Outside magazine, Family Vacation Guide
The Art of the Quick Exit
Long weekends made easy — because even die-hard city dwellers need an occasional campfire-and-pine-needle fix
From Boston …
Tucked into a sheltered cove on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain about 45 minutes south of Burlington, Vermont, the Basin Harbor Club has been hosting families since 1886, when Ardelia Beach first opened her farmhouse to summer travelers. Four generations later, the Beach family still owns and manages the 700-acre resort — and many of the guests who came here
as kids now bring their grandchildren.
The club has 77 cottages, most with porches or decks, set in the cedars along the waterfront or overlooking gardens or the 18-hole golf course. A small sandy beach is watersports central; sailboats, canoes, rowboats, paddleboats, kayaks, and windsurfers can be rented by the hour. Hikers and bird-watchers take to the trails that crisscross the property, and cyclists
head out on the surrounding farm roads. In summer there are supervised programs for children and teens; younger kids swim in the large outdoor pool, do crafts, and take nature walks, while older kids go waterskiing and take extended hikes and canoe treks.
Families will want to skip dinner in the main house — a jacket-and-tie affair complete with a white-haired combo playing standards with great flourish — and instead try the resort’s Red Mill, a restored barn, or the casual poolside buffet. Three times a week the resort sponsors themed evenings, including family picnics and lobster bakes. One-room studio
cottages start at $305 per night, double occupancy (add $20-$70 per child per night; kids under three are free). One-bedroom cottages that sleep four (with pull-out sofas in the living room) start at $365 per night. Rates include all meals and most children’s programs. Basin Harbor Club (800-622-4000) is about a four-hour drive from Boston.
— Meg Lukens Noonan
From Seattle …
It isn’t Dungeons and Dragons, but even jaded computer jocks would have to admit that the abandoned bunkers and batteries at Fort Casey State Park, set above a windswept beach on Whidbey Island’s western shore, are very, very dark. A maze of 100-year-old shot rooms, powder magazines, gun emplacements, catwalks, and concrete towers, Fort Casey was once part of a
military defense system guarding the entrance to Puget Sound. Designed to fend off enemy ships that might sneak up on Washington’s Admiralty Inlet, the fort today is a peaceful haven for beachcombers, kite-fliers, picnickers, and whole families playing marathon rounds of hide-and-seek within its interconnecting corridors.
When you’ve worn out your troops exploring the abandoned bunkers, take the 10-minute hike to the Admiralty Head Lighthouse (now the park interpretive center), descend one of the trails from the cliffs to the driftwood-strewn beach below (a great place for building forts of your own), or just plop down on the windy headlands and take in the edge-of-the-world views of
the Straits of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains beyond. You can camp in one of 35 sites overlooking the harbor ($10-$11 per night); if the military bug has bitten you bad, bed down in the Fort Casey Inn ($135 per night, double occupancy; each extra person, $20; 360-678-8792), a former two-bedroom officers’ quarters offering no-frills accommodations with kitchens.
Fort Casey is six miles south of Coupeville on Whidbey Island, about an hour and a half from Seattle. Contact the park at 360-678-4519.
— Kimberly Brown
From Atlanta …
Pack up your kids and cowboy boots, aim the car for Candler, North Carolina, and before you know it, the hot, snarling Atlanta highways give way to cool, wooded mountain roads that once were wagon trails. By the time you pull into Pisgah View Ranch, a 2,000-acre spread along an Appalachian mountainside, you can smell the chicken frying and hear the band warming up for
square dancing in the red-roofed barn.
Owner Max Cogburn’s great-great-great-grandfather settled the property back in 1790, when he built a log cabin in the shadow of Mount Pisgah. The kids will love the cabin, now a pioneer museum, and also the heated swimming pool and the pond with a castaway island in the middle. Landward, there’s shuffleboard, tennis, and horseshoes. You can take a family horseback
ride along 12 miles of old logging roads through forest thick with Catawba rhododendron, or make the half-day, three-mile round-trip climb up 5,700-foot Mount Pisgah. Preteens and teens can go solo on lower-elevation trails, wading through sandy-bottomed streams and keeping a lookout for white-tailed deer and wild turkeys. The ranch’s 48 wood cottages are comfortable
and countrified, and all have air-conditioning. Doubles are $55-$85 per person over seven, including all meals and activities except horseback riding; children 2-7 are half price (call 828-667-9100). Pisgah View Ranch is about four hours from Atlanta.
— Stacy Ritz
From Minneapolis …
Minnesotans are loath to admit there is a canoeing alternative to their beloved Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness — especially one across the border in rival Cheesehead country. But for families hesitant to brave the sometimes fierce paddling conditions of the BWCA, northwestern Wisconsin’s Brule River is a perfect three-day warm-up run.
The 15-mile upper Brule, starting at Stones Bridge Landing off County Road S, is a slow, lazy paddle through alder bogs and marsh, alternating with occasional Class I, II, and III rapids. Ten miles downriver, Bois Brule Campground is your first night’s destination, and 10 miles farther on is Copper Range Campground, your second night’s digs. The hairiest section
gurgles into action from there, dropping 18 feet per mile at the Ledges, a section of flat, smooth rocks that stair-step down the river in a bona fide rapid-fire Class III manner. From Copper Range it’s about 18 miles to a spectacular finish in the chilly expanse of Lake Superior.
The Brule River is about four hours northeast of Minneapolis. Take I-35 north to Duluth, then take U.S. 53 southeast to U.S. 2. Brule River Canoe Rental (715-372-4983) in the town of Brule rents canoes ($25-$40 per day, including life jackets, paddles, and shuttle service). Call the Brule River State Forest (715-372-5678) for more information.
— Stephanie Gregory
From New York City…
A weekend at The Wawbeek on Upper Saranac Lake, a 40-acre turn-of-the-century Great Camp property in the Adirondacks, is like summer camp for the whole family — without the dreaded icy-cold swimming lessons or the half-mile-away outhouses.
During the day, parents and kids can hike or mountain bike through stands of hemlock and white pine on the resort’s 10 to 12 miles of trails. Explore the lake in a canoe, Sunfish, pedal boat, or windsurfer; cast for trout, bass, and northern pike; play tennis or basketball; or go swimming.
The Wawbeek offers a range of accommodations, from lodge rooms in the main Mountain House Lodge to a three-bedroom cottage, but best for families are the Berry Patch Cabins. Situated on a hillside overlooking the lake, each of the three cabins has a full kitchen, fireplace, pull-out sofa, and screened porch (no TVs or phones). The two-bedroom cabins cost $385 per
night for a family of four ($40 for each additional kid 12 and over, $25 for under 12), including buffet breakfast and use of the resort’s boats and bikes. Call 800-953-2656. From New York City, it’s about a five-and-a-half-hour drive.
— Kara Ryan
From Los Angeles …
The Santa Ynez Valley is California’s last best refuge for a type of landscape called potrero — grasslands of wild oats interrupted by huge, gnarly live oaks. Los Olivos (population 900), smack in its midst, still feels like the 1880s stagecoach stop it once was, despite the galleries and wine shops that now share the main street with the tack shops and a
turn-of-the-century gas station.
From town you can cycle the 10-mile loop down Ballard Canyon Road to California 246 and back up Alamo Pintado, a flat, pastoral route that winds past horse farms, vineyards, and orchards. Stop to pet the impossibly cute, goat-sized equines at the Quicksilver Miniature Horse Farm.
Detour from the loop on California 246 to Alisal Road (about seven miles), a lovely country lane with a moss-draped oak canopy. From there, take a great short hike that kids will love to 168-foot Nojoqui Falls in Nojoqui Falls County Park, a perfect picnic stop.
Allow a day on 4,528-foot Figueroa Mountain, a 13-mile drive north through hills and canyons. The spring wildflowers here linger well into summer, and mountain trails in the Los Padres National Forest head off into a backcountry of mixed oak, pine, and chaparral. There’s 20 miles of out-and-back mountain biking on doubletrack Catway Road (off Figueroa Mountain
Road), and a lovely out-and-back hike of more than 20 miles along trout-stocked, oak-shaded Manzana Creek in the San Rafael Wilderness.
Back in Los Olivos, try the Side Street Cafe for healthy sandwiches and salads; the landmark dinner joint is Mattei’s Tavern, a converted 1886 stagecoach inn that does steaks, burgers, and fish. The only place to stay in town is the country-deluxe Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn and Spa (doubles, $180-$250; 805-688-7788). Or you can camp at Figueroa Campground
(forest fee, $5 per day; call Los Padres National Forest, 805-925-9538).
— Robert Earle Howells
Half the state of Colorado is short-grass prairie. Or was, prior to the Homestead Act of 1862. With daughter Cloe, who has lived her whole life in the mountainous part of the state, I decided last May to check out the 193,000-acre Pawnee National Grassland hard by the Wyoming border east of Fort Collins — a trip back in time to when buffalo roamed the Great
Plains and plows had yet to cut the soil.
We hiked the mile-and-a-half trail to the West Pawnee Buttes (the overlook is closed March 1-June 30, but the trail can be used anytime), sedimentary remnants in a sea of buffalo grass and prickly pear cactus that bloomed pink and yellow. Signs warned of nesting prairie falcons on the cliffs, and indeed, more than one mama raptor warned us away with spearlike dives.
We didn’t see another soul all day; we shared the place with just the ghosts of a long-vanished Cheyenne hunting camp, the only sound a lonely wind.
Rather than drive back to college-hip Fort Collins, we lay our sleeping bags down beneath the cottonwoods of the park’s Crow Valley Campground (first-come, first-served; $8 single, $12 double per night) and watched an orange sun as it set many miles and eons away behind the mountains.
The grassland is 35 miles from I-25 on Colorado 14, about an hour and a half from Denver. For more information, call the Pawnee National Grassland district office, 970-353-5004.
— Peter Shelton