What does your family want from its next vacation? Beautiful beaches and warm tropical waters? Wildlife? Incredible hikes? Fun multisport activities? Boating? No matter what your clan is searching for in your next family vacation, you can find a perfect place to do it in the U.S. We’ve rounded up a dozen of the best family vacation spots in the U.S., with activities that everyone is guaranteed to love.
Dog sledding is more than a tradition in Alaska. It’s part of life, celebrated annually at the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Now your family can feel that same thrill by spending part of a day with pro mushers who’ll recount their experiences while you enjoy plenty of time petting their four-legged teammates, from roly-poly puppies you’ll want to take home with you, to championship veterans. Then, take to a trail in your sled as a musher takes the reigns and your new furry friends show you their favorite pastime. The excitement of the dogs is palpable as you speed through crisp air and utterly silent, snow-white forest. If you’re extra lucky, you get a double dose of excitement when the Northern Lights paint the skies during your ride or in the evening following your ride.
Zion National Park
Make water your theme for a day when you visit Zion National Park. First, explore the Temple of Sinawava for a shaded riverside walk along the Virgin River and upstream to Zion Canyon Narrows. The walk is adorned with beautiful hanging gardens of wildflowers in the spring and summer, and vibrant foliage in the fall months. Everyone enjoys getting their feet wet on explorations up the famous Zion Narrows, a spectacular slot gorge 20 feet across at its narrowest point with canyon walls that extend up to 2000 feet above. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy among some of the most beautiful scenery in the southwest. Pro tip: make sure you have a guide because permits strictly limit the number of people in the Narrows at one time. And your guide will also make sure you have just the right gear to get the most out of the experience and do it safely.
The ancient rose-colored pillars of sand and stone that resemble a city of spires and minarets in Bryce Canyon National Park are called hoodoos. One unforgettable way to explore them is by horse or mule ride. As you wind among the natural formations, it's fascinating to imagine the castle turrets, windows, bridges, domes and other architectural features created by the natural erosion of the rocks.
Hawaii’s Big Island
There’s no better way to explore Hawaii than spending a day on a catamaran sailing and snorkeling. First, it provides cinematic views of the islands from the water so that you see the scale of these volcanic marvels. And it provides unrivaled access to the sea life, including sea turtles and tropical fish. Go with a company like Classic Journeys and you’re sure to be outfitted with snorkel gear just for you and even the opportunity to try stand up paddle boarding.
Palm Springs and Joshua Tree
Pull away the covers early—just once. It’s for a seriously spectacular reason: to float through desert skies in a hot air balloon. Watch your FAA-certified pilot and ground crew inflate your balloon to seven stories high. Then, lift off—you’ll float in the morning breeze over as the rising sun douses the Palm Springs desert and the mountains surrounding the Coachella Valley a kaleidoscope of red, purple and gold.
You don’t have to go to Africa to safari. Exploring the spectacular ‘Serengeti of North America’. Glacier-carved Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park gets this nickname from its incredible wildlife. This is one of the best spots in the world to watch wolf packs in the wild, spy lone bison grazing roadside in a field, or get a glimpse of grizzly bears within the brush.
How to make family mealtimes more memorable? How about this. Soak up western Wyoming's wondrous landscape from the water, on a cinematic raft float down the winding Snake River. Good news; motors are prohibited here, so with an expert rafter at the helm you'll enjoy a peaceful journey through the center of Grand Teton National Park. As you learn about the surroundings from your guide, look out for the adorable beavers playing on the riversides and bald eagles soaring overhead. As evening falls on the river, your guides beach the rafts for a scenic and quintessentially American West dinner, eating along the banks of the river the meat and fish that come from the area.
Exploring in Montana’s Glacier National Park means that you’ll get pristine alpine environment with larkspur, Indian Paintbrush and bright blue forget-me-nots along your path. And you’ll have a backdrop of majestic peaks all around you. It also means that you’ll often have some interesting local hiking companions… be on the lookout for the famous bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
San Juan Island
Synchronized swimming. Maybe you’ve thought about it once every four years while watching the Olympics. Get ready to think about it every day for the rest of your life if you spot two Orca whales pairing up to perform a breech for you while you’re sea kayaking off the west coast of San Juan Island. This is prime Orca whale territory and if you’ve ever dreamed of seeing the great mammals up close, you are in for an incredible experience. Hop into very stable, easy to paddle two-and three-man kayaks and, in the company of expert kayakers, paddle through the calm, protected waters of the Haro Strait to play with the whales as they search for salmon.
On Maine’s coast, from Acadia National Park, you’ll find the fishing village of Bass Harbor. From here, paddle out into Frenchman Bay on sea kayaks. Jellyfish, seals, porpoises and humpback whales can be seen in these waters and with the help of your guide’s well-trained eye, you’ll have some fantastic marine life sightings. You may even see a swimming dear, making its way to Bar Island. That should be your destination too, for amazing views back over Mount Desert Island, letting you truly appreciate the wild ruggedness of its rose-tinted cliffs and the quaint charm of Bar Harbor. If you’d prefer not to paddle, you can reach Bar Island on foot at low tide, when the ocean miraculously reveals a sand bar.
Most of your explorations in the Great Smokey Mountains will be focused on spotting natural jaw-dropping views, like massive elk and black bears as you hike past waterfalls. But one man-made wonder will surely stop you in your tracks. The Gatlinburg Skybridge is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America, stretching 680 feet across a deep valley.