Fun close to home

Budget-friendly travel
Wouldn’t it be great if they’d wait until spring to have spring break?

If this season catches you without the cash to escape the zone where spring still feels like winter, we’ve found some not-so-distant destinations where your brood can bond without breaking the bank.

Or wait till May and relish the resorts’ full fun factor.

Robyn Monaghan has been a journalist for 20 years and is a mom who lives in Plainfield.


Who would have thought you could afford it? This upscale resort will even pay for your gas to get there.

Eagle Ridge is just 150 miles west of Chicago at one of the state’s most popular tourist areas, the Galena territory, ranked among America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations.

There’s horseback riding or hot air ballooning in the summer, sleigh rides and sledding in the winter. For mom and dad, there are four courses of"golf nirvana” ranked among the"Best Resort Courses in America” by Golfweek Magazine, a full-service spa and a fitness center. And everybody loves the indoor pool and hot tub no matter what the season.

Amid thousands of acres of rolling hills, Galena is packed with teachable moments. Get history lessons at the Vinegar Hill Historic Lead Mine and Museum, which dates back to 1822, and the U.S. Grant Home, presented to the general by grateful townspeople in 1867. A geology field trip is minutes away at nearby Crystal Lake Cave with its stalactites, stalagmites and crystal-clear underground lake.

The Family Time Package at Eagle Ridge Resort, $569 for four days and three nights, comes packed with perks. The resort pays for your drive with $25 to be used at its own gas pump. When you check in, you’ll get a welcome basket for the family filled with favorite snacks. Ask about pet-friendly accommodations.

The extras, like hot air ballooning ($175) and horseback riding ($36 per hour) are pricey, but the family can save up for it together until it’s warmer by pitching in

pennies for chores.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

For a getaway that’s super, find your family’s inner Yooper. Spring takes her time coming to this northern zone, so you’ll want to save this trip for a May escape unless you’re looking for snowmobiling and skiing opportunities.

Chill out on the cheap at Big Bay Getaway at Garden Corners on Big Bay de Noc just north of Escanaba. You’ll find a folksy little mom and pop motel for about $45 a night. It’s not the Holiday Inn (or even the Super 8) but it’s clean and cozy. You can save a bundle on meals by using its common kitchen, with cupboards full of dishes and cooking utensils.

Garden Bay is a far better deal than you’re likely to find close to home—far being the operative word here. OK, it’s a seven-hour drive. But, if you start out early (around 7 a.m.) the kids will sleep through the mundane parts of the drive and you’ll reach the Wisconsin-U.P. border in the early afternoon.

Stop in Marinette to pack a picnic lunch of pasties, the Yooper delicacy of pastry-ensconced meat, potatoes and veggies. For the last leg of the trip, you’ll be motoring up M-35, which traces Lake Michigan’s shore.

For those putting off this trip until summer, in the Garden area visit Fayette State Park and beach, the home of an 1800s smelting village. Ask the locals for directions to Kitch-iti-Kipi, or Big Springs, near Cooks, with a rope-pull raft. For a day trip, follow Forest Highway 13, winding about an hour beneath a canopy of leafy boughs up to the icy green crags overlooking Lake Superior at Munising. Make sure to make the easy hike through woody trails to watch more than a dozen different waterfalls gush from cliffs to streams.

Monticello, Ind.

Your whole crew will light up when it wakes up in The Lighthouse Lodge, a historic stone lighthouse on Lake Shafer in the Monticello, Ind. area, about an hour and a half south of Chicago.

Step out for a quick morning stretch on your private balcony to savor the view of sand beaches on Lake Schafer. If the weather won’t cooperate, the family can still bask in the rays in the lodge’s sunroom and create quality time in its rec room, outfitted with card tables, bumper pool tables and a dart board, a large TV for movies in the video library and a Wii.

In the neighborhood is Fair Oaks Dairy Farm, Whistle Stop Restaurant and Train Museum—and the Indiana Beach Amusement Park, which opens May 3.

For $75 a night Sunday through Thursday before Memorial Day, a clan can get a bay view suite with queen bed, hide-a-bed couch, fireplace and kitchenette. You can book it for the whole week for about $650. For an extra $15 a night, you can upgrade to a penthouse with a whirlpool tub and private balcony overlooking the lake.

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