Need some inspiration for your next family trip? Whether you’re looking for something near or far, unique and off-the-beaten-path or a budget-friendly adventure, you’re sure to find something on this list that will spark your interest. From the sand and the sun to castles and exotic wildlife, pick your favorite and start packing.
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If the tropics are what you’ve had in mind but not everyone in the family has a passport, consider the Florida Keys. This chain of islands that can be reached from the mainland via the Overseas Highway, one of the most beautiful drives in the world, is about as close as you can get to the Caribbean without actually being there. By basing your stay in one of the Keys farther north like Key Largo, you’ll find quite a few affordable family-friendly resorts and hotels for enjoying palm-lined beaches and swimming or snorkeling in crystal-clear aquamarine-hued waters. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park hosts the country’s only living coral reef along with abundant marine life, including sea turtles, colorful fish and dolphins. Further south, Pigeon Key, a small island with eight buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, makes a for a fun day trip accessed by ferry and is a great spot to snorkel too.
Ocean City, Maryland
The three-mile-long boardwalk at the southern tip of Ocean City in Maryland makes a great spot to focus any family vacation with a long list of things to do nearby. Dating back to 1902, its Herschel-Spellman carousel has been spinning for nearly 120 years now. You’ll find other rides along with games, shops, eateries and a wide range of attractions to enjoy too. Explore the Life-Saving Station Museum, take advantage of outdoor movies, Beach Olympics and free concerts on Wednesday evenings in July and August.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
America’s first national park is a must-visit for families, home to more geothermal features like geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots than anywhere else on Earth. Old Faithful, its most famous geyser, skyrockets steam as high as 185 feet about every 90 minutes, while Grand Prismatic Spring, the country’s largest hot spring is a sight to behold, named for its striking coloration in nearly all shades of the rainbow. The park is also filled with wildlife, from bison, elk and Bighorn sheep to wolves and bears.
The Galapagos, Ecuador
Visiting the Galapagos is a trip that most families have to save for, but it’s worth the reward to experience a place that’s not like any other on Earth. The islands have various ecologies with animals who have managed to adapt differently to their environments, with little to no fear of humans and no natural predators. That means you can swim with sea turtles and dolphins, walk among seals, lizards and blue-footed boobies, along with all sorts of other close encounters with wildlife.
Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado
Dinosaur National Monument, straddling the border between Colorado and Utah, is home to the largest quarry of Jurassic Period dinosaur bones ever discovered. Carnegie Quarry is an internationally-renowned site with nearly 1,500 visible dinosaur fossils along with multiple interactive exhibits. The surrounding land features a wealth of petroglyphs providing a fascinating glimpse into early cultures. The area also offers a wealth of outdoor adventure, from hiking to river rafting and fishing.
A visit to the Emerald Isle is sure to thrill the whole family, with the chance to explore countless castles from the over 800-year-old Dublin Castle to 12th-century Trim Castle, Ireland’s largest and one of its most famous having played a starring role in the movie “Braveheart.” Climb the steep steps to kiss the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle, check out the creepy dungeon at Bunratty Castle and even join a medieval banquet, complete with musicians in period costumes playing the harp and violin. In the seaside town of Dingle, one of the prettiest in the country, you can even meet its friendly resident dolphin Fungie.
Black Hills, South Dakota
The Black Hills are one of the best destinations for a fun family vacation in the country with a wide range of attractions and outdoor activities. Delve into history by visiting Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument, and be sure to visit Custer State Park where you can watch for abundant wildlife like wild burros, bison, elk, pronghorn, deer, eagles and more. Enjoy hiking scenic trails and swimming or paddling on Sylvan Lake too. You can hop on a historic steam train ride between Keystone and Hill City, pan for gold, explore caves, and check out the adorable bear cubs at Bear Country USA.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to Kilauea volcano, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. You and your family can witness something few get the chance to experience: the primal process of creation and destruction. Covering around 330,000 acres, from the summit of Maunaloa to the sea, there are 150 miles of hiking trails that wind through diverse terrain, including volcanic craters, desert and rainforest. Of course, while you’re here you can enjoy the many beautiful beaches around the island too.
“The Waterpark Capital of the World,” Wisconsin Dells is a top vacation spot for families in the Midwest. It’s home to both indoor and outdoor waterparks, including Mt. Olympus Water plus Theme Park and Noah’s Ark Waterpark, which host a wide range of aquatic rides including two wave pools, a surfing simulator and 51 slides. Scorpion’s Tail, a favorite with those looking for heart-pounding thrills in the water, propels riders down a nearly vertical slide into an inclined loop.
Plymouth and Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Enjoy a fascinating history lesson and the beautiful beaches of Cape Cod with a trip back in time to the 1620s, when the pilgrims arrived here from England. Plimoth Plantation offers living history with costumed actors recreating what it was like on the crossing as well as daily life in the settlement. You can also step onto the replica of the Mayflower ship before taking advantage of the miles and miles of unspoiled sands, lighthouses, art galleries, museums and delicious eats on the Cape.
If the Caribbean is calling, Grand Cayman is a water lover’s paradise that offers an excellent variety of family-friendly activities and attractions, including pristine white sand beaches framed by a crystal-clear blue sea. picture-perfect beaches sitting at the edge of the water that’s as clear as a swimming pool. At Sting Ray City you can even wade out among hundreds of gentle stingrays.