1999 Family Vacation Guide, The Itinerant Toddler
Try checking in at most vacation resorts and you're likely to get that "oh-no-here-comes-that-two-year-old" look from the weary desk clerk. For a more toddler-friendly experience, consider the following.
The Inn at East Hill Farm, Troy, New Hampshire
News flash: Egg gathering is the perfect toddler activity. At The Inn at East Hill Farm (800-242-6495), a 150-acre spread in the shadow of New Hampshire's granite-knobbed Mount Monadnock, kids get to gather eggs as well as milk cows and goats, feed sheep and pigs, ride horses, visit free-ranging bunnies, and chase down guinea fowl. In the cavernous dining room you'll take every meal at the same table, giving young ones a comfy sense of predictability. Accommodations include a rustic cabin, cottages, and inn rooms. Adult rates are $70-$88 per person per night, including meals; children 5-18, $50-$58; toddlers 2-4, $25-$29; under two free.
The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia
You wouldn't expect an elegant, traditional resort like The Homestead (800-838-1766) to treat a toddler like a valued guest. But this 233-year-old Georgian property, set on 15,000 acres amid the maples, sycamores, and pastures of Virginia's Allegheny Mountains, provides an unexpectedly warm welcome to the rug-rat set. At the KidsClub, which accepts three-year-olds (half day, $26; full day, $45), kids learn to make pottery, design a bird feeder, and collect plant life to look at under the microscope in the Science & Biology Center. There's toddler-friendly hiking out the back door; try the 2.8-mile South Walking Trail for sightings of gray and red squirrels, white-tailed deer, and wild turkeys. Summer rates are $179-$248 per person per night; kids 5-12 are $39; kids under five stay and eat for free. Family vacation packages run $182-$219 per person per night, including free KidsClub memberships and a 50 percent discount on a second room.
Paradise Guest Ranch, Buffalo, Wyoming
While most guest ranches require that kids be at least age seven, Paradise Guest Ranch (307-684-7876), tucked into a secluded valley in the Big Horn National Forest of northeastern Wyoming, accepts toddlers of any age. Kids up to age six make animal masks, go fishing, collect wildflowers, and ride ponies. In addition to scheduled rides (noon and 5 p.m. daily; kids under six are led by adults), you can take a pony anytime to lead your young rustlers around. Families stay in luxury cabins with two and three bedrooms, kitchens, and washers and dryers. Discounted Family Weeks that include all meals and activities begin May 30 and June 6 ($1,000 per adult; $800 for kids 6-12; $400 for kids 3-5; $300 for kids two and under), as well as June 13 and 20 and August 29 ($1,150 per adult; $1,050 for kids 6-12; $500 for kids 3-5; and $400 for kids two and under).
Northstar-at-Tahoe, Truckee, California
Toddler orienteering? Toddler rock climbing? This must be Northstar at Tahoe (800-466-6784), the Sierra Nevada ski area that has created a gonzo environment for the smallest of extreme athletes. Northstar's Minors' Camp takes ages two and up for half-day ($26) and full-day ($43) sessions that include swimming lessons, nature walks, tennis, and pony rides. A junior ropes course is available for kids ages 4-13 ($45 per kid for the first two, then $40 per kid). The outdoor climbing wall in the Adventure Park is open for all ages (family rate is $9 per person per hour for three or more climbers; all day is $20 per person). Orienteering courses accept families with children of any age ($15 per person; $10 ages 8-16; kids seven and under free). Book a two-night stay and get a free half day of child care per child at Minors' Camp. Condominiums start at $119 per night for a one-bedroom unit and $459 for four bedrooms and two baths.
— Tracey Minkin