. A one-week family package for four is $2,195-$3,000 ($280 for each additional family member), all-inclusive. Gunflint is 48 miles up the Gunflint Trail from Grand Marais, the eastern road-access corridor to the Boundary Waters. Call 800-362-5251.

Stowe, Vermont
Like an oversize New England country inn laced with a dash of Baden-Baden, Topnotch is the hostelry equivalent of a binge-purge cycle: Go out and get sore (run, bike, ride, hike, skate); come back and slither into a whirlpool while a heated waterfall tumbles onto your shoulders. Set in 120 acres of woods in the Green Mountains, Topnotch anchors one end of the paved, 5.5-mile Recreation Path that links the resort to Stowe village. The conduit is gentle enough for all ages of bikers and skaters; rent either conveyance at the Topnotch Mountain Bike Club (mountain bikes, $21 per day; in-line skates, $15) and ask about guided rides.

Out-the-door hiking can lead four miles to the top of Mount Mansfield (4,393 feet) and a view of most of New England. Or let hooves do the walking--horses are stabled in a 200-year-old barn for guided trail rides three times a day ($22). Fly-fishing is good in the West Branch River; Topnotch can steer you to an experienced local guide. Children are provided for through the Kids Program, which runs from July 4 through Labor Day. Kids ages five to 12 can play outdoor games, go on nature hikes, paint, and play in the pool for $30 a day, including lunch. Other nearby kid-lures include an alpine slide on Mount Mansfield and--everyones' favorite--the Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory ten miles away in Waterbury.

Besides the waterfall-whirlpool, Topnotch's 23,000 square-foot spa has an indoor lap pool, heated outdoor pool, Cybex weight room with all the trimmings, and a menu of massages and wraps. Minimum age for the spa is 16. The two-tier main dining room, Maxwell's at Topnotch, serves "new Vermont cuisine"--local organic vegetables, venison, and trout ($18-$30), while Papa Jake's has a lighter menu for $7-$10. Double rooms are $186-$236 (kids 12 and under are free); add $48 per person for breakfast and dinner. Call 800-451-8686 for information.

Copyright 1996, Outside magazine

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