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What Are Your Favorite Family Vacations?

What kind of vacations do you love? Cities? Lakes? Grandparent hangs? Here are five fun ideas, including a cross-country train trip and a dude ranch (!)…

A Road Trip (through New Mexico)

Our one-week family road trip through New Mexico felt like a summer rite-of-passage: Dad giving lessons on sedimentary rock formations from the front seat, Mom humming “Holiday Roads” (à la the Griswolds) next to him, while our two kids, then 4 and 6, watched the vast landscapes change color outside the car window. Some of the highlights: sledding down the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument, following the bats into the intricate caves of Carlsbad, climb ladders into Bandelier National Monument‘s ancestral Pueblo dwellings, and hiking “tent rocks” formed over six million years ago. Every night we’d tuck happy, exhausted kids into bed — usually before sampling some variation of chile-tinged margarita. — Ashley Muir Bruhn

A Dude Ranch (in Colorado)

At Tumbling River Ranch, there was no cell service so we were totally off the grid and ready to connect with other families and the gorgeous Rocky Mountains around us. Our days were filled with horseback riding, fishing, skeet-shooting, rafting, hiking and taking care of the resident animals — donkeys, chickens, goats and cows. We fulfilled every rancher dream we had, while still enjoying three warm meals and a cozy cabin, complete with fireplace. I loved that the kids made fast friends and roamed free and could just be — skip rocks in the creek, pick up a fishing pole or whittle a stick. There was even a “fancy night” dinner just for adults, while the kids ate and played games with the ranchers down the road. It wasn’t not a bargain vacation, but the all-inclusive rate and low guest-to-rancher ratio made it more than worth the price. My daughter is already planning a return trip! — Sherrelle Kirkland-Andrews

Visiting the Grandparents (in a Midwestern University Town)

Every summer, we go to Madison, Wisconsin, to visit my parents. The city is nestled within three lakes, and my parents live on Lake Mendota, where you can go swimming, sailing and tubing. It’s incredibly eco-conscious and bike-friendly, and families can bike to the Capitol Square where there’s always something happening, like the farmer’s market on Saturdays that celebrates everything local — cheese, meat, cheese, cheese! Great shops and coffee houses are all along State street, and it feels almost European. The university is central to life in Madison and that is true in the summer, too — you can pick up some grilled brats and good beer at the Union (staffed by student employees), then eat on the lakeside terrace and watch live music. — Anne Scharer

A Cross-Country Train Trip

One of my all-time best trips was when I took my then three-year-old and five-year-old across the U.S. on Amtrak from New York to San Francisco, stopping in Washington, Chicago, Denver, Glenwood Springs, Portland, Vancouver — then back across Canada, stopping at Jasper, Winnipeg, Toronto, Niagara Falls before returning to New York. It took us seven weeks, and it was brilliant. We saw museums, hot springs, zoos, and Niagara Falls; and we went on a river cruise in Chicago. We slept on the train every night. To reduce costs, we made our own meals, and for souvenirs, we collected T-shirts (which cut down on packing). The whole seven-week trip cost us about $5500 total. — Karen Powers

Small Town Charm (in Maine)

We love Maine’s York Beach, not only because of its classic New England summer town vibe — think briny air, salt-water taffy and ice cream shops — but because it feels like you’re going back in time. There’s a “Funorama” with games for kids, a downtown trolley, penny candy and an animal kingdom with rides. Then there’s the beautiful beach. The surf is calm and when it’s low tide, our kids just play in the tide pools and can run freely without fear. You can rent through HomeAway, but there are also great hotels, like the Anchorage Inn and the York Harbor Inn. The nearby towns of Portsmouth (New Hampshire) and Kittery offer lots of family-friendly eating, and Portland is only an hour away if you are craving some city flavor. But you won’t be. — Christy Knell