50 Bucket List Family Adventure Trips

Forge lifelong memories on a one-of-a-kind journey together.

By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterJan. 9, 2018
By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterJan. 9, 2018, at 10:54 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

50 Bucket List Family Adventure Trips

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Take the kids on the transformative trip of a lifetime.

Whether you want to push your limits on a heart-pounding African safari, surf trip, ski retreat or national park vacation, there are plenty of boundary-pushing vacations well-suited for families of all ages, interests and budgets. While some places cater to clans craving enrichment with cultural cred and striking natural wonders, others lure thrill-seeking families in pursuit of adrenaline-pumping activities and wildlife encounters in far-flung locales. No matter your goal, the best memories will be "when you're taking in awe-inspiring sights and doing things you never knew were possible," says Leigh Barnes, the North America regional director at Intrepid Travel, an adventure outfitter. With that in mind, these 50 once-in-a-lifetime trips are guaranteed to give you – and the kids – a fresh perspective.

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San Diego

While San Diego may not spring to mind as an outside-the-box bucket list vacation destination, with ample opportunities to learn to surf along gentle breaks, a spectacular 70-mile coastline and an iconic zoo filled with 3,500 fascinating animals and a safari park in nearby Escondido, the Southern California hot spot is a crowd-pleasing playground for thrill-seekers of all ages. Head to La Jolla to take a lesson at an acclaimed surf school or catch pros skimming the waves. And for more leisurely outdoor exploration, tag along on a sailing lesson at Mission Bay Aquatic Center, visit Balboa Park or grab your camera and take family photos at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park as the sun goes down.

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Take the kids on the transformative trip of a lifetime.

Whether you want to push your limits on a heart-pounding African safari, surf trip, ski retreat or national park vacation, there are plenty of boundary-pushing vacations well-suited for families of all ages, interests and budgets. While some places cater to clans craving enrichment with cultural cred and striking natural wonders, others lure thrill-seeking families in pursuit of adrenaline-pumping activities and wildlife encounters in far-flung locales. No matter your goal, the best memories will be "when you're taking in awe-inspiring sights and doing things you never knew were possible," says Leigh Barnes, the North America regional director at Intrepid Travel, an adventure outfitter. With that in mind, these 50 once-in-a-lifetime trips are guaranteed to give you – and the kids – a fresh perspective.

San Diego

While San Diego may not spring to mind as an outside-the-box bucket list vacation destination, with ample opportunities to learn to surf along gentle breaks, a spectacular 70-mile coastline and an iconic zoo filled with 3,500 fascinating animals and a safari park in nearby Escondido, the Southern California hot spot is a crowd-pleasing playground for thrill-seekers of all ages. Head to La Jolla to take a lesson at an acclaimed surf school or catch pros skimming the waves. And for more leisurely outdoor exploration, tag along on a sailing lesson at Mission Bay Aquatic Center, visit Balboa Park or grab your camera and take family photos at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park as the sun goes down.

Oahu, Hawaii

You may associate the Aloha State with seaside landscapes, opulent hotels and secluded sands filled with honeymooners. But here's a secret: Oahu's famous North Shore offers plenty of unforgettable, action-packed experiences for adventure-loving broods. In winter, the area draws pro surfers with its massive swells. But if you arrive in summer, you can enjoy calmer waves and learn how to skim the waves together. At Turtle Bay Resort, you and the kids can enjoy private or group surf lessons, take guided surf tours, try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding or bond while kayaking, horseback riding or biking. After soaking in the great outdoors, check out must-see historical attractions, like 'Iolani Palace and Pearl Harbor in Honolulu.

Sydney

In Sydney, you'll find rip-roaring adventures catering to every adventurer in your group. After visiting classic attractions such as the Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and Bondi Beach, embark on a kayaking expedition in the harbor or venture to Sydney Olympic Park, where you and the kids can swing across a zip line or take an archery lesson. For more thrilling pursuits, hike in the nearby Blue Mountains (about a two-hour train ride from Sydney), where you can marvel at the Three Sisters rock formation and inspiring waterfalls. And if you're traveling with animal lovers, you can't miss checking out the Australian Reptile Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (about an hour drive outside of the city), which houses kangaroos, koalas and wombats.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica offers endless opportunities for exhilarating encounters in the wild. While daredevils may want to glide through a canopy of trees on a zip line, nature enthusiasts can take in enchanting butterfly farms or hike through lush rainforests. Jeremy Brady, the national sales manager at small-group adventure tour outfitter G Adventures, suggests Costa Rica for families with kids under age 10 looking for a blend of high-octane activity, cultural immersion and wildlife-viewing. Get your heart racing as you zip line or stroll along the misty Sky Walk (a hanging bridge) through Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, which teems with howler monkeys, colorful birds, sloths and 2,500 plant species. Then soak in the sunshine and surf along the Nicoya Peninsula.

Alaska

With dramatic glaciers, fascinating wildlife and awe-inspiring landscapes, Alaska captivates nature lovers of all ages. Whether you're dreaming of catching sight of the northern lights or cruising past glaciers and whale-filled waters in Kenai Fjords National Park, you have plenty of reasons to take the kids to Alaska. On National Geographic's eight-day Alaska: Denali to Kenai Fjords Family Expedition (from $5,845), you and your crew can take guided hikes to a ridgeline summit in Denali National Park and Preserve's interior and take a cruise through the Kenai Fjords, where sea lions, orca and gray and humpback whales are often spotted. After an exhilarating day outdoors, you can enjoy downtime at Denali Backcountry Lodge.

The Galápagos

With its spellbinding landscapes and captivating creatures – from giant tortoises to penguins to sea lions – the Galápagos Islands have long enamored thrill-seekers in pursuit of one-of-a-kind wildlife adventures. Barnes highlights Charles Darwin's playground as an ideal choice for wildlife-loving broods looking for an off-the-beaten-track getaway. With Intrepid Travel's eight-day Galapagos Family Holiday package (prices start at $2,680), families can get an adrenaline rush as they "witness some of the rarest creatures in the world, snorkeling at one of the largest sea lion colonies, spotting giant tortoises and looking out for marine iguanas, whales, dolphins and sharks," Barnes explains. For unforgettable, up-close animal counters, you won't want to miss Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz Island or snorkeling near Santa Maria Island.

Kauai, Hawaii

Kauai may draw outdoorsy couples with its captivating coastlines and postcard-worthy sunsets, but the less-trodden tropical paradise isn't just a romantic hideaway. Budding thrill-seekers will find plenty of adrenaline-pumping pursuits to pique their interest, whether they're itching to try their hand at surfing at Hanalei Bay, traverse the Waimea Canyon or swim in the Queen's Bath, a lava rock-bordered tide pool on the island's north shore. Everett Potter, a columnist for Forbes and author of the website "Everett Potter's Travel Report," highlights sea kayaking, snorkeling and zip lining as classic adventure-filled recreational pursuits the whole crew will enjoy.

Washington, District of Columbia

Not just a mecca for high-profile politicians, the nation's capital offers world-class cultural attractions and a dizzying array of family-friendly museums, from the National Museum of History to the National Gallery of Art. Breaks from admiring the District's marbled monuments can include catching a show at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and wandering along the Tidal Basin (arrive in spring to catch sight of pink-hued blooms draping the city). And for more thrilling escapades, venture 15 miles outside of the District to the Billy Goat Trail, where you can enjoy biking, climbing and hiking, or tack on a trip to Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, just 75 miles outside of the nation's capital.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Get away from it all and soak in the snow-capped peaks, alpine glaciers and plummeting waterfalls on an epic family adventure in Glacier National Park. On Backroads' five-day Glacier Family Multi-Adventure Camping Tour (from $1,998 per person), horseback riding in Many Glacier Valley, peddling among glacier-sculpted valleys and taking in riveting vistas on Going-to-the-Sun Road are on the itinerary. If you would rather craft your own itinerary, a few must-sees include the Trail of the Cedars, which is suitable for all skill levels and is conveniently located near Lake McDonald Lodge, and Grinnell Glacier, a photogenic hike that weaves past Logan Pass. Best of all, youngsters can tag along a variety of ranger-guided programs, including snowshoe hikes in winter.

Iguazú Falls, Brazil and Argentina

With 275 jaw-dropping waterfalls, UNESCO Heritage status and the chance to enjoy biologist-guided jungle treks and river kayaking expeditions, it's no wonder these cascading falls along the Argentina-Brazil border hold a firm place on the adventurer's bucket list. If you don't mind misty surroundings, consider visiting during the less in-demand rainy season (December to February). There are plenty of ways to experience the falls in their full glory, but for an upscale, stress-free option, consider embarking on an guided tour. At the new all-inclusive Awasi Iguazú, an eco-friendly resort, you can stay in a rainforest villa and take a guided excursion to the waterfalls and beyond.

Croatia

Croatia offers a winning blend of historical attractions, architectural gems and cinematic backdrops. For a memorable family adventure, Barnes highlights Croatia as an out-of-the-ordinary pick. Intrepid Travel's nine-day Croatia Family Holiday trip (from $2,195 per person) "takes families beyond Dubrovnik and guides them through less-visited but equally adventurous sites like the vineyards, olive groves and tranquil coves of Korčula Island, the Renaissance architecture and beautiful beaches of Hvar Island and the waterfront promenade of Split," he explains. If you're looking to up the thrill factor, take the kids to Krka National Park in central Dalmatia to marvel at striking waterfalls. And no trip would be complete without strolling through Dubrovnik's iconic Old City or checking out Diocletian's Palace in Split.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – the country's most popular national park, with roughly 10 million visitors each year – tempts adventurous families with seemingly endless opportunities to embrace the great outdoors. Whether you and the gang want to enjoy horseback riding, hiking or biking expeditions, there are a number of activities to keep you busy. For the ultimate bonding experience, time your trip for late May or early June, when 19 different species of fireflies flash in sync to create a bright flickering color against the evening sky at the Elkmont Campground. If you can't snag a pass, which are distributed via a lottery system, take the kids to other can't-miss attractions, such as the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and Grotto Falls.

Iceland

With its geothermal hot springs, active volcanoes, iconic lagoon and surreal landscapes, it's no wonder Iceland holds a top spot on many traveler's lists. On Intrepid Travel's seven-day Summer Iceland Family Holiday trip (prices start at $2,850), you can soak in the country's spectacular natural attractions, from bubbling geysers to cascading waterfalls to icy glaciers. Highlights include meandering through a glacial lagoon, riding the rapids along the Hvita River (participants must be 11 or older) and trekking on a glacier in Skaftafell National Park. And though you and the kids might feel jet-lagged once you arrive, you can recharge in the Blue Lagoon before embarking on an adrenaline-fueled trip.

Maine

Dramatic coastlines, awe-inspiring parks (Acadia National Park, we’re looking at you) and rugged landscapes beckon to adventurers of all ages. Potter suggests embarking on a multiday sea kayaking trip on the coast of Maine for an unforgettable getaway. He highlights the 375-mile Maine Island Trail – a recreational water trail that links more than 200 isles and sites – as an especially worthwhile adventure. For more land-based excursions, take the kids to Acadia for heart-pounding hikes and bike rides. Trekking to the staggering 1,560-foot Cadillac Mountain, exploring the robust 57-mile network of carriage roads and snapping family photos at Otter Cliff are must-dos. After embracing the great outdoors together, kick back at a family-friendly hotel like Balance Rock Inn.

Queenstown, New Zealand

When it comes to choosing an action-packed family-friendly destination, it's hard to top this fun-loving city. Adventure junkies of all ages can unleash their inner daredevil with snowboarding, kayaking and biking. If you and the gang aren't afraid of heights, climb aboard the Skyline Queenstown, a mountain cable car that soars 1,500 feet and offers awe-inspiring vistas of Coronet Peak, Queenstown and the Remarkables from an observation area at Bob's Peak. In winter (June to September in the Southern Hemisphere), you can enjoy world-class skiing and snowboarding at the Remarkables, located about 15 miles from Queenstown. And in summer, consider paragliding with a reputable company, such as GForce Paragliding, Coronet Peak or Skytrek.

The Azores, Portugal

While most jet-setters have heard of Lisbon, the Azores' under-the-radar archipelago offers unique experiences for nature-loving families. Barnes highlights Intrepid Travel's eight-day Azores Family Holiday trip (from $2,610) as ideal for those who want to "visit working farms where agriculture is a core part of the local economy, hike up majestic volcanoes and swim with dolphins off the coast of São Miguel [Island]." If you would prefer to travel on your own, head to São Miguel to explore natural geothermal springs or make your way to Pico, which boasts a 7,700-foot summit – the highest in the country. For more relaxing outdoor pursuits, visit Varadouro, a coastal town on Faial Island with a craggy coastline and black basalt rock-framed pools.

Switzerland

For a quintessential active alpine getaway – complete with hikes to snow-capped peaks, glacial lakes and serene meadows – add Switzerland to your travel list. Adventure travel company Backroads offers a six-day Switzerland Family Walking & Hiking Tour during the summer season (from $4,498 per person), where you can admire glistening glaciers and enchanting waterfalls, explore Zermatt (and take in awe-inspiring vantage points of the Matterhorn) and explore Gornergletscher glacier's ice field. While the hikes are challenging, you and the gang will be accompanied by experts. Plus, at the end of each day, you can retreat to upscale accommodations, making it an ideal choice if you're looking to experience the Swiss Alps in comfort.

Nairobi, Kenya

Few family adventure trips can rival spending a week on a dreamy safari. If you're traveling with budding wildlife lovers, splurge for a stay at one of the Elephant Watch Camp's eco-friendly tents within the Samburu National Reserve. Dedicated guides at the camp highlight elephants passing by and offer immersive activities, such as treks to the Ol Doinyo Mountain, walks with Samburu warriors, game drives and camel treks. Aside from roaming elephants, leopards, cheetahs, lions, zebras and giraffes are often spotted across the 70-square-mile reserve.

Machu Picchu, Peru

For intrepid families, Peru is a must-see bucket list destination, Brady says. After all, it's hard to match taking an expert-guided tour through the Amazon, Machu Picchu and Cusco. On G Adventures' nine-day Peru Family Experience (starting at $1,999 per person), participants ages 3 and up can raft, kayak, hike and bike on a naturalist-led tour in the Amazon jungle before taking the train from Cusco to Machu Picchu to catch sight of the "lost city of the Incas" and admire sacred temples and agriculture areas. After taking in commanding views of Machu Picchu's ruins, visitors can enjoy other must-see attractions in Cusco like the Sacsayhuamán ruins or explore the lively Plaza de Armas.

Cinque Terre, Italy

Imagine waking up to colorful cliff-side villages gazing over the Ligurian Sea and spending your days exploring together as you soak in breathtaking backdrops followed by pizza and gelato. While Cinque Terre's cluster of five villages may be a popular romantic retreat, the charming small towns afford a once-in-a-lifetime family adventure as you hike from village to village. Though some treks are steep and not well-suited for novices or the faint of heart, fret not because you and the kids can opt to board a train or arrange a private boat tour. Consider booking a private tour with a venerable outfitter like Country Walkers to hike along olive-flanked paths, snorkel in the Ligurian and trek to medieval castles without sweating the details.

Bali

Jetting off to Bali with your brood to explore sacred temples and towering volcanoes might not seem like a practical family getaway, but with many immersive activities geared toward the young – and the young at heart – there are plenty of draws for planning the trip of a lifetime. With Intrepid Travel's Bali Family Holiday with Teenagers package, travelers can stay active with heart-pounding adventures, Barnes says. "In between snorkeling, hiking and whitewater rafting, take part in cultural excursions like chocolate-making at a Balinese factory [on the tour]," he says. If you would rather arrange your own itinerary, don't miss taking the kids to Uluwatu Temple or getting acquainted with Sumatran elephants at Elephant Safari Park.

Ireland

With dramatic cliffs, ancient ruins and picturesque trails, the Emerald Isle is an adventure-lover's playground. After getting your culture fix in Dublin, take the kids to a real-life fairy tale by staying and sleep over in one of Ireland's enchanting castles. At the sprawling 450-acre Dromoland Castle Hotel & Country Estate in County Clare, the whole crew can partake in archery, falconry, tennis, mountain biking and other recreational pursuits. And at the 800-year-old Ashford Castle, you can up the family fun factor with zip lining, carriage rides, falconry, horseback riding and other kid-friendly pursuits. After embracing the great outdoors, little ones ages 12 and under can get pampered with personalized bedtime story books, homemade cookies and even a LEGO menu.

Norway

Jaw-dropping landscapes punctuated by scenic fjords and magnificent glaciers tempt nature enthusiasts of all ages and interests to jet off to Norway. With G Adventures' seven-day Norwegian Fjord Trekking excursion (from $2,299), participants ages 12 and up can take a guided hike along the frosty Buer Glacier and explore the Trolltonga Troll's Tongue formation, which rises 2,300 feet over Lake Ringedalsvatnet. And while even finicky teens will be hard-pressed to find a reason not to immerse themselves in their surroundings, other draws for planning an action-packed trip to Norway include the chance to spot reindeer at Jotunheimen National Park and admire walruses and polar bears in Svalbard, nestled between Norway and the North Pole.

South Africa

If an African safari is on your bucket list, journey to Kruger National Park with a reputable outfitter that can guide you to pristine game reserves to spot the Big Five: lions, Cape buffalos, leopards, rhinoceroses and elephants. Brady highlights a 12-day G Adventures expedition in partnership with National Geographic Journeys (starting at $3,059 per person) from Cape Town to Victoria Falls as especially enticing. Guided by a knowledgeable expert, participants can marvel at penguins on Cape Town's Boulders Beach and take the picturesque wildlife safari drive in Kruger National Park to spot giraffes, lions and elephants. Spectacular wildlife-viewing aside, the trip offers the chance to explore Victoria Falls by kayak, river safari, canoe or whitewater rafting expedition.

France

If you want to raise culture-loving kids, it's a great idea to skip across the pond to Paris. But if you've already gotten your art fix at world-renowned institutions in the City of Light, such as the Musée d'Orsay, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, skip Paris and take in an active getaway in the lesser-known Dordogne region in southwest France (about a 90-minute drive east of Bordeaux), which teems with castles, caves and storybook châteauxs. Youngsters will enjoy exploring the labyrinth-like gardens of Marqueyssac, checking out the 25 painted caves and 147 prehistoric sites in the Vézère Valley and releasing any pent-up energy cycling, canoeing and hiking in one of 33 parks and gardens in the area.

Idaho

A trip along the Salmon River is a guaranteed one-of-a-kind adventure trip for all ages, Potter says. Along the Salmon River, you'll create long-lasting memories as you plummet through Class III rapids. The best way to experience the area's inspiring desert scenery on a heart-racing rafting expedition is with an experienced outfitter like O.A.R.S., he adds. The company offers four- and five-day trips on the lower Salmon River. If you're a first time rafter, consider the company's Gorges of the Lower Salmon River Rafting Trip (from $899 per person), which is designed for ages 7 and up. By day, you can enjoy whitewater rafting, swimming, paddleboarding and wildlife spotting, and after dark you can bond beneath the stars at riverside campsites.

Vail, Colorado

If your family comprises avid powder hounds and snow bunnies, Vail should top your travel bucket list. You and the gang can enjoy the ultimate snowboarding and ski break at Vail Ski Resort. And after shredding powder, take the kids to the Eagles Nest Wilderness or venture to neighboring Beaver Creek for kid-friendly activities like nature hikes from the Beaver Creek Nordic Center. Best of all, the area offers a variety of family-friendly accommodation options, from the Sonnenalp, which offers movie nights and arts and crafts at its kids club, and The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, which offers marshmallow roasting around a fire pit and a Ritz Kids program with ski lessons, photography, scavenger hunts and other activities.

Japan

With world-renowned attractions – from Kyoto's iconic Buddhist temples to Tokyo's neon-lit cityscapes and skyscrapers – Japan beckons to culture-loving globetrotters of all ages. Barnes highlights Intrepid Travel's 11-day Japan Family Holiday (from $4,910 per person) as an especially memorable adventure. On the trip, travelers "can take part in activities few have the chance to experience, such as cooking okonomiyaki on a Tokyo Bay boat cruise, taking a dip in the soothing waters of the onsen (Japanese hot spring baths) in Hakone and learning the art of calligraphy," he explains. If you're craving more memorable experiences, take on a few extra days in Tokyo to check out can't-miss gems, such as the Sensoji Temple, the Imperial Palace and the Edo-Tokyo Museum.

Niagara Falls, Canada

Thrill-seeking families in search of impressive waterfalls will be hard-pressed to find a more dramatic photo op than Niagara Falls. And while you should expect tourist kitsch (and heavy crowds), the magnificent natural wonder is a quintessential bucket list attraction for good reason. Whether you want to see the striking falls on a Maid of the Mist boat tour for a spray-filled ride to Horseshoe Falls or from a sky-high observation with a Journey Behind the Falls tour, there are many ways to experience the falls in all their splendor. Beyond the falls, check out kid-friendly attractions such as Niagara SkyWheel and Old Fort Niagara.

Morocco

Morocco charms visitors with its colorful markets in Marrakesh, its dramatic dune-filled desert landscapes in the Sahara and its elaborate architecture in Casablanca. For a one-of-a-kind, action-packed trip – that doesn't require a small fortune – Barnets highlights a budget-friendly Morocco Family Holiday eight-day itinerary. The tour (starting at $665) includes camel riding along sandy dunes, exploring the iconic Djemaa el Fna main square and taking a respite at Zaouit Ifergane, a relaxing oasis with swaying palms. Carve out extra time in Marrakesh for plenty of kid-friendly enticements, such as treasure hunting for souvenirs and catching performances at lively bazaar market stalls, admiring the ornate mosaics at El Badi Palace and strolling through the cacti-filled Le Jardin Majorelle.

Denmark

With its dramatic cliffs, striking fjords and plunging waterfalls, Denmark offers plenty of thrilling diversions for adventurous families. Aside from checking out Copenhagen's must-sees, such as the Little Mermaid statue, the Tivoli Gardens and Strøget, you and the kids can retreat to the enchanting Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød or walk among the cinematic cliffs flanking the isle of Møn's eastern coastline. On National Geographic Expeditions' nine-day Denmark and Norway Family Expedition, suited for ages 7 and up (starting at $6,590), highlights include peddling in the mountains outside of Bergen, learning about Scandinavia's fascinating seafaring heritage with an expert archaeologist, taking the Flåm Railway from Oslo to Myrdal and embarking on a scenic cruise along Sognefjord.

Greece

For a mix of art, history, ancient ruins and idyllic beaches, embark on an unforgettable odyssey in Greece. Make Athens your home base for visiting must-see attractions such as the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Or if you would rather leave the logistics to an expert, consider booking National Geographic Expeditions' 10-day round-trip Greece Family Expedition for ages 7 and up (starting at $5,990 per person). The trip includes guided tours at iconic attractions in Athens, sightseeing in Delphi and a stop in Santorini – the volcanic isle known for its striking cliff-side sunsets, blue domes and whitewashed buildings. Even better, youngsters can enjoy cultural immersion with the Kid-to-Kid Connection program, where participants can interact with Greek locals and participate in hands-on activities.

Thailand

When you imagine Thailand, picture-perfect beaches, golden temples and opulent resorts may spring to mind. But the country's diverse landscapes, lush forests and lively markets beckon to fickle teens looking for blend of culture and adventure. On Intrepid Travel's 11-day Highlights of Thailand tour for participants ages 15 and up (starting at $1,795), you and the kids can enjoy an interactive cooking lesson in Chiang Mai, cycle past ancient ruins and visit Friends of Asian Elephant, a hospital that aims to protect animal welfare in a safe habitat in Sukhothai. For a more adrenaline-fueled journey, consider embarking on an eight-day biking expedition with outfitter Backroads that weaves past temples and rice fields in the Golden Triangle.

Yellowstone National Park

One of the America's most prized national parks, Yellowstone's striking natural wonders and surreal geothermal features, from its bubbling hot springs to its rust-colored canyon walls, entice visitors of all ages to embrace the great outdoors. And with versatile wildlife-viewing opportunities and more than 3,000 square miles of waterfalls, canyons and geysers, Yellowstone offers plenty of ways for adventure-seekers to experience its sprawling natural playground. A fun, family-friendly way to take in the park is with a rafting trip along the Yellowstone River or an expert-led backcountry hike. If you want to stay at one of Yellowstone's lodges, you can enjoy other bonding experiences like dinner cookouts around a crackling campfire.

The Pyrenees, Andorra and Spain

Forget the Alps. For an awe-inspiring, heart-pounding hike, consider an out-of-the-ordinary trip in the Pyrenees, the beautiful mountain region tucked between Spain and France. Barnes highlights Intrepid Travel's eight-day Summer Pyrenees Family Holiday package (starting at $895) as a choice option. On the trip, designed for ages 10 and older, activities include whitewater rafting, zip lining, biking and hiking. Highlights include peddling to Engolasters Lake in the Cortals Valley and embarking on an exhilarating whitewater rafting journey across the border in Spain from the village of Sort ("luck" in Catalan). If you have a stringent budget, the off-the-beaten-path, bucket-list adventure is attached to a reasonable all-inclusive rate that includes accommodations, meals, daily activities and transportation.

Tanzania, East Africa

If you're traveling with wildlife lovers, you may be hard-pressed to come up with a more memorable family vacation than a safari. On Intrepid Travel's eight-day Tanzania Family Safari (from $2,095 per person), "families can take a safari across the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater for a chance to watch the endangered black rhinoceros in their natural habitat," Barnes says. "They can see an astounding array of animals in the Serengeti National Park, too, and pass through the ancient homeland of the Maasai," he adds. Aside from game drives at dawn, educational opportunities abound, including learning about the Great Rift Valley, the destination for the Great Migration, when about 2 million wildebeest, gazelles and zebras traverse the Serengeti.

Borneo, Malaysia

Animal-loving families in search of the ultimate off-the-beaten-track wilderness adventure should consider venturing to Borneo. "In Borneo, families have the chance to see animals up close at an orangutan rehabilitation center, a monkey sanctuary and a bear conservation center," he explains. On Intrepid Travel's 10-day Classic Borneo itinerary for ages 10 and up (prices start at $2,074 per person), you can meet traipse through jungles and float along the Kinabatangan River, which is home to macaques and orangutans, among other fascinating creatures. "Families will stay at an eco-camp in the thick of the jungle and will enjoy a homestay in a Malay village," he adds. Other bucket-list worthy highlights include exploring an authentic tea plantation and snorkeling near Manakan Island to admire colorful coral and tropical fish.

Montana

For quality family bonding time in the great outdoors, Potter suggests taking youngsters to a dude ranch out West. Lone Mountain Ranch in Montana, which is tucked between Big Sky and Yellowstone, is an especially attractive choice for broods with its wide range of kid-friendly activities, including cross-country skiing, dog-sledding, horseback riding, mountain biking, fly-fishing and white-water rafting. "The trails are incredibly well-groomed," Potter adds. If you're planning a summer escape, consider the Summer Discovery Package, which includes a tour of Yellowstone, hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, horseback riding, all meals and an Outdoor Youth Adventures Program designed for ages 4 to 12, where kids can connect with like-minded peers and enjoy age-appropriate activities.

Utah

You – and the kids – have seen dreamy pictures of the spectacular sandstone rock formations and iconic domes, buttes and arches in Utah's five famed national parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef. For an outdoor adventure the kids won't soon forget, head to Arches to admire one of the 2,000 famed spires the park is known for, such as Delicate Arch and Balanced Rock. For more unforgettable backdrops, check out Bryce's surreal hoodoo rock formations, or if you're feeling brave, hike the challenging Narrows in Zion National Park. Consider making nearby Moab your base camp to enjoy ample opportunities for stargazing, hiking, biking and rafting, among other outdoor escapades.

Northern India

Northern India offers the right mix of captivating landscapes, iconic attractions and fascinating wildlife, catering to explorers and culture vultures of all ages. On Intrepid Travel's 10-day Northern India Family Holiday expeditions (starting at $1,080 per person), you can cross plenty of world-renowned attractions off your bucket list, from the Taj Mahal in Agra to India Gate in New Delhi to the elaborate City Palace in Jaipur. The trip also includes a stop at Ranthambore National Park, where you can meander past storied temples and embark on early morning game drives to look out for antelope, leopards, gazelle and Bengal tigers. If you have extra time, tack on a few extra days to experience Delhi's vibrant bazaars and attractions.

Sayulita, Mexico

Sayulita – the little-known surf town along the Pacific that's often overshadowed by popular Puerto Vallarta – is a dreamy escape for an off-the-beaten-track adventure trip removed from heavy tourist crowds. Aspiring surfers can take lessons along the beach with reputable surf schools like Lunazul Surf School & Shop. And for more exhilarating adventures, take the kids on a jungle biking trip with outfitter Wild Mex Wilderness and Surf Mexpeditions, which offers tours geared toward moderate and advanced riders. Other outdoor activities can include soaring through treetops on a zip line in the Sierra Madre forest, beachside yoga and snorkeling. Wrap up your days with a stay at an authentic casita vacation rental or boutique hotel like Villa Amor.

Tasmania, Australia

For some of the best nature- and wildlife-viewing on earth, take the kids to Oz. With sublime backdrops, unique geological features and diverse wildlife (think: wallabies and Tasmanian devils), Tasmania offers an extraordinary trip for adventurers of all kinds. You and the kids can sprawl along sandy beaches and admire striking granite mountains before hitting the trails at Freycinet National Park, including the challenging but rewarding Wineglass Bay Lookout trail. For less adrenaline-pumping pursuits, consider venturing to the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, near Hobart, where you can feed the local four-legged residents and admire other animals, like kangaroos. Paddling by kayak along Coles Bay at sunset with a reputable outfitter like Freycinet Adventures also offers a memorable outdoor excursion.

St. Lucia

On the surface, St. Lucia, with its palm-lined beaches, lavish resorts and rum cocktails, may not seem like an ideal destination for families. But don't let its romantic reputation throw you off. Outdoorsy travelers of all ages will enjoy adrenaline-fueled rainforest hikes, treks to the Piton Mountains and touring the island's active drive-in volcano at Sulfur Springs Park. If you're looking to splurge, consider taking your crew to Anse Chastanet (open to guests ages 10 and up or 6 years or older from July to September), a luxury resort that boasts room with plenty of age-appropriate activities, from jungle biking to guided hikes to open-water dives at the surrounding marine reserve.

Antarctica

If you're looking for a transformative, off-the-grid trip, a cruise to Antarctica should top your travel list. The adventure-focused cruise line Hurtigruten offers voyages from the Drake Passage to the Antarctica Peninsula. And travelers get the chance to hike along remote, unspoiled landscapes, marvel at melting icebergs and admire Gentoo penguins, leopard seals and other fascinating creatures. On the 14-day Frozen Land of the Penguins itinerary, youngsters ages 7 to 13 can also learn about the geological makeup of the Southern Ocean, join sustainable-driven community services onshore and attend enriching historical, environmental and wildlife-focused educational lecture series centered on climate change with the Young Explorers Program.

Grand Canyon National Park

If you're searching for an inspiring outdoor adventure in one of America's prized national parks, the Grand Canyon is a no-brainer. Marveling at the crimson- and ochre-hued, 277-mile-long chasm and soaking in its natural and geological splendors is nothing if not enchanting. Potter suggests planning a whitewater rafting trip along the Colorado River with a reputable guide to give kids the chance to experience the grandeur, striking side canyons and streams of the Grand Canyon. On O.A.R.'s five-day Grand Canyon Rafting – Whitmore Wash to Lake Mead (starting at $2,440 per person), participants ages 7 and up can hike, horseback ride and take a helicopter ride above the Grand Canyon.

Vancouver, British Columbia

If you want a mix of cosmopolitan gems and outdoor wilderness on your next family getaway, set your sights on Vancouver, where daily activities can include everything from learning to surf to soaring over the peaks of Grouse Mountain on a zip line tour. For less extreme but equally stimulating adventures, take a canopy walk along the 450-foot-long, 230-foot-high Capilano Suspension Bridge, where you can admire striking evergreens and forest and river vistas as you traverse seven suspended footbridges. If you would rather stay on terra firma, bike or walk in Stanley Park, pausing at Brockton Point to marvel at the totem poles. When you need a break, recharge at Granville Island Public Market.

Jordan

Petra has long attracted history lovers and serious daredevils. After all, it's the iconic setting from the 1989 hit "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." On Intrepid Travel's eight-day Jordan Family Holidays (starting at $1,435), you'll get off the beaten track and "journey beyond Petra to Wadi Rum on a four-wheel-drive safari," Barnes says. Plus, travelers have "the chance to camp in the middle of the desert under the stars," he adds. The trip begins in Amman Jordan, continues onward to Jerash for a hike weaving past ruins dating back more than 2,000 years, then on to Petra and Wadi Rum to take in spectacular rock formations, before wrapping up at the Dead Sea.

Cambodia

For an outside-the-box adventure in Southeast Asia, Brady highlights Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand as choice destinations. Whether you want to trek through the Cardamom Mountains, admire the ancient temples at Angkor Wat or explore Phnom Penh's outdoor markets, there are plenty of inspiring landscapes and historical attractions to cross off your list. On G Adventures' 17-day Essential Vietnam & Cambodia trip (starting at $1,959), participants ages 12 and up cruise along the Mekong Delta in Ho Chi Minh City, float in a junk boat on Halong Bay and visit the Angkor Wat temple complex. Best of all, the guided trip caters to novice hikers, with light walking and hiking.

Mongolia

Trekking to Mongolia with kids on a nomadic adventure offers an unforgettable vacation. With the 14-day Discover Mongolia G Adventures trip in partnership with National Geographic Journeys (from $4,199), activities include visiting the Flaming Cliffs paleontology site, marveling at Mongolia's wild horses at Hustai National Park and touring the Erdene Zhu monastery with a Buddhist monk. Best of all, the trip offers plenty of learning components with educational lectures and visits to camel-herding families. And Mongolia's remote and diverse landscapes – from the isolated dunes in the Gobi Desert to the dramatic Altai mountains, green valleys and striking gorges in Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park – do not disappoint.

Sea of Cortez, Mexico

For a one-of-a-kind outdoor excursion, consider sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez, Potter says. The venerable travel outfitter O.A.R.S. offers a Baja Sea Kayaking and Whale Watching expedition that includes a mix of paddling near the cliff-flanked coast of Espíritu Santo, swimming with sea lions at a rookery and whale spotting at Magdalena Bay as Pacific gray whales migrate from the Arctic. On the nine-day trip (from $1,395 per person), you can also catch sight of sea turtles, dolphins and manta rays and paddle on an expert-led kayaking excursion before exploring rugged sand dunes along the Baja coast. Best of all, guests of all ages can stay engaged after the sun goes down with evening lectures.

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Liz Weiss, Staff Writer

Liz Weiss is a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. With more than six years of ...  Read more

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