Sunny Slopes: Mountain Resorts for Summer Family Vacations

Written by Alexa Owen • Jun 08, 2016

Bummed about the snow melting and your skis heading into storage? Not to worry. While most North American ski resorts stopped spinning lifts for skiers months ago, warm weather and summer activities are in full swing. You may not be shredding bottomless powder this July (at least not on this continent), but there are plenty of opportunities for your family to craft the perfect summer vacation at – yes – a ski resort.

Swap ski school for summer camp (complete with water parks and horseback riding), hot tubs for lake front views, and fireside hot toddies for happy hour beers on the sundeck. In the past five years, ski resorts across the country have amped up their activities to offer the full four season vacation experience, and in our opinion, summer is a perfect time of the year to drop into resort life. The days are long and warm, the organized family fun abundant, and the mountain town cultures thriving. Here are our top picks for ski resorts to visit this summer with the whole family.

Northstar California

Best For: Playing in the mountains and on the lake.

Northstar is Tahoe’s go-to resort for families seeking it all, whether in winter or summer. Located on the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe, the recently expanded resort boasts luxury hotels, a bustling village, mountain bike trails, weekly family-friendly events, and access to the nearly 500 square kilometer lake. The resort itself is just a 1 hour drive from Reno International Airport, and 3 hours from nearby Yosemite National Park. It’s a top pick for families because of the wide array of activities, most of which are crafted for those with kids. Feel like a day off? The day camps offer fully-supervised fun, which leaves parents with time to wander off for a long day hike or wine and dine.

For Adults: The 18-hole, par-72 golf course is open for 2016, and features mountainous views and fine dining. Don’t miss the Northstar Village Wine Walks, which take place the last Fridays of June, July, and August. The Tuesday evening Retro Skate Nights are worth a visit.

For Kids: The Kids Adventure Club runs from the last week of June through August; kids ages 4-12 can enjoy daily activities like nature walks and gem panning while parents go play in the mountains. Friday evenings in July and August feature Family Fun Night, complete with music, face painting, and games.

When to Go: Weekly live music and family events kick off mid-June and last through August.

Cheat Sheet:

Stay… at Timber Creek Lodge for spacious rooms in the heart of the base village; relax in the sauna while the kids unwind in the game room.

Fine Dining… Enjoy a mid-mountain meal inspired by fresh, local ingredients at Manzanita; floor-to-ceiling windows offer stunning mountain views.

Family-Friendly Eats … Head to Rubicon Pizza Company for fresh salads, hand-tossed pizzas, and Italian fare in a casual atmosphere.

Play Outside… After a morning mountain hike, pack a picnic and paddle around expansive Lake Tahoe.

Ditch the KidsKid’s Adventure Club hosts kids ages 4-12 for supervised activities like gem panning, roller skating, and mini golf; day-by-day or long-term enrollment is offered.

Don’t MissFriday Fun Nights at the base village, which feature live music, face painting, margaritas & mini golf specials, and more.

Smugglers’ Notch

Best For: Unique activities for every taste (waterparks and llama treks included).

Smugglers’ Notch markets itself as America’s best ski resort for families, and hey, they’ve got a point. The northern Vermont haven offers the most amount of activities – organized and otherwise – that we’ve seen of any resort in the East. Winters boast cozy nights in slopeside condos and kids camps galore; summers offer endless play in neighboring lakes and mountains. The resort rocks 8 pools and 4 waterslides across a handful of locations, zip line canopy tours, geocaching, and a jam-packed social calendar that will leave families wishing they’d booked a longer vacay.

For Adults: Smugglers’ Notch asks that adults rediscover the “kid” in you, which is possible through daytime play like guided hikes or lounging by the pool with a glass of wine, or nighttime comedy shows and live music.

For Kids: Children ages 6 weeks to 17 years can find organized programs specifically tailored to their interests at Smuggs’ Summer Fun University. Games, crafts, and hikes abound for the youngsters, while older campers can enjoy adventure activities like rock climbing and pizza around bonfires.

When to Go: Camps and events kick off mid-June; enjoy gorgeous weather and fewer crowds near the end of August.

Cheat Sheet:

Stay… at Village East Condominiums for easiest access to The Village Center, restaurants, and amenities.

Fine DiningThe Hearth & Candle serves gourmet fare sourced from local farms; indulge in duck confit tacos or wild boar ribeye while the kids stick to the delectable children’s menu.

Family-Friendly Eats … Enjoy a farm-to-table gourmet dinner at Valley Dream Farm in nearby Cambridge; the kids will love the farm tour, and you’ll dig the delicious local cuisine.

Play Outside… Explore the award-winning, fully-guided zip line canopy tours, complete with obstacle courses and commentary on local ecology.

Ditch the KidsSummer Fun University is the ultimate day camp for kids – we love that there are options for teenagers.

Don’t Miss… The Vermont Country Fair, hosted Thursdays from 5-8 on the Village Green, boasts old-fashioned family games, entertainment, local artists and sing-a-long music.

Aspen

Best For: Off-the-beaten path mountain town experience.

Aspen’s reputation as an ultra-exclusive destination for the rich and famous is slowly fading. The truth is, this historic mining town maintains all its grounded charm amidst the glitz and glamour of upscale art galleries, fine dining restaurants, and old western clothing stores that could burn a serious hole in most our wallets. This is a top destination for families because of its rich historical roots, fun-loving atmosphere, and absolute gorgeous Rocky Mountain setting. Aspen also dodges many of the crowds that swarm nearby I-70 resorts.

For Adults: Strolling around downtown Aspen is a must for adults, and dinner and drinks on a sun-drenched Colorado deck a classic way to spend an evening away from the kids. For a daytime getaway (with or without the kids), head up the gondola for Bluegrass Sundays.

For Kids: Camp Aspen Snowmass boasts a holistic approach to traditional day camp in the mountains, enriching fun experiences with connection to nature and wellness. Overnight camping trips are offered, as well as specialty camps for downhill mountain biking, rocket building, and mountainboarding.

When to Go: You’ll be knee-high in wildflowers by mid-July, but the (almost) always sunny Colorado boasts flawless weather all summer.

Cheat Sheet:

Stay…at Sky Hotel downtown for an eco-conscious, boutique hotel experience in the heart of village life.

Fine DiningMatsuhisa is the place for fantastic sushi in a hip, lively atmosphere; Japanese fusion options are available for skeptical youngsters.

Family-Friendly EatsHickory House is a local favorite featuring tasty BBQ in a casual atmosphere; this one’s especially great after a long day on the hiking trails.

Play Outside…Take a hot air balloon tour over the Roaring Fork Valleys for one-of-a-kind glimpses of wildlife and picturesque scenery.

Ditch the Kids…Let your youngsters explore hiking, biking, camping, and more through Camp Aspen Snowmass; check the calendar for theme-specific weeks.

Don’t MissFarm-to-Table Tuesdays for a taste of the freshest local fare, live music, and games.

Whistler Blackcomb

Best For: The big mountain vacation.

If 360 degree views of endless British Columbia mountainscapes is what you seek this summer, take the family to Whistler Blackcomb. Do it. This mega-resort, the largest in North America, serves as a mecca for extreme sports enthusiasts year-round, and when it comes to families, the offerings for big mountain activities (diluted as needed for age and ability) are unparalleled. Horseback riding, bear viewing tours, Canadian wilderness excursions and river rafting abound, while the Family Adventure Zone in the Upper Village offers family-friendly all-day activities. Play hard, eat well, chill out, repeat: Whistler Blackcomb is our top pick for the ultimate big mountain resort vacation.

For Adults: The 18-hole golf course is top-notch, and an excellent alternative to the plenty of high energy activities with the kids. For something a little more exhilarating, try an ATV tour, which offer panoramic views of the mountains from remote areas of the resort.

For Kids: Every day of the week offers a different experience for kids ages 3-12 at the Adventure Day Camps; mountain-top hikes, archery, and day trips to the Lil’wat Cultural Center take place weekly. The Family Adventure Zone boasts bungee trampolines, trapeze, and more.

When to Go: The snow season lasts long into May, and grounds can be wet and muddy into June. July and August tend be to dry (and gorgeous), with plenty of live music and other events; most kids-specific events start the fourth week of June.

Cheat Sheet:

Stay…at the Carleton Lodge (the condos are ideal for families) for best access to the gondola and village areas; the golf course and mountain bike course are within a few minutes walk.

Fine DiningBarefoot Bistro is the top pick for gourmet coastal cuisine hand-crafted by award-winning chef Melissa Craig; it also boasts the coldest vodka tasting room in the world.

Family-Friendly EatsMongolie Grill features a super fun DIY stir fry bar; create your own bowl, then watch chefs fry it up in front of you; this is a favorite for kids.

Play Outside…Canoe the River of Golden Dreams with professional naturalist guides for a relaxing day on the water and a glimpse into the Canadian wilderness.

Ditch the KidsAdventure Day Camps incorporate local cultural experiences and outdoor excursions into the daily activities; 1-3 day camps are available.

Don’t Miss… The Whistler Presents Concert Series in the Olympic Plaza starts July 1st and runs through September.

Jackson Hole

Best For: National Parks access, wildlife viewing.

The tiny town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming blooms each summer with boldly colored wildflowers, outdoor music, nourishing farmer’s markets and outdoor adventure activities. Yes, things can get crowded, but with two of the most beautiful national parks – Grand Teton and Yellowstone – just outside the town, it’s no wonder over 1 million tourists flock through from June to September. The good news (besides a guarantee that you’ll have a wildly western vacation this summer) is that the resort lies minutes from Grand Teton National Park and a healthy distance from camper-clogged downtown Jackson. With daily events, kids camps, shopping and restaurants at your fingertips in Teton Village, you’ll have a stress-free resort vacation while enjoying all the attractions of bustling northwest Wyoming.

For Adults: Don’t leave Jackson Hole without indulging in the playful and historic nightlife. Bluegrass Tuesdays at the Silver Dollar Bar bring the real cowboys onto the dance floor; head to the Stagecoach Bar in Wilson on Sunday for a peak into one of the valley’s most historic venues.

For Kids: The Kid’s Ranch at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offers downhill biking, gondola rides, nature walks, trips to the playground, and horseback riding daily throughout the summer.

When to Go: It can snow any day of the year in Jackson Hole, as weather is fickle; summer kicks into full gear the third week of June, offering long, sunny days and a full calendar of events. If the kids aren’t in school yet, consider going in September.

Cheat Sheet:

Stay…at the Snake River Lodge and Spa at the base of the resort; the indoor-outdoor pool is a favorite for kids, and the concierge are exceptionally helpful.

Fine Dining… Dine in style at Piste, the resort's newest space at the top of the gondola offering classic western fare from the freshest local fish and game.

Family-Friendly EatsThe Handlebar is the most kid-friendly space in Teton Village, and serves up classic pub fare with a western twist; there’s also a game room nearby.

Play Outside…Ride up the tram and hike north to the gondola summit for snacks and an afternoon brew; families can groove to live music weekend afternoons.

Ditch the Kids…The Kid’s Ranch daycare and camps are flexible and fun; if you drop off your kids there for the day, chances are they’ll beg you to take them back there the next.

Don’t MissWildlife tours of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks are your best bet for seeing moose, bear, beavers, and stunning natural sights.