Our Favorite Places

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Family Vacations, Summer 1996

Our Favorite Places

Idaho | Alaska | New Hampshire |
Arizona | Washington | Virginia | Michigan/Wisconsin

Boise to Farragut State Park
Several summers ago, two nine-year-olds and I had a terrific time driving up the spine of Idaho from Boise to Coeur d'Alene. We slid down sand dunes, hiked through ponderosa pines, took a jet-boat into the country's deepest gorge. An almost entirely rural state, 40 percent of which is forest, Idaho encompasses more than 53 million acres that are bisected by eight world-class wild and scenic rivers and preserved in 1,575 parks and wildlife refuges. Day one: Boise to Bruneau Dunes State Park. Mileage: 70. Drive time: 1.5 hours. Route: Southeast on I-84 to Mountain Home (exit 90), then south on Idaho 51 and east on Idaho 78. Stopovers and side trips: Stop at the Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey, about six miles south of I-84 on the south side of Boise. Ninety-minute tours run all day Tuesday through Sunday (208-362-8687). Continue south for a 56-mile loop through the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, home to the largest population of nesting and breeding raptors in North America. Allow three to four hours to complete the loop, with time for picnicking at Celebration Park, short hikes, or even a half-day boat tour into the Snake River Canyon (contact WSRT/Birds of Prey Expeditions, 208-922-5285; $50-$92 per person; second child under 12 free). Bedtime: Camp at Bruneau Dunes State Park ($10-$13 per night; 208-366-7919) so you and your kids can climb the largest single structured sand dune in North America, rising 470 feet above a small lake. Day two: Bruneau Dunes to Ponderosa State Park. Mileage: 176. Drive time: 3 hours. Route: Head back west along I-84 and then north on Idaho 55 along the Payette River's roiling North Fork. Stopovers and side trips: Picnic about 60 miles north of the junction near Banks, where you can watch kayakers maneuver from water's edge. For a half- or full-day raft trip on Class II and III rapids, contact Headwaters River Co. (adults, $30-$71; under 12, $20-$45; 800-800-7238). Bedtime: Head north along the Payette River Scenic Byway to Ponderosa State Park on a peninsula jutting into Payette Lake (reservations, $6; camping, $10- $13 per night; 208-634-2164). Day three: Spend an extra day rafting on the Payette River, or drive to Hells Gate State Park. Mileage: 166. Drive time: 2.5 hours. Route: Drive north on U.S. 95, cross the Salmon River near Riggins, and continue into Lewiston. Stopovers and side trips: Take the short, self-guided auto tour of the White Bird Battlefield, part of the Nez Perce National Historical Park where, on June 17, 1877, the first battle of the Nez Perce War was fought. Park headquarters and a visitor center are located ten miles east of Lewiston in Spalding on U.S. 95. Bedtime: Hells Gate State Park lies along the bank of the Snake River (ask for a shaded campsite; reservations, $6; camping, $10-$13 per night; 208-799-5015). There's fishing, swimming, or in-line skating along paved paths. Day four: Arrange a daylong jet-boat trip into Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America; contact Beamers Hells Canyon Tours (adults, $90; ages six to 12, $45; under six, free; 800-522-6966) or Snake Dancer Excursions (adults, $92; under ten, $55; 800-234-1941). Day five: Hells Gate State Park to Farragut State Park. Mileage: 144 miles. Drive time: 2.5 hours. Route: The drive along U.S. 95 north of Lewiston winds through the "Palouse," Idaho's rich agricultural region, where you'll truly see amber waves of grain. Stopovers and side trips: Farragut State Park, about 110 miles from Moscow, lies on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille, so deep it was used as a Naval training site during World War II. There's fishing, hiking, biking, and swimming. Farragut also has nine miles of flat-track, marked mountain-bike trails. Bike rentals are available in Coeur d'Alene or Sandpoint, 20 and 29 miles resp --Debra Shore

Kenai Peninsula
There are few places left in the world that can still be classified as pristine wilderness but are as easy to reach as the Kenai. The peninsula contains a national park and forest; a river that runs with the biggest sport-caught chinook salmon in the world; ocean habitat for whales, puffins, otters, and sea lions; and several small towns. Before you go, check with the Alaska Public Lands Information Center (907-271-2737).

Day one: Anchorage to Seward. Mileage: 128. Drive time: 2.5 hours. Route: South from Anchorage on the Seward Highway. Stopovers and side trips: This National Scenic Highway, chipped into the toe of the Chugach Mountains, is the most spectacular in Alaska. To your right, look for beluga whales chasing salmon in the gray waters of Turnagain Arm; on the cliffs to the left, watch for Dall sheep. There are several well-marked trails into the mountains on the left side of the highway. At Girdwood, 37 miles from Anchorage, you can explore the Alyeska Resort (907-754-1111) and take the tram (adults, $16; ages eight to 17, $12; under eight, $7) to the restaurant and mountain-top walking trails. At Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood, you can pan for gold ($5 for adults, $3 for kids; 907-278-8060). Bedtime: Camp on the pebble beach on Ballaine Avenue in Seward (tent-camping with showers, $6; 907-224-3331), where you can fish for salmon right outside your tent. The kid-friendly Farm Bed and Breakfast (doubles and cabins, $65-$95; 907-224-5691), set on 40 acres just out of town, rents rooms and cabins. Day two: Seward to Cooper Landing. Mileage: 55. Drive time: 1 hour. Route: Back the way you came on the Seward Highway, then turn left onto the Sterling Highway at Tern Lake. Stop-overs and side trips: Take a boat trip to Kenai Fjords National Park with Kenai Fjords Tours (daylong trips, $99 per person; under 12, $49 ; 800-478-8068) for a look at glaciers, otters, sea lions, puffins, and probably humpback whales. Or book a guided sea-kayaking excursion from Seward with Adventures & Delights ($95 per day; no kids under 16; custom tours for families of four with younger children, $395 plus $95 each additional person; 800-288-3134). In Cooper Landing, fish for red salmon, or take a river float; call Alaska Rivers Co. (half-day float trips from $39 per person; fishing from $75; 907-595-1226). Bedtime: The 180-site Russian River Campground ($10 plus $7.85 reservation fee; call 800-280-2267) may be full in summer; just east on the highway, Gwin's Lodge ($89-$99; 907-595-1266) has cabins for rent and good meals. Day three: Cooper Landing to Homer. Mileage: 140. Drive time: 2.5 hours. Route: Follow the Sterling Highway. Stopovers and side trips: The towns of Ninilchik, Deep Creek, and Anchor Point are known for their fishing streams and provide beach access on Cook Inlet (check with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game; 907-262-2737). In Homer, visit the Pratt Museum (907-235-8635), with superb displays on marine natural history. Homer also has great mountain biking and hiking over trails through fields of wildflowers, as well as good sea kayaking; for rentals, check with Central Charter Booking Agency (doubles, $70 per day; singles, $40; 800-478-7847). Bedtime: You can camp on the beach at Homer Spit Campgrounds ($3 a night for tent-camping), or you can book a B&B through Homer Alaska Referral Agency (907-235-8996). Day four: Homer to Halibut Cove by boat. Route: Take one of the boats from the Homer Spit harbor. Stopovers and side trips: To get out on the water and across Kachemak Bay, sign on with Rainbow Tours (about $15 per person; 907-235-7272); their trip to the Alaska Center for Coastal Studies is especially good for kids (daylong trips, $55 for adults, $43 for children). Bedtime: The Quiet Place ($150 per couple plus $75 each additional person; 907-296-2212) in Halibut Cove has cabins perched above the water and rents sea kayaks and boats (sea kayaks, $35 single; $55 double per day; motorboats, $65-$75 per day). You can't camp in the village, however (it's all private property). Day five: Homer to Anchorage. Mileage: 225. Drive time: 4 hours. Route: Take the Sterling Highway to the Seward Highway. Stopovers and side trips: About 80 miles up the road from Homer, the t -- Charles Wohlforth

White Mountains
Considered one of the most beautiful highways in the Northeast, the Kancamagus is a perfect family road-trip route: With numerous overlooks, turnouts, trailheads, picnic areas, and campgrounds, it keeps the adults oohing at the scenery while providing enough activities to satisfy the kids' shorter attention spans. Day one: Boston to Center Ossipee, New Hampshire. Mileage: 100. Drive time: under 2 hours. Route: I-95 north to New Hampshire 16. Stopovers and side trips: One moment you're looking at scruffy gas stations on the highway, the next you're locked onto the most dramatic summit cone in the Whites, 3,475-foot Mount Chocorua. The ideal family base camp is White Lake State Park, about five minutes north of Center Ossipee at the junction of New Hampshire 16 and 25. The park has a two-mile 'round-the-lake nature trail through pitch pine forest, good trout fishing (get licenses at the nearby Ossipee Lake Country Store), and canoe rentals ($5 per hour at the full-service camp store). It's a traffic-free 20-minute drive (at Conway, take 112 west from 16) to the scenic Kancamagus Highway, which has dozens of superb hiking trailheads along its 36-mile course (consult Robert Buchsbaum's family-oriented Nature Hikes in the White Mountains, $12.95; AMC Books). One must in late summer is an afternoon at the Swift River, where you can do a cannonball or two into deep pools. Parking for Lower Falls is at the wide turnout on the westbound lane, 6.7 miles from the New Hampshire 16/112 junction. Bedtime: White Lake State Park has 210 campsites with showers, including 13 right on the water (sites, $14-$20). For campsite reservations, call 603-271-3628. Day two: White Lake State Park to Loon MountainPark to Sugar Hill. Mileage: 75. Drive time: 1.5 hours. Route: New Hampshire 16 to the Kancamagus Highway (112 west) to I-93 north to Franconia village and New Hampshire 117 west. Stop-overs and side trips: Loon Mountain Park in Lincoln, on the west end of the Kancamagus, is a perfect summer day camp. Stop for maps at the Mountain Bike Center (603-745-6281, ext. 5566); rental gear includes mountain bikes (adults, $30 per day; ages six to 16, $25), in-line skates, skateboards, and horses (ext. 5450). Try the East Ridge Trail System and the five-mile Black Mountain/Serendipity loop for a nice rolling beginner mountain-bike ride. More advanced, above-tree-line riding is accessible via the gondola (all-day bike-lift service, $18 for adults; $15, ages six to 16). The best option is the ten-minute Loon Shuttle bus (adults, $26 with bike rental; ages six to 16, $21) to the Franconia Notch Bike Path, an eight-mile paved spin that accesses a stunning array of waterfalls and lakes. The shuttle departs four times daily for Echo Lake, at the northern end of the bike path. Take I-93 north for 11 miles to the Franconia exit (38). Bedtime: The Hilltop Inn (doubles, $95- $130; suites, $230; cottages, $200; 800-770-5695) in Sugar Hill, a few sky miles from Franconia center on New Hampshire 117, offers a homey suite on its second floor, plus a bottomless cookie jar on the first. Day three: Sugar Hill to Pinkham Notch. Mileage: 70. Drive time: 1.5 hours. Route: New Hampshire 117 east to Franconia center, I-93 south to New Hampshire 3 and Twin Mountain. Take U.S. 302 southeast to New Hampshire 16 north. Stopovers and side trips: Try one of the best bang-for-the-buck waterfall hikes in the Whites, Bridal Veil Falls. To reach the trailhead, take New Hampshire 116 south from Franconia Village for 3.4 miles. Turn left on Coppermine Road and park at the turnout about a half-mile down the road. The 2.5-mile ascent follows an old, easy-grade carriage road to the base of the falls. Driving back into Franconia, stop at the tiny Franconia airfield (603-823-8881) for a glider flight over Mt. Lafayette ($55 for a 25-minute ride). Bedtime: It's an --Todd Balf

Southeast Loop
Arizona's southeastern corner, a mountain-rimmed retreat on the edge of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, is where Cochise held off the cavalry, and where Wyatt Earp gunned down the bad guys in the OK Corral. You can hike through the surreal rock formations of the Chiricahua Mountains, scope out the hummingbird colony in leafy Ramsey Canyon, or head out on a trail ride from one of the area's many guest ranches. One caveat: It gets hot here. Plan your outdoor activities for early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Day one: Tucson to Sierra Vista. Mileage: 80. Drive time: 1.5 hours. Route: I-10 east to U.S. 80, south on U.S. 80 to Arizona 92, then east. Stopovers and side trips: Rent a mountain bike at Full Cycle on East Speedway Boulevard ($20 per day; 520-327-3232) and head west on Speedway over Gate's Pass to the Tucson Mountains for a close-up look at the saguaro, the tall, Gumby-like cacti native to the area. A paved road loops through Saguaro National Monument, and more than 20 miles of trails lace through Tucson Mountain District. About 70 miles southeast of Tucson, Tombstone feels like a western movie set: Two-story wooden buildings line the boardwalks of Allen Street, and locals wander about in full cowboy regalia. Check out the OK Corral, then try the barbacoa (Mexican barbecue) at Don Teodoro's (520-457-3647). The nearby Ironhorse Ranch offers horseback riding through desert backcountry and ghost towns (one-hour rides, $25 per person; 520-457-9361). Next, head 16 miles west to Sierra Vista, home to Fort Huachuca, an active military post housing a history museum. Ramsey Canyon Preserve, owned by the Nature Conservancy, lies about seven miles south on Arizona 92 ($5 donation; open 8 to 5; call ahead for parking reservations). The 300-acre wilderness area is home to 14 species of hummingbirds, Coues' white-tailed deer, and coatimundi. Bedtime: The Nature Conservancy rents out six housekeeping cabins ($75 for one bedroom; $85 for two; 520-378-2785). The nearby Ramsey Canyon Inn ($95-$105; 520-378-3010) offers bed, breakfast and, in the afternoon, prize-winning fruit pies. Day two: Sierra Vista to Bisbee. Mileage: 30. Drive time: half an hour. Route: East on Arizona 92. Stopovers and side trips: Rise early and wear a red shirt to watch the hummingbirds (they love red); their population swells in summer. Then go hiking: The Hamburg Trail follows Ramsey Creek to Ramsey Vista (6,250 feet), which overlooks the gray cliffs of the narrow, winding canyon. A leisurely round-trip takes about two and a half hours. Backpackers can hike into the Miller Peak Wilderness Area to the Crest Trail on the Huachuca Ridge, a rugged hike suitable for older kids only. Mountain bikers can ride up the many canyons of the Huachucas--but be forewarned: The trails are steep. Sun 'n' Spokes in Sierra Vista rents bikes ($10 for the first day; $5 each additional day; 520-458-0685). Next, head south on Arizona 92 to Bisbee, once a typical mining boomtown, later a ghost town, and now a boomlet town attracting artists, escapists, and assorted iconoclasts. The steep streets, carved precariously into the side of a mountain, are lined with art galleries, antique shops, and bookstores. Bedtime: Book a room at one of the local B&Bs. The Bisbee Inn on OK Street (doubles, $55; 520-432-5131) is a favorite. Day three: Bisbee to Douglas. Mileage: 24. Drive time: half an hour. Route: Southeast on U.S. 80. Stopovers and side trips: The local museum portrays the town's colorful history; also tour the Queen Mine, a turn-of-the-century underground copper mine (adults, $8; children seven to 11, $3.50; under seven free; 520-432-7071). Road bikers can pedal the Bisbee Loop, a strenuous 60-mile circle through the Mule Mountains between Sierra Vista and Bisbee on Arizona 90 and 92. If you make it to Douglas by lunchtime, try the huevos rancheros at the Saddle & Spu --Michele Morris

Olympic Peninsula
Before you even shut the hatchback, face the truth about family road-tripping. Highway robbery is bad. Highway bribery? Essential. Think about it: If you were a junior camper cooped up in the car for days with parents, pets, and a Porta Potti, what would it take to buy your contentment? Something pretty awesome when the seat belts come off, that's what. Like a loop around the Olympic Peninsula, the island of mountain and ocean splendor separating Puget Sound from the Pacific. Day one: Edmonds to Port Angeles. Mileage: About 77 miles. Drive time: 1.5 hours. Route: Take the Washington State Ferry from Edmonds (20 miles north of Seattle) to Kingston. Follow signs to Hood Canal, then travel west via Washington 104 and U.S. 101 to Port Angeles, which marks the northernmost entrance to Olympic National Park. Stopovers and side trips: From Port Angeles, follow signs to Hurricane Ridge, 17 miles away. At the top, about 5,200 feet, hike the Hurricane Hill Trail, a moderate, three-mile round-trip to a summit with unforgettable views, plus the occasional encounter with Olympic marmots and black-tailed deer. For gear and advice, consult Olympic Mountaineering in Port Angeles (360-452-0240). Bedtime: Heart O' the Hills Campground ($10), five miles south of Port Angeles on Hurricane Hill Road, is a good choice. Day two: Port Angeles to Lake Crescent. Mileage: About 25. Drive time: 45 minutes. Route: Continue southwest on U.S. 101 to Lake Crescent, an eerily deep glacier-carved lake nestled in the Olympic Mountains. Stopovers and side trips: Scout a site at Fairholm Campground, on the lake's western shore. A new stern-wheeler-type boat plies the icy waters of Lake Crescent all summer, with an Olympic National Park naturalist aboard (the boat departs throughout the day from funky old Lake Crescent Lodge; call 360-928-3211). From Fairholm Campground, follow North Shore Road around the lake to the trailhead at its end and set out on foot or mountain bike on the Spruce Railroad Trail. The ten-mile round-trip is mostly flat and passes old railroad tunnels and bridges. Bedtime: Fairholm Campground ($10) is nice, but often full in midsummer. The Lake Crescent Lodge (doubles, $88-$99; cabins, $130- $140; $10 each additional person; 360-928-3211) is delightful, with floors that have gotten creakier every year since FDR slept there. Day three: Lake Crescent to Rialto Beach and back. Mileage: 120 (round-trip). Drive time: 3 hours. Route: Continue south on U.S. 101 to the logging town of Forks, then follow signs west to Rialto Beach, across the Quillayute River from La Push, a coastal fishing village. Stopovers and side trips: A road meanders for about a mile through a cool, quiet forest along the Quillayute River to Rialto Beach, one of the most scenic in the Northwest. You can drive here, but it's more fun to cycle (bike rentals, $8 per hour, $22 per day at Pedal-n-Paddle in Port Angeles; 360-457-1240). Bedtime: Same as day two. For dinner try the Smokehouse Restaurant, north of town near the La Push turnoff. Day four: Crescent Lake to Hoh River. Mileage: 70. Drive time: 2.5 hours. Route: Continue 13 miles south of Forks on U.S. 101 to the park's Hoh River Visitor Center, about 20 miles east on Hoh River Road. Stopovers and side trips: Even the biggest trail grumps like the Hoh River Trail. It's nearly completely flat, and overhead loom thousands of old-growth Douglas fir, hemlock, and Sitka spruce. Go as far as you want, stop for lunch along the river, watch for stealthy Roosevelt elk, then return. Bedtime: Grab a campsite at one of three campgrounds between the Hoh Visitor Center and U.S. 101. Day five: Hoh River to Kalaloch. Mileage: 20. Drive time: half an hour. Route: Head south on 101. Stopovers and side trips: The draw in Kalaloch is the beaches; at B --Ron C. Judd

Shenandoah Valley
Cited as one of the ten most beautiful drives in America by Charles Kuralt, the Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive route through Shenandoah National Park straddles the Blue Ridge Mountains past a panorama of dense mountain forest, rolling farmland, stream-laced hollows, and waterfalls. Day one: Staunton to Shenandoah National Park. Mileage: 140. Drive time: About 2.5 hours. Route: From Staunton, at the intersection of I-81 and I-64, head north on I-81. Stopovers and side trips: Stop at the New Market Battlefield Military Museum (adults, $6; ages six to 14, $3) and the Hall of Valor, a prime Civil War museum (adults, $5; ages six to 15, $2), both about 35 miles from Staunton. Briefly take I-66 to the town of Front Royal and enter the northern gateway of Shenandoah National Park. The great park sprawls across 195,000 acres over the Blue Ridge and adjacent foothills in a southwesterly direction, with Skyline Drive its cloud-capped connector. There are 515 miles of trails and more than 75 scenic overlooks; a recommended starter hike leaving from the Skyland area at mile 41.7 is Stony Man Nature Trail, an easy 1.5-mile round-trip to the second-highest point in the park (4,010 feet). Up at mile 31.6 is the 3.7-mile Marys Rock Trail, appropriate for kids of all ages. Bedtime: Noncampers can overnight at two rustic concessionaire lodges, Skyland and Big Meadows (doubles, $81-$85; 800-999-4714), with motellike rooms or more rustic cabin rooms (doubles, $46-$80; $5 each additional person; under 15 free in parents' room). Campers can try Big Meadows Campground at mile 51 near the center of the park (campsites, $14 per day; call 800-365-2267 or 540-999-2243 for reservations). Day two: Shenandoah National Park. Stopovers and side trips: Head up to Hawksbill Mountain at mile 45.6, at 4,051 feet the highest point in the park. It's a relatively steep, two-mile round-trip trail, with views from the top extending across the valley to the west and the Alleghenies beyond. As an alternative, explore the park's 200 miles of designated horse trails at Skyland Lodge (guided tours, $18 per hour; call 540-999-4714). Bedtime: same as day one. Day three: Shenandoah National Park to Wintergreen Resort. Mileage: about 60. Drive time: 2 hours. Route: Head south on Skyline Drive to the end of Shenandoah National Park and the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish Gap. Stopovers and side trips: Continue on the Parkway to mile 5.8 and stop briefly at Humpback Rocks Visitor Center, where you can view a reproduction of a mountain farm homestead. From there, make the quarter-mile climb up to Humpback Rocks, a popular landmark with great Shenandoah Valley views. Seven miles down the Parkway, a left turn at Reed's Gap leads you to Wintergreen Resort, an 11,000-acre facility where you can play tennis, swim, go mountain biking on eight miles of trails (half-day rentals, $21 for guests; $25 for nonguests) or go horseback riding (trail rides, $25-$30 per person). Bedtime: Choose your accommodations at the Mountain Inn or condos within the resort (studios, $146; two-bedroom condos, $262). Day four: Wintergreen Resort. Stopovers and side trips: Wintergreen's Nature Foundation runs field trips to collect wildflowers. Other activities include golf, trout fishing (five-day license, $6.50), and swimming and canoeing at Lake Monocan (canoe rental, $6 per hour). Later, hike up Crabtree Falls, a Blue Ridge landmark; the 2.8-mile loop is strenuous in places, but kids enjoy playing in a small cave en route. Bedtime: same as day three. Day five: Wintergreen Resort to Monterey. Mileage: about 125. Drive time: 2.5 hours. Route: Head south on the Blue Ridge Parkway through some of its most dramatic and primeval scenery, looking down from the steep ridge over the valley. Depart the high road at the intersection of U.S. 60. Stopovers and side t --James S. Wamsley

Lake Michigan Circle Tour
The Lake Michigan Circle Tour, a 1,100-mile circumnavigation of the only Great Lake entirely inside U.S. boundaries, claims some of the most kid-pleasing topography around: towering sand dunes, surf-washed beaches, hilly woodland trails, and maritime villages. Day one: Chicago to Holland, Michigan. Mileage: 130. Drive time: 2 hours. Route: I-80/94 east to I-90/94 east (Indiana toll road) to I-94 north to I-196 north. Stopovers and side trips: Swim in the Lake Michigan surf, or hike up 180-foot-high sand dunes at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (219-926-7561), about an hour east of Chicago along U.S. 12. Next, pick raspberries, cherries, peaches, and plums at the Lemon Creek Fruit Farm and Winery (616-471-1321) in Berrien Springs, a 20-mile round-trip detour from St. Joseph, Michigan, via U.S. 31. At Holland State Park (616-399-9390 or 800-543-2937), along the lakeshore, you can spend the day beachcombing. Bedtime: Camp in Holland State Park ($14 per night, plus a $5 reservation charge; 616-399-9390 or 800-543-2937). Or rent a housekeeping cabin in the woods near the state park from Sunset Harbor Cottages ($60-$79 per night; 616-399-9626). Day two: Holland to Traverse City. Mileage: 240. Drive time: 4 hours. Route: U.S. 31 north to Michigan 22, which traces the Leelanau Peninsula shoreline to Traverse City. Stopovers and side trips: Check out Grand Haven's boardwalk and beaches, a half-hour north of Holland. Stop in the twin cities of Montague and Whitehall, 15 miles north of Muskegon on White Lake, to pedal a portion of the 22-mile Hart-Montague Bicycle Trail; rent bikes and buy the permit sticker ($2 for individuals, $5 for families per day) right at the Montague trailhead at Bicycle Depot (no phone). Ten miles north is Rainbow Ranch Riding Stables (616-861-4445) in New Era, where you can book a trail ride along 250 wooded acres ($7.50 per hour). Then head for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (616-326-5134), 20 miles of the world's largest shifting sand dunes, where you can hike one of 13 trails, swim, or paddle the Lower Platte or Crystal rivers; rent a canoe inside the park from Riverside Canoe Trips ($23-$43 per day; kids under five free; 616-325-5622). Bedtime: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers two campgrounds ($10-$12 per night) and two backcountry campsites (no charge); call 616-326-5134. Or rent a cottage at The Knollwood, a motel with a private beach (doubles, $80; 616-938-2040). Day three: Traverse City to Mackinac Island. Mileage: 105. Drive time: under 2 hours. Route: U.S. 31 north to I-75 north to the Mackinac Bridge. Stopovers and side trips: From Charlevoix, an hour north of Traverse City, take a ferry (616-547-2311) to Beaver Island for a morning of swimming, fishing, and touring lighthouses. Back on U.S. 31, head north. Ferries leave every half-hour for Mackinac Island (an 18-minute trip) from both ends of the bridge-Mackinaw City to the south and St. Ignace to the north; try Shepler's (800-828-6157) or Star Line (800-638-9892). On Mackinac, tour Fort Mackinac (adults, $7; kids under 12, $4; 906-847-3328), a British and American military outpost built in 1780. Then head for Mackinac Island State Park, where you can ride bikes ($3.50-$5 per hour from one of six bike shops on Main Street), in-line skate (rentals available on Main Street), or explore weird geological formations like Arch Rock and Sugarloaf. Bedtime: You can splurge on a room in the Grand Hotel ($170 per adult based on double occupancy, including breakfast and dinner; children's rates, $35-$99, depending on age; 800-334-7263), which has a pool, tennis courts, golf course, and children's program (hike and picnic, $15 per child). But there are dozens of affordable B&Bs and hotels on the island, starting at $35 per night (there's no camping on the island). Day four: Mackinac Island to Manistique. Mileage: 90. Driv --Kathy Martin

Copyright 1996, Outside magazine

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