No way you’re packing all that gear unless you have a site reserved where there’s more to do than (“borrring!”) stare at the trees
Near Los Alamos, NM
- Juniper Campground: Here’s your home base for (pictured). Climb in and out of Ancestral Pueblo cave rooms, complete with kid-friendly ladders. Then hike the 2.5-mile Falls Trail past two waterfalls to the Rio Grande. (Come in May, because June 1, the campground closes until next spring for restoration.) No reservations, but sites always available; $12; 505/672-3861 ext. 517.
Anderson Valley, CA
- Hendy Woods State Park: In summer, kids spend whole days ankle deep in the Navarro River, which flows placidly over fist-size stones through a redwood grove. If they can be dragged away from the large, looping campground here, the gardens and picnic areas at the Anderson Valley wineries are a short drive, the coast only a bit farther. If cooking for the gang seems a bit much, Libby’s ($; closed Sun–Mon; 707/895-2646), just down the road in Philo, has excellent Mexican food. Stop by the Philo Apple Farm (707/895-2333) for a wander in the orchard and some fresh juice from the honor stand. $35; or 707/937-5804. Book it:
Near Santa Barbara
- Carpinteria State Beach: Kids can’t object to a lack of TV if they’re plopped onto a mile-long beach. Reserve early (up to 7 months ahead) for the coveted Santa Rosa “beach row” sites, then spend the weekend swimming, surf fishing, and exploring tidepools. The campsites are not much more than glorified parking spots and the train roars past in the daytime, but who cares? The ocean is just steps away. From $35; or 805/684-2811. Book it:
Mt. Hood National Forest, OR
- Trillium Lake: The primitive campground at doesn’t have ranger-led nature hikes, Disney movies in an outdoor amphitheater, or even so much as a swing set. It doesn’t need to. Here, nature’s the playground. Think skin-tingling swims and fishing with bamboo poles. And if you need a bribe, there’s always the alpine slide, bungee jumping, and zipline at the Adventure Park at (503/272-3206), 1½ miles up the road. From $17; Book it:
Near Steamboat Springs, CO
- Steamboat Lake State Park: With Hahn’s Peak as a backdrop, this azure lake’s shoreline shimmers with wildflowers. You could just soak in the pageantry from scenic campsites—if the kids would let you. But playtime will prevail. Rent paddleboats and canoes to explore the 1,100-acre lake, tangle with trout, or head out on expeditions on nearby hiking trails that plumb the pristine wilderness. From $16; or 970/879-3922. Book it: 800/678-2267.