Standing atop a Vermont peak, gazing down at a pristine lake ringed by unspoiled mountains, I savored a moment of tranquility in the magnificence of nature's backyard.
Then I heard a baby's wail and felt a 3-year-old tugging at my sleeve.
"Let's go," he whined.
As a longtime outdoors enthusiast with a special fondness for Vermont's rugged beauty, I found one major obstacle lay between me and an outdoors-oriented family vacation: three kids under the age of 5.
They weren't mine, actually, but my brother-in-law's, who was in the United States for his first visit to the country since moving to Israel 25 years ago, at the age of 7. Eager to showcase America's beauty, I chose a trip to Vermont as a counterpoint to New York's hustle-and-bustle.
In the fall, there's the added benefit that Vermont is the best place in the country for leaf-peeping.
But with three young children -- including a baby born, coincidentally, during my last vacation to Vermont, a ski trip a few months earlier -- I wasn't quite sure how we'd manage in the outdoors with three kids. What would happen when one of them got cranky, when it was time for the baby's nap, when their nursing mother needed to sit down in the middle of a hike, when the air got too chilly?
The tradeoff, I figured, was that we'd have to stay close to our inn, severely limiting our ability to explore and adventure. The thought of going all the way to Vermont to sit in a hotel or bed-and breakfast, however, seemed to me to miss the point of the whole thing.
Though the last thing I thought I'd ever do in the Green Mountain State was spend almost my entire time there on the grounds of a resort, I quickly adjusted when I discovered upon arrival that the Mountaintop Inn and Resort, a 350-acre refuge overlooking an 850-acre lake and the untouched peaks of the Green Mountain National Forest, had all the outdoors I was looking for.
And it didn't hurt that the house we stayed in at Mountaintop was a four-bedroom, five-bathroom chalet with a vaunted high ceilings, multiple fireplaces, a backyard the size of multiple football fields and a view of one of Vermont's most beautiful spots.
Most importantly, we didn't have to sacrifice any of our planned outdoors activities. We simply were able to do them close to the house, so we could return anytime we -- or the kids -- pleased.
We spent a morning out on the lake, the Chittenden Reservoir, taking the children on canoe and kayak rides from the resort's private beach and getting a pontoon boat tour of the lake and its untouched shores. Then we whisked the kids home once they began to get crabby and hungry. We didn't have to worry about packing a lunch, because the house was just a few minutes away.
Five minutes after clearing the dishes from our lunch on the deck, we could be back in the woods on one of the dozens of hiking trails that crisscross the woods, meander over streams and skirt the edges of the lake on and around Mountaintop's property.
At dinnertime, we barbequed on the patio in our backyard, watching the sun paint the green mountains golden - which, in the autumn, turn brilliant shades or red, yellow and orange -- and the clouds above pink while the kids ran freely around the lawn.
When it rained, we camped out in the downstairs den, setting the kids up with a DVD and availing ourselves of the pool table. When the sun came out, we ushered the children out onto the back porch to see the gigantic rainbow over the lake.
At night, the house was big enough so that my wife and I could retreat into the privacy of our room -- complete with gas fireplace, king-sized bed, Jacuzzi bathtub and a steam-room shower -- and not hear the kids whining one floor below.
And because we were staying in a house all our own, called "The Jewel," we didn't have to worry about the children bothering other guests or wandering onto the road. The house was surrounded by dense woods and a large, open field used occasionally for weddings and horseback riding. Five minutes away from the horse stables (which doubles as the cross-country ski center in the wintertime), it was an easy walk when we rushed the kids one morning from their cereal bowls to a pair of horses for 15-minute pony rides.
While the Mountaintop also has all the amenities of a resort -- massage therapy, an outdoor swimming pool, a tennis court, a restaurant and, of course, shuffleboard -- these were out of the view of our house and, as far as we were concerned, out of mind. We saw the resort's other guests only at breakfast, at the property's main lodge, and there were only a few of them.
Instead, we were able to have a rustic, nature-oriented experience -- at least as much as one can when staying in a super-beautiful, Wi Fi-accessible, 4,400-sq.-foot house with a sub-zero fridge, two hearth stone fireplaces and daily maid service. Somehow, the old-growth cherry hardwood floors, wraparound deck and massive picture windows looking out onto an open field, the lake and surrounding mountains made it feel outdoorsy rather than opulent.
Located in Chittenden, a tiny town about 11 miles from Killington at the end of a windy country road punctuated by horse ranches and small barns, the Mountaintop Inn and Resort is a perfect New England mountain vacation spot: intimate, laid-back and in an out-of-the-way setting.
Surrounded by the soaring peaks of the Green Mountains and with spectacular, sweeping views, the inn is a comfortable place to enjoy the great outdoors and, in the autumn, see the fall foliage. The only problem you may have is when it comes time to leave.
If not for the Quechee hot air balloon festival, which provided a wonderful bookend to a delightful Vermont trip, we might never have been able to drag ourselves away.
(The author and his family were guests of the Mountaintop Inn & Resort. The resort can be reached at www.mountaintopinn.com or at 1 888 417-0174. Located in Chittenden, Vermont, Mountaintop is about four and a half hours from New York City.)