Nantucket, with its rose-covered saltbox cottages and cobblestone streets, reeks of exclusivity, but it's not necessarily out of reach of the average family. While homes here rent for as much as $15,000 a week, staying inland rather than on the beach lets you avoid paying the equivalent of a down payment on a house. You can get a four-bedroom eighteenth-century whaling captain's mansion with a fireplace in every room and a widow's walk on the roof for around $4,000 a week in June and July (prices go up about 15 percent in August); more modest cottages start at $1,000.
Your children can spend all day at the shore building sand castles, windsurfing, or eating watermelon coolers from the Juice Bar; on the way to and from the beach, they'll also get a living history lesson in America's colonial past. Book six months to a year in advance; there's usually at least a two-week minimum stay in summer. Call Congdon & Coleman at 508-325-5000.
The rugged North Coast of California lends itself to a different kind of beach vacation, one of hiking along rocky bluffs high above the crashing surf and building huts from massive pieces of driftwood. A good family base is the artists' community of Mendocino, four hours north of San Francisco.
Your kids will feel as if they've gone through the looking glass when they peer down on the dwarfed trees in the Pygmy Forest and gaze up at 20-foot rhododendron plants in the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. The Skunk Train — an old logging locomotive named for the stinky gas engine that once powered it — travels along the Noyo River into the redwood forest, with a stop along the way for fresh blackberry sundaes. Under your own steam you can paddle an outrigger canoe up Big River past salt marshes and old logging sites.
Mendocino Coast Reservations rents turn-of-the-century cottages as well as new homes for $1,000 to $2,000 per week. Eagle Ranch, a three-bedroom farmhouse on a 2.8-acre bluff near the ocean, runs $1,100 for three to six people; the three-bedroom, two-bath Palette House, a short walk from town, accommodates three to six people and has spectacular ocean views and a hot tub for $1,290. There's a one-week minimum stay in July and August; book by early spring. Call 707-937-5033.
You can have it both ways at a resort like Keystone, 75 miles west of Denver: Children's programs and a week's worth of activities can keep you busy, but once you're settled into your house on Keystone Ranch, a community of homes on wooded lots overlooking the golf course and the Gore Range beyond, you may never want to leave your deck.
Your stay kicks off with storytelling around a bonfire and winds up with a barn dance and informal rodeo. In between, there are hayride cookouts at the old Soda Creek Homestead, gondola rides to the top of the ski mountain, llama lunch hikes, and paddleboat excursions around Keystone Lake.
In summer the Ranch's homes are often available at the last minute and go for half of what they cost during ski season. Three- to six-bedroom homes rent for $300 to $600 per night (two-night minimum); renters have use of the Keystone Ranch pool, the golf course (for a fee), and free door-to-door shuttle service to the rest of the resort. Contact Keystone Reservations at 800-468-5004 or Magliocchetti Inc. at 800-248-1942.
Kids race each other down the docks when the 110-year-old R.M.S. Segwun whistles by. A restored steamship from the roadless days when boats shuttled vacationers to the lakefront resorts of Muskoka, the Segwun is one of the many pleasure craft that ply the deep-blue, glacier-carved lakes of Ontario.
Hundreds of cottages backed by pine forests line the sandy lakeshores of Muskoka. Most cottages come with canoes or paddleboats, play areas for badminton and volleyball, campfire pits, and decks or patios with gas barbecues and picnic tables.
The average weekly price for a modest three-bedroom cottage is about US$530, and most require a one-week minimum stay. It's best to book six months in advance. Family-owned Beauview Cottage Resort (800-363-6047) has six one- to three-bedroom cottages. For other rentals, contact Muskoka Tourism at 800-267-9700.
The aromas of whitefish and burning firewood waft from a bubbling cauldron as the sun sets over the water. Welcome to a Door County fish boil, a 100-year-old tradition. Between Lake Michigan and Green Bay, the 70-mile Door Peninsula is marked by dramatic cliffs, sandy beaches and dunes, and apple and cherry orchards. Of the dozen lakeshore towns, the best base is Fish Creek, home to the country's oldest professional summer repertory theater as well as Peninsula State Park, with biking and hiking trails, a cove for boating and sailing, and a nineteenth-century lighthouse.
A handful of grand Victorian homes comprise Cottage Row in the heart of Fish Creek. Stony Path, a circa-1915 four-bedroom mansion, has a dock, a porch, huge fireplaces, and claw-foot tubs; the weekly rate is $2,125 for up to eight people. Throughout the county are a few log cabins; for example, the three-bedroom Moose Valley log home has a large stone fireplace, a deck, and a whirlpool tub; the weekly rate is $1,095 for up to six people. Book six months in advance through Door County Vacation Rentals at 800-826-7772.
Chances are your children will develop the "Sanibel stoop" after spending hours on one of the world's best shell-collecting beaches. These two southernmost Gulf Barrier Islands (connected by a 100-yard bridge) are also famous for their wildlife: The more than 6,000-acre J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge swarms with alligators, otters, turtles, and exotic birds like roseate spoonbills and red-shouldered hawks. You can hike the refuge's trails, canoe its waterways, or join a tram tour along the five-mile wildlife drive.
Captiva, the less developed of the two islands, has shorter-term rentals (one-week minimum versus one month for most Sanibel homes). Across the street from the main beach, the three-bedroom Anderson House ($1,350 per week) is a French Provincial-style home with tropical decor, a heated pool, and a large porch. Also on Captiva is the beachfront Johnston House ($1,300 per week) with a sprawling screened porch and a great room with vaulted ceilings. Book either house at least two months in advance; call Priscilla Murphy Realty at 800-237-6008. — Amy McConnell and Jane McConnell
Big Moose Lake, in the heart of the Adirondacks, is a place of pristine wilderness where families can canoe, fish, hike, and watch for otter, deer, beaver, and great blue herons.
The rustic Waldheim Lodge, a 300-acre property adjacent to state land on the north shore of Big Moose Lake, has a main lodge and 15 one- to six-bedroom cottages that sleep two to ten people, each with a living room, wood-burning fireplace, at least one bathroom, and a porch. A two-bedroom cottage for a family of four, including all meals (served in the lodge dining room), costs about $505 per adult per week; ages 10-12 pay two-thirds of the adult price; ages 7-9 pay half; ages 4-6 pay one-third; ages 1-3 pay one-fourth; and kids under a year pay $40 per week. — Kara Ryan
It's not a dude ranch, but you can go horseback riding and attend an on-site rodeo. It's not a beach resort, but you can relax in oceanfront accommodations or go swimming, sea kayaking, outrigger canoeing, and snorkeling. It's not Africa, but exotic animals like zebras, giraffes, and elands roam the savannah-like landscape. It's a place where you can hike and mountain bike along 30 miles of trails or go deep-sea fishing or whale watching. It's Molokai Ranch, a 53,000-acre complex that defies categorization but guarantees some unforgettable family adventures.
Accommodations are in "tentalows," one- and two-unit bungalow-type tents mounted on wooden platforms that each contain one or two queen beds (or a queen and two singles; extra rollaway beds provided on request), a self-composting toilet, and a solar-heated shower. Scheduled to open by April 1 (as of press time) is the Kaupoa Camp, a cluster of 40 tentalows fronting white-sand Kaupoa Beach. There's also Kolo Camp, situated atop an ocean-view bluff, where guests stay in "luxury yurts" — circular tents with French doors, skylights, and lanais. Close to ranch headquarters is the Paniolo Camp, with 41 one- and two-unit tentalows. Meals are served in open-air dining pavilions at each of the camps.
Rates are $185-$245 per day per adult, $75 per day for kids 4-12, including all meals, transportation, activities, equipment, taxes, and gratuities. Call 800-254-8871 for information. — Nancy Zimmerman
It would be easy to mistake The Algonquin for some stuffy, well-heeled haunt, with its grand chateau-style manse of turrets and dormers. But this Canadian Pacific resort is decidedly family-friendly, with a child check-in desk where kids are issued beach buckets and coloring books, and hourly activities staged for ages four and up.
In a resort town on Passamaquoddy Bay, The Algonquin's 225-acre grounds encompass a heated outdoor pool, tennis and squash courts, and an
The kids won't mind a little time in the room, either. Ask for a Heritage Premier room ($112-$165) in the new wing-they have two queen beds, a kitchenette, and mahogany furnishings. One-bedroom suites with a fold-out sofa start at $125 in the main wing, $178 in the new wing. Kids under 18 stay free in their parents' room. Call 800-441-1414. — Stacy Ritz
Same goosebumps, different season. That could be the motto at Arrowleaf, a multisport resort in Washington's scenic Methow Valley, which was conceived as a downhill ski resort but which grew up to be everything but. When the 1,200-acre resort is finished a decade from now, it will have it all except skiing: swimming, golf, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and whitewater rafting. Everything but the golf already is at hand, either at or near the door to the Freestone Inn, a rustic log-and-stone building with 12 rooms built on a man-made lake near the cute-but-still-real mountain town of Mazama. Lodging can also be found at the Early Winters Cabins, a collection of six cabins (nine more are under construction) with kitchenettes and fireplaces that sleep two to four people and two log homes equipped with kitchens, garages, and washer/dryers that sleep up to eight people.
Summer visitors to this high, dry, Coloradoesque resort can hop on a mountain bike or horse and partake of the magnificent Methow Valley Sport Trails network, a nearly 200-kilometer web of mountain and valley-floor trails that form one of the nation's premier cross-country ski areas in the winter. Bikes can be rented at Jack's Hut near the inn. Kids can ride for 30 minutes or 30 miles here with no fear of traffic or trespassing, and the terrain ranges from flat and easy to quite difficult. Also close by are rafting on the Class I, II, III, and IV rapids and fishing in the Methow River, trekking with local outfitters (arranged by Jack's Hut), and swimming in Freestone Lake.
Rates at the Freestone Inn (800-639-3809) are $130-$235 per room per night based on double occupancy; cabins at Early Winters (same phone) run $100-$195 per night, and log homes are $250-$325 per night. Call the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association at 509-996-3287. — Ron C. Judd
At first glance, the colonial-style Woodstock Inn & Resort might seem far too posh for children, especially if you enter the main lobby in mid-afternoon and watch guests sipping tea in one of the small alcoves. Wait long enough, however, and you'll find muddy kids roaming the hallways and families happily creating a ruckus in the restaurant.
Cradled in the hills of the Ottauquechee River Valley, the town of Woodstock is quintessential Vermont, with freshly painted white steeples, the requisite covered bridge, and stores selling pure Vermont maple syrup and cow-shaped chocolate candy bars.
From the steps of the inn, it's only a 25-minute walk to the peak of Mount Peg or a 45-minute climb to the state's newest national park, the Marsh-Billings National Historical Park on the slopes of Mount Tom. In 1869, the 550-acre site became one of the first places in the country to start reforestation after farming wiped out much of the northeastern woods. After a picnic on the summit of Mount Tom, you can continue your walk on more than 20 miles of trails. The inn also rents bikes to ride on Vermont's lightly traveled backcountry roads.
Back at the inn, there's the usual golf course, heated pool, tennis courts, horse shoes, volleyball, and croquet. The spacious double rooms are decorated with handmade quilts and original paintings. Rates are $159-$303 based on double occupancy; children under 14 in the same room with an adult stay for free. Call 800-448-7900. — Stephen Jermanok
Llamas roam terraced lawns, cats lounge by lobby fireplaces, and an enthusiastic black Lab greets you at the front desk-what more could make kids feel at home at the Stanford Inn? Maybe the fact that they can bring their own pets along ($25 per stay for the first pet; $7.50 for each additional). They also can take a kayak or outrigger canoe trip up Big River and look for harbor seals, deer, otters, and black bears (rentals are $10-$18 per hour, $30-$50 per day), or go mountain biking along trails carved above Pacific cliffs (bikes are free of charge to guests).
Back at the inn, sign up for a yoga class or work out in the gym. Then retreat to your pine-paneled room with wood-burning hearth, mini-fridge, VCR, and kid-friendly sitting rooms with fold-out sofas or daybeds. Rooms cost $190-$245; one-bedroom suites are $225-$325; two-bedroom suites are $460-$570. Rates include full breakfast. Call 800-331-8884. — S. R.
From its Italianate pink stucco exterior to its formal afternoon teas, The Broadmoor seems an unlikely headquarters for a sports-saturated vacation. But the resort's 3,000 acres abut Cheyenne Mountain, where guests can go hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding; the resort rents both the two-wheeled and the four-legged transports. The sports desk can arrange guided fly-fishing outings and hikes through the rock monoliths of Garden of the Gods.
There are three 18-hole golf courses, 12 tennis courts, and a croquet lawn; clinics are offered in all these activities to kids five and over as part of the all-day children's program ($45 per day for ages 5-12; $35 per day for ages 3-4). While the kids are busy with the clinics, the adults can check out the fitness center and spa, relax by one of the pools, or paddle a boat among black swans on Cheyenne Lake. Summer rates for a family of four run $425-$1,100 per night for a one-bedroom suite and $755-$2,000 for a two-bedroom suite. For additional information, call 800-634-7711. — Jane McConnell
After a childhood spent dreaming of being a cowgirl, I was thrilled when, 30 years later, my parents suggested a family expedition to Elkhorn Ranch. Started in the early 1920s and just a mile from the northwest corner of Yellowstone Park, the 450-acre ranch is surrounded by the wilderness of the Gallatin National Forest.
We (my parents, my ten-year-old daughter, my sister and her husband, my brother and his eight- and 12-year-old sons) were each matched with one of 125 horses, supplied with boots, and left to decide each day at breakfast whether to ride into the mountains, go fishing, spend the day in Yellowstone, or go rafting. Ranch hands were on duty all day to watch over the kids, whether they were riding to a mountaintop picnic, hanging at the pond, or playing Ping-Pong in the rec hall. My daughter's favorite things? A tasty trail breakfast cooked in pans the size of small skating rinks, her pony Bundy, fly-fishing and whitewater rafting in the nearby Gallatin River, and fresh-baked cookies available all day long.
The rough-hewn 1930s cabins, which house up to 45 guests, are cozy and comfortable, most of them with wood-burning stoves and porches overlooking the ranch and the mountains beyond. Weekly rates, including meals and all activities except rafting (one-week minimum stay in July and August), are $1,400 for adults, $990 for kids 6-18, and $385 for kids 3-5 (no riding) plus a 15 percent gratuity. Call 406-995-4291.
This 127-acre riverside ranch in northern California sits in a river canyon amid waterfalls, meadows, and lakes surrounded by the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area. Open year-round, Coffee Creek is more dude resort than dude ranch: In addition to riding, guests can lounge by the pool, work out in the health club, or watch satellite TV. The ranch has a crew of international counselors to oversee kids ages three to 17 in activities like arts and crafts, panning for gold, roping lessons, overnight camp outs, and canoeing. A family gymkhana is held at week's end to show off riding skills.
Coffee Creek's 14 rustic cabins with wood-burning stoves (plus a handicapped-accessible cabin) can accommodate up to 50 people. Weekly summer rates, which include lodging, meals, kids' programs, and all activities except riding, are $850 for adults, $830 for teens, and $730 for kids 12 and under. The weekly riding fee is $300, while an all-day ride is $60 and a two-hour ride is $30. Gratuities are not included. Call 800-624-4480.
Triangle C Ranch is almost like a movie set of your Western fantasy: The main lodge is set on a bluff with sweeping views of the Wind River and the Pinnacle mountains. Activities are a bit theatrical as well; there are tomahawk-throwing contests and rifle competitions in addition to plain old riding and camping. For kids ages five to 15 there's a naturalist course, an overnight tepee-camping trip, and rafting on the Snake River.
Accommodations include the historic one- and two-bedroom Tie Hack Log Cabins (for two to five people), named for the 1906 Tie Hack Camp on whose site the ranch is built, and the two-story, six-room Pinnacle Cabins (for up to 19 people) with decks and porches and some with fireplaces. Weekly rates in the Tie Hack cabins are $900 for adults and kids six and up; $450 for kids 1-5, and $100 for infants. The same age groups in Pinnacle cabins pay $1,200, $600, and $100, respectively. There are also three-day packages for approximately half the weekly rate. A 15 percent service charge is additional. Call 800-661-4928 for more information.
The second-oldest dude ranch in America, the 1920s-era 9,000-acre HF Bar Ranch is surrounded by vast pastures that melt into the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. Kids ages five to 12 ride together as the "Mosquito Fleet." There's catch-and-release fly-fishing along the ranch's 15-mile stretch of Rock Creek and a multiday fly-fishing trip to a high mountain camp. At the lodge itself you can swim in the heated pool, go hiking, or try the Sporting Clay course (clay bird shooting) for older kids.
The ranch's 26 streamside cabins (room for up to 95 guests) have paneled living rooms, fireplaces, and up to seven bedrooms. There is a one-week minimum stay, but unlike at most guest ranches, there is no set arrival day. Adults pay $1,050; kids 4-12 cost $630; kids 1-3 are charged $280; kids under one year old are free; the ranch also offers a 50 percent discount for nannies. An 18 percent gratuity is added to these charges. Call 307-684-2487 for additional information.
Established in 1948, this guest ranch is in the beautiful high country of the Pine River Valley. In addition to the daylong and overnight pack rides, kids go for the 72-foot heated pool, a two-story treehouse, a kids' rodeo, and waterskiing.
There's room for 48 guests in ten two- or three-bedroom cabins; some of the three-bedroom log cabin suites come with breakfast bars and refrigerators. The Lake Cottage sleeps up to five people. Prices including gratuity are $1,480 per week for adults; $1,200 for ages 12-17; $1,100 for ages 6-11; and $800 for kids 3-5 (prices vary for kids under three). The Lake Cottage costs $995 per week per adult and $895 for ages 6-17; kids five and under are not allowed. Call 800-527-2624. — Beth Johnson
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