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Taking the Kids to Vermont for Fall Foliage and More

If you think visiting Vermont in fall is just about the foliage, glorious as it may be, think again. There are mountains to climb, farms to explore, and zip-lining adventures to try.

Red maple or hemlock?

The trees in the northern Vermont forest look a lot different when you’re looking at them from 75 feet above the ground, through branches that anchor zip lines—as long as 1,000 feet—on a zip-line canopy tour.

“Our mission is to educate and inspire and help families connect with nature,” says Michael Smith, the managing partner of ArborTrek in Jeffersonville, Vermont, near Stowe, who has built zip-line courses around the world. Let’s not forget the chance for a shared adventure: eight zips, two rappels (40 feet) and crossing two bridges 35 feet off the ground. That and the running commentary on the flora and fauna have made this a top-ranked zip line in the country and worth the $99.95 tab, say guests who were back for second and third times.

Safety, of course, is a prime concern, with highly trained guides, courses inspected daily, and harnesses checked and triple-checked, says Smith, who is on the board for the Association for Challenge Course Technology. He notes that today there are as many as 1,000 zip-line and aerial-adventure parks just in the United States and Canada. A decade ago, there were no more than a dozen.

Families of all stripes and ages are attracted to the thrill and the chance for a shared adventure in the woods. Kids can zip as long as they are at least eight and weigh 70 pounds, and some customers have been in their 90s.

On the adjacent obstacle courses, kids are clipped in and able to climb a tree without parents worrying that they might fall. The lowest course allows parents with young kids to share the adventure—the zips are just a few feet off the ground and there are bridges, nets, and ladders. The cost is just $29.95 for kids.

But the challenges get harder—more than 70 elements in all. Do you think you could cross an accordion bridge that is 28 feet above ground? Only half of those who attempt the most difficult parts of the course succeed, Smith said.

If you think visiting Vermont in fall is just about the foliage, glorious as it may be, think again. There are mountains to climb and there is golf, disc golf, kayaking, canoeing, and mountain biking to try. Besides the 50 or so miles of trails around Stowe, Vermont, Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Jeffersonville has added beginner and intermediate terrain, along with an entire program to teach newbies. It’s a lot different riding a bike on a single track, avoiding rocks and tree roots, explained program director Rick Sokoloff, who gave my husband and our friend, Enesi Domi, 15, a lesson one morning on a recent visit. “A lot more work than I thought it would be,” said Enesi, who preferred the rush of the zip-line adventure.

It’s also not as expensive as you might think, especially if you avoid the peak foliage times and come midweek with young kids who are not yet in school. Smugglers’ Notch, with its roomy condos, for example, touts the cheapest rates of the year and half-price child care from infants through age seven in its Autumn Fest deal—so you can try the zip line or play golf while the kids are happily entertained in the well-appointed Treasures Center.

We opted to stay in Stowe, one of my favorite New England towns; its historic downtown looks like what you would expect a New England town to be—a white church steeple, small shops and buildings dating back more than 200 years, and plenty of good restaurants like Crop, with its in-house brewed beer and locally sourced eats. Then there are the mountain views at the recently renovated Topnotch Resort, which is not only kid-friendly (think s’mores around the fire pit at night and indoor and outdoor heated pool) but also pooch-friendly. The menus at the two resort restaurants are fashioned from local farms. I loved that we were right on the town’s five-plus-mile Rec Path, along the river. There are townhouses for larger family groups, and there is a great award-winning spa that offers treatments for teens and kids should you want to bring them along. Let’s not forget the fresh-baked cookies every afternoon, the riding stables, and the tennis academy. “We don’t want to leave,” one mom with two young kids confessed.

That may be because “Stowe is a real mountain community with the same spirit it has always had and a lot of history long before skiing,” says Chuck Baraw, whose family has run the Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa for more than 50 years. Young families will love the on-site playground and the complimentary apres-ski activities in winter.

Whatever your kids’ ages—and however long you have for a Vermont break this fall—they won’t get bored. Not with corn mazes to try, apples to pick, cider to sample, and, of course, the chance to tour the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in nearby Waterbury. You can also watch glassblowers at work at Little River HotGlass Studio or tour a Vermont farm.

Show kids where eggs and milk come from and teach them a lesson in sustainability at the nonprofit Shelburne Farms, about a 40-minute drive south of Burlington, where they can join the Chicken Parade, gather eggs at the fanciest chicken coop I’ve ever seen, card and spin wool, milk a cow, watch cheese being made, make friends with the baby goats, join in farm chores at the Children’s Farmyard, or go for a walk on the hiking trails on the farm’s 1,400-some acres that stretch down to Lake Champlain. Teachers come from all over the country for workshops to learn how teach sustainability in the classroom. On September 20, Shelburne Farms will celebrate the 36th Annual Harvest Festival. Without the kids, opt for a stay at The Inn, the spectacular 24-room lakefront inn that was originally the family home.

The best part, says ArborTrek’s Mike Smith: the chance to let go in the woods and “scream your brains out.”

Just remember to break!

(c) 2014 Eileen Ogintz Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

(Photos: Topnotch Resort and Vera Chang)

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By Eileen Ogintz

Appearing in more than 50 major newspapers, Eileen Ogintz's "Taking the Kids" column is a past winner of the national Clarion Award from Women in Communications.

The meeting of a three-year-old, a cat and a goldfish pond started "Taking the Kids." The three-year-old, Eileen Ogintz' son Matt, pushed the hapless kitty into the pond at a Wisconsin cottage her family had rented for the weekend. "I thought the kitty wanted to go swimming," Matt explained. The furious owner insisted they pack up and leave immediately. The embarrassed parents drove home three hours to Chicago in a downpour.

Eileen Ogintz was a national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune then, covering news stories around the country. The travel editor, hearing her tale of woe about the cat and the goldfish pond, encouraged her to write a story about the trials of traveling with children. That story led to others. "We realized there were a lot of people like me, parents who wanted help planning trips now that they had kids." The award-winning syndicated column Taking the Kids grew out of those stories. Ogintz left the Tribune, after 14 years as a reporter, national correspondent and feature writer, to spend more time with her three young children and to launch the column nationally. The Taking the Kids series of travel guides for children, published by HarperCollins West, has followed.

"More people than ever are taking their kids places, whether they're going to Grandma's or a museum, to Disney World or on a business trip," Ogintz said. "Their time and budgets are tight. I give them the help they need to make the most of their family time." "Planning with the kids' interests in mind can make the difference between a great trip and one that's a disaster," she added.

Taking the Kids now appears in more than 50 major newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News and Portland Oregonian. The column won a 1994 national Clarion Award from Women in Communications, Inc. and appears on AOL's Family Travel Network and elsewhere on the Web.

Ogintz has traveled with her husband and kids across the country and abroad -- from London to Disney World to Disneyland -- skiing in Colorado to fishing in Minnesota, soaking up history in Washington, D.C. to sightseeing in Las Vegas, New York and Yellowstone National Park.

The fifth book of the Taking the Kids series, A Kid's Guide to Vacation Fun in the Rocky Mountains, was just published, as well as a book for parents, Are We There Yet?? on taking the kids and surviving. She was the recipient of a 1995 and 1996 Parents' Choice honor for the series, which also highlights the Southwest, Southern California, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

Ogintz, who holds a master's in journalism from the University of Missouri, is a 20-year veteran of the newspaper business, reporting for The Anniston Star, The Record in Hackensack, N.J., and Des Moines Register as well as the Chicago Tribune, where she created the paper's family-issues beat. Today, she is regular contributor to numerous national publications, and has appeared on such television programs as "48 Hours," "The Today Show," "Good Morning America" and "Oprah." She created a course on the changing American family at Northwestern University and consults on work/family issues.

From their home in Connecticut, Ogintz travels with her husband, an executive in financial services, and their three children, Matt, Reggie and Melanie, who serve -- not always graciously -- as Taking the Kids' special team of experts.

Write to Eileen Ogintz in care of Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.
Or e-mail Eileen at eileen@takingthekids.com

© 2007 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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