Access and Resources
Ten rustic bedrooms, with shared baths, start at $99 per adult, including meals; children six to 12 are half-price; kids two to five, $25.
WARNING: If you are pregnant, or have kids of any age, read on. This report contains information guaranteed to provide you with the premier places to rest you head. Then rip it in the great outdoors with your wee ones.
CHEAT MOUNTAIN CLUB
Durbin, West Virginia
Thomas Edison visited the Cheat Mountain Club in the summer of 1918. Old Tom strung up lights on the lawn and slept beneath the starshe couldn't get enough of the fresh air and mountain scenery. Your kids probably will want to do the same, and snooze in the shadows of 4,800-foot peaks and the tall hardwoods of Monongahela National Forestuntil, that is, they hear the midnight howl of a coyote.
Built as a private hunting and fishing lodge for Pittsburgh steel barons in 1887, the three-story, hand-hewn log building feels as it might have 100 years ago. The great hall, with oversize maple furniture and a stone fireplace, is perfect for curling up with a book or singing songs by the piano. Hearty meals of fish and game, homemade soups and bread, as well as kids' fare, are served in the family-style dining room. Children can raid the cookie jarfull of chocolate-chip and oatmeal-raisin goodiesat will.
Out the back door, you can fly-fish Upper Shavers Fork River, known for rainbow, brown, and brook trout. When the lines get tangled, take the afternoon to explore the ten miles of trails that wind through Cheat Mountain's 180 wooded acres. My kids like the nearby Gaudineer Scenic Area, where a surveyor's error spared a tract of red spruces, some 100 feet tall and 300 years old.
Afterward, it's fun to goof off on the three-acre lawn, playing horseshoes or flying kites. As the sun sets, sit on the terrace overlooking the river. You, too, might be tempted to sleep outside. Then again, you'll want to be well-rested for tomorrow's adventures.
Access and Resources
Doubles start at $195 per night.
Sedona at sunset
After two days exploring the Grand Canyon's South Rim, my husband, two-year-old son, and I were careening around the hairpin turns of Arizona 89A toward Enchantment Resort, wondering if we'd planned our trip in the wrong order. What could top the Grand? But once we headed into thumb-shaped, pinon-and-juniper-filled Boynton Canyon, with its red walls rising 1,400 feet up on three sides, we felt like we had found our own private park. No crowds! No loud buses!
Set on 70 acres about five miles from New Age Central (Sedona), Enchantment is a modern adobe village, its 71 casitas and main clubhouse painted the same ruddy pink as the canyon's sandstone walls. The indoor wonders rival the spectacular setting: Top on the list is Mii amo, the new, 24,000-square-foot spa, where haunting flute music greets you as you enter the museumlike space (children under 16 aren't allowed). From a big menu of body wraps and Ayurvedic treatments, I chose Watsu and a custom facial.
Enchantment makes it easy for parents to indulge: Camp Coyote keeps four- to 12-year-olds busy making dreamcatchers and sand paintings and taking nature walks (our son was too young for the camp, but a grandmotherly babysitter was arranged by the concierge).
Despite my spa retreat and one romantic dinner at the excellent Yavapai restaurant, there was still plenty of family time. One afternoon we hiked the five-mile round-trip to the end of Boynton Canyon, but our favorite activity was simply hanging by the pool. One morning, I sat with a mother of three boys from Boston, watching our kids bat around a giant beach ball and soaking in the astounding view of red pinnacles and buttes. "We thought about taking a day-trip to the Grand Canyon," she said. "But what could be more beautiful than this?"
Point Reyes Seashore Lodge
Access and Resources
Rooms range from $135 to $325.
Ordinarily a downpour on vacation dampens my spirits, but when we awakened to rain at Northern California's Point Reyes Seashore Lodge, it only made me want to heap more blankets on the already cozy double beds, laze in front of the crackling fire, and let the rain have its way with the bucolic pasture outside the bay window.
Our sons, Will, 6, and Griffin, 4, however, had food on the brain. So we threw sweatshirts on over our pajamas and trooped through the airy lobby with its 30-foot-long Douglas-fir chandelier and down the stairs to sit next to another fireplace, where we gorged on the continental buffet included in the room rate. Being first in line ensured dibs on the bear claws in the pastry basket. By the time we finished eating, the sky had cleared, changing the morning's equation.
We know our options wellthis 21-room inn is a favored family escape for both active and relaxing weekends. For instance, a two-minute walk out the door puts you on the Rift Zone Trail, which wanders through patches of redwoods along the base of the Coast Range, eventually joining more than 140 miles of trails in the area. My husband, Gordon, wanted to go kayaking in Tomales Bay or horseback riding, but I lobbied for something simplera visit to Olema Creek in the backyard. Surrounding the inn's Douglas-fir-planked lodge are two acres of grass and gardens for play. And three and a half miles west is the surf, which crashes onto beaches with 100-foot-high cliffs along Point Reyes National Seashore.
We poked around Olema Creek and then headed for the Bear Valley Visitor Center, the hub of the National Seashore, via a half-mile trail. My children absorbed wildlife and habitat displays but reached saturation at the replica of a Miwok Indian village. So we turned back to the inn just as a gentle rain began falling.
We could have driven to the nearby lighthouse, or gone to see the local herds of tule elk, or tooled down Highway 1 past a couple of miles of cow pasture to the artsy town of Point Reyes Station. Instead, we returned to the inn's indoor pleasures. We had everything we needed inside.
The Birches Resort
Access and Resources
A family of four can share a two-bedroom cabin for $840-$1,045 per week, depending on the month, excluding meals. Plans covering food and lodging are $575 per person per week or $270 per week for children 12 and under. Or choose a four-person yurt ($50-$100 per night) on the trails or a cabin tent ($25-$80 per night) in the woods.
The moose of Maine
After 20 minutes cruising in a pontoon boat across Moosehead Lake in central Maine, my three-year-old daughter, Cady, spied the payoff: "I see him! I see him!" she yelled, knocking my husband's Wisconsin Badgers cap into the chilly water. Sure enough, the lake's namesake mammal emerged from the woods on spindly legs and nosed along the water's edge, oblivious to the hum of video cameras.
But the loss of a favorite hat was the sole disappointment at The Birches Resort, a 1930 wilderness sports camp that's morphed from a hunting outpost into an 11,000-acre family retreat. Situated in the Moosehead Lake region on the west side of the water, The Birches consists of a lakeside lodge with an indoor waterfall and trout tank, 15 hand-built one- to four-bedroom lakeside cabins equipped with hot water, kitchen and bath, and a wood stove or fireplace. That cozy heat source is welcome after a day of hiking or cycling the property's 40 miles of trails, boating on the 35-mile-long lake, or exploring 1,806-foot Mount Kineo, the largest hunk of flint in the country, with an 800-foot cliff that drops into North Bay.
The Birches is home base for Wilderness Expeditions, which will outfit your crew for its Family Adventures Camp (rafting, kayaking, hiking, and wildlife-watching for ages 12 and up) or a float trip on the lower Kennebec River (ages 5 and up). Though the cabins are equipped with cookware, we opted for the meal plan so we could feast on pancakes and steak in the atmospheric lakeside dining room with its 35-ton fieldstone fireplace. Cady spent the last night of our getaway dancing to folk tunes while the moonbeams skipped across the lake.
Across the Bay Tent and Breakfast
Kachemak Bay, Alaska
Access and Resources
May to September: 907-235-3633; October to April: 907-345-2571
Tent lodging costs $85 per person per day, all meals included, or $58 with breakfast only.
Cutting across the glass-smooth surface of Kasitsna Bay
Rare is the Alaska lodge where a whole family can afford to stay long enough to let a day unfold without a hyperactive do-it-all plan. While other places on Kachemak Bay, near Homer in south-central Alaska, can cost three times as much, Across the Bay is more like a deluxe camping community where families sleep in platform tents and join together for shared meals harvested from the backyard gardena modern commune.
The lodge sits among giant Sitka spruces before a steep mountain on the edge of Kasitsna Bay, and it's most easily accessible via a 30-minute boat ride or a float plane from Homer. Accommodations are straightforward: five canvas-wall tents with cots, plus a main wooden lodge, a dining room, two outhouses, and a bathhouse. Those aren't without comforts or elegance, thougha piano, board games, books, and hot chocolate in the lodge, and framed art hanging near stained glass in the, um, outhouse. There's also a wood-fired sauna with stained glass by a creek.
On a typical afternoon, my three oldest kids played in the tide pools, collecting mussels and arranging sand dollars into castles. Later, guests gathered at the shore for grilled salmon and vegetables. A more adventuresome day could include renting the lodge's mountain bikes to explore an abandoned road up to Red Mountain, eight miles south, or going on a guided kayak tour along the shoreline, visiting the Herring Islands to watch sea otters and whales.
The Wildflower Inn
Access and Resources
Ten rooms plus 11 suites equipped with kitchenettes range from $140 to $280 per night, including breakfast.
In full bloom: former dairy far, the Wildflower Inn
Turning your home into a family resort is not a stretch when you have eight children age four to 21. It certainly helps if that home is a former dairy farm ringed with plush green meadows and mountains in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Owners Jim and Mary O'Reilly converted their Federal farmhouse and three red barns atop Darling Hill into the 21-room Wildflower Inn, preserving the agrarian feel without tilling the 570 acres. Now in its 17th season, the Wildflower has become the classic outdoor getaway for Boston families who yearn for forests and fields.
A typical day starts with my three-year-old, Melanie, sucking down the chocolate-chip eyes of a teddy-bear pancake, while five-year-old Jake plays air hockey in the adjoining playroom. Then it's off to the petting barn to frolic with sheep, goats, calves, and a shaggy donkey named Poppy. On summer mornings, a kids' nature program runs for two hours, with activities like watching beavers on the Passumpsic River. Parents and older children can check out 12 miles of mountain-bike routes that link with the Kingdom Trails, arguably the finest fat-tire riding in the Northeast. Cruise past the barns on smooth singletrack and you'll soon be lost in the woods, sweeping up and down a serpentine route.
Back on the farm, play a game of horse (what else?) on the basketball courts and then a set of tennis. Kids' dinner and a movie are waiting at Daisy's Diner, a converted barn. But after a full day, my little ones are content to lie on the grass and look for OrionVermont's version of nightlife.
Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior
Access and Resources
Summer rates for condos, not including meals, range from $69 to $475 a night, depending on the unit, number of people, and season.
I took my family to Minnesota's Bluefin Bay, ironically, to escape the Midwest. For a group of displaced East Coasters like us, life in the middle can be hard at times. Along with decent bagels and attitude, we miss being on the edge of a continent and looking out. From the deck of our townhouse at the Bluefin Bay, though, we could gaze across the 31,800-square-mile expanse of Lake Superior and leave the prairie far, far behind.
A collection of 70 blue clapboard split-level buildings stacked around a rocky cove, Bluefin Bay recalls the Norse fishing villages that lined Superior's northern coast a century ago. The airy suites and full-kitchened condominiums have vaulted ceilings and natural wood beams, fireplaces (to take the edge off breezy summer evenings), and stunning lake views that practically pour in through huge picture windows.
Guests are welcome to use the resort's boats free of charge, and we spent days on the water, paddling over century-old shipwrecks with a certified sea-kayak guide and canoeing the coast on our own. Those willing to tear themselves away from the lake can explore Bluefin's other backyard: Superior National Forest, a pristine 2.1-million-acre wilderness crisscrossed by more than 400 miles of birch-lined hiking and mountain-biking trails. Your kids will undoubtedly beg for a trip to the luge-course-like Alpine Slide, just up the road at Lutsen Mountains ski area.
At night, should you choose not to use the barbecues outside, take the crew out for mesquite chicken sandwiches at Breakers Bar and Grill, a walk along the lake from the condos. Or take advantage of the on-site kid programs and enjoy a candlelit dinner for two at the Bluefin Restaurant. The ambience and sound of crashing waves will get you in the mood to fire up the double Jacuzzi in your room. But first, stroll under the moon in the chilly night air, which will firmly remind you, lest you forget, that you're in northern Minnesota.
Ross Lake Lodge
Ross Lake, Washington
Access and Resources
Ross Lake Resort is open from mid-June to October; lodging costs $70-$260 per night. Round-trip transportation averages $16.
Ross Lake Lodge
The Park Service advises visitors to use caution in the glacial meltwaters of northern Washington's Ross Lake, a 21-mile-long alpine lake hard by the Canadian border, but the three kids cannonballing off the dock where I was sweating in the sun didn't care. I looked hesitantly at the glaciers attached to nearby 9,066-foot Jack Mountain and then slipped, ungracefully, into the frigid azure water. Cheers erupted. I managed five gasping backstrokes. And then it was time to fish.
My dockmates piled into a wooden skiff with their dad and their fly rods and trolled away from Ross Lake Resort, a string of 15 floating wooden cabins connected by a serpentine dock and parked on the lake's south end. Founded in the 1950s, the resort is hemmed in by steep, dark evergreen forest and is the only structure in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, a stretch of wilderness surrounded by North Cascades National Park. Getting to the unreachable-by-road resort is where the fun begins: After a three-hour drive from Seattle along the North Cascades Highway, we had boarded an old-fashioned Seattle City Light tugboat at Diablo Lakebearded, pipe-smoking captain at the helmand then chugged 30 minutes to a flatbed truck that hauled us two miles to a small dock on Ross Lake. From there, a runabout shuttled everyone and everything (bring your own food; there's no restaurant) across the lake to the resort.
We'd settled into our roomsaccommodations at Ross Lake range from two-person cabins equipped with kitchens, wood stoves, and bedding to a modern, nine-person chalet with enormous picture windows overlooking the lakeand rented our own skiff for the weekend ($70 per day). A few easy hiking trails lead to Ross Lake Dam and 6,107-foot Sourdough Mountain, but we fixed on the view north of us and planned to climb 6,102-foot Desolation Peak. So we boatedfollowed by a family of four traveling in kayaks ($31 per day)to the trailhead, casting for rainbows and cutthroat en route. At the summit, the kayaking family caught up with us, and the two youngest members of their expedition surveyed the lake for the best swimming holes to test at sunset.
Martha's Vineyard, MA
Access and Resources
A one-bedroom suite with kitchenette is $1,425 for the three-night minimum stay in summer.
With miles of untrodden island coastline and a web of bike trails, Martha's Vineyard is the optimal family getaway, but until recently, with area zoning laws limiting commercial construction, there wasn't a decent family resort. That changed last summer when Mark and Gwenn Snider opened The Winnetu Inn and Resort at the south end of Edgartown. They demolished the shell of a run-down hotel-cum-condo-building and made a grand shingled New England-style hotel in which every spacious suite affords ocean or dune views.
My family first met Mark as he pulled up in his 1945 fire truck, ringing the bell. This father of three will do almost anything to entertain children. He's organized pee-wee tennis clinics that start in summer at 8 a.m. and activities like scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, sand-castle contests, and bodysurfing on adjacent three-mile-long South Beach. In the evening, kids can go to the clubhouse for food and games while parents opt for fine dining at the resort's seaside restaurant, Opus, or head into Edgartown, the island's oldest settlement.
We favored getting on our rented bikes and hitting the trails. One day we pedaled to Edgartown and took the two-minute ferry across to Chappaquiddick, and then rode to the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, a stretch of coast that's home to threatened piping plovers and ospreys. On our final day, we ventured ten miles to Oak Bluffs, stopping at the windswept dunes of Joseph Sylvia State Beach to swim, and ending at the Flying Horses Carousel, the country's oldest operating carousel, built in 1876. Not surprisingly, Snider picked us up by boat to escort us back to the resort.
Access and Resources
Twenty-eight one-, two-, and three-bedroom cottages are available for $180 to $385 per night in summer.
Cottage industries: Steinhatchee lodging
As we neared the sleepy fishing town of Steinhatchee (pop. 1,100) on the southeast end of Florida's Panhandle, my family and I half expected to see Tarzan come swinging through the tangle of moss oaks and silver palms. Far removed from Mickey and his perky pals, we'd ventured into what tourism folks call "Old Florida"a pre-theme-park haven of lush vegetation, snoozing alligators, and wild turkeys.
Our base in this unhurried paradise was Steinhatchee Landing, a 35-acre resort on the Steinhatchee River, built to resemble a 1920s village of two-story vacation cottages, many of them Cracker-style (the term "cracker" refers to the state's early settlers, who cracked long whips to herd cattle). Each has a tin roof, a big front porch, and all the modern conveniencesmicrowave, stereo system, washer and dryer, VCR, and even a refrigerator pre-stocked with soda. Though just 12 years old, the place enticed us to savor the syrupy-slow pleasures of past generations: listening to crickets, fishing for shiners off the dock, and watching the sun melt like red sherbet into the Gulf.
When my husband, daughter, and I felt like budging from the porch swing, we found much to do: We swam in the riverside pool, paddled canoes, and rode bicycles on the dirt trails through the resort into town. On a sunset pontoon cruise, our guide pointed out rare brown pelicans guarding their nests. One afternoon we drove 50 miles and soaked, under a canopy of cypress, gum, ash, and maple trees, in the clear, 72-degree waters at Manatee Springs State Park, where an industrious spring churns out 81,250 gallons every minute. Entrance fees at some 30 natural springs and state parks, all within an hour of the resort, are waived for Steinhatchee guests.
National parks often get the drive-by treatment: Vacationing families cruise in for the day, climb out of the minivan at a few major vistas, and then high-tail it out for the night. These lodges, in five of America's most revered parks, will guarentee you linger.
Yosemite National Park
Rugged folks once farmed much of the rocky ground that Great Smoky Mountains National Park occupies, and their abandoned homesteads remain the park's most popular attractions. But only at LeConte Lodge can you live as the pioneers did. Getting to the lodge requires a 5.5-mile hike to the top of 6,593-foot Mount LeConte, on the Tennessee side of the park. Once you;re there, you'll find rough log cabins, lantern light, and family-style Southern cooking. The lodge sits at a crossroads of trails, making it an ideal launchpad for day hikes. ($82 per adult, $66 per child, including breakfast and dinner; 865-429-5704; www.lecontelodge.com; open late March to mid-November)
At Montecito-Sequoia Lodge, near California's Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, children head off for supervised riding, boating, swimming, hiking, or tennis, while parents are free to enjoy the park on their ownperhaps hiking among the giant sequoias or granite domes. Families rejoin for meals and to sleep in basic rooms in a 24-room pine lodge or one of four cabins, with sweeping mountain views, arrayed between a small lake and a swimming pool. ($760-$855 per week per adult, $690-$800 per child; 800-227-9900; www.montecitosequoia.com; open year-round; reserve a year in advance)
Bear Track Inn
At the doorstep of Glacier Bay National Park is the Bear Track Inn. With its huge-log facade and vast fireplace warming the common room, it's got Alaskan ambiance down pat. It's also the area's most luxurious accommodations, offering elaborate meals and 14 high-ceilinged guest rooms with down comforters. Bear Track Inn looks out on a field of wildflowers; beyond lies the ocean and the community of Gustavusa springboard for sea kayaking among whales, fishing for salmon and halibut, and taking a boat ride into the park to see the glaciers. ($432 per person per night, including ferry from Juneau and all meals; 888-697-2284; www.beartrackinn.com; open May through September)
Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort
Pure bliss is found in the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort's marquee attraction after a day of exploring Washington's Olympic National Park. The three geo-thermal pools are a mineral-water delight following a hike along the Sol Duc Riverwhere salmon jump the crashing fallsand up through mossy forest to tree line and the tiny alpine lakes above. Kids may prefer the freshwater swimming pool to the hot springs. When everyone has reached prune state, retreat to your cabin in the rainforest. ($130 for two people in a deluxe cabin with kitchen, $110 for two without kitchen, $15 per night for each additional person; 360-327-3583; www.northolympic.com/solduc; open March-October)
At the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park, Tenaya Lodge offers a national-park experience that's more like a California resort vacation. The lodge sits like a mansion on land surrounded by forest and park, and its rooms have niceties like plush chairs and Gold RushÐ heirlooms. TenayaÕs kid-only activities include a twilight flashlight hike&3151;or take the whole family to ride horses into Mariposa Grove, swim in two pools with underwater sound systems, and cruise on a nearby steam railway. ($209-$299 per night, double occupancy; 800-635-5807; www.tenayalodge.com; open year-round)
Ski resorts have realized how perfect their alpine playgrounds are for summertime family getaways. They're opening their slopes to mountain bikers and hikers, ratcheting up adrenaline levels at kids' adventure camps, expanding day care, and offering lodging deals in the off-season. Here, four of the summer's best.
Utah's Wasatch Range
Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler
In summer, Whistler's still-snow-covered Blackcomb glacier attracts planeloads of serious skiers and boarders, and an equal share of vacationing families who love the novelty of British Columbia skiing in the morning and rafting the Class II Green Riveror hiking in Garibaldi National Park, or soaring in a tandem paragliderÑin the afternoon. The Westin Resort & Spa (888-634-5577; www.westinwhistler.com) offers posh suites with kitchens that start at about $118 (American) a night. Splurge on a body wrap at the hotel's Avello Spa and Health Club while your children play in the Whistler Kids program (18 months to 12 years, about $43 per day or $25 per half-day, including lunch; 800-766-0449; whistler-blackcomb.com/mountain/kids).
The Mountain Suites at Sundance Resort
A sanctuary of handsome, weathered buildings in a quiet canyon outside Provo, Utah, Sundance Resort has a mission: to foster creative expression, communion with nature, and environmental stewardship. In that spirit, youngsters at Sundance Kids camp (ages three to 12, $50 per day) begin the day with yoga, followed by photography, jewelry, and pottery sessions. Mom and Dad can take similar classes at the resort's Art Shack studios. Stay in a Mountain Suite and you'll be steps away from horseback riding, lift-served mountain biking, and hiking trails in the Wasatch Range. Decorated with Native American textiles, each one-bedroom suite ($450 per night) sleeps four and has a kitchen (800-892-1600; www.sundanceresort.com).
Condos at Sun Valley Resort
Idaho's Sun Valley, escape of the rich and famous since 1936, becomes a laid-back, family-friendly hiker's paradise when the snow melts. Eighty miles of trails zigzag through Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and lifts allow even the youngest children to reach the incredible vistas on 9,000-foot Bald Mountain. Parents can go cast on the holy waters of the Salmon River while kids rock climb and ride horses at Sun Valley Day Camp (ages six months to 14 years, $59-$90 per day and $49-$64 per half-day; 208-622-2288; www.sunvalley.com). You'll have room to spread out when you rent a condo through Sun Valley Resort (800-786-8259; www.sunvalley.com) or Premier Property Management (800-635-4444; www.premier-sunvalley.com). One- and two-bedroom units cost $180-$300 per night.
Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel
With 50 miles of steep, boulder-strewn singletrack, Steamboat Springs, Colorado, vies with Mammoth as one of the country's primo downhill-mountain-biking hot spots. And Steamboat Kids Adventure Club's mountain-bike clinic lets nine- to 12-year-olds get in on the fun. Younger kids are also welcome at the Adventure Club (ages three to 12, $48 per day; 970-871-5390; www.steamboat.com). For easy trail access, stay at the 328-room Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel. Each luxurious one-bedroom suite sleeps six and costs $225 per night (877-269-2628; www.steamboatgrand.com).