Spend quality time with the family over summer break without breaking the bank. Here are our favorite places that are less than $200 a night and cater to kids.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Editor James T. Black recalls family vacations at the park: “Stretching from the Gulf of Mexico inland to Lake Shelby and Middle Lake, the park’s snow-white beaches and cool, green pine forests were the perfect remedy for a weary family escaping the workaday, late-for-school world. We’d spend mornings watching fishermen drop lines and pull up crab baskets from the park’s pier that rose above the turquoise waves, and evenings listening to crickets from the porch of a lakeside cabin."
After battles with hurricanes, a $100 million renovation of the entire state park system recently refurbished 20 of its lakeside cabins and added 11 cottages. After all these years, it’s still a great family destination (and a great bargain, with two-bedroom cabins starting at $125 a night). alapark.com/gulfstate or 251/948-7275
Editor Kim Cross recommends a horseback ride at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, whose hundreds of miles of trails are famous among equestrians but blissfully undiscovered by everyone else. “Southeast Pack Trips’ sure-footed steeds carried us 500 feet down into a sandstone gorge, across streams, and back up for a summit photo op,” she says.
At the end of the day, retire to one of the Laurel Fork Rustic Retreat Cabins, which are just as nice as a cabin in the Smokies but cost considerably less. (Three-bedroom cabins start at $145.) For the “best hike-in lunch deal in any neck of the woods,” try Charit Creek Lodge (reservations are required)—barbecue beef and homemade yeast rolls are cooked on a propane stove for just $8
Big Pine Key, Florida
The remote island of Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys is home to one of the state’s most beautiful state parks. Six cabins on the bay side of the island offer air-conditioning and kitchens but no TVs, Internet access, or telephones. Rates start at $120 per night. floridastateparks.org or 305/872-2353
Located in the historic Garden District, this 17-room B&B is just a few steps from the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line and
10 minutes from the French Quarter. Owners Joe and Bebe Rabhan welcome children and are glad to share their extensive knowledge
of the Big Easy’s colorful sites with their guests. Rates start at $99 a night. avenueinnbb.com or 800/490-8542
Photo: Audobon Park, New Orleans
Amicalola means “tumbling waters” in the Cherokee language, and the falls—a short hike from the park’s 56-room lodge—certainly live up to the name. Tumbling for 729 feet, it’s one of the tallest waterfalls in the Eastern U.S. The park about 90 miles north of Atlanta gets extremely busy in the fall, so summer's a super time to visit. Rates start at $79 a night. georgiastateparks.org/amicalola or 800/573-9656
“Shaker Village was the perfect place for our departure from modern life because that’s what the first inhabitants were all about: simplicity,” editor Amy Bickers says of her family vacation there. A New England-based religious sect, the Shakers founded the village in the rolling Kentucky hills in 1805. Today, the restored 3,000-acre Shaker village is the largest of its kind in America.
Amy recalls memories of fishing at the village pond and hiking around the property during the day. “Walking behind my children while they ran ahead of me, laughing and yelling, was better than any virtual reality,” she says.
Rates at The Inn at Shaker Village start at $99. shakervillageky.org or 800/734-5611
A popular ski destination in the winter, this full-service resort in western Maryland offers fly-fishing, golfing, swimming, hiking, and other activities. Also on the property, Adventure Sports Center International features the country’s only white-water rafting course atop a mountain. Summer lodging packages start at $102 a night. wispresort.com or 301/387-4911
Canadys, South Carolina
Situated on the banks of the Edisto River, this unique lodge features three tree houses sitting some 15 feet in the air. The tree houses are accessible only by canoes that can be rented from Carolina Heritage Outfitters. Rates start at $150 per person per night (kids pay $100). canoesc.com/treehouses.htm or 843/563-5051
Maggie Valley, North Carolina
This ranch in the clouds has been welcoming guests to its mountaintop location since the 1930s. On the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the ranch offers 1,000 acres for horseback riding, fishing, and hiking. Amenities in its lodge and log cabins are rustic but comfortable. Rates start at $173 a night. cataloocheeranch.com or 800/868-1401
Set on a cotton plantation near the banks of the Tallahatchie River, these updated tenant houses offer an authentic glimpse of what life in the Delta used to be like—but with air-conditioning and full kitchens. Rates start at $65 a night. tallahatchieflats.com or 662/453-1854
Photo: Greenwood, Mississippi
Broken Bow, Oklahoma
The popular resort in southeastern Oklahoma includes Beavers Bend State Park, Hochatown State Park, and Lakeview Lodge. Sitting above Broken Bow Lake, the 40-room lodge offers terrific views from the rooms, golf on an 18-hole course, and home-cooked meals in the restaurant. Rates start at $115 a night. beaversbend.com or 800/435-5514
Petit Jean State Park, Morrilton, Arkansas
Overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon, about 60 miles northwest of Little Rock, this 24-room lodge features such amenities as a full-service restaurant and a swimming pool. Rates start at $65 a night. petitjeanstatepark.com or 800/264-2462
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Michael and Paulette Spriggs run this family-friendly resort on the shores of a 54,000-acre man-made lake. In addition to swimming, fishing, and boating on the lake, visitors can find other activities for kids at the nearby Big Surf Water Park. Rates start at $95 a night. pointrandallresort.com or 573/365-2081
This 24-room boutique hotel in downtown Lewes is within walking distance of Delaware Bay and some of the best (sales tax-free) shops on the East Coast. Rates start at $140 a night. hotelrodneydelaware.com or 800/824-8754