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Our Favorite Places

Family Vacations, Summer 1996

Our Favorite Places


The Big Picture: Just 100 miles northwest of Seattle, the San Juan Islands make a great starter trip for a family bicycling vacation. This four-day route past rocky beaches and stands of Douglas fir offers minimal car traffic, relatively flat riding, and frequent ferry rides from one island to the next--a real kid-pleaser.

Route: Because the islands' few roads are generally quiet, you can cycle off in any direction without fear of hitting much traffic and still carve out 15- to 30-mile loops. Begin the trip by taking the hour-and-20-minute ferry ride from Anacortes, Washington, to Orcas Island. Spend your first day on Orcas, the largest and hilliest of the islands, riding north and then east from the ferry to Cascade Lake at Moran State Park, about 13 miles, for swimming and a picnic. Then cycle south two miles to the town of Olga to visit Olga Caf‰ and Artworks, where you can see the work of local artists. Stay the night either at a campsite in Moran State Park, or six miles northwest in Eastsound, the island's largest town.

The next day, take the 40-minute ferry ride to Lopez Island, the flattest of the San Juans. Lopez is primarily agricultural and a bit of a cycling snore, but it's great terrain for younger riders. Ride south from the ferry, past stretches of farmland, to Hummel Lake for swimming and Shark Reef for an eyeful of sunbathing seals. Then loop north to settle for the night in Lopez Village.

Take the ferry the following morning from Lopez to San Juan Island, whose shops, galleries, and restaurants will probably seem like downtown Manhattan after sleepy Lopez. From the ferry at Friday Harbor, ride 4.5 miles north to Lakedale Resort, where the kids can swim in the lake, and either camp overnight there or head back to Friday Harbor.

On the fourth day, make a loop around San Juan Island, stopping at British Camp, part of the San Juan National Historical Park, to learn about the island's history. At the lighthouse in Lime Kiln State Park, you can watch the killer whales before heading back to Friday Harbor and taking the ferry back to Anacortes.

Local Wisdom: To avoid getting caught in traffic, wait 15 or 20 minutes after a ferry docks before cycling out of town.

Side Trip Not to Miss: At Moran State Park on Orcas, bike the five steep miles up Mount Constitution for some heart-stopping views of Puget Sound, Mount Baker, and Mount Rainier.

Eating and Sleeping: Camp at the Moran State Park campground; it has showers and is near Cascade Lake ($11 per night; reservations, 800-452-5687). On San Juan, stay at the Inn at Friday Harbor Suites, which has a restaurant and suites with kitchenettes (suites, $123; 800-752-5752). For family-style Italian food on Orcas, check out La Famiglia Ristorante; on Lopez, visit Holly B's Bakery.

Information: Your best source is The San Juan Islands: Afoot and Afloat, by Marge and Ted Mueller (published by The Mountaineers, Seattle), which also includes cycling info. For ferry information, call 206-464-6400. For additonal help, you can call the San Juan Islands Visitor Information Service, 360-468-3663.

Hired Help: Backroads (800-462-2848) offers six-day camping trips (there are six departures this year between July 7 and August 25) geared specifically to families ($749 per person; discounts for children).


The Big Picture: This vigorous five-day trip covering 175 miles takes you past the glaciers, emerald-green lakes, and jutting peaks of Banff and Jasper National Parks, providing glimpses of elk, moose, and bighorn sheep. The bulk of the route runs along the Icefields Parkway, which has generous passing lanes.

Route: Leave Banff heading north via the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A), which follows the Bow River for 41 miles to Lake Louise. About 16 miles into the ride, stop at Johnston Canyon, where a steep, 1.7-mile hike leads to a catwalk overlooking two waterfalls.

Stay the night at Lake Louise, then head out along the Icefields Parkway, riding over the 6,787-foot Bow Pass, then stop for a picnic at green-hued Peyto Lake. At 36 miles is the no-frills Waterfowl Lake Campground, where you can spend the night.

The third day--a 40-mile ride--takes you on a nine-mile, 6,675-foot climb up Sunwapta Pass. Finish up at Athabasca Glacier, where there's a hostel, hotel, and campgrounds--and where a short hike up Parker Ridge pays off in sweeping views of the Saskatchewan Glacier.

On day four, take a leisurely 28-mile ride, mostly downhill, through the Sunwapta River Valley, which is ringed by the towering Endless Chain Ridge. Spend the night at Sunwapta Falls Resort.

Your final day, take the parkway along the Athabasca River for about 15 miles, then turn at Athabasca Falls onto Highway 93A for a 20-mile ride into Jasper.

Local Wisdom: If you must hike the tourist-clogged trails at Lake Louise, do it in the early morning or late afternoon. All other times, the hard-soled crowd runs rampant.

Side Trip Not to Miss: With an extra day in Lake Louise, you can take a day trip to Moraine Lake--a nine-mile uphill ride. The 3.5-mile hike from there to Sentinel Pass offers astounding views of glaciers, lakes, and peaks.

Eating and Sleeping: Try the Lake Louise Campground ($10 per night) near town, which sits along the Bow River and has hot running water, and head to Lake Louise Station Restaurant at the train station for dinner. On your way to Jasper, stop at the Sunwapta Falls Resort, which has rustic cabins, a primitive cafeteria, and hot showers (doubles, $128; 403-852-4852).

Information: Check out "A Cyclist's Guidebook to the Canadian Rockies," a pamphlet, or The Parkways of the Canadian Rockies: A Road Guide, by Brian Patton (Summerthought Books, Banff), both available at the Banff Book and Art Den (403-762-3919). For further information, call Banff National Park (403-762-1550) and Jasper National Park (403-852-6162).

Hired Help: Backroads (800-462-2848) offers eight five-day camping trips geared for families (departures weekly June 29 through August 17; $749 per person with discounts for children; open to all ages).


The Big Picture: Here's your chance to show the kids a way of life without cars, electricity, or Power Rangers. On this five-day trip, you'll ride through the lush rolling hills of Amish and Mennonite farm country, competing for road space mostly with the horse-and-buggy crowd.

Route: Take day trips (of approximately 30 miles each) along Lancaster County's back roads, staying two nights in Ephrata and three in Mount Joy. Bring a detailed local map; you'll probably ride on a total of 20 to 40 different roads (whenever possible, avoid busy Pennsylvania 772 and 23).

Start in Ephrata, taking a 29-mile loop the first day to the town of New Holland, 13 miles away. From Ephrata, ride east to Reamstown, south to New Holland, and west to West Earl Township, then return to Ephrata for the night. Along the way, you'll meander past small farms where horse-drawn plows work the land. On your second day, ride 12 miles south to Intercourse, where Amish crafts like quilts and wooden rocking chairs are sold. Then head six miles west to the town of Bird-In-The-Hand for a visit to the farmers' market before turning north back to Ephrata (another 20 miles or so).

The next day, ride west about 28 miles to Mount Joy, stopping after seven miles at the town of Lititz to visit the Sturgis Pretzel House--the oldest pretzel bakery in America. From there, head west 21 miles to Mount Joy, where you'll overnight.

Continue west for nine miles the next morning to the Nissley Winery for a picnic, then return south via Maytown (five miles) and head north along Pinkerton Road back to Mount Joy, another 13 miles. After another night in Mount Joy, take the 28-mile ride east back to Ephrata.

Local Wisdom: Leave the camera at home or shoot only scenics; the Amish are offended by picture-taking.

Side Trip Not to Miss: Stay a night at the Jonde Lane Farm in Manheim (about five miles from Mount Joy). Run by the Nissleys, a Mennonite family of six, it's a working dairy and poultry farm where guests can help milk the cows and gather eggs (room with shared bath, $45 for two adults; $7.50 per child; 717-665-4231).

Eating and Sleeping: In Ephrata, stay at Doneckers Guest House (doubles, $69-$185; 717-738-9502), an elegant country inn attached to Artworks at Doneckers, where artisans make and sell Amish crafts. In Mount Joy, stop at Alois Bube's Brewery and Catacombs Restaurant, or Groff's Farm Restaurant, a three-star restaurant specializing in Pennsylvania Dutch food.

Information: A local map with good detail is Alfred B. Patton Inc.'s (215-345-0700) "Lancaster, Pennsylvania Street and Road Map." For local color, get Scenic Tours of Lancaster County (send $9.95 plus $2 handling to the Lancaster Bicycle Club, P.O. Box 535, Lancaster, PA 17608-0535). For more information, call the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau, 717-299-8901.

Hired Help: Vermont Bicycle Touring (802-453-4811) offers four five-day, inn-to-inn trips departing May 19, June 16, September 15, and October 6 ($995 per person; discounts for kids under 17; open to ages ten and up).

The Big Picture: Only 40 miles wide at its broadest point, Prince Edward Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia, is ringed by sandy beaches that plunge into surprisingly warm water. Along the south shore you'll hunt for clams, snails, and seaweed; the north shore is for hikes along beaches bordered by white sand dunes. With its gently rolling hills and light traffic, this five-day trip is especially good for families.

Route: From Charlottetown, the capital, take a day trip (15 miles one way) to Brackley Beach--part of the Prince Edward Island National Park--by following Highways 223 and 6. Start your trip the next day on Blue Heron Drive, a scenic route that follows a number of rural roads around the coastline of the island's midsection. Ride 43 miles to the town of Victoria, where you'll spend the night. At 31 miles, stop at the Argyle Shore Provincial Park, where you can dig for clams and swim.

The next day, ride 30 miles--continuing on the Blue Heron Drive along the south shore--to Summerside, a charming seaside town that hosts a summer lobster carnival the third week in July.

On day four, cycle the Blue Heron 36 miles up to Cavendish, a community obsessed with Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables: The town is swarming with Gable-related activities.

On your final day, leave Cavendish along the Blue Heron Drive; at about 16 miles, take Highway 233, then Highway 236, for the 15 miles back to Charlottetown.

Local Wisdom: For swimming, stick to the warmer waters of the south shore.

Side Trip Not to Miss: If you overnight in Summerside, consider a visit to the Acadian Pioneer Village in Mont-Carmel, a museum with reproductions of French Acadian life in the 1820s. To get there, make a loop along Highways 11 and 124 (15 miles), then return on Highway 2 (about 25 miles).

Eating and Sleeping: In Charlottetown, stay downtown at The Charlottetown-Rodd Classic Hotel, a lovely, Victorian-style hotel (doubles, $119 and up; 800-565-7633). Walk to Peake's Wharf for dinner at Lobster on the Wharf. In Victoria, stay at the Orient Hotel, a turn-of-the-century inn (doubles, $85-115; $15 each additional person; 902-658-2503). At the Acadian Pioneer Village in Mont-Carmel, be sure to try Ðtoile de Mer for Acadian specialties like rapure (a rustic potato dish).

Information: For flights into Charlottetown, call Canadian Airlines/Air Atlantic (800-426-7000) or Air Canada/Air Nova (800-776-3000). For a highway map, call Prince Edward Island Visitor Services, 800-463-4734.

Hired Help: Classic Adventures (800-777-8090) leads two six-night trips along Blue Heron Drive (July 27 and August 10; $1,149 per person, ages 12 and up).

The Big Picture: You'll travel a five-day route through the verdant hills of the Champlain Valley, with Lake Champlain to the west, the Green Mountains to the east, and the college town of Middlebury in between. Kids especially enjoy riding from town to town, stopping at lakes and rivers to swim.

Route: Settle in Middlebury for a few days and take day trips. For swimming and picnicking, go just beyond the town of Bristol to Bartlett's Falls at the edge of the Green Mountain National Forest (30 miles round-trip; follow Munger Street to Vermont 116 and then Vermont 17).

The next day, ride 20 miles along Weybridge Street and Vermont 17 to Lake Champlain and Chimney Point State Historic Site--the site, at different times, of former American Indian and French settlements. Then cycle 20 miles to Shoreham along Vermont 125 and 74, settling in at the Shoreham Inn and Country Store, an old stagecoach stop from the 1790s.

On day three, cycle 30 miles from Shoreham to Brandon along Vermont 73, which takes you through the heart of apple country and along scenic Otter Creek. From Brandon, make a 28-mile round-trip to Proctor along Florence Road to visit the Vermont Marble Exhibit, where you can watch demonstrations by craftspeople. On your final day, meander the 24 miles back to Middlebury along Vermont 73, Route 53, and Vermont 116, stopping at Lake Dunmore for a swim.

Local Wisdom: Stay off Vermont 7 and 22A, which have considerable car traffic.
Side Trip Not to Miss: If you stay an extra night in Shoreham, consider a day trip to Fort Ticonderoga. Cycle from Shoreham to Larrabee's Point (five miles), then ferry across Lake Champlain to the fort to view reenactments of the Revolutionary War.

Eating and Sleeping: In Middlebury, stay at the Swift House Inn, the former mansion of Governor John W. Stewart (doubles, $95-$165; 802-388-9925). Check out Calvi's Old Fashioned Soda Fountain in Middlebury for a float or sundae, then cab (the roads are too busy for cycling) to the Dog Team Tavern, which serves up traditional New England fare. In Shoreham, stay at the Shoreham Inn and Country Store, which has a good restaurant (double with shared bath, $85; 802-897-5081).

Information: Call the Addison County Chamber of Commerce (800-733-8376) for maps and information, and check out Vermont: An Explorer's Guide, by Christina Tree and Peter Jennison (Countryman Press, Woodstock, Vermont).

Hired Help: Bike Vermont Inc. (800-257-2226) offers 14 five-day, inn-to inn trips this summer and fall ($735 per person; open to ages ten and up).

Copyright 1996, Outside magazine

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