Friday, January 21, 2011

Bargain Priced Family Vacations...Do They Exist?

What could be more cost effective than a family camp-out? Of course, the cheapest kind is finding a local campsite in your area and pitching a tent. Kids do not need many extras to have fun. However, if your idea of enjoying the woods, watching the leaves change colors, and later, playing in the snow (without paying for a pricey ski condo) includes a bit more comfort, then here are some other ideas for you and your family to look into.

There are kids' activities, meals available, and plenty of wildlife. The best part . . . during the summer there are plenty of affordable packages, too!

The YMCA of the Rockies' Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park, Colorado, has 5,100 acres near ski resorts. There is enough room for 2,500 people between the lodges and cabins they offer. All activities are organized for children ages three and older, which include: miles of hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing trails, an indoor pool and gym, even a climbing wall (something my 13 year old totally enjoys), and horseback riding in summer for those horse lovers like my daughter.

The two-bedroom cabins are fully equipped with kitchens. This means stop by the local supermarket on the way up and save a bundle on food. These two bedroom, 1-bathroom cabins also have a fireplace and sleeping accommodations for five, making it a nice place to stay even for a bigger family. Rates per night are about $183. They do offer bigger cabins, too.

Right now, the YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch has some great offers. Call 800-777-9622 and ask for the 2+1 package.

SKI FREE: Guests staying at Snow Mountain Ranch can ski FREE this winter. All guests will receive a FREE Nordic Center Pass, which will include admission for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, sledding and tubing. Learn more about Nordic Center activities here.

For reservations visit Snow Mountain Ranch On line Reservations, or call 800-777-9622.

Elsewhere in America, Montecito-Sequoia Lodge (between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks on Lake Homovalo in California) is another place to explore the outdoors while enjoying two big stone fireplaces and a deck to take in the view of the Great Western Divide. You can stay in a lodge room with a private bathroom or in a rustic cabin with a wood-burning stove and bathhouse nearby for those who want to feel like they are roughing it slightly.

Stuff to do includes: hiking, fishing, canoeing, tennis, and of course, organized kids' activities such as all-day programs in summer and plenty of sing-alongs around the campfire. In winter, you can tube, sled, cross-country ski, or snowshoe.

Packages include meals and they also offer midweek stays in fall (until just before Thanksgiving). You can book a Thanksgiving package for 4 nights and five days, which includes meals, kids' activities, guided hikes, and more.

For more information on packages (cost less in cabins, slightly more for stays in the lodge) visit or call 800/227-9900 or 650/967-8612.

On a visit to the Badlands of South Dakota, kids can count all of the different license plates in the parking lot of Mount Rushmore! (Get more Mount Rushmore information at or 605/574-2523.) Kids cannot climb on the monuments, but Mount Rushmore can still serve as a centerpiece for a family vacation certain to please.

You can explore caves, pick up rocks blasted from the mountain, join a "dig" at the Mammoth Site where more than 50 giant mammoths were trapped more than 26,000 years ago, and take a Jeep tour through a buffalo herd.

To keep the theme going for an outdoor adventure, make sure to stay at Custer State Park, where besides seeing buffalo, you can rent an old-fashioned cabin on the lake where you can go panning for gold, make animal tracks with kids on hands-on junior naturalist programs, and so much more. Contact 800/658-3530 or

To learn more about Mount Rushmore call 800/952-3625 or visit South Dakota's official tourist site at or, the site of the Black Hills, Badlands & Lakes Association, which lists 50 "G-rated" family attractions in the region.

One thing to remember before planning your family outdoors trip is to include the kids in your decision. You can do this by getting out a map, talking about where you want to go, and what you want to do. Even your four-year-old will have an opinion.

Make sure everyone gets at least some of their picks on the itinerary. If the kids are old enough, suggest each one plan a day's activities. This helps the kids feel more involved and excited about what you are doing as a family on vacation.

Another thing you can do is surf the web as a family to find where you want to go. Sometimes the best deals are found there and ideas on what to do once you arrive.

Lastly, consider inviting a friend for an only child or for a sole preteen/teen in the family. He or she will be much happier.

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