Legend has it that Dante’s Inferno originally mentioned a 10th circle — being on a long airplane ride with young children — but it didn’t make the final edit. Family vacations can get crazy, but we’re here to restore your faith in them. The big idea? Take a good old-fashioned road trip. Here are a few great destinations, depending on whether you’re up for a quick trip or long haul.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
(1 1/2 hours away)
Lake Geneva was once the vacation playground of Chicago millionaires (Wrigley, Schwinn, Hefner) but it’s just as welcoming to the huddled masses. The charming little downtown is replete with family-friendly eateries and shops, and Geneva Lake is quite warm, especially by frigid Lake Michigan standards, topping out at 82 degrees in August.
Back in the sun at Riviera Beach, one of the lake’s loveliest, or rent a boat or jet ski to fully take advantage of the calm waters. There are plenty of public charters available, too, if you’d rather sit back and enjoy the ride.
Round up your little co-pilots in bikes or strollers, however you roll, to enjoy the 21-mile Geneva Lake Shore Path, which offers lakeside views and a peek into the town’s historic mansions. (Thank the early settlers who deemed the lakefront to be public domain, which means that latter-day visitors like us can glimpse how the other half lives.)
Wind down at Timber Ridge Lodge and Waterpark, an indoor/outdoor water park that is one of the few geared toward smaller kids with a lazy river, splash pad and tame waterslides alongside a few more daring ones for mom and dad. Stay on-site in family suites with fully stocked kitchens, which is part of the Grand Geneva Resort with golf courses and a spa for grownups to enjoy.
For information, call the Lake Geneva Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-345-1020 or go to www.lakegenevawi.com
(about 3 hours away)
Beautiful lakeside Saugatuck combines the best of a beach vacation with an artsy downtown where grownups can browse galleries and kids can pick up a kite to fly.
Go straight to popular Oval Beach, a gorgeous stretch of sand fronting Lake Michigan, where you can easily spend an entire day swimming and building sand castles. Then head to nearby 600-foot-tall Mt. Baldhead dune for a panoramic view of Saugatuck. If little legs can’t handle the full dune ascent, try a dune ride that bounces over the sandy mounds and mixes in a little history and nature for good measure. Kids will also love the novelty of the Saugatuck Ferry, circa 1838, that travels between downtown and Oval Beach and is still operated by hand crank.
Stay at BeachWay Resort and Hotel, which overlooks the harbor and has family suites, apartments and homes to choose from for rental.
For information, call the Saugatuck & Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau at 269-857-1701 or go to www.saugatuck.com.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
(about 8 hours away)
A vacation to Mackinac Island is less about laying on the beach and more about pedaling around picturesque lighthouses, bluffs and water. A trip here harkens back to the 19th century; Victorian homes and the main drag have a nostalgic air, not to mention the fact that no cars are allowed. (Leave yours on the mainland and ride in via the ferry, taking in the Mackinac Bridge).
Rent a bike to take in the island (an 8-mile circuit encompasses its full breadth, from downtown to naturalistic views of the Straights of Mackinac). Burley and tag-a-longs are available so kids can get in on the fun. No visit to Mackinac would be complete without sampling the island’s famous fudge, seemingly available every four feet.
Though the downtown is often photographed for its charm, more than 80 percent of the island is a state park, with limestone bluffs and hiking and biking trails, and Fort Mackinac. Hike up to the top of the fort to take in the view. Kids love this place (originally a British outpost during the Revolution) for the drum corps, hourly cannon fire and military reenactments. Don’t miss the Mackinac Island Butterfly House, where budding naturalists can walk among the winged.
Stay at the postcard-worthy Grand Hotel, which dates back to 1887 and is known for having the largest front porch in the world. Parents will appreciate its beauty and the number of children’s activities, like scavenger hunts and (seriously) Quidditch matches.
For information, call the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau at 800-454-5227 or go to mackinacisland.com.
Where are you and your family headed this summer? Let us know in the Comments section below.
Photos: Courtesy of Lake Geneva Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Saugatuck & Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau, Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau