Squee are a family.
Some children love technology and games while others have a penchant for sports or arts and crafts. But almost all children have a serious love for animals—or, at least a sincere curiosity about living beings from both the past and the present.
If your child loves monkeys, birds, or animals from the sea, there are plenty of destinations that offer up-close encounters and experiences they can’t get at home. These family vacation ideas make it easy to see the world and some amazing animals on your next trip.
Koalas, Kangaroos, Spiders, and Snakes
Australia is an intriguing destination on its own due to its diverse landscapes, thriving urban centers, gorgeous beaches, and famous landmarks. But the enormous continent also offers plenty of natural beauty and wonder, including an astounding number of wild animals you can’t see anywhere else.
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Head to Australia to see dingos (their version of the wild dog), numbats, quolls, and Tasmanian devils. Marsupials inhabiting Australian wilderness include koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, and, of course, wombats. There are more than 800 species of wild birds in Australia, as well as more venomous snakes than any other continent.
Animal lovers can also spy crocodiles, marine turtles, bearded dragons, and more in the wild. Daintree Rainforest in Queensland is reportedly one of the best places to see giant saltwater crocodiles, while remote Montague Island is an ideal spot to catch a peek of wild birds and playful fur seals. Kangaroo Island in South Australia is also brimming with—you guessed it—kangaroos. You’ll also find sea lions, wallabies, and bandicoots.
Sloths, Monkeys, and Macaws
Costa Rica is a country with lush green landscapes, active volcanoes, and a diverse array of living beings. Families can travel to this Central American gem for beach time or activities like tubing and ziplining, but they can also craft an animal-themed itinerary kids will love.
Stay at the Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort to see wild animals like giant iguanas, monkeys, and macaws in their natural environment. The award-winning golf course on site, La Iguana Golf Club, is teeming with wildlife everywhere you look. It’s also the perfect spot for families with kids to catch animals relaxing as the sun goes down during a late afternoon golf cart ride.
Head to La Paz Waterfall Gardens to take a peek at rescued sloths, monkeys, frogs, snakes, and jungle cats that cannot live in the wild. The on-site butterfly garden is also home to several species of these intriguing creatures.
Elephants and Monkeys
It’s hard to imagine a sight more shockingly delightful to a child than a field full of parading elephants, yet that’s exactly what you’ll find in Northern Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park. This park rescues and rehabilitates elephants from around the world, but it also offers tourists the chance to volunteer with the animals.
Thailand is also home to several wild species of monkeys, including the common macaque. These monkeys are adorable but also dangerous, meaning you’re better off observing them from afar. You can book day trips to numerous destinations where monkeys are sure to be around, including oh Phi Phi’s Maya Bay and Monkey Beach, but make sure the kids don’t feed them.
Elephants, Lions, and Giraffes
Africa boasts some of the world’s most iconic wildlife, including wild cats like cheetahs and lions, elephants, giraffes, and rhinos. You can observe these animals in the wild on a guided safari, learn about their lives and survival, and contribute to the infrastructure that helps protect these wild, rare creatures.
If heading to South African destinations like Johannesburg or Swaziland to explore on your own sounds overwhelming, consider booking a guided safari tour. Abercrombie & Kent offers guided tours that are considered some of the best in the business, including options that stop stunning safari destinations such as Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, and Zambia. Consider booking a tour that includes a stop in Etosha National Park to see Africa’s tallest elephants, endangered black rhinos, and, of course, big cats. Chobe National Park is also ideal for spotting cheetahs as well as wild dogs and hyenas.
Bison, Bears, Sheep, and Mountain Goats
A trip through Yellowstone National Park is really a trip back in time since this area has remained untouched for hundreds of years. Camp at one of the many camping sites available, or at one of the many rustic lodges. From there, you can take your children on an exploration they’ll never forget to see bison, bears, mountain goats, coyotes, elk, and moose.
You can see all sorts of animals from your car while you explore the park, but you can also book a guided wildlife tour for up-close encounters and expert commentary from a veteran guide. The best times to visit the park may just be April to May and between September and November, all off-peak travel times with milder weather.
Wolverines, Bears, and Eagles
Glacier National Park is home to over 200 species of birds along with grizzly bears, eagles, lynx, moose, wolverines, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, wolves, and more. You can see mountain goats close-up, discover 300 to 500 deep herds of bison at a time, or spot a grizzly bear roaming the backcountry. However, you should never feed wild animals and always view them from a safe distance.
Fortunately, there are an array of lodging options in and around the park including motels, lodges, and chalets in Western Montana. Snow Bear Chalets are a popular option for families since they are the world’s first luxury ski-in/ski-out treehouses. These cute tiny homes come with comfortable beds and expansive windows that offer stunning mountain views.
Glacier National Park is also home to 13 campgrounds, making it ideal for families who want to spend time in the great outdoors.
Alligators, Snakes, Frogs, and Birds
Florida is home to animals that can make your skin crawl, the creepiest of which include alligators and mammoth snakes. But kids tend to love these mysterious creatures, so why not plan a trip to see them in the wild?
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary offers just one way to explore the heart of the Everglades with the kids in tow. This area boasts a 2.5-mile boardwalk where you can journey through wet prairies and pine flatwoods to see alligators, otters, several species of turtles, wading birds, and white-tailed deer. There are photo opportunities around every turn, and kids will love keeping their eyes peeled for what comes next.
You can also explore the Everglades in an airboat to see alligators and snakes within the mangroves.
Horses, Sheep, Deer, and Bison
Badlands National Park makes it easy to arrange close encounters with buffalo, big horn sheep, bison, prairie dogs, antelope, turkey vultures, and more. Pair a trip through the Badlands with a visit to Wind Cave National Park to explore one of the world’s largest and most accessible natural caves. The cave itself is home to northern long-eared bats, a federally-listed threatened species.
The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary is one of the world’s most beautiful private wilderness areas, along with one of the only places to see wild mustangs roaming freely across thousands of acres of prairie. This sanctuary offers guided tours that let you explore the plains and see how the horses survive and interact in a natural environment.
Whales, Turtles, and Birds
Hawaii is not only beautiful, but it’s absolutely bursting with natural wonder and wildlife. On islands like Maui and Kauai, you can watch humpback whales frolicking from the shore during winter months. You can also snorkel with an array of sea life, from giant sea turtles to dozens of species of tropical fish.
Book a stay at the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas for an up-close and personal look at the tall, scraggly-looking but friendly state bird of Hawaii—the Nene—which is also endangered. These birds call the north side of the island home, and they are especially prevalent at this resort and its surrounding grounds.
You can also see giant albatross at the Makai Golf Club next door, which offers a spectacular sunset golf cart tour. These magnificent birds only nest a few places in Hawaii, but they are famous for flying thousands of miles to the Arctic to feast on squid and gather food for their young.
Sure, dinosaurs have been extinct for millions of years, but kids still love them the same. Plan a trip to the Dinosaur Resource Center near Colorado Springs, Colorado for an up-close look at the history of dinosaurs including prehistoric fossils, educational exhibits, and more.
The Children’s Learning Center lets you feel real “dinosaur poop,” or at least a recreation cooked up by scientists. Kids can also learn about various prehistoric mammals and marine creatures, including flying reptiles and prehistoric crocodile-like mammals that used to live in rivers and lakes. You can also check out the center for a peek at the triceratops skull, and, of course, the prehistoric remains of a Tyrannosaurus rex.
Most of the specimens featured here are real fossils, not just replicas, and kids can do a faux “dig” to search for dinosaurs like a real paleontologist. Kids can also build their own dinosaurs out of magnets for even more hands-on fun.