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Baltimore road trips: The best spring break destinations for families

For The Baltimore Sun
Our favorite spring break trips a few hours drive from Baltimore.

You likely need a change of scenery after the long winter. But once you begin to investigate your options, you'll likely realize that pricey airline tickets, passports, snaking security lines and airline luggage fees can quickly suck the joy out of a spring break family vacation.

The good news is that traveling someplace exciting doesn't always require getting on a plane. While gas prices are still the lowest they've been since 2009, it's a great time to explore all that's within a few hours drive of your front door.

Driving can turn otherwise grueling travel into a fun-filled adventure, with exciting diversions and impromptu detours along the way. And surprise — Baltimore is not too far from fabulous dude ranches, all-inclusive resorts, intriguing cities, heritage trails, rocking skiing resorts and hands-on farm stays.

We've uncovered some fun-filled destinations certain to please your entire family. All you'll need to do is pack a suitcase, some snacks and hit the road.

Dude Ranches

Rocking Horse Ranch, Highland, N.Y.

Distance from Baltimore: 262 miles

Why go: This award-winning, all-inclusive resort that has something for everyone. Along with horseback riding and rodeos, there's skiing (lift tickets and rentals are included!), an indoor water park, an exotic wildlife zoo, evening shows, organized games and activities.

Even Better: With spring packages, kids stay for 50 percent off or free mid-week. Go to rockinghorseranch.com.

Don't-Miss Detour: Leave a day early and spend the night in New York City. Skip the pricey Broadway performances and opt for one of the city's new family friendly theater performances like "Gazillion Bubble Show (gazillionbubbleshow.com), "Camp Kapawana" (atlantictheater.org) or "The Butterfly Girl" (vitaltheatre.org). Stay at the all-suite Conrad Hotel and take advantage of the Family Fun Package for four, which includes daily parking, continental breakfast, New York Water Taxi passes, tickets to the Children's Museum of the Arts and more. Go to conradnewyork.com/promotions/family-fun/.

Malibu Dude Ranch, Milford, Pa.

Distance from Baltimore: 224 miles

Why go: It's not fancy, but perhaps that's why it feels like the real deal. There are cattle drives, skeet shooting, unlimited horseback riding, ATVs, an indoor pool, snowmobiling and family-style meals.

Even better: Spring overnight rates begin at $75 for kids and $139 for adults. Go to malibududeranch.com.

Don't-Miss Detour: A perfect snack-and-stretch car break is in Lititz, Pa., at the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, the first commercial pretzel bakery in America. Take a tour and get a lesson in pretzel twisting. juliussturgis.com.

Farmcation

CornerStone Farm B&B, Red Oak, Va.

Distance from Baltimore: 242 miles

Why go: A working farm, where the entire family can assist with chores: milking cows, gathering fresh eggs and feeding the livestock babies. There are also activities like making goat-milk soap and goat cheese, as well as nature walks and horseback riding. Kids are awarded a Jr. Farmer certificate at end of the stay.

Even better: The Farmer Package, beginning at $270/night for double occupancy, includes all meals and farm activities. Go to cornerstonefarm.net.

Don't-Miss Detour: At Treetop Zoofari Zip Line and Adventure Park (treetopzoofari.com) you will soar over 3,000 feet, through 42 obstacles including over the Metro Richmond Zoo.

Family-friendly resorts

Woodloch Pines Resort, Hawley, Pa.

Distance from Baltimore: 230 miles

Why go: Consistently ranked among the top U.S. resorts for families, there are too activities to name at this all-inclusive Poconos resort. But your kids will be most excited about the on-site snow tubing, ice skating, go-kart racing, skeet shooting, paintball, indoor pool, horseback riding, organized games and competitions, evening activities and shows. While the children are occupied, parents can have some heavenly respite at sister property the Lodge At Woodloch across the street, which has a spectacular spa and nature center with grown up activities. Meals are a highlight, served by an animated waitstaff.

Even better: March Midweek Package includes three meals a day, activities and lodging beginning at $129 per adult per night. Go to woodloch.com.

Don't-Miss Detour: On Interstate 83, an hour north of Harrisburg, Pa., stop for lunch and tour a real coal mine on the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Miner's Tour in Ashland, Pa. (pioneertunnel.com), which opens regular hours beginning April and is weather-contingent in March.

Massanutten Resort, McGaheysville, Va.

Distance from Baltimore: 160 miles

Why go: This all-season adventure resort offers a full schedule of organized daily activities as well as an indoor water park, three zip lines, horseback riding, a petting zoo, two 18-hole golf courses, on-site canoeing, kayaking and rafting, on-site skiing, ice skating and tubing, craft classes, a spa, evening activities and shows.

Even better: The $419 Surf and Stay Package includes two-night's lodging in a two-bedroom condo that sleeps six and all-day Water Park passes for four. Go to massresort.com.

Don't-Miss Detour: Exit Interstate 81 at Front Royal, Va., and hop on the Skyline Drive for spectacular Shenandoah Valley vistas. Some 24 miles into it is Luray Caverns, with stalactites and stalagmites like your kids have never seen. (luraycaverns.com)

Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort, Spa and Marina, Cambridge

Distance from Baltimore: 85 miles

Why go: While this tried-and-true resort is widely known, its appealing geography, coupled with its spring break activities earned it a place on this list. Included are family "Iron Chef" competitions, free golf for kids, indoor heated pool with dive-in movies, yoga, scavenger hunts and more.

Even better: Your third night is free with the Sunshine On Sale rate. Go to chesapeakebay.hyatt.com.

Don't-Miss Detour: Justine's Ice Cream Parlour in St. Michaels (justinesicecreamparlor.com) puts a new twist atop a cone, using only natural ingredients. Every one of the flavor choices, like the Lemon Pie shake, are superb, implementing local ingredients as often as possible. Gollywobbler sorbet, for example, fuses sweet blackberry wine from the St. Michaels Winery. After, walk it off around the pretty-as-a-postcard town.

Congress Hall, Cape May, N.J.

Distance from Baltimore: 154 miles

Why go: This enchanting old-world resort is a fabulous family destination year-round. Now they've added a life-size Candyland game, family and kids cooking lessons with the executive chef, tea with Alice in Wonderland, in addition to the popular scavenger hunts through the hotel's hallways, character-themed and costumed luncheons, golf clinics and a special Easter celebration.

Even better: Kids eat free with the Congressional Retreat Package. It also includes $30 dining credit, late checkout and a spa discount. Go to caperesorts.com.

Don't-Miss Detour: After you exit the turnpike road into Pennsville, N.J., be on the lookout for the Pennsville Custard Stand, where they still employ those old-fashioned machines to churn out arguably the thickest homemade shakes in the state.

Camelback Lodge and Indoor Water Park, Tannersville, Pa.

(This destination opens in April near Tannersville, Pa., in the Poconos. If that's too late for your spring break, make plans to visit this summer — it's just that cool.)

Distance from Baltimore: 186 miles

Why go: Billing itself as the nations largest ski-in/ski-out water park, this brand new resort lodge boasts an adventure center and spa at the base of Camelback Mountain. The 125,000 sq. ft. indoor water park has 13 slides, seven pools, a lazy river, a surfing area and outrageous new ride concepts including North America's longest indoor uphill water coaster. The adjoining adventure center offers a ropes course, laser tag, and mini golf. The snazzy new spa even offers kids treatments. Already on-site is skiing, snowboarding, snowtubing, ziplining, a treetops obstacle course and an alpine mountain coaster.

Even better: Book reservations before April 1 and receive a discount booklet with up to $200 in savings at venues at the resort. Go to camelbackresort.com.

The Resort at Glade Springs, Daniels, W.Va.

Distance from Baltimore: 344 miles

Why go: The kids will be nonstop busy at the diverse array of activities here, including zipline treetop canopy tours, horseback riding at the on-site equestrian center, a new 10-lane bowling center, laser tag, fitness center, spa, movies, video arcade and tubing. There's also excursions to nearby coal mine with cavern tours and mining for gemstones and flights in open-air biplanes.

Even better: This is a real budget option with two-room king suites that begin at $89 per night. Go to gladesprings.com.

Don't-Miss Detour: Set your GPS first to Morgantown, W.Va., and have authentic Southern barbecue at the Atomic Grill (facebook.com/atomicgrill), where everything is local and slow-cooked. Then head down the scenic Route 119 into Philippi, W.Va., for the Barbour County Historical Museum. Here is a most fascinating collection of early American curios (some dating back to 1635), Civil War memorabilia and mummies (yes, mummies) that traveled with P.T. Barnum's circus. Warning: Hours are erratic before May, so call in advance to make an appointment.

Cities: History, Arts and Culture

Pittsburgh

Distance from Baltimore: 247 miles

Why go: Pittsburgh is Kidsburgh. Seriously, you'll run out of time before you run out of things to do here. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History (carnegiemnh.org) boasts one of the world's best fossil collections and kids can dig for bones in the Bone Hunters Quarry. Or you can experience an earthquake or try the weightless simulation experience at the Carnegie Science Center (carnegiesciencecenter.org). The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh (pittsburghkids.org) invites kids to tinker with tools on real cars, and a block away is the National Aviary (aviary.org), filled with rare and exotic birds. The whole family can take a century-old cable car up the Duquesne Incline for panoramic city views.

Even better: Many hotels are offering discounted family packages that also include up to 50-percent off on attractions. Go to visitpittsburgh.com/things-to-do/family-fun.

Don't-Miss Detour: Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater that's built over a waterfall. Try to dine at their wholesome, local fare cafe. fallingwater.org.

Destination: Philadelphia

Distance from Baltimore: 102 miles

Why go: The Birthplace of America is one of the most family-friendly cities on the East Coast. The Franklin Institute (fi.edu) now has the world's largest gallery of Lego art, including a 20-foot long Tyrannosaurus Rex made of the colorful bricks. Of course, there's a Lego-themed play area. If that's not stimulating enough, the museum's brand new interactive "Your Brain" exhibit will get them thinking. They can tour a real jail that once held Al Capone at the Eastern State Penitentiary (easternstate.org). And spring is the perfect time to walk the city and view Philadelphia's famous murals, climb the "Rocky Steps" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (philamuseum.org), and take a ride on a Phlash, the bright purple trolley cars that travel to all of the most popular attractions around the city. Go to visitphilly.com.

Even better: The Philadelphia CityPass saves families 45 percent on the city's most famous attractions (go to citypass.com/philadelphia). Kimpton's Hotel Monaco Philadelphia's package Family Fun Night (through April 30) offers complimentary valet parking, classic board games to play, in-room movie with popcorn and candy, Kids' Hour every Saturday afternoon with games, kid-friendly beverages, and make-your-own trail mix bar. monaco-philadelphia.com/hotel-deals/packages/index.html.

Don't-Miss Detour: Skip Interstate 95 and drive home via Route 1 through Nottingham, Pa., for the Herr's Snack Factory Tour. Seriously, need we say more? herrs.com.

Washington, D.C.

Distance from Baltimore: 38 miles

Why go: A seasonal favorite is the National Cherry Blossom Festival, March 20-April 12, when the nation's capital is awash in pink and white petals (nationalcherryblossomfestival.org). There's a Cherry Blossom Kite Festival (March 28) and the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival with music and water activities (April 4). This year marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the National Museum of American History's Civil War collection includes false teeth found after the Battle of Shiloh (americanhistory.si.edu). You can tour Lincoln's retreat cottage in Petworth neighborhood (lincolncottage.org), and tour Ford's Theater where he was killed (fordstheatre.org). The Washington Nationals' season begins at home on April 6 and a visit to their beautiful stadium is worth swallowing your bird-pride for an evening (nationals.com). Two more suggestions: Take the kids through Spy School at the International Spy Museum (spymuseum.org) or check out the new Andean bear cubs at the National Zoo (nationalzoo.si.edu). For more ideas, go to washington.org.

Even better: Kimpton's Hotel Helix and Hotel Rouge has added bunk beds to some "family rooms". Inside are also hula-hoops and kids robes. They also offer guests use of loaner bikes, perfect for spring excursions around the city. hotelhelix.com, rougehotel.com.

Don't-Miss Detour: Just off the Interstate 295, the National Cryptologic Museum is the real deal exhibiting the methods U.S. intelligence used for making and breaking codes throughout its history. nsa.gov/about/cryptologic_heritage/museum.

Road trip

Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area

Distance from Baltimore: No further than 150 miles

Why go: This National Scenic Byway through 'The Region Where America Happened' is a historic trail traversing nine presidential sites,18 national and state parks, hundreds of African American and Native American heritage sites, 57 historic towns and villages, and the largest collection of Civil War sites in the nation. The trail spans 180 miles, from Gettysburg, Pa., to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Charlottesville, Va. The well-executed website assists in planning themed itineraries with step-by-step driving instructions and includes fun pit stops along the way. Go to hallowedground.org.

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