Category Archives: Summer Vacations

Mill Falls Emerges as Destination Resort on New Hampshire’s Famed Lake Winnipesaukee

Mill Falls’ rustic elegance invites guests to immerse in the gracious tranquil ambiance of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lake Winnipesaukee, “The Smile of the Great Spirit,” gets its name from a charming and romantic legend of the Abenaki Native American tribe who lived in this New Hampshire Lakes region for 11,000 years. The tranquil setting here indeed, immediately brings smiles to generations of visitors.

And Mill Falls at the Lake, in Meredith, proves a fabulous base for immersing yourself in the pleasures of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region.

With a most picturesque setting on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire’s largest lake, Mill Falls is a most unusual sort of lakeside resort complex, with four distinct inns – Bay Point and Church Landing on the water, connected by a lakefront boardwalk, and The Inn at Mill Falls and Chase House across a busy boulevard. Mill Falls also offers a full-service Cascade Spa, EKAL Activity Center, five restaurants, 12 shops in a four-story Marketplace housed in the historic mill with a 40-foot waterfall, and a vibrant Main Street community to complete the experience.

Mill Falls invites guests to immerse in the gracious tranquil ambiance of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mill Falls’ name pays homage to its heritage – the story told in historic photographs that grace the walls. Meredith started as a mill town powered by the flow of water.

In 1983 Meredith Bay Corporation bought the mill property, raising most of the buildings, but reconstructing the historic old mill into a four-story “Marketplace” shopping experience. Most of the original hand-hewn beams and wide barn boards remain; a half-ton copper cupola acquired from the North Woodstock church tower was hoisted to a new perch on the mill roof. A shopping plaza with three new retail buildings was created and the lovely 54 room Inn with swimming pool was added. The area was beautifully landscaped, incorporating the waterfall.

The opening of the Inn at Mill Falls and the Mill Falls Marketplace was the end of the industrial chapter for Meredith, but the beginning of a new era for the town.

In 1993, the company acquired an office building on the lake, which was reconstructed into the Inn at Bay Point.

Chase Landing at Mill Falls on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, in 2003, after St. Charles parish moved, HHH acquired their old church and waterfront property – a spectacular promontory that juts into Meredith Bay. Rather than raze the church, HHH incorporated the structure into its stunning design in the style of the great shingled camps of the 1880s. Church Landing opened in May 2004.

The Boathouse at Chase Landing is set right on Lake Winnipesaukee shore © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition to a spectacular new inn, Church Landing added 1,000 feet of boardwalk to create a three-quarter mile contiguous public walkway along Lake Winnipesaukee’s waterfront, connecting Church Landing with The Town Docks Restaurant, The Christmas Loft, two public parks, and the existing walkway system that extends past The Inn at Bay Point. It also includes two 60-foot docks and a public gazebo and pier, which are attached to the existing town docks system. The final and crowning touch to Church Landing is the full-service Cascade Spa.

Three-quarter mile of connected boardwalk and walkways lead from Chase Landing to the Town Dock restaurant to the Inn at Bay Point and beyond © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Yet another incarnation has taken place with the acquisition of Mill Falls at the Lake in 2019 by Procaccianti Companies, a New England-based, second generation privately-held real estate investment and hospitality services organization. The property is managed by its hospitality management affiliate, TPG Hotels & Resorts.

The new owners acquired the activities center, EKAL (lake spelled backwards), so has control and access to the rental bikes, kayaks, paddleboards, aquacycles, canoes that are now incorporated into a new daily schedule of programs, including both free activities as well as fee-based ones.

The EKAL Activities Center is central to Mill Falls’ new activities program © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The new General Manager Nick Squire and new activities director, Sharon Wells, are turning this lakeside gem into a full-fledged destination resort, and even a wellness retreat.

“Everything I do is sharing wellness,” the aptly named Sharon Wells (her motto, ‘Sharing wellness”) tells me during the ice cream social she is hosting on the Boathouse patio on a Saturday afternoon.

Sharon, who has spent her entire career in wellness, came to Mill Falls in April to create an activities program. Her idea is to expand it with creative and clever ideas.

She organizes a schedule of daily activities that are provided at no extra charge to guests – like pilates, yoga, cardio kick boxing, or meditation on the boathouse lawn; paddleboard yoga, a fun ice cream social on the boathouse patio, jump rope, water balloon toss on the boathouse lawn, Art at the Lake (paint in plein air), a campfire or a fire spinning demonstration. She invites the Coast Guard to give a talk on reading navigation charts, local fisherman to talk about their life, an herbalist to do a plant walk, wild animal demonstrations by the Squam Lake Science Center, a presentation by the Loon Center (there are 26 loon pairs on the lake).

Fire-spinning demonstration, one of the nighttime activities in Mill Falls’ program © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A score of activities are available to guests at extra fee – guided hikes, guided bike rides, guided kayaking trips, a sunset cruise on the Mill Falls’ pontoon boat (also available for charter) and in winter, skiing at nearby Gunstock Mountain – that take in the spectacular nearby preserves, mountains and lakes.

Sharon is developing weekend programs organized around wellness, hiking, leaf-peeping and the like, and plans to add Winter Wonderland activities, ice skating for when the lake freezes, snow shoeing, micro-spiking, Nordic skiing, winter hiking (check the website for dates). A group can request customized programs.

“My background is wellness, fitness, health. I came here in a time of need to be healthy. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental illness, obesity, drug addiction, alcoholism – these are top killers in US. The only way to become healthy is to be educated – get outdoors, eat better, meditate, work body-mind-spirit.”

A small beach for swimming in Lake Winnipesaukee at Chase Landing at Mill Falls © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

She adds, “’Winnipesaukee’ means Smile of the Great Spirit – it’s about experience, memory, enjoying one’s family, exploring and discovering lakes region. True experience is gained through exploration – nature, beauty. I want people to appreciate the larger world beyond you. Let people feel calm, serenity, peace of wilderness. This place offers Yesteryear Simplicity – a place to de-stress, refresh, eat well, live well. We teach how to live a healthy lifestyle,” as she offers returning kayakers her cucumber, ginger and mint smoothie.

After leaving the ice cream social, following Sharon’s suggested route, I take my bike for a 10-mile ride following the lakeshore to get a taste of these neighborhoods.

Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire–25 miles long, 15 miles wide at its widest point, it has 72 square miles of surface, 182 miles to circumvent the lake, and contains some 244 islands, some as small as a quarter acre. (Neighboring Shaum Lake was where “On Golden Pond” was filmed).

Lake Winnipesaukee is 45,000 acres – about as big as Lake Tahoe, but because it is not deep (as Lake Tahoe is) and as little as a few feet deep near the shore, the water is in 70s, comfortable for swimming, and there are beaches.

Mill Falls invites guests to immerse in the gracious tranquil ambiance of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The setting is incomparable: crystal clear waters of the spring-fed Lake Winnipesaukee at the foothills of the White Mountains, surrounded by three mountain ranges and a the wooded shoreline.

It’s a haven for boaters – and if you don’t have your own, there are many places to rent any manner of boat or watercraft. There are ports all around the lake where you can just tie up and go ashore to enjoy restaurants, go to shops, buy ice cream.

There is much to explore on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee by boat or by car. Meredith is a restored mill village, where you can browse through antique, art and craft galleries. Weirs Beach has arcades and boardwalks, waterslides, a public beach and an activity center. Wolfeboro is a picture perfect village, right down to its historic Main Street. Center Harbor, Moultonborough, Tuftonboro, Alton, Gilford and Laconia all have their own special flavor. All communities have public parks and docks, and feature varied activities such as fireworks displays and band concerts throughout the year.

Mount Washington Cruises, a New Hampshire tradition since 1872, offers scenic and sunset dinner dance cruises on the 230-ft. M/S Mount Washington and two smaller vessels, the US mail boat, Sophie C., and M/V Doris E.

You can cruise along on the M/V Sophie C – the oldest and one of only two floating United States Postal Service post offices still operating – as it makes its deliveries to eight of Lake Winnipesaukee islands © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a special experience to cruise along on the M/V Sophie C – the oldest and one of only two floating United States Postal Service post offices still operating – as it makes its deliveries to eight of the lake’s islands.

Floating post office service was started on Lake Winnipesaukee in 1892. The Sophie C. was built by Boston General Ship & Engine Works in 1945 to temporarily replace the Mount Washington, when the Navy commandeered its engines and boilers during World War II and took over the mail route from the Uncle Sam II in 1969. Sophie C. delivers mail Monday-Saturday, June to September, sells postage, and collects and postmarks outgoing mail. Sophie C. also operates as a sightseeing boat, carrying up to 125 people on her two cruises a day as she delivers mail, and sells ice cream and snacks to residents of the islands she serves.

Gazebo on Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are any number of places nearby for hiking, biking, mountain biking: Belknap Mountain, Mt. Major, Chamberlain-Reynolds Memorial Forest, West Rattlesnake Mountain, Red Hill, Gunstock Recreation Area, Abenaki Tower, Cotton Valley Trail and Russell C. Chase Bridge Falls Path.

Wakefield, which prides itself on being a bicycle-friendly community, offers six loops ranging from 11 to 52 miles long.

(More information from the New Hampshire Lakes Region Tourism Association including Lake WinnipesaukeeSquam LakeOssipee Lake, Lake Opechee, Mirror Lake, Newfound LakeLake Winnisquam and the White Mountains, 603-286-8008, lakesregion.org.)

Gunstock Mountain, 15 minutes away from Mill Falls, offers hiking trails, treetop adventures, mountaintop yoga classes, and electric biking; ski lifts, which in winter, access217 acres of skiable mountains, are open year-round.

Hermit Woods Winery offers wine tastings and tours (Food & Wine Magazine included it in its 2017 “500 Best Wineries in America”).

The 18-hole Waukewan Golf Club course,designed and opened by Dr. Melvyn Hale in 1958, is a few minutes away from Mill Falls.

Funspot, founded in 1952 by Bob Lawton  offers 600 games including 300 classic arcade games, a 20-lane ten-pin and candlepin bowling center, indoor mini-golf, restaurant and tavern (it was named the largest arcade in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2008). Lawton, who reportedly still works at Funspot, is a former representative to the New Hampshire legislature and revived the Weirs Times in 1992.

The timeless all-seasons resort on Lake Winnipesaukee, Mill Falls offers 171 rooms across all four inns, each with its own special ambiance – Church Landing, Bay Point, Chase House, and The Inn at Mill Falls – with all the elements for a family gatherings, destination wedding, corporate event or wellness retreat.

Indoor/outdoor pool at the Boathouse at Chase Landing at Mill Falls © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Church Landing (which includes the Boathouse where I stay) is a luxurious lakefront lodge with 70 rooms and is the best choice for a family or resort stay. It has two indoor/outdoor pools, the full-service Cascade Spa and Salon, stunning grounds and landscaping that just invite you to sit with a book or just gaze out to the lake, a small beach from which you can swim to a dock. You wander through Chase Landing, through lovely libraries and sitting areas, the walls covered with bookcases, stone fireplaces, a stunning mural depicting the lakefront, pool room, a patio with a stunning stone fireplace, wicker furniture, old wood beams. There is also the Lakehouse Grill which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has a lovely bar/lounge, with a lovely Adirondack feel and stunning views to the lake. The atmosphere is just wonderful.

My room, a spacious king suite with a balcony overlooking the lake, in the Boathouse, is a charming stone building with gorgeous wood rafters, and an old timey Adirondack-style rustic elegance  that instills tranquility.

Bay Point is a 24-room inn perched at the end of Meredith Bay with gorgeous views; completely renovated in 2018, it has a nautical ambiance.  

Bay Point at Mill Falls on Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The original Inn at Mill Falls, with 54 rooms and an indoor pool, is set within a restored 19th-century linen mill with a tumbling 40-foot waterfall.  It is adjacent to the Marketplace shops, restaurants and main street activities.  (Pet friendly rooms are available.)

The newly renovated Chase House, across the street from Meredith Bay, offers 21 guest rooms and the Camp Restaurant with a cabin-style atmosphere, servers embodying camp counselors, and specializes in comfort food. (There is no actual children’s activity camp at Mill Falls)

Town Docks on Lake Winnipesaukee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are delightful restaurants in each of the lodging buildings – Camp, Lago, Lakehouse Grill, Waterfall Café, Giuseppe’s Pizzeria and Ristorante – are run by The Common Man company.  I thoroughly enjoy breakfast in the charming Lakehouse Grill, in Chase Landing, with a wonderful Adirondack ambiance and views of the lake. There is also the Town Docks restaurant in the midst of the complex– a bustling place each evening, with outdoor lakefront seating.

Mill Falls tent is popular for summertime weddings © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mill Falls on the Lake is exceptionally well set up for wedding, meetings and conferences with several ballrooms (and now, in summer, a permanent tent on the lawn) and meeting rooms.

Mill Falls is very much a four-seasons resort – I see how marvelous it is in summer, I can only imagine how magnificent fall foliage is here, when the colors turn to crimson and gold, then winter white with the lake frozen enough to skate, and then, the pastel colors of spring’s renewal.

Mill Falls at the Lake, 312 Daniel Webster Highway, Meredith, NH 03253, 800-622-6455, 844-745-2931, info@millfalls.com, www.millfalls.com.

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Wyoming’s Red Reflet Ranch Provides Unmatched Experience for Families

Trail ride on the Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming. The horse riding program at is the one of the best anywhere. Red Reflet Ranch owners Laurence and Bob Kaplan invite their guests to live a contemporary Wyoming ranch life – in high style © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman, David Leiberman & Laini Miranda

All the things that brought such delight when you were a kid – what theme parks and adventure parks try to emulate –are right outside our doorstep. But the real thing. This is the Red Reflet Guest Ranch, in Ten Sleep, Wyoming.

And what a doorstep! Our chalet is nestled amid red rock bluffs, overlooking a pond and green pasture and designed with windows to bring the breathtaking outside scenery inside. Every luxury and convenience to make you feel comfortable. At home. Even the breakfast fixings of fresh eggs from the chicken coop, pancake mix, tastiest bacon ever, freshly baked bread.

Enjoying breakfast on our porch at The Ponds chalet amid the red rocks of Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Red Reflet Ranch is the perfect antidote for families separated over the past year, a perfect place to come together, play together, share new experiences, as our family did, coming from opposite coasts.

Red Reflet is most certainly not a “dude” ranch, which connotes some rustic cowboy fantasy. When Bob and Laurence Kaplan bought the 28,000-acre cattle ranch 20 years ago and decided to welcome guests into their home five years later, Bob deliberately set it up so that every guest would feel personally invited, and have the opportunity to merge into their ranch life. It’s a Western-version of being invited to someone’s country estate.

The Ponds chalet just below the lodge at Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With only four guest chalets available, for a maximum of some 28 guests at one time, the main purpose of the ranch, I suspect, was to provide a constant stream of new people to entertain, share life stories with.

“It was a personal decision, never a business decision, to open the guest ranch,” Bob says. “If it was, we would have 50 guests. I never visited a guest ranch – I knew what I wanted.”

What Bob wanted was for guests never to be nickled-and-dimed, but for all the amenities and activities of the ranch (the list goes on and on, and when you book they send you the list so they can be prepared to offer you the activities you select) to be included. This includes horseback riding (best riding program I have ever experienced on any guest ranch) – even riding clinics for those who might want to learn roping or barrel racing – plus activities you would never expect, like each of us having an ATV to drive around the ranch for the length of our stay as well as the use of mountain e-bikes to explore 100 miles of trails, and zip-lining.

ATVs are your transportation around the 28,000-acre Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I never imagined myself driving an ATV (I got on the back to ride with Eric on the nail biting trails up to the cliff ridge); Laini had her first experience zip-lining and David and Eric had their first experience riding e-bikes up mountain trails. We all found new self-confidence and satisfaction in being able to take that “leap of faith” to try new things and conquer other challenges, and in the process, had these extraordinary experiences to share and enjoy together.

Bob shows us to his substantial wine collection, explaining his coding system (all the wines he buys are rated 90 or higher by Wine Spectator) – just help yourself. Beer is kept in a cooler and served in frosted mugs.

A portion of Bob Kaplan’s wine collection, available to Red Reflet Ranch guests © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The invigorating feeling is about place to be sure – the red-rocks and green pastures dotted with horses or cattle, not to mention 5,000-feet altitude, are breathtaking – but even more, it is about experience – the things you do and share. The Red Reflet Ranch is about creating opportunities to engage, immerse.

And not just with each other, but learning about the lives of the other guests and, of course, the ranch’s staff, like Nate Smith, the executive chef, a fifth-generation Wyomingite, born near Yellowstone Park who grew up hunting, fishing, working on the farm, and eating off the land by necessity, whose father is a butcher who runs a roadhouse, bar and restaurant called Cassie’s in their hometown of Cody; Penny Ready, the general manager who oversees the horses and riding program and relates how her great grandfather homesteaded here; and Bryley, who works with the horses and just graduated high school and bought her first horse.

Laurence Kaplan welcomes us to the Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s a guest ranch – emphasis on guest –with an extraordinary level of luxury and hospitality, of warmth and welcome. Everything from the design, accommodations and amenities in these magnificent chalets, to the exquisite dining and stellar culinary creations. But while everything is topnotch, sophisticated quality, there is no pretention, the atmosphere is completely relaxed.

After dinner conversation, games and music around the fireplace at Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The style reflects owners Laurence and Bob Kaplan’s zest for life. Both are jet pilots (they fly their Cessna 500 from the Ranch’s airport, WY00), have traveled the world, speak multiple languages, and are philanthropists. After successful careers in business, they made the ranch their full-time home opening a new chapter in their lives and a place to welcome the world.

We feel it as soon as we arrive – welcomed in the lodge commanding the most spectacular view through a wall of windows, to have cocktails together before an elegant dinner (not your cliched ranch fare) served family style, with Bob and Laurence at the table in the magnificent dining room in a lodge perched with the best view of the red-rock canyon.

Executive Chef Nate Singer introduces each course and its clever combination of ingredients. “We don’t have same meal all summer,” Bob Kaplan says © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Executive Chef Nate Singer presents each course, each prepared with farm-to-table ingredients and delectable flavor pairings – as much as possible sourced from the ranch or locally, but also flown in from friends’ farms and other places.

It’s early in the season for Laurence to harvest what she grows on the ranch, so tonight’s asparagus was flown in from Bob’s friend in Michigan, the lettuce homegrown in Ohio. The watercress, though, was foraged from the creek bottom.

“We’ve never had this meal served tonight before,” Bob tells us, admiring Nate’s creativity. “We don’t have same meal all summer.”

During the course of our all-too-brief stay, we have elk (seared, sauted, tenderized) served with shitake mushrooms (Bob explains how he bow-hunts elk in September); rabbit ragout, marinated in red wine and served with homemade egg-yolk pasta, which Nate says is an old-world Italian recipe from one of the chefs he studied with, and the most delectable rib eye ever.  

The desserts, prepared by pastry chef Deth Dijon Kaiaphonr, feature a scrumptious chocolate mousse concoction, Deth by Chocolate; a Yuzu tart with Chantilly cream; a Basque cheesecake with white chocolate and black cherry compote, all presented with exquisite flare.

Pastry chef Deth Dijon Kaiaphonr prepares “Deth by Chocolate” dessert © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lunches are light yet so satisfying. Executive Sous Chef David Oulette prepares a chicken with wild mushroom soup, salad with walnuts, black grapes, balsamic vinegrette.

After dinner, Bob shows us to our chalet, The Ponds, pointing out our breakfast fixings (and how to prepare the grocery list) and all the aspects of this exquisite vacation home.

Our first morning, we are scheduled for a 10 am horseback ride – horseback riding is a stellar feature of the ranch. It’s been literally decades since any of us have ridden. Penny Ready, who manages the riding program as well as serves as general manager of the ranch, shows us the indoor riding arena (great in winter) and fits us for cowboy boots that we get to keep with us for our stay, then matches us to horses (they have 40) that will give us the best riding experience based on their personality and our experience.

Penny Ready gives David horseriding pointers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We get familiar with our horse in the corral and get tips on holding the reins properly, the correct way to have our feet in the stirrups, and how to control the horse. David, who hasn’t ridden in years and years, looks like he was born on a ranch, and soon is trotting, cantering, loping around the ring, with Penny fine-tuning his technique. We go out for our first trail ride, swooning amid the scenery of the red rocks and grey-green sagebrush.

Red Reflet Ranch has 40 horses available for guests; in addition to trail rides, guests can take clinics and even help wrangle cattle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our next ride is even more sensational and more extensive – the absolute prettiest trail and most fun ride ever – that takes us much further onto the ranch amid the cattle (probably the most contented Angus anywhere).

Penny Ready leads us on the most fun, scenic trail ride ever at the Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Penny Ready leads us on the most fun, scenic trail ride ever at the Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Penny Ready leads us on the most fun, scenic trail ride ever at the Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you are inclined, when there is cow work to be done, you can “cowboy” the herd – ride with the wranglers to look over the herd, moving them as needed. From cattle drives to branding and gathering, they offer opportunities to experience what real ranching is about. In spring this might include branding, checking newborns and giving inoculations, sorting and pairing cattle.

After our first ride, we walk over to pick up our own ATV to use to get around the ranch and explore their trails into the hills (100 miles of trails for ATVs, mountain biking, hiking on property; guided tours are available). There have a fleet ATV’s and Side-by-Sides (SBS’s), even two kiddy ATVs. 

Red Reflet Ranch has 100 miles of trails for ATVs, mountain biking, hiking © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our second morning, Laurence has organized zip-lining for all of us – which requires the assistance of several staff. She shows us in how to use the system, sets us up, then flies down herself showing off masterful techniques with a twinkle in her eye and a mischievous smile (like flipping upside down). There are four ziplines in the course which the ranch installed a few years ago and is ideal for team-building and family bond-building – and also affords the most amazing views of the ranch.

What a way to see Red Reflet Ranch! Laini has her first zip-lining experience © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Laurence Kaplan shows off her upside down flip on the zip-line © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ranch affords any number of opportunities for simple relaxation. Our favorite is the natural “Cowboy Waterpark”– a great swimming hole fed by a 3,000-foot deep Artesian well, which constantly refreshes the water at a natural 76-degrees temperature. There is a suspension bridge to a small island (we dubbed “Peter Pan island”), giant rope swings, zip line into the water, paddle boards, kayaks, a water slide and canoe and a sand beach and beach chairs – as ideal for team building as for giggling sibling bonding.

David and Eric enjoying the Cowboy Waterpark © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
David and Eric enjoying the Cowboy Waterpark © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We make time to swim in the gorgeous pool with the most spectacular view and the tennis court (rackets and balls are available) and check out the well-equipped fitness center,  climbing wall, playground  and basketball hoop – all atop this stunning bluff. You can also do riflery on the shooting range and archery.

Bob invites me to accompany him to the far reaches of the ranch where he built a Mountain Cabin, as he collects memory cards from motion-operated cameras that photograph when a black bear comes by (!), elk and other animals.

Bob Kaplan collects his memory cards from his motion-operated cameras that capture images of wildlife, including a black bear, in the far reaches of the 28,000-acre Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And I get to learn more about ranching – the intricacies of growing alfalfa, irrigation, water rights, and what’s involved in leasing pasture for cattle. It brings me back to my most meaningful college course, Ecological Anthropology (I wrote my final paper on how raising rabbits could solve poverty in Appalachia and at the ranch I get my first taste of cooked rabbit).

Driving from the lodge, we see the stunning changes in topography – from the rolling red hills to rolling grey-green sage hills, to a landscape dotted with Aspens (best for wildlife, the leaves are highly nutritious, Bob explains) and Lodge Pole Pine. It’s wildflower season and the hills explode with color of Spring Beauty, Lupines, Buckwheat, Yellow Bell, Columbines, Alpine Wallflowers, Balsam Roots, Black-eyed Susans, Larkspur, Showy Fleabane and Blanket Flower. Bob says he has to wait for the Larkspur, a brilliant purple flower, to wilt before cattle can be brought here because the flower is poisonous.

Idyllic scene just outside The Ponds chalet © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We arrive at the mountain cabin, at some 3,000-feet altitude higher than the ranch, which is lovely, and powered by solar panels and a propane-fueled generator. It is used as a ‘rest stop’ for hikes, horseback rides, and ATV adventures by Ranch guests.

We switch to the side-by-side vehicle to travel around this pristine wilderness. I see what remains of the devastation of a tornado with 130 mph force that felled 5,000 trees. I get a glimpse of a 10-day old antelope running after its mother.

While Eric and David do mountain biking, Laini paints the stunning scene at the Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Meanwhile, David and Eric have taken mountain e-bikes to explore trails while Laini paints. We come together to swim and play tennis before dinner.

Relaxing in the Red Reflet Ranch pool © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the night, I get up to do another of the ranch’s signature activities: star gazing. I just have to walk out onto the porch and see stars so striking, you feel you can pluck them with your hand. The Milky Way is laid out before your eyes. Serious star-gazers, can use the Meade Telescope set up in the lodge.

On our last day, after the most magnificent horseback ride, we take our ATVs back onto the trail that goes along the red rock rim. I am terrified to drive myself so I ride with Eric to have this amazing adventure.

On the back of Eric’s ATV as he drives  the rim ridge trail at the Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is so much to do on the ranch that we don’t get to take advantage of some marvelous attractions nearby (in Wyoming terms), so I have on my list for when we return:

This is an area that dinosaurs roamed  – in fact, a nearby ranch was the site of a dozen complete dinosaurs that were excavated, and there is paleontology ongoing in the area (the ranch hosted paleontologists from the American Museum of Natural History). One ongoing excavation is at Dana Quarry, part of the Morrison Formation near Ten Sleep, where, weather and scheduling provided, you can view a live dinosaur dig where paleontologists are unearthing bones that date back 150 million years.  

Castle Gardens which has an outcropping of sandstone which the wind has eroded into fanciful shapes – hoodoos – resembling the turrets and towers of castle. This unusual formation has been luring visitors for thousands of years, and many of them left their mark in the soft sandstone–the area holds a treasure of Native American rock art, or petroglyphs. The site is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (Castle Gardens Petroglyph Site, Wyoming – Recreation.gov)

The Nature Conservancy Preserve of Ten Sleep, an 8,500-acre sanctuary for protected wildlife (open Thursday-Sunday, it was formerly owned by a Pepsi bottler and used for a Girl Scout camp) abuts the ranch.

There are scenic wonders – mountain ranges, canyons, pure mountain streams and lakes – all around the ranch, including the 1,115,000-acre Big Horn National Forest and 200,000-acre Cloud Peak Wilderness.

Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming has 100 miles of trails for ATVs, mountain biking and hiking © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are also reminded that this land was once the home Indian tribes. The name of the town, Ten Sleep, refers to the number of “sleeps” to travel between two Indian camps on their trade route. The area is loaded with history, as I learn. Local museums include:

Ten Sleep Pioneer Museum has exhibits that show everyday life of pioneer families, tools,  clothing used to carve out a life in the rugged Old West. A special exhibit recreates the Spring Creek Raid that took place on the Red Reflet Ranch which marked a turning point in the rivalry between sheepmen and cattlemen.

Washakie Museum, Worland, tells how early settlers came to Wyoming and created lives for themselves with little knowledge of what to expect; it offers a major historical photograph collection, exhibits made for children to ‘touch’, art exhibits and learning programs focused on the geology, paleontology and archaeology of the region.

Also, The Buffalo Bill Historical Center , in Cody.

The chalets are luxuriously outfitted and decorated. Bob designed each to bring the stunning views inside with big picture windows. The amenities don’t stop: a steam shower in the master bedroom, fireplace, full kitchen, laundry facilities, TV, even walkie-talkies (some parts of the ranch don’t get telephone reception), the refrigerator stocked with all the breakfast fittings anyone could want – farm fresh eggs from their own chicken coup, pancake mix, bacon (best ever), fresh marmalade, snacks, freshly baked bread (and they send us home from dinner with fresh pastries).

Morning light outside The Ponds chalet at Red Reflet Ranch Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Penny Ready’s dogs help round up the horses at Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Ponds Chalet, where we stay, is located at the entrance of the red rim canyon. It is 1,620 square feet with 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms and accommodates up to six guests.

The Ponds chalet, Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bob Kaplan designed the Red Reflet Ranch chalets to bring the outside in © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
The Panorama and The Couples chalets command the highest perch at the Red Reflet Ranch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Panorama Chalet sleeps 6 and is 1,856 square feet, commands the most amazing views of sunrise and sunset, canyon vistas and views of the Big Horn, Jim Bridger, Owl Creek, and Absoroka Mountain Ranges.

On the same perch as the Panorama Chalet, the Couple’s Chalet, a 1,400 square feet and sleeps up to 4, is designed around a Great Room with large windows from which to regale the red rock canyon.

The Ranch House sleeps up to 14 and is ideal for large families or groups. It has a large yard, a pond and a tree house in the yard, and is near the greenhouse, garden and chicken coop, a favorite place for young guests who want to help gather fresh eggs.

The ranch is open year-round – I can imagine how magical it is in winter, when activities like tobogganing, sledding, snowmobiling are available as well as horseback riding and snowshoeing.

Red Reflet Ranch is a ideal for a family gathering, reunion, multi-generational getaway, destination wedding (!), corporate retreat, team-building, incentive travel program. It has the best combination of authentic, genuine experience and, yes, luxurious comfort.

The rate puts Red Reflet Ranch into the luxury category, but it is the sort of special vacation experience that is worth saving for.

Red Reflet Ranch, 10 Lodge Road, Ten Sleep WY 82442, 307-366-2340,  866-766-2340, www.red-reflet-ranch.net.

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

From Glamping to Biking to Hiking, New York State Makes it Easy to Get Out There!

After a year’s hiatus, registration for the 2021 Cycle the Erie 8-day, 400-mile biking adventure from Buffalo to Albany is now open for a limited 350 riders. The 350-mile long Erie Canalway is now part of the state’s 750-mile long Empire State Trail Network © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, when so much was locked down and out of reach, New York State parks and outdoors were a godsend, providing needed respite. Indeed, the state’s parks received a record number of visitors, even as measures were in place to control capacity. And throughout the year, the state consistently made improvements and found ways to be available to more people.

The improvements are part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s NY Parks 100 initiative, which renews the historic commitment to investing and expanding the State Park system by committing at least $440 million over the next four years.

“This critical period of revitalization will culminate in the 2024 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the State Park Act, which first created our nation-leading State Park system in 1924 under Governor Al Smith. NY Parks 100 will continue crucial investments in park infrastructure while enhancing opportunities to reach the full range of New York State’s recreational and cultural offerings, including local parks and trails, regional flagship parks and historic sites, and vast wilderness parks. The initiative will focus on creating places to recreate locally, relieving overcrowded parks, welcoming new visitors, and protecting New York State’s environmental and historic legacy. This new plan will ensure people from all communities and across all ages and abilities can fully experience our outdoors, our culture, and our heritage,” the state said.

Here are some of the improvements that will welcome visitors this year:

New York State has formed a new public-private partnership for a new tent camping service with 45 sites at four State Parks in the Hudson Valley. Tentrr’s fully outfitted campsites are available to reserve at the Sebago and Silver Mine areas of Harriman State Park in Orange and Rockland Counties; Taconic State Park and Lake Taghkanic State Park in Columbia County; and Mills-Norrie State Park in Dutchess County.

The service provides tents, sleeping accommodations and an array of equipment needed for camping at each site. All items are set up and ready to use upon arrival for added convenience and sites are maintained by Tentrr staff.

All locations include a 10-foot by 12-foot, canvas-walled tent atop a raised platform. Each site is outfitted with a queen-sized bed and memory foam mattress, a propane heating source, a solar-powered “sun” shower, a camp toilet, water container, Adirondack chairs, a fire pit, grill, and a picnic table with storage and benches.  

Tentrr camping site at the Sebago area of Harriman State Park, New York. The tenting service has a partnership with New York State to provide 45 glamping sites at four state parks in the Hudson Valley.

Guests have the option of single, double, and triple sites. Singles sleep up to six (two occupants in the main tent and four occupants in a provided pop-up tent). Double sites – or buddy sites – sleep up to 12 (two occupants in each of the two main tents and four occupants in each of the two provided pop-up tents) and triples can accommodate group camping. 

Sites are $135 per night, with a portion going toward the maintenance and stewardship of New York State Parks.

While Tentrr’s sites are naturally socially distanced, Tentrr adheres to state guidelines for maintaining and sanitizing the sites. Tentrr will continue to keep sites clean and wiped down with high-grade sanitizers and encourages guests to follow recommended COVID requirements and protocols. For more details on Tentrr’s COVID-19 protocols, visit here

To make a reservation, visit tentrr.com/nysp. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance.

Camp Rockaway

Through the Reimagine the Canals initiative, Camp Rockaway, a New York State based outdoor excursion company, is managing the site at Lock C-5 on the Champlain Canal in Schuylerville between Memorial Day weekend and September 8, with possible extension through early October. The glamping site will offer vacationing New Yorkers an opportunity to experience the vast history and bucolic landscapes of one of New York’s oldest canalside communities by enjoying luxury camping on the banks of the Canal.

Through the Reimagine the Canals initiative,  Camp Rockaway, a New York State based outdoor excursion company, will manage the site at Lock C-5 on the Champlain Canal in Schuylerville between Memorial Day weekend and September 8, with possible extension through early October.

Reservations are now being accepted for a glamping experience on the Champlain Canal that will attract visitors to the State’s historic upper Hudson Valley and boost the local economy that is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This new glamping experience is the latest innovation from Governor Cuomo’s $300 million Reimagine the Canals initiative that is revitalizing the Canal corridor as a tourism and recreation destination while simultaneously boosting economic development and the resiliency of canalside communities.

Visit https://camprockaway.com/schuylerville/.

Biking, Cycling the Eric Canal

Parks & Trails NY is offering its sensational eight-day, 400-mile biking adventure along the Erie Canalway for a 23rd year in 2021, after a hiatus in 2020. Riders will leave Buffalo July 11 and reach Albany on July 18. Registration is open for spots, limited this year to 350.

The route follows the legendary Erie Canal passing locks and aqueducts and winding through historic villages and rural farmlands. Over the course of the eight days, cyclists enjoy stunning pastoral scenes, fascinating history extending 400 years in which the story of how America came to be unfolds, and some of the best cycling in the United States. Covering between 40 and 60 miles per day, cyclists travel along the Erie Canalway Trail, which is now more than 85 percent complete and the east-west axis of the statewide 750-mile Empire State Trail.

You can’t help but become immersed in history on Parks & Trails NY’s annual Cycle the Erie ride, 400-miles from Buffalo to Albany and 400 years of history © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Designed as a supported camping trip, accommodations are provided with showers, toilet facilities, some with pools or lakes for swimming; eight breakfasts and six dinners; two daily refreshment stops along the route; evening entertainment including music and historical presentations; guided tours of the Canal, historic sites, museums and other attractions including the Women’s Rights National Historic Park, Erie Canal Museum and Village, Fort Stanwix National Monument and a boat tour through the Lockport locks; kick-off reception and end-of-tour celebration; Cycle the Erie Canal t-shirt; baggage transport; SAG wagon and mobile mechanical support; daily maps and cue sheets; painted and arrowed routes; pre-departure info packet including training tips. Other amenities available (at additional fee) include fresh daily towels, gourmet morning coffee, tent and air mattress rental and set up (for those who don’t want to pitch their own tent).

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the safety of riders, volunteers, staff, vendors, and local community members is at the forefront of planning. With this in mind, the tour is limited to 350 participants and volunteers; all registrations will be for the full eight-day option; and to keep everyone safe and meet state and local COVID-19 regulations, registration fees have increased this year.

The price up until June 7 is $1200/adult, $650 youth (6-17); $290 child (5 and under); shuttle is $100.

The PTNY coordinators are following the guidance from New York State, and will be prepared to follow all regulations in place in July. Registrants will be notified of any updates or changes. Visit New York State’s COVID-19 Travel Advisory to stay abreast of restrictions that might impact your travel plans.

Find answers to questions riders may have on the Cycle the Erie Canal FAQ page. If there are questions that aren’t covered, email  eriecanaltour@ptny.org.

Can’t do the Parks & Trails NY’s Cycle the Erie ride? Among the bike tour companies offering the trip, Wilderness Voyageurs offers a self-guided inn-to-inn tour (https://wilderness-voyageurs.com) and Classic Adventures (https://classicadventures.com/) and Womantours (www.womantours.com) offer guided itineraries.

Cyclists ride the Erie Canalway as Erie Canal Adventures’ Lockmaster sails by © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another way to enjoy the Erie Canal is by boat – and bring a bike along. Erie Canal Adventures’ fleet of 11 custom-designed Lockmasters sail from Macedon, near Rochester, NY, and with enough time, you can cruise some 200 miles from Buffalo to Lake Oneida in Syracuse along the canal. Besides sailing along the Erie Canal (as far as , you can also sail on other waterways, taking spurs south to the Finger Lakes, or north up the Oswego canal to Lake Ontario. Erie Canal Adventures, 315-986-3011, www.eriecanaladventures.com.

With all these marvelous ways to enjoy the Canalway, the trail system was more popular in 2020 than any prior year, according to the 2020 Who’s on the Trail report from PTNY and the NYS Canal Corporation. The system saw a record 4.2 million visits in 2020, with 3.97 million visits made to the 360-mile Erie Canalway Trail between Albany and Buffalo and 288,000 visits to the 90-mile Champlain Canalway Trail between Waterford and Whitehall.

And now, the 353-mile long Erie Canalway, from Buffalo to Albany is linked and part of the state’s Empire Trail Network – 750 miles of interconnected off-road and on-road biking and recreational trails and lanes from the tip of Manhattan to the Canadian border.

Empire State Trail Open

New York’s ambitious Empire State Trail, now the nation’s longest multi-use state trail, is now fully opened. The trail network spans 750-miles total, 75 percent of which is off-road trails ideal for cyclists, hikers, runners, cross-country skiers and snow-shoers. The new recreational trail means you can go from New York City north-south through the Hudson and Champlain Valley to Canada, and east-west from Albany to Buffalo along the Erie Canal on a safe and incredibly scenic pathway, discovering fascinating historic and cultural sites along the way.

Biking over the Rosendale Trestle, 150 feet above the Rondout Creek, on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, part of the New York Empire State Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Empire State Trail website provides quick and easy access to trail information including segment descriptions, access points, trail distances, parking areas, restrooms, and nearby amenities and attractions. The website’s responsive and user-friendly design allows users to access interactive maps from mobile devices, zoom in to specific location of interest, and download/print maps of trail segments. Cyclists can print “cue sheets” with highly detailed directions for following a selected trail segment. The site also features information about the variety of activities and destinations on or near the trail such as campgrounds, parks, historic sites, and popular stops among the local communities. (empiretrail.ny.gov/)

To promote the opening of the Empire State Trail, the state has formed a partnership with the nationally-known Boilermaker race to create the “Empire State Trail Challenge” virtual race where participants can register and log their miles to reach milestones tied to virtual progress along the Empire State Trail, through July 31.  

Participants can register now and begin logging their miles walking, running or cycling. Participants would complete the mileage of at least one leg of the Empire State Trail: either the Hudson Valley Trail: 210 miles (New York City to Albany); the Erie Canalway Trail: 350 miles (Albany to Buffalo); or the Champlain Valley: 190 miles (Albany to Canada Border at Rouses Point). Participants can sign up as teams or individuals. For more information or to register, visit the website.

Although people are encouraged to the explore the actual Empire State Trail, participants can run, walk, or ride anywhere geographically, on local trails and running/bicycling routes near where they live to log and complete the challenge.

Each entrant receives a t-shirt with their $25 entrance fee for a single leg of the trail. If interested, participants can register for additional legs at the time of registration or any time during the race period at $5 per leg. Challenge participants will enter their mileage on an online platform over the duration of the race window, reaching milestones tied to virtual progress along the Empire State Trail, and have the ability to share their experiences on social media.

State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “The Empire State Trail Challenge is one of the ways we are building back better at our state parks and trails. Our parks and trails have been safe and healthy outlets for everyone during the pandemic. Whether enjoying a fun nature break with friends and family, or truly testing their limits, the Empire State Trail Challenge offers participants of all ages and abilities a rewarding and socially distanced opportunity to enjoy New York’s outdoors.”

The Empire State Trail website provides quick and easy access to trail information along the 750-mile route including segment descriptions and an on-line map identifying off-road trails connecting on-road sections, trail distances, designated parking areas, restrooms, and nearby amenities and attractions. (https://empiretrail.ny.gov/)

Discovery Bicycle Tour on Empire State Trail

Here is what well may be the first bike touring company to come out with a guided, inn-to-inn trip along the recently completed north-south section of the Empire State Trail in New York State:  Discovery Bicycle Tours’ has introduced a six-day itinerary that rides from the very tip of Manhattan, to Albany.

The six-day trip rides 200 miles of the newly completed Empire State Trail, which actually extends 750 miles from Manhattan to Canada and from Buffalo to Albany.

Discovery Bicycle Tours’ six-day Empire State Trail trip starts on the Hudson River bikeway at the tip of Manhattan and rides up 200 miles on newly connected trails to Albany © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.

The Discovery Bicycle Tour goes through a wide variety of landscapes in New York State. Cycle passed the Freedom Tower and Manhattan skyscrapers, through forests, along lakes and rivers, with a triumphant finish in Albany, the state capital. You can be one of the first to enjoy this full section of the newly finished Empire State Trail, which allows cyclists to traverse the state almost entirely on dedicated hike/bike paths and routes.

Many miles are on dedicated rail-trail. And the riding is fairly flat with gentle hills. Look for vistas of the Catskill and Shawangunk mountains as you follow the gorgeous Hudson River Valley — favorite subject of Hudson River School landscape painters in the mid-1800s. As a bonus, you cycle across the Walkway Over the Hudson, the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, and the iconic Rosendale Trestle.

Rated Level 1 (easier), daily cycling mileage ranges from 28 to 47 miles.

Accommodations are in casual and historic inns and a stylish boutique bed-and-breakfast.

The tour includes: 5 nights’ lodging, 5 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 4 dinners (you are on your own for 1 dinner in Rhinebeck), cycling routes with detailed maps and/or app-based navigation for those interested, plus bicycle, helmet, tour guides and van support, free week-long parking for guest cars in Hawthorne, NY. Free transfer on final day to either the Rensselaer Train Station (Albany) or take the van transit back to Hawthorne.

The trip is scheduled June 6-11, July 25-30, Aug. 1-6, Aug. 29-Sept. and Oct. 3-8, and is priced at $2,495; https://discoverybicycletours.com/empire-state-trail-bike-tour.

Discovery Bicycle Tours, Woodstock, VT., 800-257-2226, info@discoverybicycletours.com,  www.discoverybicycletours.com.

Adirondacks Preserve Gets Larger

Meanwhile, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state has acquired 1,263 acres of land in the Warren County town of Johnsburg in the southern Adirondacks. The parcel includes Huckleberry Mountain, an elongated peak that tops 2,400 feet, with spectacular cliffs on the ridge’s south and southwest face.

“Through the Environmental Protection Fund, New York State continues to invest in land acquisitions that conserve open space and preserve the natural beauty of this great state for future generations to visit and enjoy,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said.  “Preservation of the spectacular Huckleberry Mountain lands will benefit the region for generations to come, providing new opportunities for visitors to explore the outdoors.”

Hiking in New York’s Adirondack Preserve. The state just acquired 1,263 acres of land in the Warren County town of Johnsburg in the southern Adirondacks. The parcel includes Huckleberry Mountain, an elongated peak that tops 2,400 feet, with spectacular cliffs on the ridge’s south and southwest face. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation purchased this property from the Open Space Institute for $770,000 using resources from the State’s Environmental Protection Fund. Permanent conservation of this land will enhance recreational access in the region and offers opportunities to connect New Yorkers with nature, protect crucial watersheds, and improve important wildlife habitat in this part of the Adirondack Park. The newly protected land adjoins Wilcox Lake Wild Forest, which includes Crane Mountain, a popular, publicly accessible mountain peak that also provides access to exceptional cliffs for climbers. The Huckleberry Mountain parcel contains a wide range of wildlife habitats, including a high quality cold-water stream—Crystal Brook—that is excellent for brook trout, cliff faces that are a preferred nesting place for the endangered peregrine falcon, and a wetland complex home to an active heron rookery.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses, boat launches and more, which were visited by a record 78 million in 2020. To book a spot in a New York State campground, go to https://newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com/. For more information, call 518-474-0456 or visit www.parks.ny.gov.

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Driveable Adventures: Bike Tours Are Ideal Vacation Choice This Season

Biking the history-rich, scenic Delaware & Lehigh Trail (the D&L). Pocono Biking has a four-day, 142 mile guided inn-to-inn tour © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bike tours offer one of the best vacation alternatives in these times when people want to be outdoors in open spaces, and enjoy stunning landscapes, discover heritage and history and have that opportunity for shared experiences that travel uniquely provide. There is still time this season to take advantage of guided, self-guided and private bike tours from companies including Pocono Biking, Wilderness Voyageurs and Discovery Bicycle Tours.

Pocono Biking has space on departures this season on a supported four-day bike tour that takes you 142 miles of the Delaware & Lehigh rail trail, also known as D&L Trail.

I did this ride, anchored by the charming town of Jim Thorpe and the famous historic landmark at Washington Crossing, on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn, though with camping instead of inn-to-inn along this scenic and history-rich trail (railstotrails.org). The RTC trip also was operated by Pocono Biking, a powerhouse outdoors- adventure company in the area well known for its rafting adventures on the Lehigh River in the Lehigh Valley.

The trip, traveling through 57,600 acres (90 miles) of state park, is designed so you get to enjoy three of Pennsylvania’s award winning quaint small towns: Jim Thorpe, Bethlehem and New Hope. Essentially, we follow the route of Anthracite Coal, from mine to market, which thrust America into the Industrial Revolution. Along the way, we see the geography, the resources, and the technological innovations that made this possible, and how they affected the society, the culture, and the economy of the fledgling nation. The trail, part of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, is so historically significant that it is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.

Buttermilk Falls, along the Delaware-Lehigh Trail, is a highlight of Day One’s ride through Lehigh Gorge State Park © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 1 – 36 miles: The adventure starts in the wilderness of the Lehigh Gorge State Park, riding passed waterfalls and spotting wildlife (deer!), taking advantage of the newly connected D&L Rail Trail into the charming town of Jim Thorpe.  The first night is spent amid mountains in the Inn of Jim Thorpe, circa 1849.

A poster of Native American Olympian Jim Thorpe hangs in the Jim Thorpe Inn, in the town that was renamed for him © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jim Thorpe – an odd name for a town – was established in 1818 as Mauch Chunk, which means “Mountain of the Sleeping Bear,” the name the Lenni Lenape Indians gave to the nearby mountain. But it was later renamed for an Oklahoma-born Native American, the Olympic hero Jim Thorpe, who is buried there. Thorpe was born in Oklahoma in 1888 and raised on the Sac and Fox Reservation and had never set foot in the borough.  But Patsy Thorpe, Jim’s third wife, cut a deal with two struggling towns in Pennsylvania, that if they would merge, rename themselves Jim Thorpe and build a memorial to honor him, she would present them his remains for burial.

The town played a key role in the emergence of the United States as an Industrial Revolution powerhouse. Here, entrepreneurs led by Josiah White formed the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company in the 1820s (you can still see the brick building), which shipped tons and tons of anthracite coal and other goods to market via the Lehigh and Delaware Canals which they constructed. The town grew in importance when it was named Carbon County’s seat in 1843.

Asa Packer Mansion in Jim Thorpe, PA © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

A major attraction here is the Packer Mansion, which I was lucky enough to visit on my trip. Asa Packer’s story epitomizes the rags-to-riches-for-those-with-grit-and-a-good-idea American Dream: Born poor in Mystic, Connecticut, Asa Packer (1805-1879) left home when he was 17, setting out on foot to Brooklyn, Pennsylvania where he apprenticed as a carpenter to his cousin, Edward Packer. In 1828, he married Sarah Minerva Blakslee (1807-1882) and the couple tilled a farm they rented from Sarah’s father.  But after four years, they were just as poor as when they started. So hearing that men were needed to captain coal barges on the Lehigh Canal, Asa traveled to Mauch Chunk, in the winter of 1832. He used his skill as a carpenter to build and repair canal boats. He resettled his family in Mauch Chunk and became the owner of a canal boat that carried coal to Philadelphia, then opened his own firm, A. & R. W. Packer, which built canal boats and locks for the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company.  

He tried to get the company to build a railroad, but was refused. So, in October 1851, risking financial ruin, Packer purchased nearly all the controlling stock and interest for the unfinished Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroad (later known as the Lehigh Valley Railroad).  By November, 1852, he expanded the railroad from Mauch Chunk to Easton, Pennsylvania, in exchange for the company’s stocks and bonds, and later into New York State. 

He became the third richest person in the world and parlayed his business success into political success, serving as a Judge, a state representative, a two-term Congressman (1853-7), and even challenged Ulysses S. Grant for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1868. He narrowly lost election to become Pennsylvania’s Governor in 1869.

The Packers settled in their Italianate Villa in Mauch Chunk in 1861 and, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, on January 23, 1878, held a fantastic gala (a newspaper printed in gold described it, and the man who performed their wedding attended). Asa died just 18 months later.

Biking the Delaware-Lehigh Trail © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

This quaint village is a hub for many marvelous attractions including the Packer Mansion; the Old Jail Museum (the eerie dungeon where the Molly McGuires were jailed; Cell 17 with its mysterious handprint on the wall, under the gallows on which seven of the accused Molly Maguires were put to death); the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, St. Mark’s Church, Historic Stone Row, the Mauch Chunk Opera House, Anita Shapolsky Art Center, Mauch Chunk Museum, plus wineries and distilleries (Big Creek Vineyard and Stonekeep Meadery), biking, hiking and rafting.

Jim Thorpe Visitors Center, 2 Lehigh Ave., Jim Thorpe PA 18229, 570-325-3673, jimthorpe.org.

Day 2 – 37 miles:  After a night exploring the shops, museums and restaurants in Jim Thorpe and breakfast at the Inn, cycle beside the locks and canals along the Lehigh River to the town of Bethlehem, PA. Along the way you pass the Lehigh Gap Nature Center with its protected land. There are stunning views of the Blue Mountain and Appalachian Trail. Bethlehem, circa 1741, an old Moravian settlement, has cobblestone streets, quaint shops, and history around every bend.  Spend the night in the Hotel Bethlehem where Presidents and dignitaries have stayed.

Biking the Delaware-Lehigh Trail © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lehigh Gap Nature Center, a non-profit conservation organization at the foot of the Kittatinny Ridge, is dedicated to preserving wildlife and habitat through conservation programs such as the Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge, educational programs such as the Kittatiny Raptor Corridor Project as well as research. I linger in the butterfly garden before setting out again on the trail. (8844 Paint Mill Rd, Slatington, PA 18080, 610-760-8889, http://lgnc.org/)

Along the way, we come upon what is left of the original canal locks – stone walls, wooden gates with metal latches and gears, remnants from the mid-1800s. 

Historic Freemansburg, on the Delaware-Lehigh Trail © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At Freemansburg, we find a lockmasters house, the remains of the locks and a mill, which, when I visited, was manned by interpreters in period dress. I wonder whether the village was settled by freemen and am told that it was named for one of the original settlers, Richard Freeman.

Freemansburg is a classic example of a canal town with houses and structures built up against the waterway that was the village’s lifeblood in the 1800s. Members of the Old Freemansburg Association (OFA) reclaimed a 1.5 mile section of the Lehigh Canal the Borough owns from overgrowth and debris and restored the towpath which became the D&L Trail. The OFA spearheaded efforts to protect and restore the 1829 Locktender’s House, mule barn, Lock No. 44, gristmill, and coal yard. Volunteers also reconstructed the barn using canal era tools and equipment, a project that took 10 years to complete. The multi-functional building now hosts weddings, educational sessions and interpretative demonstrations. (http://lehighvalleyhistory.com/history-of-the-borough-of-freemansburg)

Riding on, we come to an island that consists of a shuttered steel mill that today stands somewhat surreally like an abstract sculpture.

Bethlehem, PA: A shuttered steel mill looks like abstract sculpture © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 3 – 47 miles: After breakfast, the group departs Bethlehem and cycles south following the path of 19th century aqueducts to the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers. Visit the only operating mule drawn canal boat east of the Mississippi. Tour the National Canal Museum and pass through quaint river villages, until arriving in New Hope. New Hope offers bustling nightlife and cultural attractions such as the Bucks County Playhouse.

Two mules pull the Josiah White II canal boat at the National Canal Museum in Hugh Moore Park © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor interprets this fascinating period of American history in the 520-acre Hugh Moore Park through tours of the National Canal Museum and rides on the 110-passenger Josiah White II canal boat. Here you see remnants of the oldest industrial park in the region, a Locktender’s House and one of only three mule-drawn canal boats still operating in America, which plies a two-mile section of the canal that has been restored. The National Canal Museum, with hands-on exhibits highlighting 19th century canal life and technology, normally is open from June until October. (https://canals.org/)

Day 4 – 22 miles:  On day four, after breakfast at the Fox and Hound Bed & Breakfast, ride along the canal trail to Washington Crossing where George Washington crossed the Delaware in 1776.  You also cross the Delaware to the D&R Canal State Park and head north to Bull’s Island where the ride ends with lunch before being shuttled back to your car. 

Washington Crossing Historic Park, 1112 River Road, Washington Crossing, PA 18977, 215-493-4076, www.WashingtonCrossingPark.org.

A bike tour, whether guided or self-guided, is an ideal vacation choice this season © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Available dates at this writing include Sept. 14 and Oct. 5 (up to 14 guests per trip, with 2 guides; the minimum age is 13; e-bike rentals are available, but the trail is easy/moderate crushed gravel trail). The cost is $995 ($225 single supplement); $90 to rent a bike, and includes the overnight accommodations, professional bike guides; sag wagon; basic bike repair (replacement bike if needed to complete the ride); rest stops with snacks and water; breakfast on three days; lunch on two days; luggage transportation to each accommodation; morning trail briefings and transportation back to your car by 4pm on the final day.

If you would rather DIY, Pocono Biking also offers daily rates and shuttle service, Big Day Out & Big Night Out (Multisport Adventures), two-day trips, and Pocono Whitewater Rafting on the Lehigh River.

Pocono Biking, 7 Hazard Square, Jim Thorpe, PA, 570-325-8430, PoconoBiking.com.

Other bike tours available this season:

Wilderness Voyageurs, operating out of Ohiopyle, PA, is offering New York Erie Canal Bike Tour (4-days,Sept. 21); Great Allegheny Passage Bike Tour (4-days, Sept. 21, 28, Oct. 5), Easy Rider GAP Bike Tour (3-days,  Sept. 9).

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail, operated by Wilderness Voyageurs © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other upcoming tours: Michigan Islands, Trails & Dunes Bike Tour  (8/30); Cycle Colorful Colorado Bike Tour (9/13); Katy Trail Missouri Bike Tour (9/27, 10/18) and
Kentucky Bike & Bourbon Bike Tour (10/19).

“Bike touring lends itself to a vacationing style that uniquely fits these times: small groups and big open spaces! Although we understand that traveling at this moment is not for everyone and is a personal decision, our goal is to minimize the risks where possible and make traveling as comfortable as possible.”

Wilderness Voyageurs, 103 Garrett St., Ohiopyle, PA 15470, 800-272-4141, bike@Wilderness-Voyageurs.com, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com

Discovery Tours is inviting biking enthusiasts to design their own tour: “Pick any of our U.S. locations — or suggest a new one — and we’ll customize an incredible biking vacation just for you.”

Groups of 8 or more get one tour free (or spread the savings across the group). Special pricing is available for groups of 4 or fewer.

Biking with Discovery Tours in Woodstock, Vermont © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The company, based in Woodstock, Vt., has already run private tours this summer on the Mickelson Trail and Black Hills in South Dakota, in Maine and in New York’s Finger Lakes.

For details, contact Scott (scott@DiscoveryBicycleTours.com), info@discoverybicycletours.com, 800-257-2226, discoverybicycletours.com.

Find more trails through Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, 2121 Ward Court, NW, Washington, DC 20037, 866-202-9788, railstotrails.org, TrailLink.com.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Staycation! Long Island Offers So Much to Explore

The world-class Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale, Long Island, is a sensational destination for a staycation – inspiring exhibits that explain the beginning of aviation to the future of space travel in the place where it happened, set in a spacious, comfortable air-conditioned facility. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Long Island entering Phase 4 in the COVID-19 recovery means that museums, gardens, attractions, even shopping malls, are open again with health protocols that include limited capacity (many required timed ticketing), social distancing, hand-sanitizing and mandatory mask-wearing. This is an ideal time for Long Islanders to discover our own bounty.

Staycation! Create your own itinerary. Here are some highlights (for more, visit Long Island Tourism Commission, discoverlongisland.com):

Cradle of Aviation Museum is Sensational Destination on Staycation Itinerary

A year ago, we were dazzled and enthralled at the Cradle of Aviation exhibit and special programming for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing. This year is historic in another way – the museum is reopening with special health protocols in response to the Covid-19 epidemic. As I toured the museum as it geared up for the reopening, I really focused on the remarkable historic exhibits, appreciating the role Long Island played in the development of aviation up through and including space travel.

We tend to think of the Wright Brothers and their flight on a beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but Long Island was really the birthplace of the aviation industry. So many firsts, as I observed going through the museum: the first woman pilot, the first Bleriot monoplane (what??), first woman to pilot an aircraft and first woman to build an aircraft (Dr. Bessica Raiche of Mineola) and of course, first nonstop flight between New York and Paris that departed from Roosevelt Field, right outside. We also see a photo montage of native Long Island astronauts including Mary Cleave who graduated Great Neck North High School.

The planes and artifacts on display are astounding.

The “Spirit of St. Louis” plane used in the Jimmy Stewart movie on display at Cradle of Aviation Museum came off the same production line as Charles Lindbergh’s plane that made the historic flight from Long Island’s Roosevelt Field to Paris, nonstop, in 33 hours © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You learn that the reason Long Island was such a magnet for early aviation began with its geography: a flat, treeless plain with low population. Add to that some wealthy people willing to put up money – like the $25,000 prize offered by hotel owner Raymond Orteig for the first nonstop aircraft flight between New York and Paris that enticed Charles Lindbergh to fly his Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic from Roosevelt Field (just outside Cradle’s door) to Paris in 33 hours. The same plane Lindberg flew – it came off the same production line and was used in the movie, “Spirit of St. Louis” starring Jimmy Stewart – is on display.

Cradle of Aviation educators measure out six-foot social distancing separations getting the air-and-space museum ready to reopen to the public © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many of the interactive have been closed off for health reasons, but there are still videos, sound effects and music (“Over There, Over There” by composer George M. Cohan, who lived in Kings Point, LI, plays where a wood-frame plane is being built), and a dazzling array of exhibits in which to be completely immersed.

Commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the end of WWII with  a look back at the aircraft and the people that made a difference in ending the war including such fighter planes as the P-47 and Grumman’s Avenger, Hellcat, and Wildcat (very impressed with the women WASP pilots).

The Grumman F-14 Tomcat (famous in the Top Gun movie, just in time for the release of Top Gun 2) is on display, marking the 50th anniversary of the first flight © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A special treat this summer is the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the F-14 Tomcat, one of the most iconic Navy fighters ever built on Long Island, which was featured prominently in the movie, “Top Gun.”  See a full size aircraft, the third F-14 ever built and oldest flying F-14 from 1971-1990, two -F14 cockpits, nose and flying suits. Learn about the plane, the pilots, and why the F-14 is such a beloved fighter and just in time before the release of Top Gun: Maverick this December.

The environment is especially marvelous during this COVID-summer – spacious rooms, delightfully air-conditioned, with demarcations for six-feet separation and capacity limited to 700 (you should pre-book your tickets online). This is a great year for a family to purchase an unlimited membership ticket ($125 for a family of four), and come frequently. There is so much to see and absorb, you are always seeing and learning new things.

The real thing: the actual lunar lander built by Grumman, Bethpage, for Apollo 19, a moon mission which was scrapped, at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island. It is one of only three LEMs on earth (three are still on the moon; the other two are at the National Air & Space Museum in DC and at Kennedy Space Center in Florida), but the only one on earth intended to go to the moon. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cradle of Aviation Museum & Education Center is home to over 75 planes and spacecraft representing over 100 years of aviation history and Long Island’s only Giant Screen Dome Theater. The museum is located on Museum Row, Charles Lindbergh Blvd., in Garden City.  Call (516) 572-4111 or visit www.cradleofaviation.org.  

Cradle of Aviation Museum is part of Museum Row, which also includes the Long Island Children’s Museum, the Nassau County Firefighter’s Museum, and when it reopens the Nunley Carousel, which dates from 1912.                                     

Nassau County Museum of Art Reopens with “Blue”

The Nassau Museum re-opened July 8 with a spectacular new exhibition that includes work by Picasso, Matisse, Miro, Helen Frankenthaler, Yves Klein and many other major artists. A new timed ticketing and touch-free entry system, along with safety protocols, ensure the safety and comfort of visitors. The Museum is limiting capacity and using signage and staff monitoring to make sure distancing is observed, and has instituted a new cleaning regimen as well as health screening for staff and volunteers.

The innovative new show boldly ventures into the many meanings of the world’s most popular color: Blue. It includes several important artists of our time, including Jeffrey Gibson, Mark Innerst and Sean Scully. It brings together a wide range of media, from sculpture, paintings, prints, photographs and watercolors through ceramics (including Moroccan tiles, Chinese Ming porcelain, Turkish vessels and Japanese claire de lune porcelain), textiles and even a United Nations helmet.

Programming for the show, both online and in person, includes a specially commissioned ballet by the artist Han Qin, a concert of works specially composed for the art in the show, lectures and a director’s seminar series. 

Walking the magnificent grounds of the Nassau County Museum of Art (the William Cullen Bryant Preserve) and coming upon sculpture © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum’s magnificent grounds (officially known as the William Cullen Bryant Preserve) have remained open to the public– including outdoor sculpture garden collection of nearly 40 pieces by 24 sculptors, created over the past 100 years, from 1913 to 2018, set throughout its 145 acres of fields, woods, ponds, and formal gardens, and its nature trails.

Celebrating its 30th year, Nassau County Museum of Art, One Museum Drive, Roslyn Harbor,  is open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors (62 and above) and $5 for students and children (4 to12). Visitors are urged to buy their timed tickets in advance online at nassaumuseum.org, 516-484-9338.

More highlights:

Long Island Aquarium has made changes to its operation for the safety of guests, staff and animals (Touch Tanks, animal feeding, encounters, Shark Dives have been suspended). In lieu of a Sea Lion Show, there is a Sea Lion feed and training session, with social distancing in the stands.. Visitors and staff must wear a face mask or covering (masks can be purchased); hand-sanitizers throughout, six-feet social distancing separation will be maintained, including a one-way path through the property. Guests can walk through the Aquarium, enjoying the indoor habitats, to get to the outdoor habitats such as the Penguin Pavilion, Otter Falls, Sea Lion Coliseum. Outdoor dining and retail shops have reopened. Operating at a reduced guest capacity, all members of your party must pre-pay admission and reserve a time slot prior to your visit (https://www.longislandaquarium.com/purchase-tickets/pricing/) (431 East Main Street, Riverhead NY 11901, 631-208-9200, ext 426, www.longislandaquarium.com).

Old Westbury Gardens, the former estate of John S. and Margarita Grace Phipps, is one of the most recognizable of all Gold Coast properties. Its centerpiece is Westbury House, a Charles II-style mansion where the Phipps family lived for 50 years (featured in 25 films including “North by Northwest” and “Love Story”). The 160-acre property also features world-renowned gardens with sweeping lawns, woods, ponds and lakes, and more than 100 species of trees. Advance-reservations tickets are required to tour the palatial home, walk its grounds, and enjoy a window on Long Island’s Gilded Age. (71 Old Westbury Rd, Old Westbury, 516-333-0048, info@oldwestburygardens.org, www.oldwestburygardens.org).

Sands Point Preserve’s The Great Lawn, Rose Garden, Woodland Playground, forest trails, and pond area are open, but the three castle-like mansions (Hempstead House, Castle Gould and Falaise built by Harry S. Guggenheim), Welcome Center and dog run are closed for the health of visitors. Restrooms are available in Castle Gould’s Black Box, and are closed periodically for sterlizing and cleaning. The number of cars is limited; there is contactless payment at Gatehouse, $15/per car, free for members. (127 Middle Neck Road, Sands Point, http://sandspointpreserveconservancy.org/)

Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park, listed on the National Register of Historic Districts, was the home of William Robertson Coe from 1913 to 1955. Coe was interested in rare plants and developed the 409 acre estate into an arboretum with 160 acres of garden and plants. In celebration of the centennial anniversary of the completion of the Buffalo Mural in Coe Hall, Planting Fields Foundation is presenting an exhibition on the work of Robert Winthrop Chanler (1872-1930), The Electrifying Art and Spaces of Robert Winthrop Chanler.  A rare opportunity to view decorative screens and panels from private collections throughout America, the exhibition highlights Chanler’s depiction of frenzied worlds from the early 1910s to the late 1920s. Visitors learn about his work in the context of the artistic developments in America in the early 20th century, his relationship to the wealthy patrons of the Gilded Age, and the preservation challenges presented by the Buffalo Mural in Coe Hall.  Gain a deeper understanding of the historical significance of the screens and their design function within the homes of the elite, as well as Chanler’s eccentric persona and the characters around him throughout his life. One-hour tours are limited to 5 people, all from the same family or group; request your tour time online. (395 Planting Fields Road Jericho Turnpike, Oyster Bay, NY 11771, 516-922-9200, plantingfields.org)

The Vanderbilt Museum & Planetarium’s elegant Spanish-Revival mansion was the home of William Kissam Vanderbilt II, great grandson of Commodore Cornelius. The 43-acre estate, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, overlooks Northport Bay and the L.I. Sound. The museum has reopened the first floor of the Hall of Fishes marine museum; the Habitat and Stoll Wing animal dioramas; and the natural-history and cultural-artifact galleries on the first floor of the Memorial Wing. The Mansion living quarters and the Reichert Planetarium remain closed at this time. A limited number of visitors are being accommodated on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays,  11am-6pm. Galleries are open from 12-5pm. Admission to enter the property: $14 per carload; members free. (80 Little Neck Road, Centerport, NY 11721, 631-854-5579, www.vanderbiltmuseum.org,  info@vanderbiltmuseum.org).

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, Oyster Bay, was Theodore Roosevelt’s “Summer White House.” While the house is not yet reopened for visitors, you can explore the 83 acre-grounds © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site was the “Summer White House when Theodore Roosevelt served as 26th President, from 1902-1908. He lived in this Oyster Bay estate until his death in 1919, and it remains just as it was when he was in residence. The historic home is not yet reopened (the national site is being reopened in phases), but you can explore the 83 acres of grounds which include Audubon Center and songbird sanctuary (note: public restrooms are closed at this point). Check out the virtual tour (20 Sagamore Hill Road, Oyster Bay, 922-4788, https://www.nps.gov/sahi/planyourvisit/conditions.htm)

Garvies Point Museum and Preserve is a center for research on Long Island geology and the Island’s Native American archaeology. The museum is reopening July 18 (capacity limited to 3-4 family groups at one time). The nature trails (you can really imagine when Native Americans lived here), picnic area (bring a bag lunch), bird & butterfly friendly gardens and Native American Herb Garden, and trails to shoreline are open. Call 516-571-8010 ahead of time to check for availability. (50 Barry Drive, Glen Cove NY 11542. 571-8010, www.garviespointmuseum.com)

Garvies Point is a center for research for Long Island geology and Native American archaeology © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park landscape and tree planting was designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead, who designed New York’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Located on the Connetquot River it has 690 acres of lawns and open meadows, a wildflower garden, a marshy refuge, and paths ideal for bird watching. The grounds are open but the English Tudor-style manor house is closed at this time. (440 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, https://bayardcuttingarboretum.com/

Bethpage State Park has five golf courses including Bethpage Black, home of the U.S. Open in 2002 and 2009, and the only public course on the PGA tour. Its narrow fairways and high roughs have been the scourge of many of the game’s best-known players. Facilities include four other color-coded 18-hole championship-length courses and a clubhouse/restaurant. You can also picnic, hike, bike (there is an outstanding bike path), play tennis and horseback ride on 1,475 acres (For information about Bethpage State Park Golf Course, 516-249-0700).

Jones Beach State Park, the largest public beach in the world, offers 6.5 miles of uninterrupted Atlantic Ocean beachfront, two public swimming pools and a smaller beach on Zach’s Bay. The Jones Beach Boardwalk spans two miles of the white sand beach. Along the boardwalk perimeter are basketball courts and deck games, a band shell offering free concerts and social dancing, plus a miniature golf course. You can surf cast on the beach and fish from piers, tie up your boat at a marina.

Biking the boardwalk at Jones Beach State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Since 2011, State Parks has completed and started more than $100 million in projects to restore Jones Beach State Park’s historic grandeur, attract new visitors and create new recreational facilities. Projects completed include the rehabilitation of the West Bathhouse Complex and Field 6, restoration of the historic Central Mall mosaics, new playgrounds at the West Games Area and Zach’s Bay, new gateway signage, completion of the new Boardwalk Café restaurant, and a new WildPlay Adventure park with zip lines, and a 4.5 mile Jones Beach Shared Use Path along Ocean Parkway. This season, visitors will see $6.6 million in improvements: the West Games Area features a new mini-golf course, new cornhole and pickleball courts as well as refurbished courts for shuffleboard and paddle tennis.

With the state and Long Island’s improving COVID-19 situation, concessions are now allowed to open with restrictions at state ocean and lakefront beaches, including popular destinations such as Jones Beach, Robert Moses, Sunken Meadow, and Lake Welch in Harriman State Park.

Along with all 180 New York state parks, capacity is restricted (you can check online to see if daily limits have been reached, 518-474-0456, https://parks.ny.gov/parks/)

For more Long Island attractions ideas and information on “travel confidently”, visit discoverlongisland.com.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Driveable Summer Destinations: Cape Cod Welcomes Visitors

Ocean Edge beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cape Cod, MA  — If ever there was a time for a Cape Cod getaway, it is now, and with health numbers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts accommodating  the safe reopening of businesses and organizations, Cape Cod’s beaches, trails, golf offer well-deserved respite.

The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, regional tourism council for the entire Cape region, has provided guidance for visitors:

LODGING, DINING and WHAT’S NEXT

Cape-wide, lodging establishments, restaurants (indoor and outdoor dining), personal services (day spas, salons, etc.) are open. This month, bars, museums, fitness gyms and everything besides nightclubs and large venues were reopening under Phase III of Reopening Massachusetts.

BEACHES, LAKES, PONDS, RIVERS & WATERWAYS

Across the 70-mile peninsula Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds, Atlantic Ocean, Cape Cod and Buzzard Bays beaches are open — including Cape Cod National Seashore’s six dazzling beaches. Inland, hundreds of lakes and ponds, more than a dozen rivers and other waterways offer unique and refreshing ways to explore the Cape without the crowds. Kayak, SUP, canoe, sail, motorboat, Jet ski, water ski or swim the Cape’s pristine waterways. Windsurfer alert: Hyannis’ Kalmus Beach (at the end of Ocean Street, with a dedicated surfing area of the water) and West Dennis Beach (on the road of the same name) are favorite wind- and kite-surfing locations because of their favorable high winds. It’s also fun to watch from the beach.

Town Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

HIKING, WALKING and MOUNTAIN BIKING

Visitors who wish to get some exercise (or practice extreme social distancing), take a hike! Throughout Cape Cod’s 400 square miles there are miles of hiking, walking and mountain biking trails comprising Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries (no dogs please), Trustees of Reservations nature reservations, US Fish & Wildlife Service wildlife refuges, MA Wildlife Management Areas (Frances Crane in Falmouth and Hyannis Ponds in Hyannis), Barnstable Land Trust and 15 Town conservations trusts. Within these pristine land tracts, find peace and serenity, varied hiking, walking and mountain biking terrains from beginner to extreme, a wide variety of flora and fauna including more than 100 varieties of trees. One can also find the unique characteristic of coastal marshes offer superb opportunities to view wildlife and typical coastal wetlands biome, such as ferns, bulrushes, cattails, reeds, sedges, and rushes. These lands are ideal for plein air painting, photography, bird watching as well as more active pursuits.

In Provincetown, walk across Provincetown Harbor on the boulder-ed Breakwater to Long Point (about 1½ miles one way) to explore Long Point and see Long Point and Wood End Lighthouses up close. Walk back or take the Long Point Shuttle over or back (be aware, high tide is not a safe time to cross!).

CULTURE & HISTORY

Explore the Cape & Islands Bookstore Trail, a great way to get out and visit some new parts of the cape and score a great read. History and culture buffs can find much to enjoy along the Cape Cod Museum Trail featuring 80 museums, historical societies and other cultural locations. In the Town of Yarmouth, be one of the first to explore the Olde Cape Cod Discovery Trail, including the ever-popular Edward Gorey House, celebrating the life and work of this enigmatic American writer, illustrator, playwright and set designer who purchased this unassuming house in 1970 and lived here until his death in 2000. On this enchanting Trail, discover natural beauty and historic heritage in Yarmouth. While in Yarmouth, take a Town-wide tour of the 17 whimsical sand sculptures along the Town’s Sand Sculpture Trail using this downloadable map and perhaps win a prize by entering the annual Sand Sculpture Trail Photo Contest (details on the website).

Enjoying Heritage Museums & Gardens, Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Heritage Museums & Gardens’ many gardens and nature trails are open for strolling, as is the Café, although its museums and collections remain shuttered for the present.

Along Hyannis Harbor, HyArts Artists Shanties are open daily (Hyannis Harbor Overlook shanties, just opposite at the end of the Walkway to the Sea, is opening). These small fishing shack-style structures provide Cape Cod artists and artisans space to work and sell at these “seaside studios.” Visitors can stroll, speak to artists and artisans, take pictures and enjoy the harborside location and nearby restaurants.

Old King’s Highway (also called Route 6A), runs 62 miles along the Cape’s northern coast through nearly all the Cape’s towns from Bourne to Provincetown. This meandering former Native American path was a principal east-west cart route for early Cape farmers and settlers. In the 17th century it evolved into an extension of Plymouth’s King’s Highway. Along the Highway, view four centuries of architecture (including former sea captains’ homes), centuries-old stone walls, and find shops, galleries, restaurants, scenic pullovers, museums, and Cape Playhouse (oldest summer theater in America). A Cape map with helpful markers and hyperlinks can be downloaded from Google here.

Nothing can be more evocative of Cape Cod than its treasure trove of more than a dozen lighthouses. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nothing can be more evocative of Cape Cod than its treasure trove of more than a dozen lighthouses. These maritime sentinels are nostalgic and, even in the 21st century, vital navigation guideposts for seamen. Most of the Cape’s lighthouses are accessible and some are even open for tours. This map can direct visitors to the Cape’s lighthouses and includes some background and hyperlinks to those that have websites. Many visitors enjoy taking a Cape ‘Lighthouse Tour’ to see how many they can visit while they are on Cape Cod.

For a dazzling look at one of Cape Cod’s most magnificent unexpected and edifices, take a free tour of Church of the Transfiguration at Rock Harbor in Orleans. The architecture, contemporary frescoes, mosaic tile floor and eye-popping apse are truly impressive. It recently built 10-bell 100-foot Bell Tower is topped by a bronze angel statue.  The Church also offers concerts of its E.M. Skinner Organ as well as its choir, Gloriæ Dei Cantores throughout the year.

Museums are scheduled to open during Phase III of Reopening Massachusetts, but dates are somewhat fluid, depending upon health metrics.

CYCLING

Cape Cod, one of the best biking destinations anywhere, offers 114 miles of cycling trails © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cape Cod is one of the best destinations anywhere for cycling, with 114 miles of cycling trails from the Upper to the Outer Cape (on top of generally bike-friendly roads). Among our favorites: Cape Cod Canal’s Cycling Trails are 7.1 miles, paved and off-road, along each side of the Canal. Falmouth’s 10.7-mile Shining Sea Bikeway rail trail is truly a coastal treasure hugging the Buzzards Bay coast from Woods Hole to North Falmouth past Sippewissett Marsh, cranberry bogs and overlooking Chapaquoit Beach. Cape Cod Rail Trail, now running from South Yarmouth to South Wellfleet is 25.7 miles end to end, including a new bridge over Bass River and other improvements.

Besides the larger, better known trails, there are several other cycling trails such as Chatham Loop (five-mile loop accessible from Chatham Fish Pier); Nauset Marsh Trail (3¼ miles roundtrip from Doane Rock picnic area to Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, intersecting with Cape Cod Rail trail); Head of the Meadow Trail (two miles; access in Truro at Head of the Meadow Beach parking area; its runs to Head of the Meadow Beach); Province Lands Trail (7½ miles; challenging paved loop through majestic dunes to Herring Cove and Race Point Beaches in Provincetown. This hilly loop starts from the Province Lands Visitor Center in Provincetown).

Biking the Shining Sea Path, Cape Cod, Massachusetts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

WHALE WATCHES

One of Cape Cod’s most popular and exciting activities is whale watching, which run through October. Reports of many whales just offshore continue to arrive from fishing boats. Whale watches depart from Provincetown and Barnstable lasting approximately four hours. (Be sure to bring sunglasses, sunblock, sweatshirt and, of course, a camera.)

FISHING

Nothing like the thrill of reeling in a great striper of other fish. Whether at the Cape Cod Canal, taking a fishing charter, going out on a friend’s boat, surfcasting or shell fishing, Cape Cod is the place for anglers. Massachusetts does not require a license for recreational saltwater angling; here are MA saltwater fishing regulations. To clam for quahogs or oysters, a license required from Town where gathering will be done for anyone age 14+.

Fishing along the Cape Cod Canal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

GOLF

Cape Cod golf clubs are open, with restrictions such as shorter hours (contact the golf club for reservations).

DRIVE-IN THEATRES

Wellfleet Drive-In has been the Cape’s only drive-in since 1957. But this summer the following drive-ins will open, with limited space for distancing, but offering new movie viewing options.

West Yarmouth Drive-In | 669 Route 28, West Yarmouth (on Parker’s River); two screens.

Main Street, Hyannis Drive-In | Parking lot at corner Main Street & High School Road, 50 cars max; $20 /car; six consecutive Fridays starting 3 July 2020.

Heritage Drive-In | Route 130 Sandwich; admission $15, admission for military members, seniors, and children 11 and under is $12.

DINING

Cape Cod’s culinary scene runs the gamut from clam shacks to haute cuisine. Many Cape restaurants are renowned for decades with new eateries calling the Cape home as food trends and opportunities flourish. In addition, check out the Cape Cod Beverage Trail featuring craft beer and spirits. Finn’s Craft Brew Tap House opened in Hyannis! In Chatham, make a stop at the popular Chatham Fish Pier where visitors can watch the day’s catch be offloaded afternoons from the observation deck (there is also a fish market offering fresh fish and take away cooked seafood).

GETTING HERE and AROUND

Air carriers are flying, CapeFLYER’s weekend service between Boston South Station and the Cape with stops in Braintree, Brockton, Middleborough/Lakeville, Wareham Village, Buzzards Bay, Bourne and Hyannis runs through Labor Day. Plymouth & Brockton and Peter Pan Bus Lines offer transportation between Boston, Providence and Cape Cod (several locations). Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority offers Cape-wide transportation year-round. If traveling onward to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, air and ferry transportation (Steamship Authority, Hy Line Cruises, Freedom Boat Lines, Island Queen, Patriot Party Boats, Bay State Cruises, Boston Harbor Cruises and Ptown Fast Ferry) are running on schedule. 

For additional information about visiting Cape Cod call 888-33CAPECOD, visit www.capecodchamber.org. To download a digital copy or order a 2020 Cape Cod Travel Guide, follow hyperlinks. For additional information on reopening Cape Cod, visit the Chamber’s dedicated website at www.reopeningcapecod.org.

National Parks: This Summer’s Go-To Vacation Happy Place

Grand Canyon National Park. Visiting national parks this summer could be just what the doctor ordered to revitalize © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

In a weirdly awful bad news/good news way, this year is probably the best ever to visit one of America’s iconic national parks and the national parks have never been more important to revitalize our national and personal spirit. But if ever you wanted to get some sense of how it was back-in-the-day, this is it, precisely because capacity in accommodations are limited and the millions of international visitors who come each year are not coming. The National Park Service received more than 327.5 million visit in 2019, and there will be a clamoring for Americans with a renewed vigor to See America and leave the cities for the great outdoors, which means getting a place to stay will be problematic.

“The benefits of getting into nature for a few days are just what the doctor ordered – especially now,” said Cort Wright, Manager of the Moab Adventure Center, which operates programs into Arches National Park, Utah, and on the Colorado River. “As depression and anxiety diminish, our renewed vitality gains a foothold and positive attitudes surface. It will be a joy for us this summer and fall to see our guests transformed by the activities we provide.”
 
According to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota, “being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.” (For the full report see: https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing.)

Here are some vacation ideas:

Hike & Bike North Rim of the Grand Canyon: Providing gently rolling terrain of lung-expanding dimensions, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon has been long-held as sacred ground to hikers and cyclists. Escape Adventures offers an amazing 5-day tour of the North Rim that includes mountain biking, trekking and camping. Trails brimming with wildflowers lead guests to exhilarating hikes along the rim. Crossing over to the west side of the plateau, guests camp alongside one of the most scenic mountain bike paths in the world, the Rainbow Rim Trail. (https://escapeadventures.com/tour/grand-canyon-north-rim-mountain-bike-tour/)

Remote Dude Ranch Getaway: Red Reflet Ranch is a 28,000-acre luxury resort and working ranch on the west slope of the Bighorn Mountains, just minutes from the Bighorn National Forest. It is a scenic three hour drive from Yellowstone National Park. The closest sign of civilization is Ten Sleep, Wyoming, with a population of about 260. Guests stay in their own private chalets, and family-friendly activities include horseback riding, ATVing, ziplining, swimming, fishing, shooting, and indulging in gourmet farm-to-table cuisine. The ranch is open for business now. (https://red-reflet-ranch.net/)

Red Reflet Ranch is a 28,000-acre luxury resort and working ranch on the west slope of the Bighorn Mountains, just minutes from the Bighorn National Forest.

Grand Teton Tiny House Retreat:  Just minutes from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Fireside Resort capitalizes on the tiny house craze and the classic appeal of rustic cottages by offering 25 pint-size, luxuriously outfitted tiny house rental units designed by Wheelhaus. The resort is located a stone’s throw from Grand Teton National Park and the Jackson Hole ski slopes. It is a great place to post up for a ski trip or a summer getaway.  (https://www.firesidejacksonhole.com/)

Big Sky Base Camp: If outdoor adventures like hiking, mountain biking, and fly fishing are your style, look to visit Big Sky, Montana and stay at The Wilson Hotel. Located on the edge of Yellowstone National Park, the town is home to Big Sky Resort and its 5,850 acres of ski terrain, as well as shaded forests, wildflower-filled meadows, rocky mountaintops and clear, cool rivers and streams. (bigskyresort.com)

Bryce & Zion by MTB: Soaring red stone spires and ancient citadels of rich Navajo sandstone give way to haunting hoodoos and curving arches of rock  a geologist’s dream and a mountain biker’s paradise. The rides on this 6-day Escape Adventures tour offer swift lines that wind and wend through deep Alpine meadows and Aspen forests only to spill out onto yawning mesas and buttes. The world-famous trails of Red Canyon’s Thunder Mountain, Cassidy, and Casto Canyon, are but a few of this tour’s many highlights. (https://escapeadventures.com/tour/bryce-and-zion-mountain-bike-tour/)

Great Parks North: Join the Adventure Cycling Association on its Great Parks North Route. This tour follows the Rocky Mountains from Missoula, Montana, to Jasper, Alberta, exploring some the most spectacular national parks the U.S. and Canada has to offer. Great Parks North will highlight Glacier NP, Waterton NP, Banff NP, and Jasper NP. (https://www.adventurecycling.org/guided-tours/self-contained-tours/2020-great-parks-north/)

Xanterra Travel Collection Outlines Re-Opening Plan for Lodging, Dining, Services in Yellowstone National Park

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK (MONTANA & WYOMING) – Xanterra Travel Collection today announced that operations in Yellowstone National Park including lodges, campgrounds, dining and tours will begin a phased re-opening on a limited basis starting June 1.

The decision to re-open was made after closely monitoring the guidance and recommendations of public health agencies such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) as well as federal, state and local governments.

The current schedule for Xanterra operations in Yellowstone National Park has cabins with private baths, campgrounds, take-out food service, gift shops and select tours and activities available as part of a  phased approach to opening beginning on June 8. Opening and closing dates are subject to change based on future conditions and public health guidance as well as the ability to maintain a safe environment for visitors, employees and NPS staff. 

To learn more about Xanterra’s sanitization measures and ongoing efforts to keep employees and guests safe including physical distancing, ongoing cleaning, employee training, personal protective equipment and more, visit https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/health-and-safety/.

Visitors should come prepared and follow all CDC and local health guidance including practicing good hygiene and social distancing, wearing facial coverings in public spaces, and staying home and not visiting the park while sick.

Yellowstone National Park © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

LODGING: At this time, only cabins with private baths are scheduled to open at these locations: Old Faithful Inn, Grant Village and Roosevelt Lodge are currently closed but may reopen in 2020 if conditions allow.

Old Faithful Lodge (June 8-Oct. 4)

Old Faithful Snow Lodge (June 8-Oct. 25)

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel (June 1-Nov. 1)

Lake Yellowstone Hotel (June 17-Oct. 4)

Lake Lodge (June 17-Sept. 2)

Canyon Lodge (June 19-Oct. 12)

CAMPGROUNDS:  Xanterra campgrounds are currently scheduled to open on this schedule:

Madison (June 15-Oct. 18)

Bridge Bay (June 17-Sept. 7)

Grant Village (June 17-Sept. 13)

Canyon (June 19-Sept. 20)

Fishing Bridge RV Park will remain closed through fall of 2021

DINING:  Select dining outlets will be open with “take out” options only. Based on current public health guidelines, dining room seating and dinner reservations are not available.

Mammoth Hot Springs Area: Terrace Grill (June 1-Oct. 12)

Old Faithful Area: Geyser Grill at Snow Lodge (May 22-Oct. 25); Old Faithful Lodge Bake Shop (June 8-Oct. 4); Old Faithful Lodge Cafeteria (June 8-Oct. 3)

Canyon Area: The Eatery at Canyon Lodge (June 19-Oct. 12)

Yellowstone Lake Area: Wiley’s Canteen at Lake Lodge (June 17-Oct. 4); Lake Lodge Lobby Bar (June 17-Oct. 3)

Grant Village Area:  Grant Village Dining Room (June 17-Sept. 13)

LIMITED GUIDED ACTIVITIES AND TOURS: Tours and activities will be limited to guide boats, boat rentals, backcountry shuttle, and dock slips at the marina, horseback rides at Canyon Lodge Corral, and bike rentals at Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Road-based tours, Scenicruise tours, Stagecoach rides, or the Old West Cookout will not be offered. Pricing and other details can be found online (https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/adventures/)

Bike Rentals at Old Faithful Snow Lodge (June 8-Sept. 7 or as weather permits, reservations not accepted)                                                        

Bridge Bay Marina/Dock Slips (June 17-Sept. 13)

Boat Rentals (June 17-Sept. 6, first come, first served, reservations not accepted)

Guided Fishing/Sightseeing Boats (June 17-Sept 13)

Backcountry Shuttle Boat (June 17-Sept. 13)

Canyon Lodge Corrals, Horseback Rides (June 18-Sept. 7)

Private Tours: Yellowstone Forever is the official nonprofit educational and fund-raising partner of Yellowstone National Park. Information about their private tours can be found here or by calling 406-848-2400. 

SHOPPING:  Select Xanterra gift stores will be open, but with controlled access to comply with distancing standards:

Mammoth Hotel (June 1-Oct. 12)

Old Faithful Snow Lodge (May 22-Nov. 1)

Old Faithful Lodge (June 8-Oct. 4)

Lake Yellowstone Hotel (June 17-Oct. 4)

Canyon Lodge (June 19- Oct. 12)

Lake Lodge (June 17-Oct. 4)

Madison Campground (June 15-Oct. 18)

For updates on the opening of Xanterra operations in Yellowstone National Park, visit https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/health-and-safety/. For reservations, visit https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/, or call 307-344-7311. For updates on the three-phased plan for re-opening Yellowstone National Park as well as the latest information on NPS operations in Yellowstone, visit www.nps.gov/yell.

With nine unique lodging options, including the renowned historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Yellowstone National Park Lodges allows you to have the ultimate park experience. Staying in the park is the best way for visitors to experience all it has to offer, including the exciting wildlife watching. Once the day-visitors leave, Yellowstone remains for the in-park overnight guests alone. Yellowstone National Park Lodges offer tours and activities guided by Certified Interpretive Guides that help create memorable experiences. For more information on lodging, tours, and vacation packages visit, yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call 307-344-7311.

Known for its “Legendary Hospitality with a Softer Footprint,” Xanterra Travel Collection provides unforgettable experiences through its operations in national parks, including lodges, restaurants, tours, and activities, as well as through its ownership of resorts, a cruise line, a railway, and tour companies. Xanterra has operations in Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Zion, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Parks, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Xanterra Travel Collection also owns and operates the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel in Williams, Ariz., The Grand Hotel in Tusayan, Ariz., The Oasis at Death Valley in Death Valley Calif., Windstar Cruises, Holiday Vacations, VBT Bicycling Vacations, and Country Walkers.  Xanterra is also affiliated with two Forbes Five-Star Resorts, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO and Sea Island on the coast of Georgia.

With Reopening of Arches National Park, Moab Adventure Center Counts on Nature to Restore the Pandemic Weary

MOAB, UT– Arches National Park in the world’s favorite red rock playground of Moab, Utah, has reopened to visitors. Guided tours of this iconic park have resumed, along with a variety of half-day, full-day and overnight river rafting programs along the Colorado River.

Arches National Park, Utah has reopened.


Moab Adventure Center, a full-service resource for the adventure-minded, suggests three guided park tours to nudge the housebound into the outdoors. The company is also armed with newly instituted COVID-19 mitigation and operations protocols (see: https://www.moabadventurecenter.com/covid-19
 
Guided Tours of Arches National Park: Daily morning and sunset tours of Arches National Park help interpret the 150 million years of geology and nature that have created this masterpiece of more than 2,000 arches – the highest concentration on the planet. Tour rates are $89 for adults and $79 for ages 5 to 12. See: https://www.moabadventurecenter.com/arches-national-park-tours

Moab Adventure Center offers tours into Arches National Park, Utah.


A third tour offers a breathtaking aerial tour of the park. Departing mid-morning, the half-hour flyover views formations such as Courthouse Towers, North and South Window Arches, Delicate Arch, Devil’s Garden, the Colorado River, Fisher Towers, and Castle Valley. Youth two and under fly free on a parent’s lap. Tour rates are $109 for adults and $55 for youth 3 to 12. For details see: https://www.moabadventurecenter.com/arches-national-park-air-tours
 
Colorado River Tours: Full and half-day rafting adventures on the Colorado River along the southern border of Arches National Park can also be arranged through the Moab Adventure Center. A half-day morning tour showcases the mild to moderate rapids under a background of red rock cliffs, spires and buttes. Rates are $74 for adults and $64 for ages 5 to 12. Another half-day option comes with a BBQ lunch. Rates are $89 for adults and $79 ages 5 to 12. A full day on the river, with lunch, is a memorable seven-hour excursion. Rates are $109 for adults and $79 for age 5 to 12. (For details see: https://www.moabadventurecenter.com/moab-river-tours.)
 
As of May 1, 2020, the Southeast Utah Health Department authorized a phased reopening of businesses in and around Moab. Lodging, commercial campgrounds, restaurants and activities are now available and operating within recommended guidelines. The town is seeing quite an influx of visitors as so many now are choosing an outdoor vacation as the best escape with loved ones.
 
Moab Adventure Center is offering most of its regularly scheduled activities along with new private tours (www.moabadventurecenter.com/private-tours). These include exclusive Hummer Safari outings for up to nine people; private canyoneering adventures; exclusive Arches National Park morning tours; private stand-up paddle boarding lessons for up to six people; and private Moab rock climbing outings for up to four people.
 
Moab Adventure Center is a division of Western River Expeditions (http://www.westernriver.com/) an adventure travel company headquartered in Salt Lake City, with operations and offices in Moab and Fredonia, AZ. The company is the largest single tour provider in Moab, Utah. The Moab Adventure Center is located at 225 South Main St., Moab, UT 84532. For information and reservations call (435) 259-7019 or (866) 904-1163. The center also has a 2,000-square-foot retail space selling adventure related gear, clothing, maps and souvenirs.

Moterra Luxury Camper Vans

You’ve probably now heard of glamping – luxury camping. Now there is a novel way to experience the national parks and wilderness by luxury camper van.

With all the luxury of a 50-foot long RV, but, at 19-foot long, the size of an SUV, without the cumbersome size that makes it difficult to drive and park, and even the need to plug into electricity (the vans are powered with rooftop solar panels) or water (they hold 24-gallons of fresh water), their own sink, cooking facility, refrigerator and even their own bathroom facilities (a couple actually have its own shower and toilet, but others have port-o-potty), these camper vans give a new level of mobility. The vans can be used in tent camping spots in National Parks, so you can stay away from the noisy RV parks.

Founded by Gabe Aufderheide and Trevor James who were formerly with Backroads, the company offers these are specially outfitted Mercedes Benz Sprinters, built out by Sportsmobile, in Yellowstone, Wyoming; the Grand Tetons; Utah; Glacier National Park (Montana); and California.

These camper vans come with bluetooth audio, cruise-control and touch-screen navigation. A backup camera, blind spot sensors and lane assist technology make maneuvering a breeze. You don’t have to stay in an RV park, but can go wherever tents are allowed.

The vans come equipped with absolutely everything you need for camping, from sleeping stuff (memory foam pillow!), to cooking (marshmallow skewers) and dining, cleaning supplies, amenities like chairs and table, inflatable solar lights, even bear spray.

Moterra luxury camper van.

There are two models to choose from: The High Roof is perfect for couples- it includes a queen sized bed in the back, as well as a kitchen, sink, indoor shower and portable toilet. The Pop Top, which sleeps four, is perfect for families- it has both a double bed down below, and a double bed up top  in the Pop Top! While the Pop Top does not have an Indoor Shower, it offers a solar shower that can be used outside, and it also includes a sink and stove. Both models are rented for $319 a night.

Add-ons available include hammocks & bike racks, services such as pre-bought groceries and airport pick-ups, and packaged and customized tour itineraries.

All-inclusive packages consist of:

  • Moterra Campervan Rental and cleaning fee
  • Day-by-day personalized Itinerary with directions and destination info.
  • Pre-booked campsites, handpicked and booked in advance where possible, or GPS locations for off-the-grid dispersed camping spots.
  • Scenic Routes that take you to the heart of the action while minimizing road traffic.
  • Individualized suggestions depending on your preferences for hiking, scenic attractions, restaurants and activities.
  • A wide range of activities to make the trip your own, like white-water rafting, wildlife safaris, road biking, horseback-riding, kayaking and scenic floats.

For example, a 10-day/9-night Mighty 5: Utah’s Desert National Parks is priced from $5499, providing two-days each in Zion National Park, Bryce National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park.

A six-night/seven-day package offers the highlights of Yellowstone National Park and The Grand Tetons National Park (from $3699).

Moterra operates out of Jackson, WY, Whitefish, MT, Salt Lake City, UT and San Francisco, CA.

Moterra Camper Vans, 2950 West Big Trail Drive, Jackson, Wyoming, 307-200-7220,
info@gomoterra.com, gomoterra.com.

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Where to Go to Reclaim Summer Vacation from COVID’s Grip

Discovery Bicycle Tours, operating out of Woodstock, Vermont, is promoting private and small-group tours through uncrowded rural areas, within driving distance of Northeast’s major metros this summer © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Memorial Day typically is the start of the summer vacation season. But this Memorial Day and this summer season is anything but typical. Still, because of the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and explore uncrowded areas, summer may be the best time over the next many months to escape neighborhood boundaries and travel. Face it, some destinations, some travel experiences are better suited than others in this time of coronavirus pandemic, and travelers need to have confidence that travel providers, authorities and communities have taken all precautions to provide a safe, healthy environment where they are traveling.

Travelers, too, bear responsibility to not become infected or inadvertently carry infection to other places: wearing masks, washing hands frequently with soap, socially distancing, and self-quarantining when not feeling well. Some localities even have 14-day quarantine periods imposed on any visitor (check), and some communities may be less than welcoming to tourists from areas known to have had high infection rates. New Yorkers, for example, may be welcomed with less than open arms, but the good news is that New York has made it exceptionally easy to get tested, so travelers can move about with a sense of confidence (recognizing that a test only reflects that moment in time).

Indeed, instead of shutting down tourism altogether – punishing local economies that depend on tourism – places that impose a 14-day quarantine might instead take a result of a test that either affirms the traveler is not carrying COVID-19 infection or has the antibodies to indicate they have already had the infection; some might even set up their own testing stations at the “border” – the toll booths on the highway or the airports – where a tourist can immediately be tested and stay over a night, rather than 14 days, for the result – much as nations require proof of vaccines. Such measures would also inspire confidence in other travelers that they won’t become exposed.

Very possibly, the most difficult part of organizing a summer vacation will be access in light of limits on capacity. For this reason, going through an experienced, well-respected tour company which can provide services with the heightened attention to wellness, has permits and accommodations, will be key.

Here are some suggestions for your summer vacation:

Austin Adventures Responds to Renewed Interest With Custom, Small-Group Programs

Austin Adventures is seeing an uptick in requests as national parks reopen.

Austin Adventures is “definitely seeing an uptick in domestic travel requests as the national parks of the west express their opening plans,” says Dan Austin, founder and CEO of the travel company. “Many want exclusive departures. We have a new program to accommodate these requests. We are using private cabins and estates and providing full service guided adventures using these properties as a base camp.

“Guides will pick up guests at the airport and provide full services by day, tucking the guests into their private retreats by night. All vans and equipment are sanitized daily per CDC guidelines and following the lead set by airline carriers. Strict social distancing guidelines will be followed in all public areas. Guest will enjoy getting out on the trails and into the backcountry away from crowds. Activities like rafting and horseback riding will all be done in a private group setting.” 

Austin is setting up scheduled small group departures, adding an extra vehicle – two vans for 12 guests – to keep group size small even while transporting guests.

Planning is made a bit more complicated because the various national parks are opening with different timelines and new regulations, each set by the individual park superintendent all based on what’s best for their park and guests, Austin says.

Austin Adventures is designing private and small-group tours ideal for families.

“Yellowstone is our top seller and while there will be limited accommodations in the park opening and lots of new COVID rules, we will be back running tours June 14.” A key advantage is that Austin is fully permitted and capable of following the strict COVID-19 guidelines.

The company also expects to operate in the Grand Tetons, Wyoming, and Bryce and Zion in Utah, as well as Alaska.

“All starting a bit later but running in some capacity   A couple of casualties of COVID is our Canadian Rockies adventure – because of strict quarantine rules [still not allowing nonessential travel from the United States across its border] and our Glacier National Park trip because of the uncertainty as to when and how it will open. Hotel openings are key and often alternates must be found outside the parks.”

Austin Adventures, Billings, Montana, 800-575-1540, 405-655-4591, www.austinadventures.com.

Western River Expeditions Draws on 60 Years Experience to Devise Protocols to Keep Families Adventuring this Summer

Where in the world – and how – will families vacation this summer?

“Given months of pandemic-driven lock-down orders, what will be attractive will be vacations that embrace fresh air and the healing powers of nature that can work wonders on family spirits and recovery,” says Western River Expeditions.
 
The company is drawing on its nearly 60 years operating top-quality river rafting vacations for individuals, families and friends to address pandemic-related challenges. Here are some of many steps the company is taking to counter COVID-19 fears. 

  • Screening Employees: Every day before work, each employee must pass both a temperature and pulse oximeter screen, and then answer a detailed questionnaire.
  • Screening Guests at Check-in: Guests exhibiting temperatures of 100.4 or higher will not be allowed to travel with Western River Expeditions at the time they planned; instead, they will receive an “Adventure Credit” which allows the guest and any members of the group who were currently living at the same physical address during any of the 7 days prior to the trip to use the full paid value of their trip as a credit for a future trip at a later date.
  • Screening while on Multi-Day Trips: All trip participants and guides will have a daily temperature and pulse oximeter checks and fill out a daily review of symptoms questionnaire. 

New protocols have been put in place should someone experience COVID-19 symptoms during a trip. In such case, steps will be taken to protect other guests from exposure during the remainder of that trip. There also will be protocols for toilet facilities, hand washing stations and social distancing (when feasible) as well as reduced number of guests per raft.
 
The company will also implement specific guidelines that address everything from life-jacket use and sanitation, to meal prep and service, use of shuttle vans, number of people per shuttle vehicle, sanitation of rafts, dry bags, cots, sleeping bags and all associated equipment. For more details on Western River Expeditions’ specific protocols see www.westernriver.com/covid-19
 

Western River Expeditions plans to offer its famed rafting adventures this summer with special protocols.

Western River Expeditions is expecting to operate late spring and summer 2020 trips, subject to the easing of government-mandated closures. Three trips in particular are ideal for families:

  • Desolation Canyon, a five-day trip through breathtaking Desolation Canyon and Gray Canyon on the Green River in central Utah. Trips are scheduled to depart June 7 through Aug. 12 with a minimum age of five years old (see www.westernriver.com/desolation-canyon
  • Southwest Sampler, a four-day adventure that includes an off-road Hummer Safari, Arches National Park tour and overnight rafting trip as well as a stay at Moab’s Marriott SpringHill Suites. Departures are scheduled May 26 through Aug. 26. If National Park closures affect the operation of the Arches National Park tour, guests will explore another stunning location in Moab (see  https://www.westernriver.com/moab-utah-vacation-sampler)
  • Grand Canyon, the three-day option still has some limited space on certain dates from June 21st through September. Conveniently departing and returning to Las Vegas, NV, this 100-mile journey is suitable for families with kids as young as nine (see https://www.westernriver.com/grand-canyon-river-trip
Western River Expeditions is recommending three family tours this summer.

Other adventures from Western River Expeditions include:

Utah’s Cataract Canyon Classic 4 Day: These should operate June 2 through August 25. This spectacular 4-Day Colorado River trip runs 100 miles from Moab to Lake Powell through Canyonlands National Park. A flight returns guests to Moab over Canyonlands.

Cataract Canyon Express 2 Day: This faster-paced 2-Day Colorado River trip runs 100 miles from Moab to Lake Powell through Canyonlands National Park. Large whitewater rapids are a big part of this adventure!

Upper Grand Canyon 6 or 7 Day: Trips starting June 14 and later are currently scheduled to operate. Select trips June through September have limited availability. The upper 188 miles of the Grand Canyon offer some of the largest whitewater rapids in North America and a plethora of side canyon attractions. 

Lower Grand Canyon 4 Day with Bar Ten Ranch: All 4 day departures from June 21sthrough September are expected to operate; limited space is available on select departures in 2020.

Western River Expeditions is an adventure travel company headquartered in Salt Lake City, with operations and offices in Moab, Utah and Fredonia, Arizona. From March through October, the company guides more people down rivers in Utah, Idaho and Arizona than any other company. It is the one of largest licensed outfitters in the Grand Canyon and the largest single tour provider in Moab, UT, through its Moab Adventure Center division (http://www.moabadventurecenter.com/).
 
Western River Expeditions, Salt Lake City, UT,  866-904-1160, 801-942-6669, www.westernriver.com.

Luxury Active Vacations from Butterfield & Robinson

Butterfield & Robinson Experience Designers have been diligently researching, collaborating with long-trusted partners to offer programs with increased safety measures, mindful activities and more flexible booking policies.

The result is a curated selection of experiences in remote locations—from rustic-chic cabins to island-perched hotels—that, when combined with wide-open spaces, create the perfect setting to start exploring again.

The luxury active vacations company is focusing on private groups of family and friends who are looking for exclusive experiences at remote high end properties or luxury camping. The price point is around $700-1000 per person, per day. The options range from guided biking and walking experiences to lodge- based single stay experiences. For example:

Venture to the Wild West for private cabin stays or full takeovers of luxury ranches like Wyoming’s Brush Creek and The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana. Or head to Colorado and settle into a cottage at Dunton Hot Springs, where you can gallop on horseback through the San Juan Mountains and let your stress melt away in a natural outdoor pool.

Butterfield and Robinson makes it possible to venture to the Wild West for private cabin stays or full takeovers of luxury ranches this summer.

In California’s wine country, innovative winemaking techniques fuse with fresh, farm-to-table food. Pair with properties like the sophisticated SingleThread or the dreamy Auberge du Soleil.

In the rust-colored desert expanses of Utah, choose how you interact with the landscape, whether it’s a stay at the sleek and restorative Amangiri resort or a private houseboat charter (complete with a private chef!) on Lake Powell. Elevate the experience with luxury camping on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for a secluded moment in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Say aloha to paradisiacal beaches, active volcanoes and sky-high waterfalls for some adventure further afield in Hawaii. Check in at the Mauna Lani on the Kohala coast and fill your days with water sports, epic hikes or a round of golf before kicking back in the evening with Mai Tais.

Butterfield & Robinson, Toronto, Ontario, 866-551-9090, http://butterfield.com/

Discovery Bicycle Tours: Yes You Can Bike This Summer

Discovery Bicycle Tours, operating from Woodstock, Vermont, is resuming operations in destinations that have reopened for outdoor adventures, with important new health precautions in place. The company is also highlighting its small-group active vacations and can customize private tours (https://discoverybicycletours.com/private-tours)

The trips are organized to bike through rural places where you can leave the crowds behind and bike freely, and with fewer inn transfers.

“Our small tours are carefully crafted to provide personal choices for your comfort. You have options to dine with a small group, outside or in your own room. Each inn and restaurant on tour has new protocols to comply with local health rules,” writes Chief Customer Officer Thistle Cone, who recently bought the bike tour company with Scott Cone.

“Our leaders are adding extra cleanings of vans and bikes and will provide more social distancing for van transfers. Bring a comfy mask — and we will have extras.”

Idyllic country scenes greet Discovery Bicycle Tours cyclists just outside Woodstock, Vermont (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the July and August six-day tour offerings now booking:

Crater Lake & Scenic Bikeways: July 26-31, Aug. 9-14
Lake Champlain Islands: Aug. 16-21, Aug. 30-Sept. 4
Coast of Maine: July 19-24, Aug. 16-21, Aug. 23-28
Idaho Trails: July 5-10, Aug. 22-27
Great Allegheny Passage: Aug. 30-Sept. 4

“Looking for an East Coast getaway that’s a short drive from the major metro areas? Stay tuned to our website for more Vermont tours to be added soon … most in August through October.” 

Discovery Bicycle Tours, Woodstock, Vermont, 800-257-2226, info@discoverybicycletours.com, discoverybicycletours.com.

New Jersey’s Beach Mecca The Wildwoods Reopens

The Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement & Development Authority (GWTIDA) has been tirelessly working with the Greater Wildwood Hotel and Motel Association, Wildwood Business Improvement District (WBID), the Wildwood Special Improvement District (WSID), the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce and area businesses to set up initiatives such as enhanced sanitizing protocols, as well as expanding seating in restaurants out onto the sidewalks and adjacent parking lots for al fresco dining, enhanced sanitizing and spacing on amusement rides and all surfaces, social distancing procedures in ride queue lines, sanitizing of rental bikes, boats, jet skis, kayaks and of course promoting the wide spacious beaches where visitors can stretch out and relax with plenty of room to practice social distancing. 

“We are pleased to report that the Wildwoods are open for business for the 2020 summer season,” said Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority (GWTIDA) Executive Director/CFO John Siciliano. “Health and safety is a top priority for the Wildwoods, and every precaution is being taken to assure that all who visit feel safe and comfortable,” he added.

The famous beaches of The Wildwoods, New Jersey are reopened this summer.

North Wildwood and Wildwood beaches and boardwalk has reopened to limited activity; the cities’ parks and bike paths are reopened and Wildwood Crest beaches, parks, bike paths, and sport courts for non-group play are open. In addition, hotels, motels and short-term rental properties are scheduled to begin reopening in Wildwood and North Wildwood on May 26 and Wildwood Crest properties will reopen on June 1.

Short-term rental properties, like all aspects of reopening the Wildwoods for the summer, will take measures to meet social distancing guidelines by initially opening at 60 percent capacity. Increased sanitizing and cleaning protocols, especially in high-touch areas, will be encouraged to ensure an optimal visitor experience. Additional measures may include having later check-in times to allow additional time for guest room preparation and enhanced sanitizing.

The Wildwoods offer 11,000 room accommodations – including 8,000 hotel and motel rooms, and 3,000 vacation rentals. The mid-century themed hotels/motels throughout the five-mile island developed during the era of burgeoning automotive travel of the 1950s – which is making a comeback in this New Normal.

 “The designs and architectural features pay tribute to the post-war pop culture. Their architecture continues to memorialize the bold spirit of a newly restless society, while motel names conjure up tropical paradises and other exotic destinations.”

Visitors must adhere to the social distancing guidelines set forth by Governor Phil Murphy; all activities are subject to the orders of the Governor.

Walking, running, fishing and sunbathing are welcomed on the beaches. Physical activities such as biking, walking and running may take place on the boardwalk. Boardwalk establishments offering takeout-only food, will also be open for business. Municipal parks and playgrounds will be open; however, playground equipment will remain closed. Everyone is encouraged to use best practices for social distancing, including wearing masks while enjoying the beach and boardwalk. Sitting and gathering in groups is prohibited.

The Wildwoods’ five-miles of free white-sand beaches serve as the ideal location for visitors to clear their minds and enjoy the calming benefits of ‘Beach Therapy’. The beaches offer an award-winning and spacious stretch of sand to relax, recharge, and reunite with friends and family. In addition to being the perfect place for relaxation, the beach gives visitors a wonderful opportunity to exercise freely and spend quality time with family.

Another way to recharge, get physical exercise and enjoy the beautiful summer air – all while keeping a safe distance from fellow visitors – is taking part in the Wildwoods’ ‘bikeability’. Take in the breathtaking views of the Wildwoods, starting at the far southern end of the island along the Dunes Bike Path in Wildwood Crest, up onto the Wildwoods’ 2.5-mile Boardwalk, and through North Wildwood’s Muhlbury Bike Path to the North Wildwood Sea Wall – a scenic, leisurely 12-mile round trip route. You can also ride bikes-only lanes through downtowns and around the entire island.  

Golf courses can be found all across Cape May County – from Cape May National to the south to Shore Gate Golf Club to the north – and offer a variety of playing levels from beginner to scratch golfer.

Known as the ‘two miles of smiles,’ the iconic Wildwoods Boardwalk is pure sensory overload with three amusement piers with 100 rides and attractions, carnival-style games, flashing arcades, shops and irresistible food. The Wildwoods food & beverage establishments are doing their part in abiding to safe distancing guidelines by offering curbside pick-up, delivery, and al fresco dining options.

For additional information about The Wildwoods, New Jersey, call 800-992-9732 or visit www.WildwoodsNJ.com

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

We’re on Vacation! Great Ideas for Families to Get Out, Go & Do this Summer

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Travel ignites curiosity, lays the foundation for learning, opens minds and hearts, forges bonds and builds lifelong memories. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s officially the start of the summer family vacation season! Getting out and experiencing things first hand is the best way to cultivate learning, open minds and hearts. Travel experiences engage children, forge bonds and build lifelong memories. Here are some “get out there and do it” summer family vacation ideas:

Family Adventures

Looking for adventure, for discovery, for immersion in culture, heritage or the natural world? Many of the most respected ecotourism and adventure operators offer special itineraries tailored for families:

While on safari to see tigers, visiting a school in Kahna, India. “The mix of wildlife and cultural experiences in India is particularly suited to parents who want to ignite their family’s passion to make a difference in the world. It will instill a genuine sense of gratitude and appreciation for life, for the opportunities we have, and for the things we take for granted.” Wildplanet has a family-focused program to India. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wild Planet Adventures has family-focused departures in Costa Rica, Africa, Borneo, Brazil, Costa Rica, Galapagos, India, Laos, Nepal, Panama, Peru, Thailand and Zambia. “If your kid lives for Animal Planet, then their eyes will light up when you bring them to visit the same world famous Sloth Sanctuary they saw on the Discovery Channel, where baby sloths are being fed with an eye-dropper at their breakfast table. They’ll go crazy for our hands-on wildlife rescue center in Costa Rica, our treehouses, ziplines, tiger sanctuary and floating aqua-lodge in Thailand, the penguins and mating and courtship rituals of the wildlife in the Galapagos, and the cowboy adventure activities in Brazil’s Pantanal, culminating with sightings of jaguars. The mix of wildlife and cultural experiences in India is particularly suited to parents who want to ignite their family’s passion to make a difference in the world. It will instill a genuine sense of gratitude and appreciation for life, for the opportunities we have, and for the things we take for granted.” Wild Planet customizes family departures with a minimum of 4 travelers and often puts families with similar age kids together on the same trip which means new friends for the kids. (800-990-4376, www.wildplanetadventures.com/family-trips)

Hiking Grand Canyon National Park. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Austin Adventures is offering 40 family adventures across the globe, among them itineraries to the most popular national parks including Grand Canyon, Alaska-Kenai Fjords National Park, Bryce & Zion, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Yosemite, Glacier, the Black Hills of South Dakota (Mount Rushmore), and Banff to Jasper national parks (austinadventures.com, 800-575-1540). To assist in vacation planning, Austin Adventures also offers a free Insider’s Guide to Planning the Perfect Family Adventure (www.austinadventures.com/free-family-travel-guide/).

National Geographic Family Journeys, in partnership with G Adventures, is a new line of small-group trips designed for adventurous, multigenerational families in search of a meaningful way to discover the world together. Each itinerary features interactive activities inspired by National Geographic’s expertise in photography and storytelling, wildlife, culture, and history to encourage kids and adults alike to connect with the world around them. Among the destinations: Alaska, Costa Rica, National Parks, Japan, Southern Africa, Tanzania: A Serengeti Safari, France, Iceland, Italy, Morocco, Peru, Vietnam to Cambodia. (www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/trip-types/family-journeys)

Gullfoss, Iceland © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Smithsonian Family Journeys by Perillo’s Learning Journeys has created a series of multi-generational itineraries, including Discover Japan (meet students of anime), Iceland Explorer, Exploring London and Paris (take a scavenger hunt through the Louvre) and Discover Ireland (learn to speak Gaelic). (Visit https://www.learningjourneys.com/family-journeys/smithsonian, 855-215-8691; Perillo’s Learning Journeys, www.learningjourneys.com, 888-884-8259; www.SmithsonianJourneys.org).

Thomson Family Adventures, Watertown, MA, has new family itineraries in Iceland, Scotland, Morocco, Brazil, Egypt and Vietnam (familyadventures.com, 800-262-6255).

Wildland Adventures, Seattle, WA, offers specially tailored family adventures to South America, Asia, Central America, Mediterranean, North America, as well as Africa family safaris (www.wildland.com/travel-styles/family-travel, 800-345-4453)

Bike Tours

Biketours.com, Chattanooga, TN which specializes in Europe, has recommended itineraries for families; I can personally recommend the Danube Bike Trail, Passau to Vienna, which I did with my sons – one of the best trips of my life. You can do it as a self-guided tour – it is very easy to follow, and that gives you more control over your schedule, as well as excellent value. BikeTours.com also offers an itinerary specially tailored for families with children (1222 Tremont Street, Chattanooga, TN 37377, 877-462-2423, 423-756-8907, info@biketours.com, www.biketours.com/family-friendly).

The Danube Bike Trail, Passau to Vienna, is an ideal self-guided bike tour for a family with older children © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Backroads, Berkeley, CA, features active family adventures (biking, walking, hiking, multi-sport) by age category: Families with Older Teens & 20s (17+), Teens & Kids (9-19) or Younger Kids (8 and under).  (800-462-2848, www.backroads.com/award-winning-tours/all-family)

Trek Travel has family itineraries that include biking, hiking, kayaking and ziplining in places like Zion National Park, the San Juan Islands, Vermont and Prague-to-Vienna. (866.464.8735, https://trektravel.com/trip-type/family/)

Bicycle Adventures has a family biking trip to Mount Rushmore http://bicycleadventures.com/tours/family-bike-tours

Parks & Trails NY’s annual Cycle the Erie eight-day 400-mile Buffalo to Albany bike ride and camping trip on the Erie Canalway is ideal for families © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We  have also recommended outstanding biketours close to home that do good while giving everybody a fantastic experience: Parks & Trails NY offers its annual 8-day 400-mile Cycle the Erie camping and biking adventure (400 miles and 400 years of history!) that draws families of all configurations (grandparents with grandchildren, multi-generations, father-daughter, mother-son) and ages, some with tiny tots in tow, as well as self-pedalers as young as 10 years old. A major highlight is camping out at Fort Stanwix, Rome NY, an 18th century living-history experience. This year’s trip is July 7-14 (518-434-1583, www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal/annual-bike-tour)

Camping

Camping has really changed over time, frequently offering a range of experiences from rustic adventures to resort-style all in the same venue. Kampgrounds of America, with 485 locations in North America, makes it easy to find camping resorts by destination, amenities and programming (www.koa.com/Campgrounds). We have a personal favorite: the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA is a true camping resort, set along a creek (tubing, fishing) and close by the Erie Canal (cruises, biking), and most unique of all, a chance to mine for Herkimer diamonds! The Herkimer KOA offers unbelievably delightful themed cabins (would you believe a cabin with its own star observatory?), fabulous activities. Choose a cabin, cottage or RV or tent site. (Herkimer Diamond KOA, 4626 State Route 28, Herkimer, NY 13350, 315-891-7355, www.herkimerdiamond.com.)

A family gathers around a campfire at Herkimer Diamond KOA, where the extraordinary amenities include mining for “diamonds”, cruising on the Erie Canal, and staying in a themed cabin with its own stars observatory © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The most intriguing in my book is the full-service Lion Country Safari’s award winning KOA campground located adjacent to the 320 acre drive through wild animal preserve and theme park, yet secluded enough for a restful campout (though you are apt to hear the lions roaring), offering RV sites, tent sites and rustic cabins (www.lioncountrysafari.com/koa/, 561-793-1084).

Dude Ranches

One of the best family experiences (a nonstop giggle) is on a dude ranch. New York State actually has several of them, such as Rocking Horse Ranch Resort, Highland, Hudson Valley, (845-691-2927, www.rockinghorseranch.com), which has been delighting generations of families with its all-inclusive fun (meals, entertainment, activities and riding). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (the new owners of the venerable Pinegrove Ranch), 30 Cherrytown Rd, Kerhonkson, NY 12446-2148, 866-600-0859, www.pineridgeduderanch.com). Ridin’ Hy, an absolutely delightful guest ranch in the Adirondack State Park, near Lake George, Warrensburg, NY, Warrensburg, NY 12885, 518-494-2742, www.ridinhy.com.

But if you want your cowboy hat to really mean something, go where you can be a cowpoke for a spell, here are other suggestions from Gene Kilgore, publisher of  www.top50ranches.comwww.ranchweb.com and www.ranchvacations.com.

Rankin Ranch, California.

In the Canadian Rockies, Three Bars Guest and Cattle Ranch (www.top50ranches.com/ranch-vacations/three-bars-ranch); California’s Rankin Ranch has run cattle at the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada mountain range since 1863 (https://ranchweb.com/tour/bill-rankin/); Colorado’s Lost Valley Ranch in the front range of the Rockies (https://ranchweb.com/tour/lost-valley-ranch/); Montana’s Nine Quarter Circle Ranch  (https://ranchweb.com/?s=quarter+circle); Wyoming’s Paradise Ranch in the Big Horn Mountains has been a dude ranch since 1907 (https://www.top50ranches.com/ranch-vacations/paradise-ranch).

Check out the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association members (www.coloradoranch.com, 866-942-3472), like the luxurious C Lazy U Ranch which since 1919 has provided highest level of personalized service, professional horsemanship programs, first-class amenities, enriching children’s programs, gourmet meals and upscale accommodations; or the Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch, which opened in 1912 and considered the oldest continuously operating guest ranch in Colorado, is also ideally located just southwest of Rocky Mountain National Park and nestled in a peaceful valley along the Colorado River.

Resorts with a Twist

Brothers bonding over marshmellows roasting over a campfire during a moonlight kayak trip at Sebasco Harbor Resort, Midcoast, Maine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sebasco Harbor Resort, Mid-Coast, Maine: This resort (“Pure Maine”) manages to be a delightful cross between fine resort and a camp, with plenty of opportunity to be outdoors, while still enjoying such refinements as golf, full-service waterfront Fairwinds Spa, plus marvelous activities like kayaking (do the moonlight kayak trip, it is beyond fabulous), boating. Actually, you can imagine Sebasco being the kind of “camp” that the Gilded Age moguls would have for one of their holiday homes. Nestled among whispering pines on the rugged coast Sebasco spans 550 acres with breathtaking views and a wealth of activities the entire family can enjoy. We stayed in the converted Lighthouse for the most magical experience. Check out special deals. (Sebasco Harbor Resort, 29 Kenyon Rd., Sebasco Estates, ME, 04565, 877-389-1161, www.sebasco.com).

Among our favorite grand, historic resorts for families for facilities, activities programs, destination, sense of heritage and “place,” and overall aahhh experience:

Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vt., grand historic resort on the shore of Lake Champlain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vermont on 700 acres of Lake Champlain shoreline is about the best family-friendly luxury resort you can imagine. Just about every activity you would want is on hand: golf, hiking, biking, kayaking, cruises on Lake Champlain, fishing, watersports, tennis, outdoor pool children’s activities program (4800 Basin Harbor Road Vergennes, VT 05491 info@basinharbor.com, 800.622.4000 or 802.475.2311, www.basinharbor.com).

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, tucked in a Courier & Ives landscape in Chittenden, Vermont, near Killington, has all the charm, the warmth, the cozy, intimate hospitality of a country inn, and all the luxury, amenities, activities and quality dining of a resort. It offers just about every outdoors activity you can imagine, even an equestrian center, private lakeside beach, children’s adventure camp, tennis, disc golf, clay-bird shooting, and hiking, biking, golf nearby. (195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com)

A real novelty in historic hotels (and a fantastic city to visit) is the Choo Choo Train Hotel in Chattanooga, TN, where you actually stay in a historic train car (motel rooms also available), and the station is the restaurant and lobby. So fun! (1400 Market Street, Chattanooga, TN 37402, 423-266-5000, 800-Track29, choochoo.com)

Mohonk Mountain House, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other favorites: Mohonk Mountain House (gorgeous setting, water sports, horseback riding, fantastic hiking, climbing, Victorian elegance); Equinox, Manchester, Vt. (all sports including falcon training, world-class spa,); The Sagamore, Bolton Landing on Lake George NY (Gilded Age ambiance); The Hotel Hershey, Hershey, Pennsylvania (added benefit: proximity to Hershey theme park); Cranwell Resorts, Spa and Golf Club, Lenox, MA (proximity to all the culture of Lenox, including Tanglewood, plus historic sites like Melville’s home, Arrowwood);The Boulders, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Skytop Lodge, Skytop, Pennsylvania. (Many more ideas at historichotels.org, 800-678-8946.)

Also, many of the mountain resorts known for skiing transform into summer destinations with mountain biking, hiking, ziplines, children’s activity programs and scores of outdoor pursuits, and significantly, typically offer great rates and package deals for summer: Smugglers Notch  is renowned for having the best children and family activities program anywhere, smuggs.com); Stowe, Vt. (stowe.com), famous for its Topnotch Resort (find specials at www.topnotchresort.com/packages-specials); Hunter Mountain (huntermtn.com); the Vail resorts (www.snow.com/info/lodging-sale.aspx).

Nighttime hike at Tenaya Lodge, a full-service luxury resort hotel in the wilderness just outside the entrance to Yosemite national Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Are you lucky enough to be visiting Yosemite National Park? You couldn’t ask for a more spectacular accommodation than Tenaya Lodge, a full-service luxury resort hotel, closest to entrance to the park, now offering guests to receive a free 7-Day Yosemite Park Pass and up to 25% off select activities at the time of booking. (My Yosemite Offer valid through Sept. 21, 2019, based on availability, 866-467-0874, use Promo Code: MYYOSEMITE, TenayaLodge.com).

Cruising

Cruising is always a great choice for families – a way to see lots of different places with minimal hassle. Best itineraries (and cruiselines that have best family programs) are to Alaska, the Galapagos (really a favorite for grandparents to take their grandkids). I would also suggest Bermuda as a fantastic cruising destination, easy to reach from the New York metro area, that is so rich in culture, history and nature (beaches!) (Royal Caribbean sails from Bayonne; Norwegian from New York)

For those who want a floating resort with rock walls, ropes course, ziplines, glitzy Broadway and Las Vegas-style entertainment and great supervised children’s activity programs, the most acclaimed lines are Royal Caribbean; Norwegian Cruise Line; Carnival Cruise Line; Disney Cruise Line and Princess Cruises. (See more at www.cruisecritic.com; booking help at cruisecompete.com).

Helping hoist the sales on the Victory Chimes one of the historic Maine Windjammers fleet © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But here is a novel choice: Maine Windjammer Cruises – these are historic sailing vessels repurposed for passengers, that ply the waters around Rockland and Camden, Maine in the Penobscot Bay. The experience is more rustic (part of the fun!), where passengers can help raise and lower sails, even steer, help serve and gather plates for meals served in the galley or on deck. You can even choose to sleep out under the stars instead of in the cabin, which is outfitted more like you would expect of summer camp, with bunk beds and shared bathroom facilities (hot showers are available). All the cruises typically include a lobster bake on a secluded beach.

Many of the cruises have special-interest themes, and some are very dramatic that include a Schooner Gam, where all the historic schooners gather in one place and tie up and passengers can go and visit; there is also an annual Schooner Race which is tremendous fun. Visit the Maine Windjammer Association for a list of the eight ships in the fleet and description of age-appropriate sailings (usually 10 years old) and themed cruises (music, storytelling, whaling, wellness, seamanship, among them). In the past, we have sailed on the Victory Chimes (the largest in the fleet) and the American Eagle (www.sailmainecoast.com, 800-807-9463).

One of the Mid-Lakes Navigation Canalboats, like a floating RV, affords a unique way to explore the canaltowns along the Erie Canal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Another novel experience is renting a canalboat on the Erie Canal (like a floating RV), tying up where whimsy takes you and exploring the canaltowns on foot and by bike on the tow-path that has been turned into a bikeway. It’s an amazing way to immerse yourself in history, and terrific fun to go through the locks, and have the bridges lift just for you. Mid-Lakes Navigation, Skaneateles, has these specially designed Lockmaster canalboats that are easy to maneuver, very comfortable, and oh so charming. (800-545-4318, info@midlakesnav.com, midlakesnav.com).

Attractions with Living History, Immersive Experiences

Trying his hand at blacksmithing Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth, NH, a living history museum that shows 400 years of village life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For more living history (and theme parks and golf and spa to boot! Colonial Williamsburg (www.colonialwilliamsburg.com), with the option to stay at The Williamsburg Inn or Williamsburg Lodge and Colonial Houses (historichotels.org); Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (historyisfun.org); Philadelphia (www.visitphilly.org); Newport, RI (www.discovernewport.org); Old Sturbridge Village, MA (www.osv.org), and Portsmouth, NH to experience the Strawbery Banke Museum (www.strawberybanke.org).

And what about immersing in today’s headlines?  One of the best family destinations in the world is the nation’s capital, Washington DC, where you can visit the Capital, the National Archives, Museums of the Smithsonian Institution (19 of them) including the National Air & Space Museum, Museum of American History, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, National Portrait Gallery, National Postal Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution Building (the castle), the National Zoological Park (National Zoo); as well as private museums including the Newseum and International Spy Museum. Plan a visit at Washington.org.

A hands-on visit to a research institution like the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is not just life-enriching but can be life-changing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As for theme parks, zoos, aquariums and research centers: consider different experiences that give insider access: Be a zookeeper for a day at Busch Gardens Tampa (which in addition to being a superb themepark is a fantastic zoo, https://buschgardens.com/tampa/tours/keeper-for-a-day/); go behind-the-scenes at Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of “Dolphin’s Tale” (https://www.seewinter.com/visit/activities/behind-the-scenes/); have a sleepover (“Snore & Roar”) at the National Zoo, Washington DC (https://nationalzoo.si.edu/events/snore-roar-sleepovers-families) or the Palm Beach Zoo, which also offers camp programs.

Some of our favorite themeparks: DisneyWorld (Orlando), Universal’s Islands of Adventure (Orlando), Busch Gardens Tampa, Busch Gardens Colonial Williamsburg, Hersheypark.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Blount Small Ship Adventures’ Grande Caribe Voyage to New England Islands Proves Ideal for Babyboomers Who Still Crave Thrill of Travel, Albeit at Slower Pace

Sunset in the port at Vineyard Haven, on Martha’s Vineyard, from the top deck of Blount’s Grande Caribe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin & Martin D. Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

We belong to the backpack generation that bought a Eurail pass and traveled around the continent with “Europe on $5 A Day” as our Bible. No once-in-a-lifetime, “If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium” grand tour for us, travel has been integral part of our lifestyle, forming a worldview that bursts the borders of our own provincial anchors.

But we are reaching a point where one or both have limitations. Travel can be physically challenging. Still, we crave the excitement of discovery, the adventure of new experiences, serendipitous encounters, that mental and physical exhilaration of travel.

A perfect prescription is small-ship cruising. There are now several cruise companies operating a score of small-ships that ply rivers, canals, seaways and some designed to tackle the pounding waves of oceans have arisen, and carry us directly into ports, minimizing the hassle of travel and maximizing the enjoyment. And an ideal destination to explore is America itself – the port cities, towns and islands that harbor fascinating history, natural wonders and cultural charms. What is more, the cruises are easy to access, avoid many of the hassles of foreign travel and long airplane flights, and allay any concern about getting timely medical attention if necessary.

Blount’s Grande Caribe docked in New Bedford. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are just back from Blount Small Ship Adventures’ week-long cruise of New England islands – a trip that could only be accomplished with a ship that enabled visits to places you might normally visit individually but woven together in one fantastic itinerary: Newport, New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket – destinations that offer wonder and interest and importance to the discovery, exploration and development of America as the towns you visit along the Danube.

The voyage proves ideal for accommodating people who have physical limitations (not recommended for wheelchair-bound, though), ideal for a three-generation reunion of 13 family members coming together from Dallas and Nashville to share this Yankee adventure; ideal for a couple where one is blind; ideal for a daughter traveling with her mother who walks with a cane; ideal for me and my brother who also has somewhat limited mobility. Indeed, the passengers  come from as far as California, and as close as Boston; one couple had taken Blount’s cruise to Guatemala and Belize, another is on their third New England Islands cruise with Blount.

The Grande Caribe is very accommodating for people with somewhat limited mobility (there are even stair lifts for those who cannot do stairs) – and an itinerary that gives maximum amount of time to enjoy each port with minimal hassle, while allowing for passengers to be as active or as sedentary as they liked. It is unpretentious and comfortable, having everything you would need.

Each of the New England destinations in this itinerary is a jewel, but can only be visited in this compressed amount of time by cruiseship – cutting out the point-to-point driving (traffic!), ferries, parking, packing/repacking, checking in/out. Rather, every minute of this trip is part of our voyage, our vacation experience. Significantly, all the sights we visit – the grand mansions, museums, historical sites – are accommodating for people who have difficulty climbing steps. (I’m seeing many more people using hiking sticks in place of canes or walkers to get around.)

Taking the launch from Blount’s Grande Caribe anchored in Nantucket’s harbor © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We sail in before breakfast, and in each port but Nantucket (where we use a launch service), we are at a dock so we can come and go as we please all day long. We depart in the night, so we have a full day to explore.

The cruise line offers various shore excursions (island tours and such offered at very reasonable cost), and on some itineraries, has bikes or kayaks to rent.

Our strategy is to take an island tour, then visit a couple of attractions. When one of us has enough and wants to relax, it is easy to return to the ship while the other continues to explore.

Because of bad storms at sea, Captain Patrick Moynihan makes a command decision to change around the itinerary, which otherwise would have gone first to Nantucket, which is 30 miles out to sea where there are 10-foot swells. He warns that it is possible we won’t be able to visit Nantucket at all. But we hold out hope.

No one second-guesses his decision when safety of the ship is concerned and sits in rapt attention during the safety video before we depart that shows us what would happen in an emergency. (Also, each day the ship is “sanitized” and there are hand-sanitizing stations as well.)

In the end, we spend an extra full day in Martha’s Vineyard (sensational) and make it to Nantucket on our last full day, but bypass Block Island.

Blount’s specially designed small ships make this itinerary possible; these ships are nimble, even have a patented bow ramp (this is used in places like Belize and Guatemala) and a retractable pilot house (so they can go under bridges on the Erie Canal), both inventions of Luther Blount, who founded the company and was one of the innovators of “small ship cruising” more than 50 years ago, and can come close to shore.

Sailing into Martha’s Vineyard © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jumping from island to island, port to port, we experience these places as they were intended – the sea is what made these destinations and made them powerhouses in the national and global economy. Tiny Nantucket, with a population in the thousands, was known the world over (I love the wall showing distance markers to points around the world); New Bedford sent out hundreds of whaling ships, half of all that sailed the globe, and had 10,000 men at sea at any one time.

We embark in Warren, Rhode Island, which is home base for Blount and where they have been building ships and ferries since 1947. With the change in itinerary because of the weather, our voyage starts in Bristol, then Newport, New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard (2 days), Nantucket, before sailing back to Warren RI. I have visited all these places in the past, but on this trip, I see them from such a different perspective, it is as if seeing them for the first time.

An evenings entertainment aboard Blount’s Grande Caribe: Martha’s Vineyard native, folksinger Mark Alan Lovewell, plays a 164-year old concertina and sings sea chanties, “the work songs of the whalers.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The days pass so pleasantly: there is an early bird breakfast put out at 6:30 am (coffee and freshly baked goods), breakfast at 8 am. Touring and exploring. Lunch at 12:30 pm (if you want to return to the ship). 5:30 cocktails (it’s BYOB except for welcome and farewell cocktail parties with an open bar and delicious hors d’oeurves); 6:30 dinner; then an evening activity at 8:30 pm– a movie, live performance (we had a trio on one night and a Martha’s Vineyard native, folksinger Mark Alan Lovewell, doing sea chanties before we came to Nantucket), and one night when we played a rollicking game of “LCR” (everyone puts up three $1 bills, rolls dice, and at the end, whoever still has a bill, wins the pot).

To be candid, many of the large cruise ships have such busy schedules that it always seems you are rushing here to there; but on this ship, it feels much more relaxed, not hurried, but with enough to do (or as little as you wanted) that it is never boring. There are always interesting conversations going on, I hardly have any time to read my book. (There is a ship’s library and board games available.). Some itineraries also have guest lecturers and some offer photography workshops.

A classic New England dinner of fresh lobster, clams and mussels © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The food on board is excellent and the menus, which reflect the region and use locally sourced comestibles, feature New England classics: a lobster bake with clams & mussels was a definite highlight; New England clam chowder; lobster bisque). The baked goods including fresh breads and scones, are outstanding.  Three meals are provided daily. There are beverages and snacks available all day. Dietary restrictions are accommodated.

We are encouraged to Bring Your Own Beverages aboard which we can put in a cooler or at a bar, and each evening there is a 5:30 cocktail hour when all the fixings are provided (house wine and beer are provided at no charge at lunch and dinner), but there is also a welcome aboard and farewell cocktail party with an open bar and delectable hors d’oeurves.

Blount’s Grande Caribe cook prepares omelettes to order for breakfast during our stop in Martha’s Vineyard © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ship is modest, unpretentious, but is very comfortable, very clean and well maintained (it was refurbished in 2009), and has everything you need. There is a pleasant lounge ringed with windows; an expansive dining room (also with windows along the walls on both sides) an open sitting area (with fitness machines) on the back deck, and an open air top deck with lounge chairs and a canvas cover for rain and sun.

The ship offers four categories of smoke-free cabins, all with individual climate-controlled air-conditioning systems, private bathroom and adequate storage. Our cabin (56B) on the upper deck literally down the hallway from the lounge, had a large picture window which we could open for fresh air; air conditioning which we could set; a toilet and sink in a cabinet and a separate shower, two outlets for plugging in.

The Captain lets us know when to expect rocking and rolling and for how long, and to suggest for those so inclined to take advantage of ship’s supply of Bonine or Dramamine. But even though I have been prone to motion sickness, the worst of rocking (one night it was five or six foot seas for about a hour) feels to me like being aggressively rocked in a cradle.

We can follow the ship’s progress on a navigational map on a big screen TV, like watching your plane’s route.

Tossing out the line to dock at Martha’s Vineyard © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ship, with a capacity for 84 passengers, has Interesting people from all over the country – as far as California and Texas, Midwest (Illinois, Tennessee) and North Carolina, as well as New Jersey, Long Island, Boston. But this style of small-ship cruising, and this itinerary in particular is ideal for travelers from abroad to really see America in a compressed timeframe.

The intimacy means you not only get immersed in the destination (versus the floating resort-style cruiseships where the ports are almost an afterthought), but with fellow passengers.

Each evening we are told about the next day’s itinerary – when we sail, where we dock, how to get into town, when and where to go for the shore excursions. There are guides, maps, and various tourist literature laid out. The day’s schedule is posted. Much of this is repeated at breakfast, and Jasmine, the spry cruise director, is very accessible to ask additional questions.There are shore excursions offered at each port – island tours that are conveniently arranged for a pick up at the boat, lasting about 1 ½ hours, at reasonable cost.

Blount’s Grande Caribe tied up at the Tisbury Marina at Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is remarkable to me how they not only had to switch around the itinerary, but organize dockage or mooring, shuttles, switch around the shore excursions, and do it so that it all seems seamless to us.

Our original itinerary from Warren, Rhode Island, the home base of Blount Cruises, to Cuttyhunk, MA, to New Bedford, to Nantucket, to Martha’s Vineyard, to Block Island, to Bristol, RI, to Newport and back to Warren – is completely revamped because of the 10 foot seas we would have to sail through to reach Nantucket.

Instead, we sail from Warren RI to Bristol to Newport, New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard (where we stay two full days instead of one), to Nantucket and back to Warren RI.

Sailing into Bristol

On Sunday, after departing Warren, after a short sail we pull into Bristol, Rhode Island (coming this way, I didn’t recognize this town which is at the end of the East Bay Bike Path from Providence that I have biked several times in the past). Just across from where we dock, there is a fascinating boat museum, the Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame. It is a shrine to yacht racing and where eight consecutive America’s Cup defenders were built.

An America’s Cup defender, on display at the Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame, Bristol, RI © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The museum houses dozens of sailing yachts, some that you can climb aboard. A local on the dock walking his dogs tells me that this boatyard is where many of the America’s Cup sailboats were designed and built in the 1930s by John Brown Herreshoff, who was blind, but would create these models based on feel.

According to the museum,  “In 1878, John Brown Herreshoff, a blind boatbuilder from Bristol, Rhode Island, who had been in business since 1863, went into partnership with his younger brother, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, a naval architect and steam engineer.

“Between 1893 and 1914, for the defense of the America’s Cup, Captain Nat designed and built seven of the largest, most complex and powerful racing sloops the world has ever known. Of these, five were selected to sail as defenders, and all five were victorious. The firm also launched many hundreds of custom designs, both large and small, and a number of one-design classes (among them Herreshoff J12’1/2- and 15-Footers, S boats, and New York 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s) that have never been bettered for all-around sailing excitement and pleasure.” (http://www.herreshoff.org)

He also encourages me to visit Linden Place Museum, an 1810 Federal-style mansion with a stunning spiral staircase and  Hollywood connections: stage and screen star Ethel Barrymore summered here (her movie memorabilia is on display), plus scenes from the 1974 version of “The Great Gatsby” were shot here, with the exterior used as Daisy Buchanan’s parents home. (Alas, it is closed by the time I get there.)

Linden Place Museum in Bristol was where Ethel Barrymore summered and which was one of the locations for the 1974 “Great Gatsby” film © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.comI walk into the town with the most marvelous homes dating back to the early 1700s.

There is also Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum, located just outside of downtown, but I don’t make it that far when it starts to rain.

I note the red-white-blue stripe down the center line of the main street: Bristol boasts the oldest Fourth of July celebration in the United States, held continuously since 1785, and it displays its patriotism year-round with the painted traffic lines, as well as flags and such on many of the houses.

Luther’s Legacy 

The Blounts were in the oyster business for generations until the 1938 hurricane destroyed Rhode Island’s oyster beds. Luther Blount was in college at the time studying engineering, and realized he had to set a different course for his future. He moved back to Rhode Island, and promptly invented a way to steam clams that was so efficient, his brother Nelson’s company became the supplier for Campbell’s Soup’s Clam Chowder.

By 1947, Luther had become the Vice President of E.B. Blount and Sons, and began building boats, beginning with an oyster boat.  By 1964, he had built over 100 vessels (including Circle Line boats that take tourists around the Statue of Liberty, and the ferries that one of our passengers from Long Island uses for his Fire Island ferry business). He even had a few patents to his name — patents that would one day become the signature of Blount Cruise ships.

The 1812 privateer, Lynx, operated by the Lynx Educational Foundation, sails past Nantucket’s lighthouse.

Over the course of 20 years, Blount would personally sail the globe to the ships he built. In 1966, Luther decided that he wanted to show his friends and family the places he had been exploring and began building passenger boats. Soon he was offering these trips for others, coining the expression “small ship cruising”.

“He created itineraries for explorers, for those who wanted to tread lightly, going beyond the usual tourist meccas finding experiences you can only have when you get to know a place through its people.”

Meanwhile, Luther, who passed away in 2006, worked to bring the oysters back to Rhode Island, starting with Narragansett Bay. He donated to a local university, charging them with cultivating new oyster beds.  He bought Prudence Island to be used as an oyster regeneration project funded by his foundation.

Today, Luther’s daughter Nancy is at the helm as president of Blount Small Ship Adventures; daughters Marcia and Julie are president and vice president of Blount Boats.

Captain Patrick Moynihan brings the Grande Caribe back to the Blount Small ship Adventures’ homeport in Warren, Rhode Island. Luther Blount invented a retractable pilot house so the ship could go under bridges © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The design of the Grande Caribe and its sister ship, Grande Mariner, enables Blount to bring travelers to places that larger ships simply cannot go. They explore remote islands and traverse scenic waterways like the Erie Canal and St. Lawrence Seaway. They dock where private yachts dock (in fact, our ship is about the same size as the more extravagant yachts).

This style of  cruising appeals to people who are curious, casual, adventurous, who appreciate the ship as transportation for the purpose of exploring destinations, learning about cultures and heritage and communities. The atmosphere is very casual, laid-back, unpretentious, welcoming – as if you were sailing on a friend’s yacht.

Interestingly, even though we visit places that are literally overrun by tourists this season, we dock away from the crowds, and simply slip into the everyday pattern – hopping a local bus, for example at Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs or a local beach. The three-generations family of 13 split off for different activities – cousins going one direction – pooling photos on an online album.

Blount Small Ship Adventures offers overnight small ship cruises in the United States, Canada, Central America, Caribbean and Cuba, with itineraries ranging from 7 to 16 days. (View complete schedule on www.blountsmallshipadventures.com).

Blount Small Ship Adventures, 461 Water Street, Warren, Rhode Island 02885, 800-556-7450 or 401-247-0955,  info@blountsmallshipadventures.com, www.blountsmallshipadventures.com.

Next: A Day in Newport

See also:

A Spectacle in Motion: Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World is Once-in-a-Lifetime Must-See at New Bedford Whaling Museum

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