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Lake Escapes

By Plane: Lake Tahoe, California-Nevada Border   

If you’ve never experienced Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America, 2011 might just be the perfect year to make the trip. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Tahoe has received record-setting snowfall early in its season, so there’s plenty of powder to ski, sled, build a snowman or just make for a spectacular view from your cabin window. World-class, family-friendly resorts are about an hour’s drive from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, so grab your puffer jacket and the kids for a long weekend in winter’s wonderland.

Where to rest your head:

Located on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort issues its snow-paradise siren call, beckoning ski-hungry families with every amenity you can imagine (and some you didn’t even think of!). Luxe lodgings are plentiful; choose from multi-bedroom condo, budget-friendly hotel rooms or stunning mountain homes. The picturesque Village at the base of the mountain offers shopping, eats and drinks, as well as kid-friendly activities (think ice skating, bungee trampoline and cool crafts like pottery painting, candle making and jewelry design). Parents will appreciate the chance to end the day cozied up on lounge chairs around a fire pit—perhaps with a hot toddy in hand. Just don’t forget to buy a S’mores kit to roast while you watch the little ones on the skating rink. Room rates start at $175 per night. 800/466-6784; northstarattahoe.com

Where to pole around:

There are lots of ski programs out there for your youngsters to learn the slopes, but Squaw Kids Program at Squaw Valley Resort is one of the best. They have five different programs for various age groups, starting with 3-years-olds or “Snow Cubs” and going up to age 17 with their teen camp. Snowboarding, snowtubing and private ski lessons are also available at Squaw. Lesson rates start at $89. 530-452-7166; squaw.com

Where to get some grub:

If you stay near the North Shore of Tahoe, be sure to make the quick jaunt to the nearby small town of Truckee. Here you’ll find the homey, hilltop Cottonwood Restaurant, which offers simultaneous views of the historic downtown, the Sierra Nevada and the Truckee River Canyon. This friendly crawl is open nightly for dinner, and accommodates little ones with booster seats and high chairs. Kids will enjoy munching on burgers and butter noodles, while mom and dad will be tempted by the pine nut-crusted basa or butternut squash enchiladas with ancho chile mole. And if you stop by on a Thursday or Friday night, there will likely be live music happening. 530/587-5711; cottonwoodrestaurant.com

 By Car: Caddo Lake, Texas-Louisiana Border 

If you’d rather stay close to home, load up the car and drive up to Caddo Lake for an equally (though perhaps slightly less powdery) outdoor wintery escape. Caddo Lake, a protected wetland, is one of the biggest natural lakes in the South, and features the largest Cypress forest in the world. Maybe you or the kids will even spot the legendary Bigfoot rumored to live around these parts.

Where to rest your head:

If you’re feeling adventurous, set up your tent at the state park campgrounds, which offer electric and water hook-ups, picnic tables, fire rings and grills. But be on the lookout for the Caddo Critter—the lake’s resident Bigfoot! Cost ranges from $8-$18 per night. If you’d rather bundle up in a humble abode, check into the Hodge Podge Cottages, which are located along the lakeshore and offer full kitchens, dining areas and other amenities. Little tykes can try their hand at a game of horseshoes, ride bikes and trikes around the grounds, roast S’mores on the fire pit late at night, or head out to the fishing pier to see who can catch dinner.

800/792-1112; tpwd.state.tx.us

903/789-3901; hodgepodgecottages.com

Where to cast that rod:

It’s a bit too chilly to jump in the lake and make a splash, but bring a fishing reel—you can keep warm and dry above water while you compete to see who can catch the biggest bass. Feel free to fish on your own, or hire a guide to show you and the kids around. Lake guides welcome adults and children of all ages.

318/455-3437; caddolakefishing.com

Where to get some grub:

If you’re not going to catch your dinner on the lake, pop into the RiverBend restaurant in nearby Karnack, Texas. You’ll get a breathtaking view of the lake while you dine on a variety of seafood, from crab cakes to catfish to succulent shrimp. If your little one isn’t too fond of crustaceans, fret not—a children’s menu is also available.