Weekend vacations to destinations that American travelers can reach by driving appear to be growing in popularity: In the 2018 Luxe Report from the travel network Virtuoso, 25 percent of the network’s more than 16,000 advisers reported seeing a significant increase in demand for one- to three-day vacations within driving distance from home.
Weekend trips in general are on the uptick, according to MMGY Global’s Portrait of American Travelers 2016-17 report, which found that 62 percent of travelers from a pool of 2,948 respondents said that they took one or more weekend vacations in the past 12 months, an increase from 60 percent the year before.
According to Rafat Ali, founder and chief executive of the travel research company Skift, the increasing hassle of flying combined with the limited number of vacation days that many people have makes quick driving vacations ever more appealing. “It can be hard to get away for a week or more, and a short trip close to home is a great alternative,” he said. “It’s also usually more economical.”
Both Ali and Misty Belles, Virtuoso’s global head of public relations, say that staying at a resort that caters to locals is an ideal way to take a break.
“A resort allows you to get pampered, dine well and enjoy a change of scenery, and drive-to resorts have the ease of a staycation combined with all the fun of a standard vacation,” Belles said.
Resorts abound in the United States. We chose to highlight the five below because they’re all family-friendly, within a four-hour (or less) drive from at least a few metropolitan areas and offer value for your money. They’re also self-encompassing retreats with plenty of diversions to keep you occupied on your weekend escape.
Crystal Springs Resort, Hamburg, New Jersey
The Basics: Set among rolling hills in northern New Jersey, Crystal Springs has two hotels: the upscale Grand Cascades Lodge and the more affordable Minerals Hotels, with a total of 425 rooms. Amenities include six golf courses; three swimming pool complexes, including two indoors; indoor tennis courts; nine restaurants; and two spas. Guests can also go skeet shooting, snowshoeing, paddleboarding and hiking, and on the weekends, play laser tag games.
Metropolitan Areas Within a Four-Hour Drive: An hour from New York City and two hours from Philadelphia.
Fun Factor: The resort offers plenty of free entertainment for families, including animal and magic shows and dive-in movies in its pools. Oenophiles will appreciate the impressive wine list and free daily tours of the sprawling wine cellar.
The Cost: Nightly rates start at $199 at Minerals Hotel and $299 at Grand Cascades Lodge. The resort’s website has a “Steal of the Week,” with discounted packages and other specials on offer. Book by calling 866-254-8812.
Marina Grand Resort, New Buffalo, Michigan
The Basics: Nestled in a residential neighborhood with walking access to a 20-mile-long sandy beach on Lake Michigan, this waterfront resort has 78 rooms, all with fireplaces and outdoor seating. Water sports such as sailing and kayaking are an emphasis, but the property also has indoor and outdoor pools and two restaurants with water views and extensive menus of Michigan beers on tap. Those who want to explore the area will find attractions such as breweries, wineries and vintage and antique stores.
Metropolitan Areas Within a Four-Hour Drive: 90 minutes from Chicago, two hours from Indianapolis and 3 1/2 hours from Detroit.
Fun Factor: Guests can borrow bicycles and sleds for free. The Marina Grand also provides free, locally roasted coffee all day and has a library of several hundred DVDs that guests can borrow to watch in the DVD players in their rooms.
The Cost: Nightly rates start at $129. Weekday stays are up to 30 percent less expensive, and a different attractively priced package with inclusions such as meals and distillery tours is offered each month on the hotel’s website. Book online at marinagrandresort.com.
— Around the Country
Great Wolf Lodge, 14 locations in the United States and one in Ontari
The Basics: Although each Great Wolf Lodge has a different number of rooms, the centerpiece of every location is an indoor water park that ranges from 35,000 to 100,000 square feet and features water slides, raft rides, wave pools and splash areas; guests get unlimited access to the water park. In addition, the properties offer rope courses, climbing walls, miniature golf and arcade games (all of these have additional fees). Adults will appreciate the spacious spas and multiple dining venues, where seasonal and local produce is an emphasis.
Metropolitan Areas Within a Four-Hour Drive: Most locations are within a four-hour drive from major metropolitan areas. The Pocono Mountains property, for example, is a few hours from New York City and Philadelphia, while the one in Grand Mound, Washington, is just outside Seattle.
Fun Factor: Every location has the Great Wolf Lodge Story Time, where children gather around the fireplace for a bedtime story. Families can book suites with fun themes, including one with a log cabin inside a room that has bunk beds for kids, along with a television.
The Cost: Nightly rates start at between $129 and $199. Sign up for the resort’s email list to be alerted to the periodic 48-hour sales where rooms are discounted between 30 and 40 percent. Book online at greatwolf.com.
Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, Solvang, California
The Basics: This secluded 10,000-acre ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley has 73 telephone-and-TV-free rooms, more than 50 miles of horseback riding trails, two 18-hole golf courses, a 6,500-square-foot spa and fitness center, six tennis courts and a 100-acre, spring-fed lake where guests can fly fish, canoe and kayak.
Metropolitan Areas Within a Four-Hour Drive: Three hours from Los Angeles, four hours from Silicon Valley and San Jose.
Fun Factor: Breakfast and dinner as well as daily wine tastings are included, and there are lots of free activities for children, including face painting, scavenger hunts and movies under the stars. The Alisal also hosts a guided horseback breakfast ride twice a week where guests ride to a remote part of the property and enjoy an outdoor breakfast around a fire and in the company of a cowboy poet.
The Cost: A two-night minimum stay is required, and the Round Up Vacation Package, $550 a night for two people, is the best value, with meals, golf and tennis fees and the breakfast ride. The best availability is in winter and spring; summers tend to be booked a year in advance.
Barnsley Resort, Adairsville, Georgia
The Basics: In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains just north of Atlanta, Barnsley Resort has spacious cottage-style accommodations in an English-inspired village. The property has 155 rooms. Adventures to be had here include hiking, fishing, canoeing, horseback riding and golf. The three dining venues highlight Southern-inspired cuisine, and there’s also a free-standing spa.
Metropolitan Areas Within a Four-Hour Drive: One hour from both Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee, 2 1/2 hours from Birmingham, Alabama, and 3 1/2 hours from Nashville, Tennessee.
Fun Factor: Vehicles are not allowed in many parts of the resort, so children are free to run around the lanes, and the village setting evokes the feeling of a friendly, small English town. The property is dotted with fire pits, and come evening, guests are invited to make s’mores. Plenty of activities are free, including fishing, canoeing and visits to the barnyard to feed animals like goats.
The Cost: Nightly rates start at $179, and winter and summer offer the most attractive prices. Check the Barnsley’s website for special packages throughout the year. Book online at barnsleyresort.com.