With spring in the air and summer looming, it’s time to start planning a family vacation. When I was a child this meant squeezing into a car with my mom, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and driving half a day to a sandy cottage on Cape Cod, which is still a good option. For more far-flung adventures, following are 10 destinations that include driving through a redwood tree, watching a gunfight in the wild west, riding a 75-mile-per-hour roller coaster, and fly-fishing near a wilderness campsite. Accommodation estimates are based on prices for the same weekend in mid-June, with two adults and two children under age 12 sharing one room.
Ferndale, Calif. Leisurely old-time fun can be found in the Victorian hamlet of Historic Ferndale (population 1,390), listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ornate buildings from the 1880s line Main Street, where you can spend an afternoon browsing antiques stores, art galleries, homemade candy shops, and watch candle-makers, blacksmiths, and a small repertory theater. A family room at the Redwood Suites, with full kitchen and a dining area, is a wallet-friendly place to stay while touring the area. Located along the northern California coastline, Ferndale is close to Humboldt Redwoods State Park (707-946-2263, humboldtredwoods.org), a 53,000-acre reserve of majestic ancient redwood groves with hiking and b iking trails. “Drive-through’’ a redwood tree at the nearby Shrine Drive-Thru Tree in Myers Flat. Other options for low-key fun include strolling along the nearby coastline, a nature hike in Russ Park (a 110-acre forest bird sanctuary), and a boat tour of the Eel River Delta. The Redwood Suites, 888-589-1863, redwoodsuites.com, family suites from $135 per night
Duck Key, Fla. Talk about kid-friendly, Hawks Cay Resort is a 60-acre tropical island getaway that is designed to be all about fun. Located midway down the Florida Keys overlooking the emerald green Atlantic, it’s no surprise the main activities for kids and adults involve water: fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, kiteboarding, or simply taking a dip in one of five pools or a saltwater lagoon. Supervised activities for younger children include a pirate ship pool (with water canons, rope ladders, and slides), dockside fish feeding, scavenger hunts, and arts and crafts projects such as painting coconut shells and tie-dying T-shirts. In addition to water sports, programs for teens include basketball, volleyball, kickball, and a game room with X-Box, Wii, PlayStation, and computers with safeguarded Internet access. The weekend “Kids Night Out’’ party offers pizza, movies, video, board games, and a chance for parents to go for Caribbean-influenced cocktails and cuisine at three restaurants. Hawks Cay Resort, 888-395-5539, www.hawkscay.com, from $229 per night
Williamsburg, Va. Combine fun with learning in Colonial Williamsburg (800-HISTORY, www.history.org), part of the Historic Triangle in Virginia that also includes Jamestown and Yorktown. Virginia’s largest tourist attraction lets families experience life in the 18th century. The 301-acre reconstructed historic area features 35 exhibition sites, and more than 100 gardens and museums. Watch skilled blacksmiths, shoemakers, printers, gunsmiths, a wigmaker, and more use period tools in 16 trade shops scattered throughout the town. Start your day by checking in at the visitors center to learn about special programs and tours. A stay at one of the six “official’’ hotels (ranging from the luxury Williamsburg Inn to value-priced Governor’s Inn) will reap special rates on general admission passes and exclusive benefits. When you’re ready for some 21st-century fun, check out the thrill rides at nearby Busch Gardens, the bizarre offerings at the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum, or head to Water Country USA for flumes, geysers, rafts, and other water-themed adventures. Governor’s Inn, 757-229-1000, www.colonialwilliamsburg.com, from $70 per night
Sebago Lake, Maine Share the wonders of nature without the hassle of camping at one of the 35 cottages at Migis Lodge. Northwest of Portland, this 125-acre property in a pine-scented forest stretches along the shore of Sebago Lake, Maine’s deepest and second largest lake. There are activities-a-plenty for children and parents, including on-site hiking trails, fishing, canoeing, waterskiing, kayaking, sailing, pedal boats, golf, and tennis. A summer activity program, for ages 5 and over, features a changing schedule of games, crafts, sports, picnics, swimming, field trips, storytelling, and treasure hunts. The rates at this all-inclusive resort include all meals, activities, and facilities except the use of motorboats and bar beverages. At night, parents can opt to dine alone while children enjoy a special menu in the Family Dining Room. Migis Lodge, 207-655-4524, www.migis.com, seasonal rates range from adults $170-$395, children $55-$127 per night
Tucson, Ariz. What kid doesn’t want to be an official National Park Junior Ranger? At Saguaro National Park (520-733-5158, www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm), children age 5 and up can earn a badge and certificate in the Discovery Pack program. Composed of two districts (east and west) separated by the city of Tucson, the park offers more than 165 miles of hiking trails and other ranger-guided programs. In addition to cacti forests, the park is a haven for wildlife such as desert tortoise, javelinas, roadrunners, Vermillion Flycatchers, and Whiskered Screech Owls. Check out the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a zoo (with mountain lions, prairie dogs, Gila monsters, and more), natural history museum, and botanical garden. Experience the old west at Old Tucson, a film location and western-themed park with stunt shows, gunfights, musical revues, and horseback rides, a carousel, and more. At the Pima Air & Space Museum, see more than 300 aircraft and spacecraft. Cool off in the 177-foot twisting water slide at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa. The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, 800-937-8461, www.westinlapalomaresort.com, from $139 per night
Hershey, Pa. Behind every great invention is a story, and in the 21st century the story often includes a theme park. Though Milton S. Hershey didn’t invent milk chocolate, he did create his own recipe and is credited with mass-producing and marketing chocolate bars, and creating a town around his factory. That town is now home to Hersheypark (800-HERSHEY, www.hersheypark.com). In central Pennsylvania, 90 minutes from Philadelphia, it features rides galore including 11 thriller roller coasters, 20 rides for kids, entertainment, and a boardwalk with nine water attractions. Nearby, the 23-acre Hershey Gardens offers themed gardens and a butterfly house. Or check out ZooAmerica, 11 acres with more than 200 animals. Other attractions include The Hershey Story, a museum that tells the history of Milton Hershey’s life in chocolate (don’t miss the Countries of Origin Chocolate Tasting, $9.95), and Hershey Trolley Works, a ride through Chocolate Town, USA, with singing trolley conductors. Families with children 12 and under can enjoy Dutch Wonderland, with 30-plus kid-friendly rides, water play, and mini-golf. It’s possible to stay in Hersheypark at a lodge, hotel, or campgrounds. Check for package deals that offer admission to select venues. Hershey Lodge, 800-437-7439, www.hersheylodge.com, from $309 per night
Snake River, Idaho Nature Retreats USA offers rustic elegance in the wilderness along eastern Idaho’s Snake River in scenic Swan Valley. The south fork of this river, less than 100 feet from the lodge, is known by many as one of the US’s best tailwater and dry fly fisheries. Beginner? No problem. Kids and families can learn to fly-fish along a trout-filled pond. Non-anglers can go horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, golfing, and even shopping in nearby Jackson Hole. The Heise Hot Springs offers muscle-reviving pools, a 350-foot waterslide, and a nine-hole golf course. For true wilderness, sign up for Overnight Camp, a retreat nestled in cottonwoods and aspens of the South Fork of the Snake River Canyon. South Fork Lodge, 877-805-7794, www.naturalretreats.com/south-fork-lodge/vacation-rentals.php, from $960for a two-night minimum stay (includes breakfast, gratuities, and taxes)
Bonita Springs, Fla. Bonita Springs is known for many things: pristine beaches, great fishing and boating, golf, and abundant wildlife. All these and more can be enjoyed at the family-friendly Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa, located on the southwest coast of Florida between Fort Myers and Naples. Kids especially love the 140-foot corkscrew slide found in the Adventure Pool, one of multiple pools ranging from 2,700 to 5,000 square feet. Adult-supervised activities at Camp Coconut (ages 3-12) include pool games, arts and crafts, and wildlife excursions to learn about local flora and fauna, and the native Calusa Indians. Teens can enjoy tennis, biking, climbing walls, and kayaking. Take a family outing to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (239-348-9151, hfl.audubon.org/corkscrew-swamp-sanctuary) where a 2-plus-mile boardwalk meanders though open prairies and a bald cypress forest that is home to 200 kinds of birds, including ibis, heron, limpkin, and anhinga, plus alligators, otters, Florida black bears, white-tailed deer, and red-bellied turtles. Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa, 239-444-1234, www.hyattcoconutpoint.com, from $189 per night plus $20 a day resort fee
Henderson, Nev. Twenty miles from the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas strip, you will find fresh desert air and tons of things for kids to do in the stunning Nevada landscape. A stay at the Aston MonteLago Village Resort, located on Lake Las Vegas, gives you easy access to water activities with kayaks, pedal boats, canoes, electric boats, jet skis, and stand-up paddle boarding. Like to fish? Lake Las Vegas and nearby Lake Mead are stocked with large mouth bass, rainbow trout, and catfish. Hotel guests are provided with free transportation to the strip, where kid-friendly activities include the Fountains of Bellagio, Volcano at Mirage, Sirens at Treasure Island, Lion Habitat at MGM Grand, Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, and the Adventuredome theme park at Circus Circus. Get out in nature and hike among the red sandstone rocks at the Valley of Fire (775-684-2770, parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire-state-park), Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, or take a 20-minute drive to stand in awe of the Hoover Dam. Aston MonteLago Village Resort, 877-997-6667, www.montelagovillage.com, from $152 per night plus $20 a night resort fee
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming Towering granite peaks, clear alpine lakes, wildflower-filled meadows, and sagebrush-scented valleys are all part of the nearly 310,000 acres of wilderness in Grand Teton National Park. (307-739-3300, www.nps.gov/grte/index.htm). Located in northwestern Wyoming just south of Yellowstone National Park and just north of the town of Jackson, the park attracts families who enjoy hiking, boating, kayaking, fishing, and other outdoor activities. It is possible to stay within the park at campsites, cabins, and full-service resort hotels. The historic cabins at Colter Bay Village offer a family summer-camp experience with nearby access to hiking trails, horseback riding, scenic lake cruises, guided fishing trips, and nightly ranger talks. Additional amenities within the village include two restaurants, grocery store, marina with boat rentals, a general store, and visitors center. Colter Bay Village, 800-628-9988, www.gtlc.com, private 2-room cabin $189-$229 per night, four-person occupancy, $10 for each additional personNecee Regis can be reached at email@example.com.