10 Best Bargain-Priced Family Vacations
A top authority on travel for parents with kids lays out her best low-cost options for the coming months
For our readers with kids (those fortunate folks!), Budget Travel has asked America's foremost expert on family travel to select what she regards as the top budget-priced family vacations for the year ahead. She's responded not simply with names but with prices, addresses, and phone numbers for snaring a reservation without further ado. At the start of a new year, it's appropriate that we should select prize-winning family vacations available throughout the year, in every season. Though we may highlight an especially low price available only during one season, each of the vacations we've described below is offered at reasonable rates in all 12 months.
Our choices fall into 10 basic categories and number around 30 different specific programs, resorts, or facilities. The envelope, please, and the winners are...
1. Family camps
They are a way to have some fun in the woods, watch the leaves change colors, and later, play in the snow without paying for a pricey ski condo. There are kids' activities, meals available, and plenty of wildlife. And in summer there are plenty of affordable packages, too.
The YMCA of the Rockies' Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park, Colorado, has 5,100 pristine acres near world-class ski resorts; room for 2,500 people in lodges and cabins; organized activities for children three and older; miles of hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing trails; an indoor pool and gym, even a climbing wall; and horseback riding in summer. Rates for a two-bedroom cabin start at $126 per night with fully equipped kitchens; lodge rooms as low as $50. The YMCA also runs an even larger resort in Estes Park, Colorado, that is known along with Snow Mountain Ranch for hosting large family reunions. Visit ymcarockies.org or call Snow Mountain Ranch at 970/887-2152; Estes Park at 970-586-3341.
Elsewhere in America, Montecito-Sequoia Lodge is between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks on Lake Homovalo in California. The lodge has two big stone fireplaces and a deck to take in the view of the Great Western Divide. Stay in a lodge room with private bathroom or a rustic cabin with a wood-burning stove and bathhouse nearby. Stuff to do includes hiking, fishing, canoeing, tennis, and organized kids' activities such as all-day programs in summer and plenty of sing-alongs around the campfire. In winter, tube, sled, cross-country ski, or snowshoe. Packages include meals. Midweek stays in fall (until just before Thanksgiving) start at $180 per night for four in a cabin, including breakfast, dinner, and activities. Book a Thanksgiving package for four nights and five days for under $1,200, including meals, kids' activities, guided hikes, and more. Other winter packages cost less in cabins, slightly more for stays in the lodge. Visit mslodge.com or call 800/227-9900 or 650/967-8612.
2. Dude ranches
Some of them are open year-round and are just as much fun when the leaves are changing in autumn and snow is falling in winter. Malibu Ranch, in Milford, Pennsylvania, is on a thousand acres of forested land in the Poconos just 75 miles from New York City. It's the oldest working dude ranch in the East. The kids can swim in the indoor pool, fish, try pinball, dance, play with Bobo the donkey, and--of course--ride horseback. You can also ski in the winter. Five-day/four-night packages, including meals and riding, average $930 for a family of four. Two-night winter weekend packages for a family of four are $555. Contact 800/862-5428 or malibududeranch.com.
Alternately, you can be a real Texas cowboy at the Flying L Guest Ranch, 40 miles northwest of San Antonio in the spectacular Texas Hill Country. The Flying L has hosted John Wayne and Willie Nelson, among others, and now spreads over 700 acres. There's breakfast and dinner, nightly western entertainment. Swim outdoors year-round, play tennis, golf, or fish in the San Julian Creek. If you don't want to ride, you can traipse miles of hiking trails. All-inclusive rates average $90 per night for adults and $40 for kids and teens. Contact 800/292-5134 or flyingl.com. You can also book these ranches and other affordable adventure trips through Gorp Travel at gorptravel.com or 877/440-4677.
3. Working farms
Younger children love farms where they can gather eggs for their breakfast, milk a cow, feed the goats, or go for a hayride. At The Inn at East Hill Farm in Troy, New Hampshire, they can learn to water-ski in summer; ice-skate in winter; hike in the fall. In winter, there are sleigh rides, cross-country skiing, an indoor pool, and daily kids' activities. Bring the family before Christmas and cut down your own Christmas tree at a nearby farm. Fall rates, including meals and activities, average $78 per night for adults and $58 for kids; slightly higher for winter and summer stays of less than five nights. We know families who return year after year. Learn more at 800/242-6495 or east-hill-farm.com.