Photo: Boys jumping into lake at Fair Hills Resort in Minnesota
The lake is a major attraction at Fair Hills Resort in Minnesota.

Photograph courtesy Perry Hanson

By Margaret Loftus

Many families have reordered priorities in recent years. And when it comes to the annual rite of summer vacation, they're not necessarily spending less, but they are eschewing ostentatious luxuries and opting for simpler pleasures such as lakeside cabins, family-style dining, and impromptu games of flashlight tag. We found ten old-school resorts (at a range of price points) that fit the bill, where lazy days and quiet nights are spent reconnecting face-to-face, rather than through Facebook status reports. (Rates quoted here are for a family of four for seven nights in the summer. Check individual websites for specifics.)

  1. Northwoods Gem
    Alpine Resort

    Set in far northern Wisconsin on a pristine lake amid towering white pines, this down-home resort, with its collection of circa 1920s log cabins complete with knotty pine interiors, is a real throwback. These days, owners Kim and Tim Bowler and their ten-year-old daughter, Cameil, host angling lessons off the dock and stargazing around the campfire (look for the northern lights). It can be quiet in the North Woods. "The only sounds you hear in the morning are the loons," notes Kim. For some, that's exactly the type of alarm clock they want. Located in Presque Isle, Wisconsin; from $1,703, including two daily meals and activities.

  2. Out of Lake Wobegon
    Fair Hills Resort

    With sandcastle contests, smorgasbord night, and family bingo, this classic northern Minnesota lodge is right out of Garrison Keillor's fictitious Lake Wobegon. Families can choose from a slew of activities—volleyball, tennis, sailing, swimming—laze by the lake, or rehearse for their star turn at the weekly "Hootenanny" talent show. The family-run resort prides itself on its myriad "lifers," guests who've been vacationing here since they were tots. This year, ten of them will celebrate their 50th visit, gratis. Located in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota; from $2,862, including meals and activities.

  3. Northern California, Unplugged
    Gray Eagle Lodge

    Once they find Gray Eagle Lodge off a two-lane road, most guests have little use for their cars. Days here are spent on foot, hiking to alpine lakes in the Sierras (cabins come equipped with day packs) or going for a dip in the swimming hole fed by a 15-foot waterfall. "There are no planned activities," explains Tracy Morris, who has taken her children here for years, "unless you count the evening marshmallow toastings around the fire pit or the games of flashlight tag planned by kids who have never met before but have become fast friends." Located in Lakes Basin, California; from $2,450, including two daily meals.

  4. Authentic Adirondacks
    The Hedges

    This summer escape has traded hands just a few times since the 1880s. Along the way improvements have been made—including upgrading the plumbing—to accommodate guests, many of whom have been returning for decades. The current owners have restored the camp to its original Adirondack-style glory, earning it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Located in Blue Mountain Lake, New York; from $1,960, including two daily meals and activities.

  5. Classic New England
    Highland Lodge

    Some of the 11 cottages at this lodge run by third-generation innkeepers are made of tidy white clapboards and boast clawfoot tubs and porches. Others are miniature versions of the summer homes hidden on winding, leafy driveways in these parts. Most cottages overlook Caspian Lake, where a private beach beckons kids to swim, canoe, and kayak. The menu reflects the region's strong locavore movement with dishes such as the Vermont beefalo burger with Cabot cheddar. Located in Greensboro, Vermont; from $3,500, including activities and two daily meals.

  1. Great Lake Lodge
    The Inn at Watervale

    Built as a boarding house for loggers in 1892, this lodge became a summer retreat for Chicago ophthalmologist Oscar Kraft in 1917. Today, the main house and 17 cottages tucked among sand dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline and Lower Herring Lake are run by Kraft's great-grand niece Dori Turner, who proudly promotes the resort's lack of TV, landlines, Wi-Fi, and decent cell phone coverage. Instead of poring over their smartphones, families hike the 300-foot-high Old Baldy dune, comb the beach for fossils, and savor the sunsets over the lake. Located in Arcadia, Michigan; from $2,502, including two daily meals.

  2. Summering in Maine
    Migis Lodge

    Founded in 1916, this lodge on Sebago Lake inspires cult-like loyalty among families who've been summering here for generations (many book next year's vacation when they check out). Scattered on 125 acres of pine forest, the lodge and its 35 wood-and-stone cottages are full of homey touches, like hand-sewn quilts, fieldstone fireplaces, and private porches. Hobnob with other guests lakeside over blueberry pancakes and maple syrup in the morning, the weekly lobster bake, or on a spin aboard the resort's classic Chris-Craft. Located in South Casco, Maine; from $6,500, including meals and activities.

  3. Pick Berries, Fish for Minnows
    Milford House

    For the better part of its century-old existence, Milford House was a hunting and fishing camp, thanks to its proximity to nature (preserved in the massive Tobeatic Wilderness Area). These days, the resort lures families whose idea of fun is swimming in the property's two lakes, catching minnows with nets, and picking berries. The lodge puts on workshops by local artists. The 27 lakeshore cabins have working, hand-built fireplaces. Located in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia; from $1,680, including two meals daily.

  4. Canadian Cottage Country
    Pow-Wow Point Lodge

    Set in the lake country north of Toronto, the 90-year-old resort features a sandy lakeshore for swimming and canoes, pedal boats, kayaks, and mountain bikes at guests' disposal. Too much sun and fun? Recover in your lake view cabin's whirlpool. Located in Muskoka, Ontario; from $3,239, including meals and activities.

  5. No-Frills Lake Winnipesaukee
    Three Mile Island

    Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) members first camped here after the rocky spit of wilderness was donated to the club in 1900. Since then, 47 rustic cabins—off the grid and without indoor plumbing—and a handful of wood-framed tents have sprung up. The pleasures are simple: Guests awake to reveille played on a bugle, congregate at a central lodge for meals, and swim, canoe, and hike. Highlights? The daily visit from the mail/ice cream boat and a weekly square dance. Located at Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire; from $1,712 for AMC members ($2,072 for nonmembers), including meals.

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