Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Perfect Summer Vacation: Family Fun and Nature at Smuggler's Notch Resort

Last August we packed the family truckster and the four of us headed north to the Green Mountains of Vermont where we spent five days at Smuggler's Notch Resort, which is situated in one of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse natural areas of New England.  Though it is well-known for winter kids programs and skiing, it also caters to families vacationing in the summer and provides ample opportunity to connect to nature.  In fact, it guarantees families will have fun.  With the help of its award-winning children's programs and ample opportunity for outdoor fun and exploration, we anticipated a great vacation.
 
The view from the top of Mount Mansfield
overlooking Smuggler's Notch Resort

Situated at the foot of Mount Mansfield, Smuggs (as it is fondly called) is located on Route 108 between Stowe and Jeffersonville.  We enjoyed the drive through the historic and beautiful Smugglers' Notch Pass and arrived at Smuggs on a sunny day and immediately noticed the breathtaking views of the mountains. Upon arrival we were welcomed by friendly staff and immediately felt like part of the Smuggs family.  The first thing we noticed is that kids were everywhere!  It reminded me of my childhood, with kids roaming free --- running, jumping, laughing and enjoying good, old fashioned summertime play in the outdoors.  Once we settled in, we immediately joined in on the fun and went for a hike around the often rugged paths of the resort.

Activities, Activities, Activities!
There are so many activities available at Smuggler's Notch, you would have to stay the entire summer to take advantage of them all.  There is truly something for everyone!  Between the children's programs, guided hikes and "wikes" (a cross between a walk and a hike), the nature center, eight heated pools, waterslides, splash pools (watch a YouTube video about Notchville Park water playground area.), a driving range, splash parties, bonfire sing-alongs, fishing, biking, climbing and the first of its kind canopy tour in Vermont, enjoying the outdoors is what it's all about at this resort!  You can opt to spend the entire time together as a family and enjoy the numerous activities geared towards families or can enjoy time separately and take advantage of the many kid and adult oriented activities and camps.

Summer Camp to the Max
My daughter's camp group on a hike
 We registered our six-year old daughter for three-days of the Trail Blazers camp as part of Summer Fun University.  It is Smugg's version of summer camp --- but this is no typical summer camp.  Hands down, it offers the most unique programs and activities I have ever seen or experienced and much is focused on nature and the outdoors.  The Trail Blazers are encouraged to appreciate nature through nature related games, arts and crafts, nature observations with simple gear such as nets and magnifying glasses, and easy hikes through forests and fields.  Not knowing whether Beaner would actually go to camp without crying or wanting to leave early, we quickly learned she was just fine and too busy having fun to even give her parents a second thought.  At the end of the day she raved about how much fun she had how her counselor was so terrific.  To this day, she still talks about her.  Her only complaint was that she was stuck in the kiddie pool with the non or beginning swimmers, even though she could swim.  This was a bummer and I tried to arrange for her to have access to the larger pool, but that would have a required her to be with a different age group.  She managed to have fun on the slides in the waterfalls, and  the time spent swimming was a small portion of the overall day and experience.  In the end, she had so much fun, she requested to attend camp for an additional day.

Fun for the Little Ones
 
My son on a nature walk for the little ones

The plan was for our son to also attend camp because we thought he would enjoy the Discovery Dynamos 3-4 year-old program, which includes similar activities to Trail Blazers.  Unfortunately, he wasn't fully potty trained, so he went to Treasures for two days.  Though he was not pleased with the scenario and loudly made us aware of the fact that he did not want to be there, my secret detective work revealed that he had a good time nonetheless.  I was immediately impressed with the mountainside facility, especially the cleanliness, organization and layout. The caregivers were friendly and caring and I could tell they enjoyed being with the little ones.  Budder also enjoyed plenty of outdoor time and went for walks, stroller rides, spent time in the wading pools and on the playground.  On the other days while his big sister was at camp, he spent time with Mom and Dad and we took advantage of some of the family oriented activities like the Bears and Berries wike and the Family Ties River Walk.  Both were fun and educational and I was impressed by the knowledge of the trip leaders.

We spent the late afternoons at the various pools, which were never overcrowded and situated in beautiful settings.  We spent hours enjoying the water and the pleasant atmosphere.  One thing we learned was that late afternoons were often interrupted with thunderstorms, which caused a bit of chaos when the lifeguards had to clear the pools.  However, I appreciated their concern for safety and after calling for a ride, we were always driven back to our condo, where we would safely sit on the covered porch and watch the amazing site of downpours and lightening in the mountains.

Smuggler's Notch Nature Center

We also enjoyed the resort's nature center and interpretive paths through the different areas of the resort that explained its efforts to be eco-friendly.  I was impressed by how the management and employees are committed to being responsible stewards of Vermont's natural resources. The resort is home to Bicknell's Thrush, a species of special concern in Vermont, black bear and an abundance of other fish and wildlife species.  Its habitat, wetlands and natural vegetation are managed with concern for creating a landscape that meets both the needs of the resort and its guests, as well as nature.


The property is huge and driving your vehicle is cumbersome and not eco-friendly.  You are encouraged to utilize the resorts free on-demand shuttle service to get from place to place, rather than your car.  Though we often tried to take advantage of the service, for whatever reason, we never were at the correct pick up spot at the correct time.  We found the system confusing and unorganized.  In frustration we ended up walking much of the time, which was great exercise for us, but tough on the kids.  However, when we did get it right, it was a pleasant ride and we were dropped off at the door of our condo.  If you do get it right, it's certainly better than driving or walking after a long day of swimming or hiking.  I personally would have preferred a system with scheduled stops at designated places, and eco-friendly vehicles.

Overall, our stay at Smuggler's Notch was fun, relaxing and memorable.  If the goal of your family summer  vacation is to connect with nature and have lots of good, old-fashioned family fun with many options for  activities, then Smuggler's Notch should be on your list of resorts to visit.




Monday, March 21, 2011

10 Spots for Kids to See Spring Bird Migration in New England

'Tis the season to watch nature awaken from it's long winter nap.  It's an exciting time as we watch the bulbs sprout from the ground, the snow cover melt away and listen to the happy birds that wintered over chirping in the branches above.  Each spring we all look forward to the arrival of migrating wildlife, especially the birds.  This time of year provides a wonderful opportunity to teach children about the seasons and the habits of wildlife, which often resemble our own seasonal habits.  Though you can watch for spring migrants in your own backyard, following is my list of our favorite places to spot migrating birds in New England.  There are so many I like, I found it hard to choose only ten!

Piping Plover on nest. Bill Byrne. USFWS National Digital Library. 
Best Spots to See Migrating Birds in the Spring in New England
1. Hammonasset State Park - Madison, Connecticut: warblers, waterfowl.
2. White Memorial Foundation and Conservation Center - Litchfield, Connecticut:  Bluebirds, Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Tree Swallow, Canada Geese, grebes, terns and Red-Winged Blackbirds.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tips to Help You Find Great Summer Outdoor Camps for Kids



Two Kids on Dock YMCA Summer Camp Manitou-Lin 8-6-09 IMG_4432
Looking for fish off the dock at the local YMCA camp
I was reminded the other day that it's time to start thinking about where to send the kids to camp this summer when I opened the local parenting magazine and saw the ads for various area camps splattered throughout.  If you are going to send your kids to summer camp, now is the time to start planning. Not only will you get spots at your top picks when you register early, but you'll avoid hearing the “I’m bored!” complaint from your kids because they'll have something better to do than hang around the house all day ALL SUMMER. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spring Fever? Now is the Time to Plan Your Garden!

Planting a garden takes planning, but it will be worth the effort!
We've all had Spring fever for at least two weeks now --- ever since Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow earlier this month.  We normally love winter!  We take advantage of all the fun outdoor activities it brings and don't mind the constant view of a heavy white blanket of snow outside the window. However, this winter is a different story.  After more snow days than I care to remember, water leaks in the house due to the ice dams on the roof, an insurance claim, a snow plow bill that will break the bank, weeks of bone chilling cold, the utter inability to play outside due to the now thick sheet of ice that has formed on top of the snow, and the excitement of seeing Snow Drops bulbs peeking out of the frozen ground, we are ready for the colors of Spring!  I'm willing to bet many of you are too!
Related Posts with Thumbnails