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For our own midday meal, Don has a terrific pulled-pork sandwich, I have curry chicken, Natalie snarfs down a burger in record time, and Don and I steal most of her primo sweet potato fries. Then it's time for the easy 3.4-mile roundtrip stroll to Holland Falls—one of the most popular trails in the valley. There's a 50-foot waterfall at the end of it, so there's plenty of payoff for the kid, I'm thinking. But just in case, I buy two chocolate chip cookies and a bag of M&Ms at the bar. When in doubt, I've learned as a mom, bring goodies.
The trail (#416) starts near the lodge, on a gentle ramble east along the lakeshore through Douglas fir, larch, birch and ponderosa pine. The forest gives way to a well-worn path climbing higher and higher above the lake. Our Bichon, Luna, follows dutifully on a leash.
It's a warm Saturday, and we pass at least 30 people of all ages and fitness levels, including one woman who appears to be eight months pregnant. (Note: the narrow path is not good for strollers; we see one unhappy dad carrying the whole thing, kid and all).
After the 1-mile mark, the vistas expand. Off in the distance are the gorgeous Mission Mountains. Up close we see pretty inlets and scampering chipmunks. Meanwhile, the dog pants along, wondering where we're going and why.
"You're almost there," a red-faced woman tells Luna as she passes us heading down. And she's right: around a corner, up a short, steep scramble over boulders, and we're there. The water booms down with a cool, misty reward.
Natalie and I edge as close to the crashing spray as we can get—jagged rocks prevent access to all but one small spot—but the crowds have suddenly vanished, and it's just us, alone with the scenery.
"Wow," Natalie says. "I'm really glad we came here."
"And the best is yet to come," I tell her. I'm not even lying.
Back at Loon Loft we pull on bathing suits and hit the beach in front of our cabin. The lake is calm, blue bliss. The sounds of summer-cottage life waft in the air: far-off children's squeals, thrumming motorboats, lilting waves.
The lodge offers its guests free use of its canoes and skirtless kayaks—not the snazziest varieties, but serviceable. I grab two kayaks, put Natalie in one for her first time and climb in mine. We head for a little island off the shore, and eventually put our paddles down and simply drift. Canoeists stroke by us; a young guy in an inner tube holds a fishing rod in one hand and a beer in the other.
When Don rows up in our raft—the dog acting as lookout—I realize how glad I am that we brought it. After returning the kayaks, Natalie and I take a cool-off swim (yowza) and climb onto the sun-baked rubber while Don plays gondolier. If ever there was a cure for insomnia, this is it: I could be sleeping in seconds.
But first there's more eating to do.
Do we have the coffee-and-spice-crusted sirloin with rustic whipped potatoes, a handmade demi-glace, marion-berry-bacon compote and grilled asparagus? Or the pork tenderloin medallions glazed with southern mustard barbecue sauce (with baby red new potatoes stuffed with herbs and goat cheese); or the grilled portobello mushroom?
We opt for the sirloin (Don), a cabernet sautéed filet mignon (Natalie), and the pork (me), and decline a bottle of wine (although if we'd had an extra $110, the 2004 Justin Vineyards Isoceles might have been nice).
Then Natalie and I play hangman and wait for our coconut prawns and crab cake appetizers to arrive.
"There's a plane landing on the lake," Don says.
I don't believe him. I ask Natalie if there's an "A" in her word.
"The plane's coming right at us," Don says.
I look up, and right out the dining room window is a bush plane drifting to shore. It stops and six people disembark, right on the lawn.