Eagle Nest Lodge
Deer River, Minnesota
Lodge naturalists offer short hikes for children of all ages, including preschoolers. One walk outfits kids with masking-tape bracelets. Little ones finish by examining everything stuck to the tape. Cabins are equipped with a kitchen but no TV or phone. Rates start at $1,500 per week for a two-bedroom cabin. Price includes nature activities, crafts, sports, and more; eaglenestlodge.net.
Just outside the city, in breathtaking Oak Creek Canyon, this resort with villa-style accommodations (that include a full kitchen) allows guests to hop onto nearby family-friendly hiking trails literally from their backdoor. Guide maps, free admission to state recreation areas, and a $50 food and beverage credit are part of the price if you choose the fall hiking package. Rates for the hiking package start at $370 for two nights; junipine.com.
South Seas Island Resort
Captiva Island, Florida
Set on a 330-acre wildlife sanctuary, this resort boasts on-site ocean discovery programs through the Sanibel Sea School, where instructors help kids and families learn about marine conservation through hands-on exploration of the island's natural habitat. Rates start at $179 per night for a room with two double beds or a full-kitchen condominium; southseas.com.
Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
Wyoming and Montana
Geared toward kids ages 8 to 12, Yellowstone for Families features animal-tracking walks, wildlife watching, and photography, all of which are based in the Mammoth Hot Springs and Grant Village locations. All programs conclude with a ceremony awarding Junior Ranger patches. Rates start at $699 per adult and $435 per child for the four-day program, which includes all activities, in-park transportation, most meals, and lodging; yellowstoneassociation.org.
Big Sur Lodge
Big Sur, California
The parks surrounding this woodsy home base offer short guided nature walks for kids of all ages and trails easy enough for parents to backpack toddlers. The Ranger Cubs program (for kids 6 and under), which runs through August, includes outdoor art projects, games, and storytelling. When you tire of hiking, try bird- or whale-watching. Rates start at $129 during the winter, with discounts when booked through pelicannetwork; bigsurlodge.com.
Omni Bedford Springs Resort
Located in the Alleghany Mountains, this historic hotel is across the street from four picturesque hiking trails that range from one to four miles. Two pools (one of which is indoors), daily nature activities, and a large firepit for s'more roasts will also keep families entertained. Don't miss the spa, which offers treatments based on the area's legendary mineral springs. With the 100 Days to Resort package, rates for a room with two double beds start at $254 per night, and include a resort credit for stays of two nights or longer, omnihotels.com
East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
In the Pocono mountains, Fernwood offers a two-night hiker's package through November 25. Families receive villa-style accommodations with a kitchenette or a full kitchen, a hiking map, and tickets to Bushkill Falls, which offers hiking trails and eight waterfalls. Rates start at $99 per night; FernwoodResortPoconos.com.
Crystal Springs Resort
Sussex, New Jersey
On-site naturalists accompany guests on easy-to-intermediate hikes to enrich the experience. For instance, a guide might lure a bird over so kids can get a better look. Kids are also wowed by the tropical biosphere pool complex with a 140-foot waterslide, biking at a nearby mountain creek, and horseback riding. All four resort properties are rich in recreation for four-season family fun. There are several places to stay on property, but Adirondack-style Grand Cascades Lodge, near the pool, is best for families. Rates start at $199 per night for a room and $249 for a family suite; crystalgolfresort.com.
Near Park City, Utah
With several hiking trails on its property and countless more in the area, Sundance offers families a choice of guided hikes or on-their-own adventures. The resort also offers horseback riding and art classes for kids. Rates start at $199 per night for a standard room and $309 for a suite; sundanceresort.com.
Aspen Center for Environmental Studies
ACES offers summer-long programs for children 1 and older, including easy naturalist-led hikes on top of Aspen Mountain, and Hallam Lake Kids, a drop-in class on a variety of topics. Little ones enrolled in the Exploring Around week start by building a fort, which becomes a home base for discovering the surrounding landscape. While ACES has no accommodations on site, hotels and lodges are within walking distance (aspennature.org). Rates for a room at the nearby Molly Gibson Lodge start at $159 per night; mollygibson.com, and at the Hotel Aspen, $179 per night; hotelaspen.com.
Originally published in the October 2012 issue of Parents magazine.
This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.