If you’re looking to bond with your family and have amazing outdoor adventures together, where should you go for the best family vacation? Here at Run Wild My Child, we get asked about outdoor family adventure travel a lot! And we have a lot of ideas on how to plan the perfect adventure for your family. But, what if I told you that it’s not always about where to go, but more about what you do when you get there? The best outdoor family adventure locations for your family may be different from mine, based on the size of your family, age and interests of your kids, your location, your budget, and a variety of other factors. But, no matter any of these things, this post is going to give you some amazing ideas for traveling together as a family. Today, Jen Barnes, South Carolina mom of three and travel guru, is here to share the top ten outdoor family vacations for those of you craving adventure! 

collage of outdoor vacation spot photos

Outdoor adventure travel for families

When outdoor active families are considering where to go and what to do on a family vacation, there are a variety of things to consider. The best family vacations are the ones that perfectly fit your family’s wants and needs. Most families are looking to prioritize the quality time they will have together during their trip. They want to experience good times as a whole family and make memories together. They are open to trying new things and want their kids to have new experiences. These families want to spend less time on screens and more time getting to know each other. 

Families that love adventure and prioritize spending time outside have a wide variety of options when it comes to finding amazing outdoor adventure family-friendly destinations. I’m passionate about helping families connect through travel and outdoor adventures, and I’ve been planning trips for my family and others for years. Today, I get to help you! 

I arranged this post into ten categories (different locations and types of family travel), with plenty of options in each one. Many of the categories overlap in places, but I think they will get your wheels turning and the ideas flowing about the types of destinations and adventures you could have there. We focus heavily on travel with in the United States, but there are some international options included. I hope they help as you prepare to plan a trip with outdoor adventures and find the best family vacation spot for your family!

two kids scrambling on rock formations in Moab

1. Outdoor family vacation in National Parks

National Parks travel is likely one of the most common trips a family will take. Is there anyone who hasn’t thought about a Grand Canyon vacation? Or about a hike under those red rock arches? The iconic spots dotted across the U.S. landscape lure families of all types. A National Parks vacation provides wide open spaces for families to explore together. Whether you enjoy hiking, paddling, rafting, horseback riding, or other activities you can find a lot in our National parks. 

Multiple national parks or a deep dive?

There are so many ways to do a National Parks vacation. You can plan a road trip that covers a group of National Parks together. A good example of that would be to road trip what is commonly referred to as “Utah’s Big 5”. There will be a good bit of driving involved for this type of trip. The extended days outdoors amongst the rock formations of Arches National Park or hiking along the waterways of Zion National Park will meet those outdoor wanderlusts. Don’t forget that parks like Death Valley National Park and Joshua Tree National Park are dark sky areas. They are perfect for nighttime star gazers. You and your family can literally spend from sun-up to past sun-down outside.

Another idea is to do a deep dive of a National Park. You can easily spend a week enjoying parks like Yellowstone National Park, Olympic National Park, or Glacier National Park. Those trips are especially satisfying if you want to do any long-form hiking. All-day treks and multi-day treks eat into an itinerary quickly. This really lets you connect as a family while you soak up the fresh air together.

two kids at the trail sign for Oooh Ahh point in the Grand Canyon National Park

Planning a national parks trip with kids

Here are a few tips if you are planning a trip to National Parks.

  1. Look into an annual pass that will cover your cost for entrance for a full 12 months.
  2. Be prepared that cell coverage is scarce inside the parks. Download your maps and let your friends and family know where you are and that you will be out of touch for a while. It’s glorious!
  3. Many families choose to camp or RV in the parks, but there are also in-park accommodations to look into. Many parks have gateway towns or cities that facilitate family vacation plans. They offer hotel chain options or smaller mom-and-pop lodging.
  4. If you want to stay inside the park, you must plan up to a year in advance.
  5. Food can be very limited and pricey inside the parks, so I suggest packing a cooler for those long days of outdoor exploring.

teen girl walking in the shallow river bed inside olympic national park

2. Outdoor family vacation in state parks

Do not underestimate the park and recreation systems within each of the 50 states. State parks are outdoor havens on a smaller scale than national parks, but that does not mean they are lackluster. Look first at your own state to find the local treasures. My home state of South Carolina has incredible and diverse options from coast to mountains to choose from. They are perfect for long weekend getaways when we need to step away from the daily grind.

As you plan a family road trip, look to include a few state parks. They offer great day trips and can often have more overnight camping openings than a National Park. The entrance fees are typically less than the National Parks and can give you a closer view of the local area as you explore. 

Wakulla Springs State Park - Florida - alligator tour with kids

Favorite recommended state parks

A few unique state parks that regularly come up as places to experience together as a family are Starved Rock State Park in Illinois, Watkins Glen State Park in upstate New York, Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Florida. Located along the Illinois River, Starved Rock State Park is filled with hiking trails and seasonal waterfalls. Watkins Glen has amazing waterfalls and is a respite during the hot months of summer. Valley of Fire has rock formations that are fun for scrambling around, especially in spring and fall. John Pennekamp is an underwater park; it’s a haven for snorkeling and diving that families love to visit. 

Wakulla Springs State Park, outside of Tallahassee, Florida, is a hidden gem and a family favorite. Home to one of the world’s largest and deepest freshwater springs, the sapphire water of Wakulla Springs boasts manatees, alligators, gars, and a host of diverse birds and wildlife that can be viewed from a riverboat tour, guided by knowledgeable park rangers. The kids will love the boat tour, and you’re basically guaranteed to see alligators galore, up close and personal, in their natural habitat. The water at the springs is a cool and refreshing 70 degrees year-round, which feels absolutely invigorating on sweltering hot Florida summer days.

two teens sitting down above a lake in Paris Mountain SC state parkboy fishing at Hueston woods state park in Ohio

3. Best family beach vacation destinations

Many a family vacation tradition has begun at the beach. It’s no surprise that families flock to these sandy, sunny spaces to enjoy time together and relax. Of course, not every beach vacation is tropical in nature. Sure, you can hit the warm coastal beaches of the southeast or southern California, where the sun shines, and the temperatures heat the days. A lot of families get out in the mornings to seashell hunt and build sandcastles. Then, head inside for the middle of the day, and return beachside for wave jumping and beach games in the late afternoon until dinner. My family likes to then take a walk down the beach after dinner to extend our outside time.

Beach vacations are a great way to travel as a multi-generational family. Everyone from infants to grandparents can soak up the fun at the beach. It’s nice to have an option that includes everyone for together time. You will primarily find vacation rental properties (with full kitchens) and some of the best family vacation resorts in beach towns that line the coasts. Even the Great Lakes have beaches where families seek out rejuvenation. Make sure to read our tips for a successful beach trip with kids.

Florida beaches with kids

There’s something truly magical about the beautiful beaches in Florida. Florida tends to have something for everyone, whether you’re looking for action-packed entertainment or want to get away from it all. The beaches along the Gulf of Mexico are usually white sand and low surf, making them perfect for families with little kids. Most places we have vacationed have all kinds of outdoor activities for families, including fishing, tide pooling, kayaking, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, jet skiing, and so much more. A few of our favorite vacation spots to enjoy the Florida beaches with kids are Destin, Gulf County, Anna Maria Island, and Captiva. 

A different kind of beach vacation

If you want a different kind of beach – not your typical warm water white-sand beach – then head to the PNW. Even in the summer, the water can be chilly, but that certainly doesn’t stop the kids from exploring the tidepools, digging up razor clams, and splashing in the waves. You’ll be blown away by the abundant and colorful aquatic life in the area – bright purple sea stars, fire-orange urchins, turquoise anemones, red rock crabs, and all kinds of various plants, barnacles, mussels, and more. Our favorite beaches in the Olympic National Park area were Ruby Beach, La Push, Kalaloch, and Rialto. Most of them have that iconic PNW rocky shore feel, with driftwood and sea stacks, dark sand, and a lingering layer of mist. They’re each more beautiful than the next.

International beaches

International beach destinations draw families, too. Consider Costa Rica, where you can learn to surf or go deep-sea fishing. My youngest and I spent three glorious days at a surf camp in Jaco, Costa Rica. We took surf lessons, stand-up paddle boarded, and enjoyed one-on-one time together. Think about Puerto Rico, where you can do a bioluminescent kayak excursion, or the Greek Islands, where you can kite surf. There are so many options for activities! These kinds of activities are great for trying new things together as a family. 

boy carrying a surfboard on a beach in Jaco, Costa Ricafamily playing spikeball game on the beach in gulf county, florida

4. Camping & backpacking family vacations

Spending a vacation camping or backpacking is a no-brainer for families who love the outdoors. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, many of these ideas overlap, so your camping adventure could take place in a national park, state park, or even at the beach. Family camping inside national and state parks is a great way to immerse yourself in the heart of it all. If your family has the desire to step away from the distractions of daily life, weekend camping trips are a wonderful and low-cost option to maximize your outdoor time and really bond. 

State and national park camping

You can certainly camp and backpack in National and state parks. Great Smoky Mountains National Park ranks among one of the best spots for a family camping vacation. When we visited Olympic National Park, we came across a family with middle school-aged children who were backpacking for the first time. The hiking was mostly flat, and they camped along the river bed; it looked like a great way to get started. Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina is a great family camping spot in the southeast for its proximity to beachside camping. 

camping scene with tent among trees above a blue lake

Unique camping adventures 

Camping can be done at various levels of comfort. RV camping has become increasingly popular with families who love to road trip and explore together but want the comforts of a real bed and bathroom. Car and van camping provide makeshift beds inside a vehicle, but also allow you to be in nature. Tent camping and hammock sleeping put you in the midst of the wilderness, breathing that fresh air all night long. If you’re not quite ready for full-on tent camping or aren’t sure about investing in the equipment needed, you could also consider glamping. Glamping can be anything from those big, heavy canvas tents set up and decked out for families, to sleeping in a teepee, bus, mini-cabin, treehouse, or yurt. Some even have bathrooms connected!

Backpacking for families

Backpacking is a level-up from camping. It’s typically done over a few days and requires you to pack in and pack out all of your own supplies. This includes bedding, shelter/tent, all food, and all waste. Backpacking can be an unbelievable way to immerse yourself in nature and a great family bonding experience. So many of the epic locations you see in photos are from people who have trekked into the deepest parts of the wilderness. Check out this post for more info on how to get started backpacking with kids

5. Family ski trips (and snowboarding)

There are a number of ski resorts and ski towns across the U.S. that cater specifically to families. There are a wide variety of ways to do a ski trip, but one thing is for sure. You will spend a lot of time outside, and much of it in weather that may not be optimal or even desirable if not for the powder. Ski trips have a way of getting everybody outside in the winter months that may not otherwise. If you don’t ski or snowboard, don’t worry. Most ski areas offer other outdoor activities such as snowshoe trails, dog sled excursions, sleigh rides, and snow tubing. There is so much to do on or off the slopes for the entire family while outside. A ski vacation is an annual tradition for many families!

Snowboarding with kids

If you’re looking for a great snowboarding spot on the East Coast, consider Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont. Bolton Valley was the perfect spot for learning the basics of snowboarding with kids. It is large enough to have nice rides down, but not intimidating or too difficult. The staff is so incredibly helpful and patient! They paid very close attention and assisted every person, from toddlers to adults, as they were learning.

The resort also has an indoor skatepark, which is attached to the Sports Center and has both street and traditional features. It includes a micro mini ramp, a mini ramp, a vert ramp, and even a bowl to ride. The Sports Center also includes a pool, sauna, and hot tub, as well as a game room. And everything at the resort is close enough together that you can easily walk from your room, to the lifts, to the restaurants, to the Sports Center as much as you want! It doesn’t feel overwhelming because it’s all easily accessible. 

Click here to read our full review on Snowboarding with Kids at Bolton Valley Resort.

Colorado skiing with kids

Colorado is jam-packed with so many great places to ski with the entire family. Breckenridge and Vail are both huge mountains, with tons of runs for all different skill levels of skiier. There are also a lot of things to do in and around town. Other smaller favorites close to Denver are Keystone, A-Basin, Copper, and Beaver Creek. 

One of the best ski resorts to visit with the entire family or kids just learning how to ski is Buttermilk Mountain, just outside of Aspen, Colorado. While not as technical as Aspen Mountain or as large as Snowmass, Buttermilk is a great compromise for families looking for a little bit of everything (and easy access to the other area ski resorts). Buttermilk is the perfect place for kids to learn the basics, master the terrain park, skin uphill, or watch the world’s best athletes during the X Games. It’s usually less crowded than other local mountains but still serves as a one-stop shop for lessons, rentals, tickets, and lounging. At the top of Buttermilk, with panoramic views of the dramatic Pyramid Peak and the entire Maroon Creek Valley, is the Cliffhouse restaurant. Don’t miss this! It’s famous for its Mongolian grill.

6. Outdoorsy activity vacations

Did you realize you can plan an entire family vacation around one outdoor activity? With one week or a long weekend, you can base an entire trip on one outdoor activity of your choosing! As mentioned above, skiing is a great option. Some others that come to mind are mountain biking, fishing, multi-day canoe adventures, snorkeling, surfing, and more. 

Plan a trip around your interests

Tap into the interests your kids already have. Find a way to travel to a place that brings some extra excitement around doing it in a new location. Or, if there is an activity you have all talked about trying and are curious about, perhaps plan a trip around giving it a shot!

The best way to plan a trip like this is to search for destinations that cater to the specific activity you and your family are interested in. For example, a quick google search on kiteboarding in the U.S. brings up a list of top spots for this exciting sport. And if Key West, Florida is a place you have always wanted to visit anyway, it may be the perfect outdoor family vacation spot.

Montana, Colorado, Arkansas, and Wyoming are great destinations for fly fishing. If you have avid anglers who want to fish in some of the most scenic locations, you can plan an entire trip around this activity. Make sure you have the appropriate permits and that you follow all of the state laws about catch and release, open season, etc. 

Pick a destination where you can do it all

Another idea is to plan an outdoor adventure vacation that incorporates lots of outdoor activities you can try. For example, both the Lake Tahoe area and the Southwest Michigan area have so many amazing outdoor activities for families. You could plan a week-long itinerary in either of these locations with swimming, rock climbing, family hiking, rafting, skiing, cherry picking, sailing, dune buggy rides, fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, boating, and so much more! There is a little something for everyone. 

two teen boys on a boat fishing in the gulf of mexicokayaks in the black swamp in south carolina

7. City vacations for families who love the outdoors

I know what you are thinking when you think about a city vacation. Yes, every city has museums and indoor activities, but many of them also have a host of outdoor tours, parks, and nature nearby. You will, of course, want to plan for a specific season that will allow you to enjoy the outdoor parts. Honestly, a good city destination gives you a taste of both worlds. You can find comfy lodging, great restaurants, and cool outdoor activities!

Fun cities to visit for families will have a variety of outdoor activities and options for everyone in your family or group. City parks with playgrounds are great for young children, but older kids and parents can enjoy them, too. Central Park in NYC and Forest Park in St. Louis are great examples of green space within major metropolian areas that are perfect for the whole family. They offer biking and nature trails, waterways and lakes, museums, zoos, golf courses, restaurants, and so much more. Don’t forget about all of the outdoor dining you can do in the city. The best European family vacation can’t be done without the cafe life!

Urban adventures for outdoorsy families

The best cities for outdoor recreation are typically located near big nature landmarks. Places like Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah, have mountains within a short driving distance. They tend to embrace outdoor activities like skate parks and snow parks to accommodate active people. Miami, Florida, pulls in people who love to be on the water for activities like boating or fishing. Asheville, North Carolina, and Boise, Idaho rank amongst the best cities for hiking because they have good trails nearby and cultivate a culture of outdoor-loving people. 

Wendy from the Run Wild creative team highlights San Diego, California, as an amazing outdoor city. San Diego is a great outdoor city because there are so many outdoor family-friendly options! There are countless beaches, parks, and playgrounds. San Diego is also home to the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail for the hikers/backpackers out there. Additionally, it’s home to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, Sea World, the San Diego Botanic Garden which has two amazing children’s areas, The Living Coast Discovery Center, Balboa Park, Legoland, Petco Park to watch Padres baseball, and so much more!

father and daughter walking hand in hand on the beach in san diego among trees on the shore lineboy running barefoot on a trail in the san diego area teen girl in central park in autumn with orange leaves on the trees and ground

8. Outdoor family vacation at a dude ranch

If you search for memorable family vacations, you will be sure to come across dude ranch vacations for families. The appeal of this type of family trip is that all of your activities, meals, and lodging are in one location and often come together as an all-inclusive option for the whole family. These types of vacations draw families of all ages and are great as a multi-gen travel option. Do be sure to check the minimum age for horseback riding, so that no one is disappointed.

A family guest ranch experience will connect your family with hands-on experiences and exposure to new skills. Together as a family you can learn and experience all of the ranch chores and activities. With that, you will have on-site accommodations suited for a family, and on-site dining usually within walking distance of where you are sleeping. Your days will be packed with outdoor activities, fun for everyone! Those activities may include but are not limited to horseback riding, cattle sorting, shooting (age appropriate), and nature walks. Adults are not left out! Many of the ranch vacation spots will have wine & cheese for parents or even a happy hour.

Horse ranches for the whole family

You may need to do your research to find the horse ranch that meets the needs and desires of your family. You should be able to find everything from mid-range budget to a luxury dude ranch experience, with lots of daily activities. As most travel is, this is an investment into your family memory bank. And remember, almost everything you will need is included in the one-stop pricing. 

White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, is a fan favorite for its proximity to Saguaro National Park. Vista Verde Ranch in Colorado is another family favorite and a great place for all kinds of outdoor adventures. Run Wild creative team member Araceli covers the joys of visiting a ranch in winter and all that a ranch vacation can be as a family. 

9. Family sailing vacations

There is no doubt that a family sailing vacation is super niche and may not be the right fit for everyone. However, the truth about sailing is that it is unique and fabulous, but not “bougie” in the way you may expect. Sailing is very technical and adventurous, but it can also be very relaxing. There are several ways to plan a sailing family vacation and quite a few destinations that support this type of trip. I usually describe family sailing vacations as camping on the water. And while you camp, you get to travel to some of the untouched places of the world. The only time you’re not completely outside is when you are sleeping, and even then, the windows are open. It’s pretty fantastic.  

Sail yourself

The first way to do a sailing trip is to charter a boat and sail it yourself. This is called bareboat chartering, and you will need to be able to demonstrate your skills or provide certification documentation. Our family was able to do this in the British Virgin Islands for an amazing sailing Caribbean vacation. We anchored or docked for small fees and cruised around the islands for nine days of pure bliss. We snorkeled, swam, and visited the different islands for fun. The best part about this type of sailing vacation is that you determine the when and where with total freedom. It does require that you know how to sail. 

teen boy lounging on a sailboat in the greek islands

Charter a boat

The second way to sail together as a family is to hire a captain through a charter company. You can sit back, relax and enjoy the trip without having to do the work. Most countries in Europe, like Croatia and Greece, require a hefty amount of sailing hours and instruction in order to sail on your own. So, last summer, we hired a captain to sail us around the small Cyclades in Greece. My kids took part in helping out with the sailing because they are interested and wanted to learn, but it wasn’t necessary. We enjoyed stopping at various islands, eating at local restaurants, coastal hiking,  and relaxing at the beautiful beaches. I cannot recommend a Greek sailing vacation enough!

Small-scale group cruise

The third way to sail together as a family comes in a larger format, but not as big as a traditional cruise. Smaller crafts more suited to authentic experiences and smaller groups can be found. These types of trips not only get you outdoors but afford you unique opportunities you may not find elsewhere. A great example of this is in the Galapagos islands of Ecuador, perfect for a family that thrives on wildlife encounters. Another option that I’m personally keen to experience is Uncruise, which sails to places like Alaska, Baja, and Belize. 

teen girl and teen boy swimming in the blue waters of the Aegean Sea in the greek islands3 teens walking on a coastal walkway on the island of sifnos in greece

10. Outdoor vacation bucket list spots 

There are a host of natural wonders and outdoor destinations that call to us on a regular basis. These are the locations that are known for being outdoor havens worthy of a family experience. You see them pop up in lists of “places you must visit once in your life” and such. Families can plan entire vacations around exploring these places or string a few together for a week or more.
Some famous natural landmarks that come to mind that fall into this category are the Badlands in South Dakota, Niagra Falls, the Boundary Waters, the Cliffs of Moher, Lake Tahoe, Arenal Volcano, the Everglades, the California redwood forest, the volcanoes of Hawaii, Mount Rushmore, and the salt flats in Bolivia. Other natural tourist attractions like the Northern Lights in Iceland, tide pools of the PNW, hot springs in Tuscany, barrier reefs in Australia are big hits. The lists are endless and can give just about any family some serious wanderlust. There are so many amazing places in nature, even if they aren’t famous. You just need to seek them out. 

Garden of the Gods

Kristen Ryan, from our Creative Team, recently traveled to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which had been on her bucket list for a while. One of the best things about this park is that it has both easily accessible walking trails that you can use a stroller on and more difficult climbing trails you can take the kids who enjoy a challenge. The views from the top are really unbeatable in the Springs area. The kids absolutely loved getting to climb through the plate-like rocks, and there are always lots of mountain climbers to sit back and watch. There are miles of trails within this little park and then some great small towns to explore nearby when everyone gets hungry after their long walk/hike.
family enjoying garden of the gods in colorado up high near the clouds

Outdoor family vacations are important

I believe in the importance and benefits of outdoor family vacations for so many reasons.  Everyone needs a break from the daily normal, and a family vacation is a great way to get away from your routines, and busy schedules and really reconnect. Give yourself and your family a chance to breathe and do it together. Not only will you create core memories, but you will bond in such a special way. Focus on an outdoor family vacation to elevate the experience and leave behind all of the noise of the world. It’s worthwhile, even if just for a long weekend. Our brains and bodies need this. Give yourself the opportunity to step away from your phone. Get off the wi-fi for a bit and let your mind reset. Let your body work and rejuvenate in nature, too. 

Additional resources about family travel & favorite destinations

Are you ready to go on an outdoor family vacation?

About the author

Jen has been married to her original adventure partner, John, for 20+ years. She is a mama to 3 teenagers who, although they have busy and independent lives, love to adventure in the outdoors when they can. Jen is a native of Chicago, but has lived in South Carolina for two decades and calls it home. She’s always planning the next adventure for herself or her friends, whether near or far. Hiking, kayaking, sailing with her family, or traveling the world is all about the experience and the journey. Her extroverted nature keeps her talking and smiling with anyone she meets along the way. She’s on a mission to show other busy families that traveling with teenagers is possible and fun!

You can find Jen online in the following locations:
Instagram: @gofamilyadventure
Website: Go Family Adventure
RWMC Posts: Jen Barnes