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Summer camp is a rite of passage that many children look forward to, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put this year’s camp dreams on hold. Instead, families are looking for ways to explore the great outdoors a bit closer to home, while limiting the elements that stress out busy parents: driving long distances, elaborate planning and choosing activities and restaurants that will appease everyone. Many luxury hotels and resorts are offering summer camp-type experiences like archery, canoeing and even campfire songs with a nice mix of alone and together time. The setting is a notch above the rustic cabins and mess halls one might imagine, but the purpose is still the same: to facilitate bonding, a love of nature and, most importantly, the chance to reclaim your inner child.
With so many schools choosing virtual instruction for the first semester and perhaps beyond, the bonus is that many families have added flexibility in traveling through late summer and well into the fall. Here are some of our favorite properties around the country for classic all-ages fun.
Flathead Lake Lodge, located south of Glacier National Park in the northwest corner of Montana, has been providing memorable family vacations for more than 75 years. The hands-on approach of the third-generation owners is what sets the lodge apart. Parents enjoy the opportunity for kids to roam the property safely and participate in a wide array of organized and self-guided activities. The dude ranch’s youngest guests enjoy typical summer camp activities such as trail rides, arts and crafts, canoeing and a junior wrangler program. Teens prefer more advanced water sports like sailing and wakeboarding, plus tailor-made activities such as mountain laser tag. All ages participate in a barn dance, campfires and a rodeo during their weeklong stay.
Accommodation options include historic lodge rooms or one-, two- and three-bedroom cabins. All options sit near the shore of Flathead Lake and provide a cozy, rustic luxury feel. In order to encourage guests to enjoy the great outdoors, TVs and phones are not provided, though WIFI is. Pricing is inclusive of meals, accommodations and most ranch activities from Sunday to Sunday. A 20 percent discount is usually offered for families willing to visit during the last week of August.
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Blackberry Farm is nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee. The focus here is on Southern hospitality, gourmet cuisine and impeccable service. Blackberry Farm prides itself on locally sourced ingredients, many grown on its working farm, which guests are encouraged to visit. Foodie parents will enjoy the ever-changing list of food and wine events happening onsite. Creative dishes are served in one of three restaurants; however, families with children under 10 are asked to dine in the more relaxed Dogwood restaurant for dinner.
Guests at Blackberry Farm are encouraged to explore together and independently. The Adventure Series facilitates connection in the great outdoors through activities like archery, canoeing and geocaching. The theme of exploration continues in Camp Blackberry, where children age 4 and above participate in everything from picking vegetables to outdoor movies so parents can enjoy a little alone time. Blackberry Youth Discovery is designed for kids age 10 and up who want to pursue specific interests like painting, gardening and farm animal care. From fly fishing to spa treatments, there are countless other activities in which parents can participate for an additional fee.
Accommodation options include a wide array of rooms, suites, one-bedroom cottages and three-, four- and five-bedroom homes. All are adorned with luxury linens and the utmost attention to detail. A minimum of three nights is required during peak season; some families prefer at least four to make the most of their stay. Rates include accommodations and all meals, including dinner on the day of arrival and lunch on the day of departure. Children 4 and older are an additional $250 per child per night.
Big Cedar Lodge is a top-notch wilderness resort located in the heart of Missouri’s Ozark Mountains near Branson. Owned by the founder of Bass Pro Shops, this retreat on Table Rock Lake aims to connect guests to the outdoors with a dizzying array of choices. Top attractions include a 10,000-acre wildlife preserve, two marinas, five world-class golf courses, a Kids’ Nature Discovery Center and Fun Mountain, a children’s paradise complete with bowling, laser tag, bumper cars and a full arcade. Families can choose from a variety of supplemental activities to connect with each other and the outdoors, including fishing, boating, horseback riding, archery and biking. Those looking for something a little lower-key can immerse themselves in the many included amenities: five onsite pools, a lazy river, miniature golf, two lakeside beaches and paddle boats, kayaks and canoes. Organized events like family movies on the lawn, campfires and lawn games also encourage families to connect. A Kids’ Adventure Club is open twice daily for parents who want a little alone time.
Big Cedar Lodge offers countless accommodation options. Choose from three lodges and a mix of one- and two-bedroom cottages and log cabins. All are outfitted with contemporary rustic decor and modern amenities. The newest addition, Camp Long Creek, is a luxury campsite geared toward adventurous families looking for simple accommodations in rustic family-friendly cabins or glamping units complete with a separate kids’ tepee. Log cabins and some cottages include fully equipped kitchens, but those looking for a good meal won’t need to travel too far — there are four casual onsite restaurants and three more located at Top of the Rock, a clifftop extension just minutes away from the resort. Pricing is for accommodations only and does not include meals or supplemental activities.
C Lazy U Ranch, located in the Colorado Rockies, is a luxury year-round dude ranch that has been bringing families together for over 100 years. The kids’ and teens’ summer programming is divided into four age groups and anchored in horsemanship and horseback riding with guided trail rides offered twice a day, horsemanship clinics and a “Shodeo” where kids and adults show off their newfound skills. What sets C Lazy U apart is its masterful balance of family time and adventure time. During peak times (summer, winter holidays and major holidays), kids 3 to 17 are asked to participate in age-appropriate activities like horseback riding, fishing, hayrides, pool time, archery and a ropes course. The summer teen program also includes supervised offsite trips such as overnight camping and whitewater rafting. Many families might not consider a dude ranch vacation for winter, but C Lazy U provides lots for the whole family to enjoy, including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, ice hockey games, snowmobiling, sleigh rides and snow tubing.
While the kids are occupied, parents are encouraged to relax and enjoy all the ranch has to offer, like guided fishing, hiking, mountain biking, spa treatments and yoga classes. Those who want more family time are welcome to take their kids out of any program; however, during peak periods, kids under 18 are generally not allowed in the adult dining room and mostly eat with their peers. Things are a bit more relaxed during winter, spring and fall (excluding holidays), when families can enjoy all meals together and the kids’ club requires an advance reservation.
C Lazy U offers luxury Western decor, gourmet food and unmatched service. Accommodations include rooms in the main lodge, one-, two- and three-bedroom private cabins and a four-bedroom private villa. Many cabins include a bedroom outfitted with twin beds or bunkbeds, perfect for younger guests. Pricing is all-inclusive of meals, lodging, evening entertainment and most activities, including kids’ and teens’ programming. Minimum stay requirements vary; weeklong stays are required between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
The Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, just south of Austin, is located on the banks of the Colorado River in the rolling Texas Hill Country. The main attraction for both kids and adults is the Crooked River Water Park. It has a little something for everyone: a sandy beach and splash pad for toddlers, a two-story water slide for thrill-seeking kids and a lazy river for teens and adults who just want to relax under the shady pecan trees. For kids willing to emerge from the water, recreation staffers lead activities like flag football, horseshoe tournaments, water volleyball and s’mores around a campfire. There are plenty of supplemental family-friendly activities; a full events calendar keeps visitors abreast of options such as family fishing, pony rides, archery, ziplining, horseback riding and guided nature walks. Camp Hyatt welcomes kids age 3 to 12 while parents visit Spa Django or play 18 holes at the Wolfdancer Golf Club.
The Hyatt Regency Lost Pines was carefully constructed in order to spare as many of the local pecan trees as possible. As a result, the hotel feels a bit like a maze and destinations can be farther apart than they appear. Families should consider spending a bit more for rooms on the ground floor with pool access. Endless restaurant options abound, from fine dining to casual poolside eats and an old-fashioned ice cream saloon. Pricing is for accommodations only and does not include meals or supplemental activities.
Migis Lodge is a premier family lakeside resort on the shore of Maine’s Sebago Lake. For more than 100 years, the lodge has been a place for families to relax, bond and pamper themselves. Parents may remember the movie Dirty Dancing, in which main character Baby and her family escaped to the Catskills for a week; Migis Lodge follows much the same plan. All meals, most activities and children’s programming are included in the price. Kids age 4 to 6 are invited but not required to join the Kids’ Camp every day from 11am-4pm, where engaging counselors lead nature walks, treasure hunts and arts and crafts activities. Adventure Camp, designed for kids age 7 and older looking to swim, canoe and participate in outdoor games, follows the same protocol. Teens generally find their own fun on the lake, such as waterskiing, wakeboarding or fishing. Adults are welcome to spend their days playing tennis, participating in fitness classes or doing nothing at all.
Migis Lodge offers a few rooms in the main lodge, but most accommodations are one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom cottages strewn throughout the property. Families with children 5 and under are asked to dine in the family dining room with their kids in tow. Older children may eat in the main dining room. Guests should be aware of the strict dress code, a Migis tradition, that applies to all guests eating dinner in the main lodge. All non-adult guests are welcome to join “The Zoo” program, held nightly from 5:30-9 pm, where kids dine together and then head to the playground or rec room for games and activities. Minimum stay requirements vary, and children 12 and under are discounted once the minimum room rate has been satisfied.
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