Travel | Family fun

Get Outta Town! Bargain Family Retreats in Washington State

Interrorem Cabin, Olympic State ParkWith the recent downturn in the economy, leisure travel is changing, according to the U.S. Travel Association, a national industry group. Although it predicts only “modest” declines in overall leisure travel in 2009, the group’s forecast shows seven out of 10 families will be staying fewer nights and spending less on food, lodging and entertainment wherever they go — all in an effort to stretch tight vacation dollars farther.

But you don’t have to break into your child’s piggy bank to be able to afford to get away this year. With some planning, flexibility and a little luck, you can take advantage of some of western Washington’s most unusual and interesting travel options. What’s more, all of these places will set you back less than $100/night for a family of four!

Getting the deals

What’s the catch? Actually, there are two. First, most of these places are rustic. If you are looking for a place with pristine linens, maid service and cable TV, these are not the deals for you. But if you are looking for an interesting family trip, aren’t afraid of a little dust and are willing to do a little cleaning up at the end of your stay, you’ll have a great time.

Second, because of their prices, these places fill up fast. Deluxe cabins and the bungalows at Cama Beach, for example, are already completely booked for every weekend through October 2009, and many of the other places are already filling up for summer. It’s not too early to start trying to get reservations — and in some cases, you may need to wait until next year.

The good news is that places offering online reservations usually have a way for you to check available dates, so you can focus your efforts. For establishments that only reserve by phone, however, getting through can be tough — I recently spent three days speed dialing to get reservations at Cama Beach. It was well worth it, though; we had a great time and are already scheduled to go back, although we could only get space midweek.

Packing for fun

For most of these places, you’ll also need to plan to take a little more stuff than usual. Many places don’t include linens, so you’ll need to schlep your own towels, sheets and blankets or sleeping bags. At some places with kitchens, there are virtually no utensils, while others have everything you’ll need. Some spots, such as Flowing Lake, have bathrooms set away from the cabins, so you’ll need a flashlight for those nighttime potty breaks. And some locations, such as Hamma Hamma, have no running water, so you’ll have to bring your own. Be sure to ask in advance about the amenities available, so you’ll know what you need to bring.

You’ll also want to be aware of the policies about bringing Barkley along. Even though many of these places feel somewhat wild, most don’t allow pets. Other common restrictions include no smoking, no alcohol and minimum-stay requirements for weekends/holidays. Cancellation policies vary, too, and you will usually have to put down a deposit, so be sure to ask what applies to your particular rental and date. Then get ready to have some inexpensive family fun!

Cool places, great prices

State/local park cabins: Many state and local parks now boast these small (usually 13-by-13-foot or 12-by-24-foot) cabins, which have a bunk bed and fold-out couch and sleep four to five. Although the cabins have electricity, they usually do not have running water or cooking facilities inside, although there are fire rings or grills outside and bathrooms and showers nearby.

Yurts: Usually 16 feet in diameter with a 10-foot-high ceiling, park yurts often have a bunk bed and full-size couch/bed, with a fire ring and water outside. Be aware that these often get cold even when they have heaters, so extra blankets are advised!

Other options: A cabin accessible only by water (Ben Ure), a 1907 historic log cabin built by a pioneer/park ranger (Interrorem), a former fire guard station built in 1912 (Louella) — all of these are available to rent for less than $100 per night. Depending upon the season and dates, you can also rent a century-old steward’s house (Marrowstone Island) or a vacation house on Orcas Island for less than $100 per night at certain times of year. Amenities vary (see chart, below) and some do not have electricity, running water or an indoor toilet, but all are within a few hours’ drive and all will provide you and your family with a great adventure!

Kathryn Russell Selk lives and works in Seattle and has spent the last several years checking out most of the places on this list with her husband and 5-year-old.

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