Nemacolin Woodlands With Kids…Or Without
Hotel Review: *Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
Where: Farmington, PA
*Nemacolin Woodlands, a luxury resort located 90 minutes south of Pittsburgh, doesn’t have a single vibe. The type of vacation you have depends on where you stay—one of three hotels or on-property vacation homes—and what activities you’ve come for.
On the resort shuttle we spotted groups of men who’d come to golf, shoot or fish, women who were there for the spa and restaurants, and families with kids ranging from tots to teens.
While there was some overlap—the Tavern was popular with both golfers and families— those groups largely had their own activities, restaurants and even pools and were most likely only peripherally aware of each other.
This is by no means a bad thing. We heard one golfer who was there on a guy weekend say he used to come with his wife for golf and the spa and, having seen how much they’ve added since his last visit, would probably now return with his kids. If families can be themselves without worrying that they’re bothering the kid-free adults, and adults don’t have a cannonballing teen disrupting their poolside zen, that’s a win for everyone.
The resort is 60 miles from Pittsburgh and about 190 miles from Baltimore and Washington, DC. From Philadelphia or New York City you might consider flying into Pittsburgh, or using Nemacolin’s private airfield. You can also drive with an overnight stop in Hershey. PA.
We stayed at that the Chateau, Nemacolin’s main hotel that Looks like the Ritz in Paris from the outside, but is no doubt built on a larger scale inside. Our queen room was enormous.
Our bathroom had a deep Jacuzzi tub, separate shower and two sinks. The refrigerator was stocked but also had an empty shelf for us to use. Two puffy armchairs were comfy places to sit while checking email or reading.
Tiny Traveler was impressed by having a chandelier in our room and sleeping in a bed that was so high she had to run and jump to get into it.
The communications director told me that families favor the Chateau for its big rooms, or the townhouses if they have a larger group. But if crystal chandeliers and French-court-inspired furniture are not your style, try the Lodge, which is meant to conjure up understated 1920s luxury with jazz-inspired art and animal heads hanging about. It’s the oldest part of the resort so expect smaller, plainer rooms, too.
There is also Falling Rock, a boutique hotel with butler service and architecture inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s nearby houses.. It’s near the golf courses and holistic healing center and has its own infinity pool. It’s probably more suited to a splurgy romantic weekend than your family vacation.
The Resort Amenities:
Nemacolin has more than enough to keep families busy, no matter your interests or your kids ages.
We spent a lot of time at the large paradise pool, an outdoor heated pool with a small slide and a separate heated whirlpool. It’s open from about late May to late September and has a bar for cocktails, smoothies and lunch. This was by far Tiny Traveler’s favorite feature.
Other complimentary activities include a great mini-golf course with waterfalls and several cleverly designed holes (top), a croquet court, a good size playground, exercise classes and the outdoor Nemacolin zoo (if you visit around 9:00 in the morning you can watch the bears eat their breakfast).
There are plenty of trails on and off-property for hiking and biking. The resort’s owner is an avid art collector and there are paintings, sketches and statues everywhere you look. We particularly appreciated the outdoor sculptures because you never knew what would pop up where.
The wifi and valet parking are free.
For additional fees there are animal encounter programs, bike rentals, horseback riding, a gymnastics center, art classes for kids and adults and an adventure center with rope courses, zip lines, a climbing wall, paintball, off-road driving and winter activities like tubing.
A summer midway neat the mini-golf features a free bouncy house and carnival games. You pay $10 for four games, which is plenty for each kid. And rest assured, every kid walks away with a prize (or three).
We wanted to sample the adventure center together but the only thing all three of us could agree on was target paintball. We shared two guns with 400 paintballs apiece. To our surprise,
Tiny Traveler got a big kick out of splatting the paint against the wall and in making targets swing and spin when she hit them. With so much ammunition we could try as many times as needed to hit a tricky target.
We also did the safari tour, where you visit the zoo with a staff naturalist who tells you about the animals’ personalities, habits, provenance and so on.
The highlight is getting to feed goats, a cow, lions, hyena and mountain lion. We also watched the zookeepers give tiny marshmallows to very large bears to ensure they would have enough fat while they hibernated.
We fed the wilder animals by putting meat on a stick and poking it through a hole. It was interesting to see how they reacted, with the mountain lion pouncing and the lion holding on to lick off every last bit.
Rich and I debated whether the experience was worth the $90 per-person fee. But we saw every one of these animals up close (which rarely happens at our local zoo). And both Rich and Tiny Traveler agreed that feeding a lion was a unique experience and the highlight of the vacation.
The Kids Club
Nemacolin’s kids club was open during our mid-week visit but wasn’t very busy. They have great onsite spaces for small kids (say up to about 6) with a playroom full of toys, a small ball pit and indoor play structure. Kids 7 and up meet at the clubhouse but then typically do activities around the resort. If I wanted to be certain of having other kids for my child I’d choose a weekend or holiday week to visit. There is a small 3-foot-deep indoor kids pool adjacent to the kids club that families can use; this is the only cold-weather swimming option for people under 18.
On my return visit I had the chance to enjoy the Woodlands Spa. It’s much bigger than it looks from the outside with 4 floors of treatment rooms and relaxation spaces.
I’ve had plenty of resort-spa massages that were enjoyable but not particularly therapeutic. I have to say the deep-tissue massage I received here was indeed deep and one of the best I’ve had anywhere. The therapist even had arnica gel on hand for my muscles that were sore from biking.
Massage prices range from $150 to $330, on part with resort spa prices. Treatments come with access to an adults-only indoor lap pool and single-sex saunas, steam rooms and spa tubs (for which you need a bathing suit), which i took full advantage of and enjoyed immensely If you visit in the cold weather be sure to ask about the fireplace room for relaxing after your treatment.
The off-road driving looked fun. They have an obstacle course where you learn off-road skills, and then they take you into the woods to test them out.
If you like golf, tennis, sport-shooting or fly-fishing, take advantage of Nemacolin’s top-notch facilities for these activities. Or to take an introductory lesson if you’re curious to try any of them. Sporting clays is a lot of fun and women can easily do it as well as men (just wear good shoulder padding).
There is also an adults-only outdoor pool and hot tub on the terrace below the family pool.
Things To Do Nearby
There are plenty of things to do in the surrounding Laurel Highlands. If you want some light adventure, the nearby town of OhioPyle has outfitters for kayaking and rafting on the Youghiogheny River or biking on the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage, both of which pass through the tiny town.
How rapid the river is depends a lot on what time of year you visit and what part of the river you travel. On my September visit the river was surprisingly high because of a spell of heavy rain. But the most popular route was still a combination of moderate rapids and fast-moving flat water. Talk to the local outfitters to plan a trip suited to your kids’ ages and abilities.
On that same visit I had the chance to bike the GAP. All that rain made the trail slower than it would be if it were not muddy. It’s flat and wide enough to easily ride two abreast.
It’s definitely doable with older kids riding their own bikes or riding on a tandem or with younger kids on a bike seat or in a trailer.. We had sturdy bikes with fat tires but our tour leader had a road bike and if the trail is dry, my hybrid would have been fine.
Towns on the trail are about ten to 20 miles apart. We biked 11 miles from OhioPyle to Confluence. We ended our ride there and had lunch at at the River’s Edge Cafe, which offers a lovely porch overlooking the river and quaint dining rooms. It has good appetizers and burgers (locals recommend the smoked gouda appetizer and so do I).
The advantage of renting bikes is that you can bike one way and have the outfitter bring you and your bikes back to where you started. Laurel Highlands Outdoor Center offers kids bikes, trailers and detachable tandems. But always call ahead when you need special gear.
If history and culture is more your speed, the Frank Lloyd Wright homes Falling Water (read about visiting it with kids) and Kentucky Knob are nearby. You can explore Fort Necessity, which saw the opening salvo of the French and Indian War and extensive Laurel Caverns.
We had a nice dinner at Autumn (now Rockwell’s), which features local and seasonal ingredients, steak and game. It has an upscale but still relaxed and kid-friendly vibe. It has a nice terrace when the weather is good. We sampled appetizers including good tuna sashimi and a signature salad. Our desserts included a deconstructed s’more and very good house-made raspberry sorbet (right). It also has great egg dishes and pancakes at breakfast time.
For other meals we stuck to the Tavern, where we were pleased with the sandwiches, tacos, and sides, and the Caddyshack, which has a great deck and surprisingly good barbecue (the smoker is right out front so you can’t miss it). A lunch sampler was more than enough for three. The Sunset Terrace at Falling Rock is in a gorgeous outdoor setting and has a kids menu. Lunch there is a way to sample Falling Rock if you’re visiting as a family.
There are two upscale Nemacolin restaurants. Aqueous has an airy dining room and upscale American bistro menu in the lodge. Lautrec is a beautiful French restaurant at the Chateau with a seasonal prix fixe menu. The latter requires a reservation and the most formal dressing up. I didn’t get to try either but would make a point of trying one if not both on a couple getaway.
The Bottom Line:
When we think of resort vacations our minds usually travel quickly to the Caribbean. Real full-service, total getaway resorts are not as common as we would like stateside and they are never budget destinations (Room rates at Nemacolin start just below $400/night off-season and above $500 in
I wondered if we would feel like we were missing out if we didn’t fill our schedule with the paid activities, but if we had done nothing but the pool and mini-golf during our stay Tiny Traveler would have still come away raving about her vacation.
The midway, bike rentals, bowling, tennis and rock climbing are the most accessible activities with kids and also the least expensive. The animal and art activities are the most unique and probably most worth the splurge.
The quality of the rooms and food, the high level of service and the ample amenities make Nemacolin feel like a good value. It’s easy to relax and have fun with even very little kids and you can let teens do their own thing in a safe environment. We saw families with kids of all ages looking very happy. We were certainly one of them,
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*We were guests at the Nemacolin Woodlands and received our room and certain activities for free. We paid for our meals. We did not agree to review the hotel or to write any particular content in exchange for the stay. Our opinions are always our own.