The Best Travel Adventures for Families

a family goes for a hike with mountains in the background.
Family travel can indeed by adventurous.

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Who says family vacations have to be just about visits to theme parks or sitting on a beach? Sure, those types of tips can be a lot of fun but in the 21st century, family travel has evolved to be so much more than that, opening an entire world of possibilities. In fact, the family vacation can be a grand, multi-generational adventure that creates memories that will last a lifetime and further enriches family bonds.

01 of 08

Go on a Classic African Safari

A rhino crossing a pathway in Kruger National Park

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A classic African safari has been one of the best travel experiences for decades, giving intrepid explorers the chance to experience amazing and abundant wildlife in its natural habitat. The entire family will love being able to spot lions and cheetahs in the wild, not to mention elephants, giraffes, and zebras too.

Top safari destinations include Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, and Kruger National Park in South Africa. These locations have comfortable lodges and well-equipped camps that make this type of journey relaxing and enjoyable on so many levels.

There are numerous safari companies to choose from when planning a trip, but Tanzania Expeditions is excellent at helping families plan the exact trip for them, as is Abercrombie and Kent for those looking for something a bit more upscale.

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02 of 08

Learn to Be a Cowboy at a Dude Ranch

a group of riders hit the trail on horseback.

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Over the past few years, visiting a working dude ranch has become a popular vacation style for adventure travelers. On these ranches, would-be cowboys learn to ride, rope, and tend to the livestock, including rounding up cattle and bringing them home.

Believe it or not, these types of trips are excellent for the entire family, who will get the opportunity to go horseback riding, hiking, fishing, and do other outdoor activities together. Accommodations are often in comfortable, but rustic, cabins, with most of the ranches located in the American West. Sweet Grass Ranch in Montana is a favorite, as is Tanque Verde Ranch in Arizona.

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03 of 08

Go Camping in a National Park

A couple watching sunrise while camping.
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America's national parks are some of the best outdoor wilderness areas in the entire world, offering plenty to see and do. Travelers can go hiking, biking, and paddling in parks that are found in practically every corner of the country, although places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Great Smokey Mountains truly stand out as epic travel destinations.

One of the best family activities that can be had inside a national park is overnight camping. Most of the parks have on-site campgrounds that can be reserved for multiple nights, which can make for a great family escape. There is nothing quite like gathering around a campfire at the end of the day to roast some marshmallows, make s'mores, and tell tall tales. Visit the National Park Service website to start planning your camping trip.

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04 of 08

Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef

Child snorkeling in Great Barrier Reef Queensland Australia
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Australia's Great Barrier Reef remains one of the truly great natural wonders of the world, despite the threats that it now faces. The GBR gives families the opportunity to spot hundreds of species of sea life and offers some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. Even kids who haven't used a mask and snorkel before will pick-up the activity with relative ease. They'll also be completely enthralled by the colorful fish that collect by the thousands along the reef, not to mention the opportunities to spot sea turtles, octopuses, and even—depending on the season—whales too.

Day trips or longer live-aboard excursions can be booked out of a number of locations along the coast of the Australian state of Queensland. We recommend checking out the options in Cairns or Airlie Beach, which both offer convenient departures.

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05 of 08

Take a Small-Ship Adventure Cruise

A small cruise ship floats in Glacier Bay, Alaska

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While taking a cruise may not sound like much of an adventure, if you leave the large ships behind and embark on a small-ship tour, you'll soon understand why this activity made our list. These kinds of cruises are much more intimate and active affairs. While on the larger vessels passengers rarely leave the ship, on an adventure cruise travelers get the chance to disembark to go on hikes, kayaking excursions, or zodiac boat tours on a daily basis. Because the vessels are much smaller, it is easier for families to stick together and spend quality time with one another. Whether that's gathering around the dinner table with new friends, hanging out in the ship's lounge, or embarking on a daily adventure, there is a lot to like on a small-ship cruise.

Some of the best family adventures can be had on a cruise to Alaska or a sailing trip to Baja. While both are quite different from one another, they do offer some unique travel experiences that simply can't be replicated by the larger cruise lines. Check out the offerings from UnCruise Adventure and Windstar Cruises to get a sense of what's possible.

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06 of 08

Go Whitewater Rafting

whitewater rafting, Idaho

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One of the most adrenaline-inducing, heart-pounding, exhilarating adventures that the entire family can share together is whitewater rafting. There's nothing quite like plunging down a raging river on a warm, sunny day. Often faster and more fun than a roller coaster, a rafting trip can be truly memorable and bonding experience, even for smaller children.

There are plenty of great places to go rafting across the U.S. and around the world. If you truly want to plan a great trip that includes some opportunities to go rafting, be sure to check out the various destinations and itineraries that OARS has to offer. The company specializes in whitewater adventures, including trips specifically geared for families.

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07 of 08

Hike the Grand Canyon

Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon
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The Grand Canyon has been a top family destination for decades, and for good reason. The national park is so impressive that it has even been named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. But the vast majority of visitors never go past the canyon rim, choosing instead to just admire the view from the top.

If your kids enjoy hiking however, the Grand Canyon offers some spectacular trails to explore. Options include the iconic Bright Angel Trail, which at 9.2 miles roundtrip makes for a long, but fulfilling day in the park. The Rim Trail is longer still, but is also paved and relatively flat, making it an easier walk overall. The truly adventurous can choose to hike rim-to-rim-to-rim if they like, spending some time camping in the Canyon itself along the way.

Whichever route you choose, be sure to bring plenty of water, allocate enough time, and don't hesitate to stop for family photos along the way. After all, this is some of the best scenery on earth.

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08 of 08

Go on a Cycling Tour

four cyclists ride down a road with mountains in the background.

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One of the best things about riding a bike is that it's an activity the entire family can enjoy together. That holds true for a cycling tour as well, with options available to ride for just a few hours in a scenic location or spending several days exploring an exotic destination on two wheels.

Cycling tours have become incredibly popular in recent years, which makes it now possible to visit just about any corner of the globe and enjoy a great bike ride. Don't worry if you think younger or older members of the family won't be able to keep up; some companies now offer ebike options to help close the gap and nearly all of them provide a support vehicle for those looking to take a break.

Backroads offers some of the best cycling tours on the planet for those who prefer to stick to the road. The more adventurous families can elect to hit the trail with a company like Sacred Rides, which specializes in mountain biking excursions. Either way, you're in for a fun, active journey that everyone will love.