Fun US Destinations For Incredible Family-Friendly Outdoor Adventures

Planning a family-friendly vacation is rarely an easy task since the destination needs to please everyone. And as every parent knows, happy kids equal a successful holiday, so it's important to choose your location wisely. Luckily, the United States is a vast and wonderful place filled with diverse landscapes and enough fun outdoor adventures to please even the pickiest traveler. From majestic mountains and sparkling lakes to red rock deserts, there's no shortage of must-visit family vacation destinations to explore in the U.S. 

If you're looking to take your vacation from "blah" to "woo-hoo!" — head outside. In addition to helping your kids expend enough energy that they fall into bed and sleep straight through the night, outdoor adventures are good for the body and soul. They also help families create bonds and memories that will last a lifetime. From whitewater rafting in Idaho or hang gliding in the Outer Banks to herding cattle in Montana, there is a bevy of fun U.S. destinations for incredible family-friendly outdoor adventures. All you have to do is decide which one is right for your brood. We've used a mixture of travelers' reviews, firsthand experience, and in-depth research to narrow this list of the best outdoor adventures for families. They tend to book up early, so get planning.

The Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish, Montana

Giddy on over to the Bar W Guest Ranch for an incredible family-friendly outdoor adventure your whole clan will love. Based in Whitefish, Montana, just 30 miles from Glacier National Park, this ranch offers so many fun things to do that the kids will beg to stay longer. From hatchet throwing and UTV rides to archery tag and Lion Mountain hiking, no one's getting bored on this vacation. This wouldn't be a ranching holiday if you didn't get to ride a horse, but trail rides are only a start to the equine fun on offer. Kids and grownups can take roping lessons from professional wranglers and herd cattle on horseback. Children 12 and under can partake in their own Kids' Rodeo every Friday night. And the Family Rodeo is a hoot, too — it includes barrel racing, games, and pole bending.

The fun doesn't stop when the sun goes down at this epic dude ranch. Line dancing lessons, campfires, birds of prey displays, and whiskey tasting are a few of the exciting evening activities. The Ranch's Kids' Program is a real winner, especially for parents who'd like a little time to themselves. Cowpokes (kids aged 2 to 6) can participate in pony rides, arts and crafts, and plenty of outdoor games, while Outlaws (kids aged 7 through 12) are invited to head out on a trail ride, go fishing, and play arrow tag. Meanwhile, parents can head out on their own kid-free adventures. Yee haw!


There are so many incredible family-friendly outdoor adventures in Utah that we couldn't limit our list to just one place. Sand Hollow State Park, located 13 miles east of St. George, is best known for its 1,322-acre reservoir, an azure oasis set within a desert of red rocks. Warm enough to swim from at least May through September (the water ranges from 81 to 86 degrees), this is also a popular place to fish, jet ski, paddleboard, or kayak. When the kids' toes are wrinkled enough to warrant a break from water-based adventures, rent an ATV or OHV (off-highway vehicle) to explore the 62,000 acres of trails and sand dunes.

Next, you'll want to visit Goblin Valley State Park. Named for its sandstone "goblins" and colorful valley, this unique park gives off serious out-of-this-world vibes. Space-obsessed kids might beg you to camp overnight. During the day, spend time hiking around the rock formations, mountain biking around the five loops of the Wild Horse Biking Trail System, or challenging each other to a round of disc golf through the canyons. Finally, spend quality time hiking through Arches National Park, rafting along the Colorado River (a half-day trip is available for kids over 5), or taking a 4x4 on an unforgettable off-road adventure in Moab. Also, add Zion National Park to your bucket list. Kids can hike multiple trails, several of which are deemed easy. Manageable hikes include The Pa'rus Trail, Riverside Walk Trail, and Lower Emerald Pools Trail.

Everglades National Park, Florida

What kid doesn't want to spot a gator on an outdoor Florida adventure? Home to roughly 200,000 of Florida's 1.25 million alligators, Everglades National Park is one of the best places to spot these prehistoric-looking creatures. Zip through the winding waterways on an airboat ride (keep your arms in so that you don't get cut by the super sharp sawgrass), hike through a jungle-like hammock forest on the Gumbo Limbo trail, or take an educational Shark Valley Tram Tour. Halfway through the tour, families are invited to visit the Shark Valley Observation Tower. At 45 feet tall, this is the highest accessible point in Everglades National Park, and it offers stunning panoramic views. Have a stroller? No worries. A ramp eases visitors to the tower deck.

There are 99 miles of Everglade Wilderness Waterway to explore, so hop in a canoe or kayak to get an up-close view of Florida's most famous (and captivating) wildlife — just try not to fall in! Kids can also become Junior Rangers in Everglades National Park, with plenty of hands-on, self-guided, and guided activities available.

Yellowstone National Park, Montana

Spending the day exploring Yellowstone National Park is the epitome of an American family vacation. The first National Park in the U.S., this over-3,470 square mile beauty is big enough that you should consider spending at least a few days here. With 12 campgrounds and over 2,000 campsites, that will be an easy thing to do, but make sure to book well in advance as they get reserved quickly, especially during summer. Speaking of summer, that's the best time to enjoy outdoor activities like biking the 2.4-mile trail to the Lone Star Geyser, riding horseback to the Tower-Roosevelt Junction, and witnessing the impressive Old Faithful eruption.

There are three Yellowstone Junior Ranger programs on offer — one for kids aged 4 to 7, another for 8- to 12-year-olds, and the last for those aged 13 and older. Head to the Mammoth or Old Faithful visitor center to pay a small fee (about $3) for the activity booklet and follow along, checking off activities to earn your patch. Cool off with a whitewater rafting excursion on the Yellowstone River (appropriate for kids 5 and older) or head out in a canoe, kayak, or on a guided cruise to see the park's beauty from a different viewpoint.

Sedona, Arizona

Think Sedona is only for spiritual guides, healers, and wine lovers? Think again. This majestic powerhouse is a haven for families in search of outdoor fun. Mother Nature has provided kids with a crimson playground so beautiful that you'll be forgiven (well, maybe not by your teens) for asking them to pose for photos every few minutes. When they aren't plastering fake smiles on their faces, your family members will love zipping around the rocks on an off-road Pink Jeep Tour. Be prepared: These rides get bumpy. 

beautiful hiker's paradise, Sedona is also prime for long walks and rock scrambling, so pack comfortable footwear. Cathedral Rock is a must-see attraction reached by a one-mile trail. Aptly named, as it features spire-like red rock formations, this beauty is worthy of a climb if you're traveling with older kids. Be warned — some parts of the trail can get tricky; it becomes steep and difficult at times. Sedona is also home to hidden waterfalls. Slide Rock State Park boasts multiple small cascades and one of the top swimming holes in the U.S. Pack a swimsuit, towels, and a picnic. You're going to want to play all day. Actually, why not stay late to admire the stars? There are plenty of perfect stargazing tours that offer access to telescopes and experts who can tell you just what you're looking at.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Wondering if Great Smoky Mountains National Park is good for kids? Does missing naptime trigger a tantrum? An outdoor wonderland perfect for littles of all ages, this park is chock full of activities to keep them engaged and off their tablets for hours. Guided horseback rides are available from mid-March through late November in Cades Cove, Smokemont, Sugarlands, and Smoky Mountain. They last anywhere from 45 minutes to many hours, so choose one that's best for your family. Not a fan of sitting atop an animal? Hop on a hayride at Cades Cove Riding Stables. They last between 1.5 and 2 hours and follow the Cades Cove Loop Road.

Biking is another popular activity, especially on Wednesdays between May and September when vehicles are prohibited from entering the park. Families can also enjoy a hike on one of the park's most popular kid-friendly trails: Kephart Prong Trail and Porters Creek. Tip: Visit the park's firefly-specific web page in late April to find the firefly viewing dates for June. Each year, they light up the night sky near Elkmont Campground. This event is so popular that there's a lottery, so cross your fingers and prepare to be wowed by this phenomenon. When you've had enough hiking, there is a slew of family-friendly things to do near Great Smoky Mountain State Park. Visit the Biltmore mansion, drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or ride a chairlift to the summit of Crockett Mountain from Gatlinburg.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Another first-rate National Park tops this list of fun U.S. destinations for incredible family-friendly outdoor adventures. This time, it's the Grand Canyon. Here, kids can join the Grand Canyon National Park's Junior Ranger Program. To receive their badge, kids must complete the recommended activities and attend a program organized by a ranger. Afterward, have them pedal out extra energy with a bike ride along the South Rim Trail. While it spans a whopping 13 miles, you won't need to complete the entire route. There's a free, bike-friendly shuttle bus that stops every half mile or so to pick up weary travelers. Speaking of South Rim, you should stick to this area of the park if you're traveling with younger kids. This is where you'll find the Grand Canyon Village and restrooms.

While you're in the park, hike kid-friendly paths like South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point. Wondering why it's got such a funny name? You'll understand when you involuntarily utter those sounds upon seeing the magnificent vistas. Tip: Organize your trip to the Grand Canyon well in advance as accommodations book up early, especially in summer. Some suggest planning your trip at least a year in advance. Also, be sure to pack sunblock, food, and water as you'll be in the elements for hours. The more you plan ahead, the smoother (and happier) your vacation will be.

Kauai, Hawaii

There's a reason Kauai is deemed a dream destination for families. It's magical, beautiful, and filled with enough family-friendly activities to keep every tourist entertained. Take your kids on vacation here and they'll bestow you with the title "best parent of the year" (or more likely, the week). Regardless of how long they appreciate you for planning an epic family vacation, your children will talk about their outdoor adventures in Kauai for years to come. Organize your trip around fantastical filming locations for "Jurassic Park," and they may just walk around with their mouths agape, especially if you organize a helicopter tour of the Na Pali Coast. 

Spend a day swimming, standup paddleboarding, and building sand castles on beautiful Kipu Kai beach, a two-mile beauty that appears in both "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" and "The Descendants." When you've shaken the sand from your bathing suit, hop in a kayak to the Fern Grotto, go mountain tubing, or bike the Ke Ala Hele Makalae. A trip to Lydgate Farms will end in a sugar high, but this chocolate farm tour and tasting are sure to be a hit. Work off the extra calories with a hike to Opaeka'a Falls, a snorkel adventure, or a kayak tour along the Wailua River.

The Outer Banks, North Carolina

If there's anything fans of the "Outer Banks" television series have learned about this North Carolinian region, it's that the area is filled with adventure. While you probably won't uncover buried treasure on your OBX vacation, your family is sure to be rewarded in other valuable ways — dolphin spotting on boat tours, wild horse adventures on a safari-style tour with Bob's Wild Horse Tours, and forest bathing on a kayak in Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Preserve. Enjoy a beach day if you're visiting in the summer. Family-friendly fun includes standup paddleboarding, kiteboarding, kayaking, swimming, and surfing.

Have kids who crave excitement? Hang gliding is one of the best activities for families in the Outer Banks. Kitty Hawk Kites offers kids' lessons for those aged 13 and under — they've even taught kids as young as 4. Little ones will be launched and controlled by two instructors over the sand dunes after their three-hour lesson, and they'll travel anywhere between 30 to over 100 yards at five feet off the ground. If you'd rather keep your feet planted on terra firma, hike to the summit of Jockey's Ridge, the East coast's largest living sand dune. You can try your luck at sandboarding (basically surfing on sand) or fly a kite.

Anchorage, Alaska

Alaska is a bucket list destination for outdoor adventure travelers. Boasting over 586,000 square miles of diverse landscape, glaciers that are bigger than some U.S. states, and the highest peak in North America (Denali), there's a heck of a lot to explore. Streamline your vacation by choosing a starting point for your family-friendly outdoor adventure. We suggest making Anchorage the first stop on your Alaskan holiday. The largest city in the state, Anchorage is full of exciting activities that will be fun for the whole family. 

The types of outdoor adventures your family can enjoy in Anchorage will depend on what season you've planned to visit. Sledding, skating, hiking, paddling, biking, and swimming are a few ways to keep active kids occupied outside. You could also book an Alaskan Husky Adventure, head out on a fishing expedition, or take a Kenai Fjords cruise. Alyeska Resort is a one-stop shop for an adventurous vacation. Home to Alaska's largest ski area, snow lovers will enjoy zipping down 1,610 skiable acres in the Chugach Mountains. Fat tire biking, snow machine tours, and helicopter rides are also on offer in winter. Summer boasts aerial tram tours, biking adventures, hiking, and dog sledding.

Lower Salmon River Canyons, Idaho

Kids as young as 7 years old can participate in a whitewater rafting adventure in Idaho's Lower Salmon River Canyons. Once the high-water season hits from May through July, the age rises to 12 (or older, depending on the tour). OARS organizes a family-friendly Gorges of the Lower Salmon River Rafting trip which involves camping on sandy beaches, swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and rafting. If your kid isn't a strong swimmer or doesn't like spending days on end being active, this may not be the best family-friendly outdoor vacation for you. That said, if your children love excitement and thrive on adventure, they'll beg to stay longer. 

The kid-centered Gorges trip is rated moderate due to the Lower Salmon River's wide, warm, and mellow water — it's the perfect place to introduce children and beginners to a rafting experience minus the massive whitewater part. When they aren't paddling in a raft, tourists can try paddleboarding, tour around in an inflatable kayak, go for a hike, swim, or play a game of Frisbee. At night, there will be plenty of fun, songs, and telling of bad jokes around a campfire.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Hiking and biking and kayaking, oh my! There are plenty of outdoor adventures to enjoy with kids in South Dakota's Custer State Park. A whopping 71,00 acres, this beautiful space is peppered with giant buffalo — this is literally a home where the buffalo roam. Set within the Black Hills of South Dakota, this vast park is so lovely that you may want to extend your family vacation. Sparkling lakes, verdant forests, and open ranges welcome visitors to luxuriate in this pastoral paradise. While it will be tempting to sit back and ogle the scenery all day, your clan will be itching to get active.  

We suggest beginning at the Visitor Center. A great place to get the proverbial lay of the land, this is where you'll learn about the park's layout as well as the bison residing within its boundaries. Next, head to the campground that you (hopefully) pre-booked. Once you've set up your home away from home, it's time to get busy. Families can bike, swim, fish, horseback ride, or snowshoe (in winter), among other fun outdoor activities. Upgrade your experience with an unforgettable Custer State Park Jeep Tour & Chuckwagon Cookout. Guests will embark on a guided buffalo safari before meeting up with the Chuckwagon Cookout, where they'll receive a delicious steak dinner and see a live show in a canyon.  

Callaway Gardens Summer Family Adventure, Pine Mountain, Georgia

No one's going to complain about being bored at Callaway Gardens Summer Family Adventure. In existence since 1960, the company claims this was "the first family vacation program of its kind." Today, families flock here for four or seven nights filled with drop-off group adventures for kids aged 5 and up. Sorry, super little ones — you aren't invited to enjoy the daily camp activities. You can, however, participate in family activities later in the day. Held from early June to late July, this fun-filled family holiday is a crowd-pleaser. 

Children aged 5 through 17 will be busy from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. doing exciting things like water tubing, archery, and golf. There's even a circus camp. If that wasn't enough, other adventures are available on the property like boating, biking, beach Olympics, and treetop adventures. Kids are happily occupied with age-appropriate activities during the day while adults have a program designed just for them. They, too, have a golf camp, as well as archery, craft beer 101, a wild animal safari, pedal boats, and fishing lessons. In the afternoon, families meet back up to play games, watch shows, and engage in friendly competitions.