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Time and budget are always big factors in determining where to go for a family vacation. Yet many of the parents that I talk to tend to stay close to home primarily because they are so overwhelmed with options and the logistics of planning that they just don’t know where to start. Realizing this, I put together a list of my recommendations for the best vacations for kids in the United States.
Of course I haven’t been everywhere, but I have visited 49 states (just missing Oklahoma) and these are a few of my favorite places that kids will love. In creating this list, I wanted to include a mix of experiences that will satisfy kids of all ages and interests.
Don’t let analysis paralysis stall your vacation planning and settle for a day trip to an amusement park or the local beach! Pick one of these ideas and start planning today with my travel partner Travelocity.
Best Vacations for Kids in the U.S.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
The White Mountains in New Hampshire offer an outdoor playground that is ideal for families that like to explore. Here you will find hiking, rock climbing, zip lining, adventure courses, waterfalls, and scenic views. You can choose to drive up to the summit at the top of Mount Washington, or take the Cog Railway.
Many hotels in the region, such as RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain or Red Jacket Mountain Resort in North Conway, offer family suites or indoor water parks. It is easy to fill your days with outings to Flume Gorge or Loon Mountain, or spend the evening search for moose on a nighttime moose safari. Little thrill seekers will also love the Storyland theme park or the alpine slide at Attitash Mountain.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
If you are looking for a classic beach vacation, why not try the Cape Cod National Seashore? In addition to beautiful beaches, you will also find sand dunes and tidal flats to explore, as well as miles of bike trails to ride.
There are also kid-friendly activities like whale watching, a pirate museum in Provincetown, and Minor League baseball games. There are plenty of beach houses for rent throughout the Cape, but families that are looking for a hotel experience may prefer to stay at Sea Crest Beach Hotel in Falmouth, Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis, or the luxurious Wequassett Resort and Golf Club near Chatham.
Washington D.C. is one of the best vacation spots for kids because while hotel rooms can get pricey, so many of the attractions are free. Little kids will love the Spy Museum, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, National Air and Space Museum, and running around on the National Mall.
Older kids, especially those that have learned a bit of U.S. history will get a lot out of the Newseum, Ford’s Theater, and bike tours around the National Monuments. To save money, you can always stay just outside of the city and include a visit to the National Harbor.
School-aged kids will get a kick out of a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, Historic Jamestown, and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. The costumed-interpreters at these sites, along with hands-on interactive exhibits, make learning history fun.
The Kingsmill Resort and Williamsburg Inn both make a great home base for exploring the region. If you have a bit more time, add in a day at either Busch Gardens or Water Country USA, or the nearby towns of Hampton or Newport News.
Little St. Simons Island, Georgia
Nature lovers will love the all-inclusive, eco-resort on Little St. Simons Island, part of Georgia’s Golden Isles. Where else can you find gourmet food, on-site naturalists, and seven miles of beach for the exclusive use of 32 overnight guests and a limited number of day visitors.
This former hunting lodge is set amidst a nature preserve on an 11,000-acre private barrier island. The resort offers bird watching, hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, and a full schedule of daily activities. While there isn’t a kids club, you can rest assured that your kids won’t get bored, and they probably won’t even miss the TV or WiFi they rely on at home.
Blue Ridge Mountains (NC, TN, and GA)
The South is warm and humid during the summer months, which is why Lesli from 365 Atlanta Traveler recommends sticking to the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the weather is cooler and brings a welcome breeze.
Her favorite adventures in the area include exploring the waterfalls and trails of Great Smoky Mountain National Park near Gatlinburg, TN; adventuring Chimney Rock and the grounds of America’s castle, Biltmore Estate, near Ashville, NC; or riding the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway in Blue Ridge, GA, then taking a dip in a swimming hole in nearby Springer Mountain, where the famous Appalachian Trail begins.
In Gatlinburg, stay at DJ’s Station from Parkside Cabin Rentals. This rebuilt cabin rental home was dedicated to the firefighters who fought the fire dubbed the worst natural disaster in Tennessee. In North Carolina, stay at the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, located within Antler Hill Village. Finally, in Georgia, stay in the Blue Ridge Treehouse. Yes, it’s on a winery, but it is family-friendly, close to the hiking trails, and the perfect way to watch the sun set.
There is so much to do in Orlando, including so many off-the-beaten track attractions, that it is easy to come back again and again. We all know that staying on property at the theme parks can get pricey, but it is easy to find spacious vacation rentals or nearby value hotels such as B Resort or Margaritaville Orlando. Of course you can also splurge for the Four Seasons Orlando and spend a day chilling out in its lazy river.
If you are looking for a city break this vacation, there are so many great options to choose from. However, in the summer, I love Chicago for families. With easy access to the Lake, the Windy City stays cooler than Atlanta or New York, but there is so much to do.
Using a CityPASS, you can easily squeeze in many top attractions for kids, including Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, The Field Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry. Plus don’t miss checking out the view from the Skydeck Chicago, the Ferris wheel on Navy Pier, or lean out over the city at the 360 Chicago Observation Deck.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
If your kids are waterslide fans, then Bryanna from Crazy Family Adventure recommends that you plan a trip to Wisconsin Dells. It is the water park capital of the world. There are a variety of huge waterparks to pick from, and once you are done enjoying all the wave pools and waterslides, the city has a great collection of other activities you can do.
Kids will love the Duck Boats, which are amphibian boats that can drive on land and then float down the river. There are also a variety of miniature golf courses and go-kart locations to pick from and a bustling main street with tons of kid-friendly restaurants and fudge shops.
Rocky Mountains, Colorado
The Rocky Mountains in the summer not just offer jaw-dropping scenery, they are chock full of mountain resorts, gorgeous state parks, and of course the stunning Rocky Mountain National Park. Whether you make a home base in Estes Park, or one of the ski mountain resorts like Copper Mountain, outdoor families will not be bored.
You can stay busy hiking, mountain biking, zip lining, horseback riding, and even doing some summer snow boarding. Many ski resorts offer disc golf, mountain coasters, and adventure courses. Just beware of altitude sickness and give your body time to adjust to the mountains before you go too hard!
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Many national parks offer beautiful scenery and the potential for wildlife sightings, but Yellowstone is truly unique with its many basins of bubbling hot pots, geysers, and hot springs. Plus there is so much to see and do within the park, that you need a week or more to see everything.
Just be sure to plan a year ahead if you want to stay within the park, and give yourself plenty of time when driving from section to section as you never know when you will run across a bison traffic jam.
Nine Quarter Circle Ranch, Montana
If horseback riding is on your bucket list, then don’t hesitate to plan a family vacation to a dude ranch. A dude ranch vacation is an amazing experience for families that want to disconnect from technology and connect with each other and nature.
Our whole family fell in love with the family-run Nine Quarter Circle Ranch in Montana. Even though we aren’t equestrians, we enjoyed daily rides, trying our hand at fly fishing, catching tadpoles, and socializing with the other guests.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
There are some places in America that you can see in movies, videos, and pictures, yet they still don’t do them justice. Visiting the Grand Canyon is sure to wow even jaded teens, just make them be careful when taking selfies!
If you want to avoid crowds, try a visit to the North Rim, where it is also a little cooler in the summer. Just keep in mind that you need to book accommodation well in advance if you are staying in the park. And even if your teens like hiking, remember that what goes down, must also go back up, so plan accordingly.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
White Sands National Park is better than the best beach. Not only is it absolutely gorgeous, a day spent playing on the dunes is something not easily forgotten. While we loved sand boarding on the dunes in Morocco, sledding in White Sands was equally fun.
California Coast Road Trip
There is no more classic family road trip than the California Coast. I recommend a one-way trip starting in San Francisco and traveling down to Southern California. Kids will love watching the sea lions, otters, and elephant seals, as well as watching the waves crash against the rocky coast.
Take a day to visit Monterey and its fabulous aquarium before stopping in the quaint Bavarian town of Carmel-by-the-Sea and continuing down to Big Sur. Take your time on the Central Coast before ending your journey in either Los Angeles or San Diego.
Crater Lake, Oregon
Crater Lake is still one of the most beautiful national parks that we have explored. No photo can capture the size or true color of this lake in a collapsed volcano caldera. It is easy to spend two days exploring the hikes and scenic overlooks around the lake.
Big Island, Hawaii
The Big Island of Hawaii is the only place where you are going to see an active volcano in the United States. There are black sand beaches and lava fields to explore, as well as waterfalls, bamboo forests, and the rainiest town in Hawaii.
Be sure to get off the resort though because a highlight to a visit to Hawaii is a day trip to Volcanoes National Park.
The easiest way to see Alaska is on an Alaskan Cruise. And although you will have less time on land, sailings from Seattle are also very affordable. No longer is Alaska a destination for retirees.
Last summer we took a family cruise on the new Norwegian Bliss cruise ship, which had so much to do for kids including laser tag, go-karts, and, if the weather cooperates, even water slides. In Alaska you get the experience of wide-open spaces, wildlife, and local culture.
Now that you have ideas, it is time to start planning! Keep in mind that some of these destinations require advance planning and popular hotels and destinations can book up fast.
Need more ideas? Try one of these articles:
- 25 East Coast Family Vacations
- 10 Best Vacations for Teens
- 15 Cheap Vacation Spots for a Fun Summer Vacation
- 110 Things to do in New England with Kids