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SPECIAL SECTION:

SPRING BREAK ESCAPES


Family-friendly Destinations

ON THE SECTION COVER:
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK is a land of beautiful desert, river and mountain landscapes
alongside the unique communities of Marathon, Lajitas, Study Butte and Terlingua.
www.VisitBigBend.com

Compiled By Barbara Kuntz

Spring Break means the children are out of school for a week, and you are ready to take time off, too, from the hustle and bustle of busy days and work. Where to go and what to do?

Let us take you on an adventure of ideas a little bit off the beaten path. Think of sugar-white sand beaches in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi. Or consider the natural beauty of lakes, mountains and hot springs in Arkansas. Perhaps a Texas Hill Country dude ranch to experience the cowboy — or cowgirl — way of life? And Big Bend National Park is right in our backyard.

Whatever destination you select, and whether you head to the airport or hop in the car for an old-fashioned road trip, you’ll find fun times await at your chosen escape.       

ALABAMA
While the state of Alabama and alumni nationwide are still celebrating another NCAA football championship (congrats!), you’ll find even more to enjoy here than the “Crimson Tide” pride. You’ll become a fan, too, of this beautiful getaway, and even make it your second “Sweet Home” for year-round stays. www.alabama.travel

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach
A beach vacation on the Alabama Gulf Coast is a family affair, with Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offering activities for all ages. Children build sandcastles and teen-agers hone their skim board skills. Parents can watch or join in the fun with volleyball, parasailing and much more. Introduce your family to the wet-and-wild action of charter fishing off Orange Beach, home to the country’s largest artificial reef program. www.gulfshores.com

ARKANSAS
You’re entering a world of enchantment when you pass through Texarkana, a city that straddles the Lone Star State and Arkansas, “The Natural State.” Arkansas is famous for its scenic wonders, with clear lakes, rivers and streams; mountains and caves; abundant wildlife; and of course, its hot springs. www.arkansas.com

Hot Springs
Ahh. In Hot Springs Natural Park in the Ouachita Mountains, take in the relaxing and top-spa getaways in the country — and of, course, the therapeutic waters. According to a recent report by Time magazine, saunas, even of the outdoor type, are “ridiculously” good for you. In town, the art scene is amazing, as the city is home to glass blowers, leather craftsmen, jewelers and woodworkers. Gifts to the hears include the Hot Springs Music Festival, a premier performing and teaching classical music event set this year June 3-16; Hot Springs Jazz Festival; and Spa City Blues Festival. And check out the Arkansas Derby, which finalizes “The Racing Festival of the South.” www.hotsprings.org

Lake Hamilton
Ringed by condominiums, resorts, motels and restaurants, the 7,460-acre Lake Hamilton impoundment is one of Arkansas' most popular recreational lakes. And all aboard the “Belle of Hot Springs,” a 400-passenger riverboat that offers sightseeing, lunch, dinner and dance cruises on the lake. www.arkansas.com

Lake Ouachita
Named one of the cleanest manmade lakes in America, 40,000-acre Lake Ouachita is a water sports mecca for swimming, skiing, scuba diving, boating and fishing. Rent a fully equipped cabin along the lake's 975 miles of shoreline — and stay a while. www.arkansas.com

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge
Scenic Highway 23 includes a stop at this USDA-licensed and GFAS-verified refuge, just a short seven miles from the historic tourist town of Eureka Springs. The lions, tigers, cougars, bears, monkey, coati, ligers, tiliger and servals are located in natural habitats where visitors can view and learn more about these magnificent creatures — all in the setting of the Ozark Mountains. www.turpentinecreek.org

FLORIDA
You’ll find Scenic Highway 30-A the path to an ideal Spring Break vacation. Hugging the Gulf of Mexico, this breathtaking drive includes white sand beaches and a mix of eclectic beach communities dotted like pearls along the northwestern coastline.

Miles of greenway trails connect state parks, preserves and residential areas along this byway. The Coastal Dunes Lakes of South Walton intrigue with 15 unique geographical features found only in Walton County and in Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand and Oregon. www.visitflorida.com

Destin
Destin is the place to go for great catches year-round and has earned the reputation as “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” Where there is great fishing, you’ll find great seafood restaurants. Golf enthusiasts at all skill levels love this paradise at eight championship courses. Or just soak up the sun, walk on the beach…and bring a bucket and shovel along for the children — or you — for play in the sand. www.visitflorida.com

Pensacola
Located in Florida’s Panhandle, Pensacola beckons with white sand beaches in numerous parks, reef snorkeling, water park rides, deep-sea fishing and diving, hiking, bicycle rentals and casual waterfront restaurants. History buffs take in historic Fort Pickens and Fort Barrancas and other Civil War landmarks. As well, a vacation in the Pensacola Bay Area will convince you why it’s one of the top family-friendly destinations in the country as endorsed by Southern Living magazine. Plus, it’s a favorite wedding site with fabulous venues for your big day. www.visitpensacola.com

Rosemary Beach
This master-planned community on a beachside road in Walton County includes about 105 acres of 400-plus home sites and a mixed-used Town Centre filled with sophisticated shopping and fine restaurants. Rosemary Beach is a haven for fitness lovers, too, especially tennis enthusiasts. Vacation rentals are aplenty.  www.rosemarybeach.com

Seagrove Beach
Discover the charm of Seagrove, a two-mile-long beach community on the Florida Panhandle. Laid-back but luxurious, Seagrove is a place that embraces variety. From upscale boutiques to casual cafes, this friendly area offers a little bit of everything. www.visitsouthwalton.com

Seaside Beach
In artsy Seaside, you’ll feel immediately at ease among the internationally acclaimed New Urbanist resort area. “Here, most people get around by bike or by foot. Funky airstream trailers serve hot dogs, fresh juice, shaved ice and more. And just down the road, you’ll find cozy cafes and a specialty market,” according to the www.visitsouthwalton.com website. Seaside is a great place to rent an entire home for your family, with many villas available. www.visitsouthwalton.com

South Walton
South Walton boasts turquoise waters, miles of white sand beaches and challenging golfing opportunities that are a big draw year-round here. South Walton’s luxury accommodations, eclectic shops, unique art galleries and award-winning dining are part of the area's distinctive character. www.visitsouthwalton.com

WaterColor
A master-planned community with Southern grace, WaterColor is tucked between the beaches of the Emerald Coast and Western Lake, a natural 220-acre coastal lake. The WaterColor Inn is a 60-room beachfront resort rated the No. 1 Family Friendly Resort in North America by Travel + Leisure magazine. Numerous other vacation rentals are available as well. www.watercolorflorida.com

MISSISSIPPI
Mental spell check from memories of elementary school days: “M-I-double-S double-S double humpback humpback I.” Your visit to Mississippi will also be etched in your memories forever. www.visitmississippi.org

Biloxi & Gulfport
Adults play cards, roll the dice and hit the slot machines at the numerous casinos in Biloxi, including Houstonian Tilman Ferttita’s Golden Nugget location there. Or, with the kids, take a boat ride from Gulf Port to one of the barrier islands for fun in crystal clear waters. www.visitmississippi.org

TEXAS
No matter where you roam, you’ll find great adventures in every direction, whether you go north, south east or west. Everything is bigger — and better, as native Texans like to say — in The Lone Star State.

Big Bend National Park
It’s the wild, wild west at this 800,000-plus-acre park, where night skies are dark as coal yet filled with twinkling stars. Big Bend sits along the Chisos Mountains and is home to hundreds of bird species that take refuge in this area surrounded by the Chihuahuan Desert, as well as bountiful wildlife and more than 1,200 species of plants, including tenacious cacti that bloom in the sun. The Rio Grande carves temple-like canyons in the ancient limestone along the U.S.-Mexico border. A haven for hikers, bird-watchers, campers, outdoor enthusiasts and the entire family, Big Bend is truly magical. www.visitbigbend.com

TEXAS DUDE RANCHES
Compiled By Barbara Kuntz

You won’t be strapped on top of an enormous, raging bull determined to throw you off his back, promise. Leave that to the experts at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Texas dude and guest ranches gently — and often luxuriously — show visitors the cowboy lifestyle as vacation destinations on a working ranch. Learn how to ride a horse. Sit around a roaring campfire while the “cookies”...or chefs…whip up the day’s grub. And enjoy a night sky full of stars before shut-eye.

Considered by many the Cowboy Capitol of Texas, Bandera in the Texas Hill Country is home to a passel of dude ranches. Here are just a few we wrangled up for your pleasure.

Spanning 230 acres on the Medina River and Indian Creek, 2E Twin Elm Guest Ranch is one of the oldest dude ranches in the Hill Country, founded in 1939. Every night there’s a rodeo with bull and steer riding, barrel racing and roping. Go on a hayride, fossil hunt and swim and tube, as well as horseback ride. Accommodations include camping and RV sites, in addition to 21 rooms in cabins and bunkhouses.
830-796-3628, www.twinelmranch.com

At Dixie Dude Ranch, a 725-acre ranch in Bandera founded more than 75 years ago, your cowboy hosts who work the horses here also train for and compete in rodeos. Enjoy horseback riding, fishing, bonfires, hayrides and Western entertainment. Duplex cabins, cottages, lodge rooms and a two-story bunkhouse are available.
830-796-7771, www.dixieduderanch.com

Owned and operated by the Hicks family for more than a half-century, The Mayan Ranch sits high in the Hill Country. Producing seven world champion rodeo cowboys, the 348-plus acre ranch offers visitors picturesque trails along the Medina River for horseback riding and nature walks, as well as fishing and tubing opportunities. Get a heaping cowboy breakfast or dinner on the trail or at Old West Town, where you can also two-step to your heart’s content. Shop at the general store for your Western needs. Accommodations include 68 rooms in cottages or lodges.
830-796-3312, www.mayanranch.com

Saddle up for your vacation at Rancho Cortez. Bring the entire family or schedule a company or church retreat to enjoy horseback riding, hayrides, campfires, cattle roundups, lasso lessons, swimming in the pool or soaking in the hot tub. The ranch also combines the fun with popular weight-loss programs. Work with personal trainers under the direction of Mary Cortez for guided hikes, water aerobics, yoga, weights, aerobics and Pilates, along with more classes in the air-conditioned gym.
830-796-9339, www.ranchocortez.com

Trade in your tie and slacks for a red bandana and jeans at the Silver Spur Guest Ranch in Bandera. Relax in the 14,000-square-foot lodge, and venture off for horseback riding, hiking or fossil digging. Even learn how to two-step or line dance to live music. The Silver Spur Guest Ranch has nearly 300 acres where you can explore, experience and enjoy Western life, from hayrides to campfire camaraderie to outdoor barbecues to cowboy breakfasts.
830-796-3037, www.silverspur-ranch.com

 

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