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Ace Adventure Center
Oak Hill, West Virginia
Make a splash white-water rafting in the "Grand Canyon of the East."
Situated on the New River Gorge National River, this adventure center teaches families how to paddle a raft through rapids. There's plenty of action on land too, including rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and kayaking. You can even outfit the kids in hard hats with miner's lamps and take them on a guided spelunking tour of some of the area's famous limestone caves. Also on-site: a swimming beach, canoes and kayaks, a zip line, a ropes course, lake fishing, and miles of hiking and biking trails.
Lights out: Housing options include deluxe lodges, chalets, cabins, platform tents, and campsites.
Cost: A variety of 2- to 10-day packages are available, March through November. A 3-day family getaway, including lodging, meals, two raft trips, and access to on-site water and sports facilities, starts at $175 (ages 6-12), $179 (ages 13-17), and $245 (adults).
More info: 888-223-7238; aceraft.com
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College of the Atlantic Family Nature Camp
Bar Harbor, Maine
Track animals and spot whales along the rocky coast.
Kids can explore sleepy fishing villages and bustling Bar Harbor at this camp on Mount Desert Island. They'll track animals and observe creatures in tide pools, then kayak the surrounding coastline, coves, and fjords. Excursions include a boat trip to view seals, porpoises, and bald eagles, as well as whale watching in the Gulf of Maine, home to humpback, finback, and minke whales. There's also free time for hikes (Acadia National Park, five minutes from campus, has 120 miles of trails, from flat beach walks to more strenuous cliff climbs), bike rides on historic carriage roads, and scenic drives through the park and surrounding areas. Young skippers will get a kick out of a half-day sail on a four-masted schooner in Frenchman's Bay, or a kayaking trip to the offshore fishing village of Frenchboro.
Lights out: Families share dorm suites with up to five other families at the College of the Atlantic's oceanfront campus; communal bathrooms.
Cost: Five one-week summer sessions are offered from late June to early August. Rates are $400 (ages 15 and under) to $800 (ages 16 and older), including room, meals, guided field trips, and three boat trips (pick from a variety of whale watching and nature cruises).
More info: 800-597-9500; coa.edu/html/famnatcamp
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Echo Canyon Guest Ranch
La Veta, Colorado
Ride horses in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
You can't beat the setting of this historic ranch-camp, right in the middle of 1,500 private acres, surrounded by another 60,000 acres of federally permitted land in southern Colorado. Saddle up for daily trail rides through the Sangre de Cristo mountain range (including stream crossings) and climb up the Spanish Peaks. Families can also enjoy a two-hour ride on Devil's Stairsteps and its dramatic rocky formations, which dot the landscape. Trips are appropriate for all abilities; friendly wranglers are happy to show you the ropes. Out of the saddle, take a fly-fishing trip to a high mountain lake, try your luck at gold panning, or practice shooting at the rifle and pistol range. Western cookouts, campfires, and cowboy entertainment are held in the evenings. You can even go on a daylong cattle drive and help ranch hands move herds of cattle or on an overnight pack trip.
Lights out: The spacious lodge, with a fieldstone fireplace, wraparound porch, and mountain views, has eight rooms, which can accommodate up to four people; private cabins are also available.
Cost: The ranch is open late May through early September. Rates, including all meals, activities, and unlimited horseback riding, are $1,000 (three nights) to $1,650 (seven nights) for adults; $800-$1,320, ages 8 to 15. Minimum age is 8 years old.
More info: 800-341-6603; guestecho.com
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Camp du Nord
Hike boreal forests and paddle the boundary waters.
Listen for the howl of a timber wolf, the slap of beaver tails, and the screech of an owl as you and the kids paddle through streams and lakes, and hike the forests of northern Minnesota. This rustic Northwoods camp, set on the edge of the famed Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), has been hosting vacationing families for more than four decades. Home base is Camp du Nord Village, which sits on the North Arm of Burntside Lake (just north of Ely), a great spot for swimming, sailing, and kayaking. Daily nature programs are tailored to specific age groups and might include guided hikes, boating excursions, and arts and crafts. Take a one-day canoe trip to nearby lakes, or land bass or northern pike (both common catches). Campfires and cookouts take place in the evenings.
Lights out: Rustic (some with shared baths) and deluxe cabins, and tent sites.
Cost: Weeklong family programs are offered early June through early September. Tent sites, $400 a week; cabin tent sites, $525; sleeping cabins (4-7 people) $675-$990; deluxe cabins (2-16 people) $1,150-$3,400. Add on three meals daily for $44 (ages 3-7), $98 (ages 8-12), or $150 (ages 13 and up); other meal plans are also offered.
More info: 651-645-6605; www.dunord.org
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Wonder Valley Family Camp
Experience a little bit of everything among the redwood giants.
Nestled amid 75 acres at the doorstep of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, this camp has more than 50 activities to choose from; facilities include an equestrian center, two pools, a skateboard park, a go-cart track, and an archery and rifle range. Enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the towering redwoods, while waterskiing, wake-boarding, wave-running, sailing, canoeing, or fishing on Dalton Lake. On land, hop on a horse and ride nearby trails through the forest, or meet other families for a round of golf, a game of basketball, or climbing on the ropes course. Meals are served buffet-style in the new lakefront lodge; evenings include campfires, talent shows, and theme nights.
Lights out: Private, rustic cottages and modern hotel-style rooms.
Cost: One-week camps are offered throughout August. All-inclusive, seven-day rates run from $919 (children) to $1,399 (adults).
More info: 559-787-2551 or 800-821-2801; wondervalleyfamilycamp.com
Originally published in the July 2008 issue of Family Circle 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.