Your homework: Get some fall family fun on the schedule
If you talk to the kids about fall's gorgeous colors, you'll see eyes rolling and hear the back door slam as they high-tail out of there.
When it comes to a fall family getaway, be sure there's plenty of action for the kids as you enjoy the colorful magic of the trees in the background. You're bound to develop a future leaf-peeper or two.
That little scheduling conflict called school may make planning a bit more challenging, so browse the class calendars for the mysterious "institute days" or early-release dates so the kids don't miss out on math and you don't forfeit an affordable escape.
Vermont: Think you can't swing an autumn trip to New England? Consider the top-rated Smugglers' Notch Resort which offers Vermont's legendary fall color and autumn package rates that are the lowest of the year. AutumnFest Family Vacation Packages from Sept. 4 to Oct. 8 include mountainside condominium lodging and use of resort amenities such as the pools and hot tubs, mini golf, Disc Golf, the indoor family entertainment center, playgrounds, skate park, tennis courts, basketball and shuffleboard. Add Kids' Connection, full-day or half-day programming for children ages 6 weeks to 7 years old for an additional fee. Adults can take daily guided hikes and walks and get back together with the crew for family game nights, nightly family entertainment and all of the fall color you can shake a rake at with Vermont's beautiful countryside at your feet. Enjoy nearby apple picking, hiking, biking, harvest festivals and craft fairs. AutumnFest package rates start at $238 (plus tax and service fee) for two nights of lodging in a studio condominium and if you stay three nights or more, get the next night free. Smugglers' Notch is located 30 miles east of the Burlington International Airport. Call (800) 419-4615 or view smuggs.com.
Boston: Boston is an easy and often cheap flight from Chicago. The city is loaded with early American history yet hip enough for 50 colleges and universities to call it home. Preschoolers can frolic at Boston Common, the country's oldest park as well as the Children's Museum with three levels of interactive fun for kids from toddlers to 12-year-olds. Teenagers will ooze cool just hanging out on Harvard Square watching street performers and the parade of people (tell them this was Mark Zuckerberg's stamping ground). Walk along the city's Freedom Trail and get a double shot of history and fall foliage. Arnold Arboretum is the oldest public arboretum in North America and one of the best places to see New England's fall foliage. If you're still in an Olympics mood, plan your trip around the Head of the Charles Regatta (Oct. 20-21), on Boston's Charles River. It's one of the world's most famous rowing competitions. Get details on all at bostonusa.com.
Make the Colonnade Hotel your base in Beantown, a neighborhood independent hotel located in the heart of Back Bay and steps from the city's renowned museums, shopping, restaurants and historic and family-friendly sightseeing tours. The Kids See & Do Boston package includes deluxe accommodations and a choice of tickets to the New England Aquarium, Boston Children's Museum or a Boston Symphony family concert; full American breakfast for two adults and two children; a special Colonnade kids' fanny pack; and late check out. Rates begin at $259 exclusive of taxes. For more information or reservations, call (800) 962-3030 or visit colonnadehotel.com.
Upper Peninsula: Although Michigan offers scenic splendor at many turns, the state's Upper Peninsula is rife with breathtaking natural beauty and you'll swear you're in New England with Lake Huron and Michigan as fine understudies. Too far, you say? Drive to Milwaukee, take the Lake Express ferry (lake-express.com), which holds passengers and 46 vehicles, and exit in Muskegon, Mich. Get back in the car and point it northward! Hop on a Lakeshore Express flight from Midway Airport and you be on Mackinac Island in a little over an hour (lakeshoreexpress.com).
If you're driving to the UP, stop along the way for the kaleidoscopic colors, corn mazes and harvest festivals taking place throughout September and October. The unusual March weather (heat followed by frost) impacted apple crops in 2012 meaning slimmer pickings. Michigan produces more of the favorite fruit than any region in the country but this year's harvest should check in at around 3 million bushels as opposed to the typical 25 million. Michigan also has more than 100 cider mills and most will be in operation. Chart your adventure at michigan.org.
Mackinac Island: The kids will be thrilled to know that bicycles and horses are the only modes of transport on Mackinac Island and since 82 percent of the island is state park, you'll be drinking in autumn hues whether strolling, atop a horse, in a carriage or on bicycle. Everyone must stay at the Grand Hotel at least once in a lifetime before all the grand dames are gone. In 1904, there were 1,200 wooden hotels in the country and today only 12 still stand and the Grand Hotel is the only family-owned of the dozen. The 385 rooms are brightly decorated in candy colors, the atmosphere is genteel and the views are spectacular. The fall bed and breakfast package, available on select dates through Oct. 27, is $279 per room, per night, up to four people. It includes a full breakfast, accommodations and all resort amenities. Dip into the Esther Williams swimming pool; rent bikes; go the new riding stables to get your horse to traverse 40 miles of bridle paths; play tennis; and stroll to town filled with fudge shops, eateries and kitschy gifts. Call (800) 33-GRAND or visit grandhotel.com to learn about special fall weekends including History (Oct. 5-7) and Somewhere in Time (Oct. 26-28) based upon the beloved Hollywood film.
Petoskey area: Other notable stops include Petoskey, a sweet town untouched by chain restaurants and modern angst. Explore a plethora of family-owned businesses that have been around since granny was a girl: have an ice cream at Kilwins (60-plus years), browse the goods at Grandpa Shorter's (since 1946) and then head to Petoskey State Park for a ton of color (petoskeyarea.com). Nearby Boyne City offers a Harvest Festival on Oct. 6 packed with music, crafts, fall produce, folk art demonstrations, children's games, hay rides and more.
Charlevoix: Get to Charlevoix, called Michigan's "freshwater pearl," and take one of Keweenaw Star's Fall color boat tours (keweenawexcursions.com) for a panorama of hues from the water. Imaginations will be fired when the guide points out the "mushroom" homes designed by the town's master builder in stone, Earl Young. Depending upon their age, they might envision the Seven Dwarves or Hobbit, Frodo Baggins, residing in some of them. Plan your trip to coincide with the 34th Annual Apple Festival & Craft Show, Oct. 12-14. Get details on all at visitcharlevoix.com.
Fallin' for cowpokes
An autumn dude ranch vacation is not only possible but smart. There are direct flights from Chicago to Denver and Phoenix where several ranches provide airport pickup so you needn't go through the extra headache of renting a car and hearing "are we there yet?"
Including airport time, you can get to a dude ranch from Chicago in half a day. Once you arrive, the entire trip is carefree, with all activities and meals on property. Many Dude Ranch Association (DRA) accredited ranches offer great shoulder-season deals in the fall. Consider Tumbling River Ranch (tumblingriver.com) in Grant, Colo., that offers traditional dude ranch activities like horseback riding, fly-fishing, swimming, rodeos and white-water rafting as well as high-end accommodations and live entertainment. Rancho De Los Caballero (ranchodeloscaballeros.com) in Wickenburg, Ariz., is a guest ranch that doubles as a full resort with amenities like a top-rated golf course, spa, premium cuisine and wine and luxury accommodations. Families love North Fork Ranch & Fishing Lodge (northforkranch.com), a traditional dude ranch in Shawnee, Colo., known for world-class fly-fishing and outdoor activities like zip-lining, mountain biking and hiking as well as evening family game night, Mountain Man story telling, square dancing and sing-a-longs around the campfire. The association (duderanch.org) can help you choose the perfect guest ranch for your family even if you have a scant four days. Chances are you'll be signing up for a full week next summer.
Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is widely anticipated to hit theaters this November. You can get a preview by exploring some of the historic locations in Richmond, Va., that Abraham Lincoln visited during his presidency and that were recreated in the film.
Tour the Virginia Capitol building (virginiacapitol.gov), designed by Thomas Jefferson and one of the most historic structures in the nation. Abraham Lincoln visited during his Richmond visit (it was used as the Confederate capitol) and in 2011, Spielberg used the Capitol as a film location. When Lincoln visited Richmond shortly after the city fell to Union troops in April 1865, he made his way to the White House of the Confederacy, formerly occupied by Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his family. The Museum of the Confederacy (moc.org) houses the largest collection of military artifacts in America. You can visit the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, the only museum that unravels the Civil War from Union, Confederate and African-American perspectives. The Richmond National Battlefields Park headquarters is right next door where kids can become Junior Rangers. Outside, point out the statue of Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad noting their 1865 visit to Richmond. It's a great season and time to visit Virginia as the nation recognizes the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Go to virginia.org.
When they're chock full of history, surprise them with a guided rafting tour of the historic James River — Richmond is the only urban setting in the country with Class IV rapids — and Carytown, a mile long street crammed with boutiques, music stores, kids shops (don't miss World of Mirth), and some of Richmond's popular restaurants.
Take a Segway Tour of Hollywood Cemetery, resting place of two American presidents, Pulitzer-Prize winners and thousands of Confederate soldiers. The Children's Museum of Richmond, the Science Museum of Virginia and the Edgar Allan Poe Museum (the oldest building Richmond) are other possibilities.
Stay at historic Jefferson Hotel — a dozen presidents have holed up there as well as Frank Sinatra, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and Sally Field snoozed at the Jefferson during the movie filming. Civil War Package includes your choice of accommodations, two admissions to the American Civil War Center at Tredegar and The Museum of the Confederacy, transportation to both historic sites, traditional Southern breakfast for two, breakfast gratuities, valet parking and a civil war welcome packet. Rates are $275 to $315 plus tax, valid through December 30, 2012. Visit jeffersonhotel.com. Choose the Omni Richmond Hotel (omnihotels.com) for a more modern setting overlooking the James River and just eight miles from Richmond International Airport. If you book and prepay in full, the Advance Purchase Package gets you a 25 percent discount.
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