Vacationing with children can be the best and the hardest thing in the world. The upside? Experiencing new wonders through their eyes. But then there are the meltdowns, the exhaustion, the endless stream of “Are we there yet?” With little ones in tow, a delayed flight, a lost bag, or a too-small hotel room can feel disastrous. Which is why you need destinations that are convenient, offer heaps of activities for kids, and, most of all, won’t break the bank.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
The Appalachian Mountain Club operates more than a dozen huts and lodges throughout the Northeast. At the Lonesome Lake Hut (from $105 per adult per night), accessed by a mellow 1.6-mile hike into New Hampshire’s White Mountains, you’ll get views of Franconia Ridge and a hot breakfast and dinner included each day. Go during spring or fall and you can save money by packing in your own food. You can take guided hikes with an AMC naturalist or play board games in the hut. Not sure if your kids can handle the approach yet? Check out New Hampshire’s Cardigan Lodge (from $91), reachable by car and just two hours from Boston, which has a swimming pond, nature trail, nearby beaches, private family bunk rooms. Breakfast, bag lunch, and dinner come included with your stay. Get this: At both Lonesome and Cardigan, kids stay and eat free from June 15 to August 23.
North Cascades, Washington
The North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center, located on the shores of Diablo Lake in the center of North Cascades National Park, is not only a place to learn about conservation and stewardship but also a great getaway to relax and have fun. There are several multiday family weekends each summer (from $280 for adults; $180 for children older than two) that feature guided hikes, arts and crafts, campfire storytelling, and orienteering in the old-growth forest. You’ll stay in one of three bunkhouses, eat organic communal meals in the lakeside dining hall, and spend your days exploring the park or paddling out to islands in a Salish-style 18-person canoe.
Estes Park, Colorado
YMCA of the Rockies rents out private cabins (from $109 a night) on a sprawling 860-acre property in Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. The cabins range from two to four bedrooms, with optional fireplaces and loaner travel cribs. While you don’t have to be a YMCA member to rent, book early because these spots fill up quickly for summer. Kid-friendly activities include a swimming pool, game and craft rooms, horseback riding, outdoor climbing, mini golf, and more. Parents can indulge with a post-hike massage or yoga session.
Blue Ridge Mountains, South Carolina
At 3,000-acre Table Rock State Park, you’ll find two lakes, bluegrass jam sessions, and an extensive trail network that connects to the Foothills Trail, a 77-mile jaunt through the neighboring Blue Ridge Mountains. Pitch a tent or book one of 14 recently renovated cabins (from $95 a night), which feature fire pits, stocked kitchens, and enough beds for the whole family. There’s on-site dining in the park’s historic lodge, bass fishing, kayak rentals, and a playground to keep the kids busy. Thirty minutes away, in Greenville, you can visit the local children’s museum and grab a bite at Seedlings, the museum’s kid-focused farm-to-table restaurant.
Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
Thanks to the geothermal hot springs, the floatable Portneuf River, and an outdoor water park, a visit to the town of Lava Hot Springs can be done entirely in your swimsuit. But there are plenty of other attractions worth putting on a shirt. In summer, mountain bike or hike miles of local trails or fish for rainbow trout in the Blackfoot River and nearby reservoirs. Come in the winter and you can ski Pebble Creek Ski Area—which has only three lifts but boasts 2,200 vertical feet of terrain—for just $47 a day for adults and $5 for kids five and under. Book a hut (from $85 a night) at Bristol Cabins and breakfast and a communal kitchen come included, or sleep in a vintage camper at Lava Campground (from $15).
Most visit this sleepy coastal town for a quick escape—it’s just three hours north of San Francisco but feels light-years away. At Mendocino Grove, a 37-acre property that opened in 2016, you’ll sleep in deluxe canvas tents (from $120 a night) on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. Each shelter comes with a redwood deck, picnic table, and fire pit; family tents have queen beds for you and bunks for the grommets. You’re just a short drive to downtown’s charming shops and restaurants, hiking trails through the redwoods, and the Big River Estuary, where you can paddle or bike along its banks before it flows into Mendocino Bay. Rentals and guided tours can be booked at Catch a Canoe and Bicycles Too, located in the Stanford Inn by the Sea eco-resort.
Maine is nicknamed Vacationland for a reason: The state just makes you want to throw on flip-flops and crack open a book. Sandy Pines Campgrounds, which opened in Kennebunkport in 2017, is just a short walk from the three-mile-long Goose Rocks Beach. It has a pool, kid’s craft tent, bicycle and paddleboard rentals, general store stacked with s’mores fixings, and steamed lobster dinners. This summer, Sandy Pines is debuting tiny A-frame cabins and old-fashioned wagons turned into overnight campers in addition to its glamping tents and standard camping sites. Better yet, the family tents come with a smaller children’s tent equipped with two twin beds so you can get a little peace and privacy.