Ah, summer. It’s the perfect time to pack up the car and head out to the lake, the country, or even a new national park you’ve been hoping to explore with the kids. If you’re ready to ditch the same old beach vacation and try a new adventure, take a look at seven of our favorite family-friendly summer getaway ideas that you and your family will be talking about for years to come.
Horse Around on a Dude Ranch
Grab your cowboy hat and boots for a dude ranch vacation that you and your kids won't soon forget. Go for the horseback riding, trail rides, bonfire sing-a-longs, and even Wild West Shows. Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona frequently ranks among the top family resorts, offering daily programs for kids ages 4 to 12 that allow them to develop their horseback riding skills, as well as explore the desert through nature hikes and bike rides. Another to check out is Texas Ranch Life in Chappell Hill, Texas, a working ranch offering authentic experiences, like moving cattle to new pastures. They also have a Kids' Corral where children can try on western gear as they learn about the ranch and the cowboy lifestyle.
Have an Island Adventure
Summer is a great time to explore islands both in the Caribbean, as well as those just off the coast of several states. Take a short trip to Atlantis in the Bahamas where kids can enjoy camps that allow them to take scuba excursions, brush up on their golf swing, or become junior aquarists as they work with marine life. Then, head to the new Cartoon Network Lagoon for an obstacle course, movie screenings on the beach and character parades. Or, head to the Fodor's Choice Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys for snorkeling in the saltwater lagoon, dolphin interaction programs, kayak tours, and "Kids Night Out" parties. Kids will also love educational programs at the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital in nearby Marathon. Note that because, technically, the rainy season is May through November, you run the chance of seeing some rain during the summertime. But inclement weather is the exception, not the rule.
Summer at a Ski Resort
The ski jackets may be packed away, but summertime is a fantastic time to hit a ski resort. Activities abound, including horseback riding, zip lines, fishing, and four-wheeler riding. (Not to mention, you'll score some great deals!) Head to the Resort at Squaw Creek in Lake Tahoe for swimming (and sliding down waterslides) and hiking on nature trails. For kids aged 4 to 12, the Mountain Buddies program offers a variety of activities with an emphasis on getting kids outside and active. At Keystone in Colorado, you'll find nearly 60 miles of bike trails, summer snow tubing, scenic lift rides, geocaching adventures, and the Kidtopia Play Park for the littlest ones in your group. For the adults, the spa, two golf courses, and signature dining will be sure to please as well.
Try a Colonial Experience
Ideal for school-age kids, Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia teaches kids (and adults) all about life during the American Revolution. March in musket drills, watch a mock witchcraft trial, go on a candlelight tour, and hear ghost stories from "character interpreters" in period costume. Children can even rent costumes to truly get into the spirit of 18th-century life. Nearby Kingsmill Resort is a great place to stay for families. Or, head to Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth to tour a 17th-Century English Village. Stay overnight at the John Carver Inn & Spa. Bring your swimsuit to play at the Pilgrim Cove Indoor Theme Pool, which features a life-size replica of the Mayflower.
Discover Some Outdoor Treasures
South Dakota is the ultimate place for an outdoor family adventure. Stop at Badlands National Park where kids can join a Junior Ranger program and earn badges from ranger-led activities. Not to be missed is Mount Rushmore, of course, where visitors will learn about the monument's construction, while Crazy Horse Memorial gives the family a view of an in-progress masterpiece and an in-depth look at the Lakota tribe. Stay in a log cabin resort at the Frontier Cabins Motel. Or, head to Yellowstone National Park, which was recently ranked by FamilyFun magazine as a top destination for families. Kids will love Old Faithful, the Mammoth Hot Springs, and Tower Fall. If you can, go camping inside the park.
Head Out to the Lake
For many families, a trip to the lake for canoeing, swimming, and kayaking is the ideal family getaway. Head to Grand Haven, one of Michigan's favorite beach towns, for the world's largest musical fountain, trolley rides, lighthouses, beautiful beaches, colorful sailboats, and of course, picking blueberries. Enjoy the small town appeal and stay in one of many rental cottages and B&Bs. Or, head west to Lake Powell in Utah. Take a tour of the Glen Canyon Dam or enjoy hiking trails at the Natural Bridges National Monument and Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Try Arizona's Lake Powell Resort, an ideal base for taking a boat tour or exploring the canyons in a powerboat. Or, rent a houseboat and stay on the water.
See the Big City in New Ways
Whether you travel to New York, San Diego, or Chicago, you'll find there's so much to do on a vacation to a new city, and even more fun ways to explore town, like on a scavenger hunt. Watson Adventures coordinates a variety of themed scavenger hunts in cities across the country, as does Urban Quest, which offers self-paced family scavenger hunts that end at a local restaurant. Many cities also have bike-share programs that enable you to pick up and return bikes to various spots within a city, so you and your kids can explore at your leisure. Look out for guided biking and walking tours, too, which are great ways to learn about a city's history, culture, and the environment.