The camera balanced on the arm of an Adirondack chair.
I pressed the timer button and ran to pose with my family.
The staff friendliness is just one reason we love Crystal Mountain Resort, and why I'd recommend it for families at any time of year. Being on a mountain (well, a Midwest mountain), it's a ski resort first. And a great one, from what I hear from fellow skiers. But we visited in the October, before the snow. And found SO much for families to do here — together, as a family.
After months of everyone being busy with their own activities, a long weekend together at Crystal Mountain restored our family bond and lifted our spirits.
Enough about my spiritual enlightenment. Let me tell you what's fun to do here, and in the surrounding area:
1. The Alpine Slide.
2. Climb the sand dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.
You'll probably need to stop and catch your breath at some point while climbing up these large sand dunes. But it's worth it to get to the top and take in the views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding area. The sand is clean, and fellow climbers are friendly. The best part is running down the dunes — and trying not to lose control or do a face dive in the sand. The dunes are about a 30 minute drive from the resort.
3. Sit on beach bench and watch the sun set behind the lighthouse.
In nearby Frankfort, Michigan, crowds gather nightly for the sunset over Lake Michigan. And for good reason: they're spectacular. While waiting for the sun to lower, we walked the cement plank out to the lighthouse, past the friendly
fisherman (one of whom caught an 18-pound fish while we watched). You can't go in it the lighthouse, and it's not much to see up close. But it's kinda fun to go out there.
When you return, get the camera out and grab a bench on the beach. My kids headed to the regular swing set, and occasionally hopped off to scan the Lake Michigan shoreline for Michigan's famous, smooth Petoskey rocks. My husband and I sat on a bench together, as the kids played around us, and we all watched the sky turn fiery orange and then darken. It was pure, peaceful, bliss. One of those moments where it hits you how lucky and happy you are.
3. Take in the fall colors on bikes, hikes and/or kayaks.
Bright red, orange, yellow and even pink leaves light up northwest Michigan's forested hills in the fall. At the resort, you can take in the colors while hiking through their art-filled sculpture park, playing tennis, and renting bikes. Good quality mountain bikes were for rent at the resort, and we enjoyed riding on the property. Be warned: there are some tough uphills, and the bike path isn't designated for bikes alone. The off-road paths were too hard for my 8- and 10-year-olds, although I'd bet teenagers could handle them.
This area of northern Michigan is known for its cherries. So whenever you can, order homemade cherry pie, cherry pancakes … cherry anything. The neighboring town of Traverse City is the state's cherry capital.
5. Play family laser tag outdoors.
6. Scale the resort's climbing wall (yes, you, grown ups).
The climbing wall was something I considered a kids' activity. But the resort's wall is for every member of the family. After my kids scaled the walls like little monkeys, the well-trained climbing wall staff encouraged my husband and I to give it a try. With patience and encouragement (“Come on, Jamie! You got this! Just a few more!”) we both surprised ourselves by making it to the top and ringing the bell. If we can do it, anyone can.
7. Morning coffee on your screened-in porch (or by the stone fireplace) in one of Crystal Mountain Resort's fantastic cottages.
Sometimes, rustic cottages are old. The ones at Crystal Mountain Resort are updated, cozy, homey little houses. The bathrooms are new, everything works, it's very clean, and there's lots of space. The cabins are nestled in a forested area that's a 2-minute walk to the resort's restaurants and pools. They dot a winding stream with colorful, award-winning landscaping. It's so peaceful to have your morning coffee in the screened-in porch overlooking it, or if it's cold outside, curl up in a big leather chair near the gas fireplace.
Our cottage, Firefly, had a fantastic bunk bed room that my kids loved. It had 4 oversized bunk beds built into the wall (each with their own little pull-chain light) plus an extra bed, and their own TV and a DVD player. PERFECT for families – and large enough for two families. We had a fantastic meal at the resort's Thistle Pub & Grill, a restaurant next to the golf course that also serves kids meals.