Travel's Best Family Adventures 2015
Our panel of advisors helped choose our list of the best family destinations this year. Now you can use our coveted list of Travel’s Best Family Adventures 2015 to help plan your next fun family vacation.
Alaska“Experience the natural splendor of America’s last frontier on a cruise ship,” says Rainer Jenss. “Book the family on a smaller ship — either with Lindblad Expeditions or Alaskan Dream Cruises — so you and the kids can get a better view of the breaching whales, foraging bears and calving glaciers throughout the Inside Passage.” On land, we recommend a road trip along the Kenai Peninsula’s Seward Highway, starting in Anchorage. Make stops for fun family activities such as fishing in Homer and hiking Exit Glacier, one of several active ice flows in the state. 960 1280
ArgentinaFrom the beautiful capital of Buenos Aires to the sapphire glaciers of Patagonia, locals will not only be interested in meeting your family, but they will go out of their way to make your visit pleasant and memorable. “More than once, chefs emerged from the kitchen to play with our infant son, leaving my wife and me alone for a blissful meal,” says Bruce Kirkby, a family traveler who’s featured on Travel Channel’s Big Crazy Family Adventure. Argentina offers family-friendly adventures such as gaucho day trips at the Don Silvano Ranch, hiking in Tierra del Fuego National Park and helicopter tours of Iguazu Falls. 960 1280
ChicagoThe Windy City’s world-class museums, art scene and diverse food culture have always been big draws for families. In June, Chicago will become an even bigger family destination when it opens the 606. This trail, similar to NYC’s High Line, will grant locals and tourists access to more bike paths and walking trails connecting the Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Wick Park neighborhoods. “Downtown Chicago is great, but its neighborhoods really are the heart of the city, offering the best food and a slower pace of life more suited for quality family time,” says Keryn Means, a family travel writer and blogger for WalkingOnTravels.com. 960 1280
Galapagos Islands, EcuadorVisit the Galapagos Islands for the diverse wildlife, including sea lions, giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies. Families get a rare opportunity to see animals unafraid of human proximity. Kids have unique opportunities to snap a photo of a passing whale and swim above a school of sharks. “Lodging in the past was limited to staying on a boat or in clean but homely local hotels — both great options — but the addition of the area’s first 5-star hotel (the Royal Palm on Santa Cruz) means families who would prefer a more comfortable landing can visit, too,” says Heather Greenwood Davis, a travel journalist and founder of GlobetrottingMama.com. 960 1280
Glacier National Park, MontanaTake the kids to Glacier National Park to see its namesake glaciers soon, before climate change makes them a distant memory. Home to 70 different species of mammals, this park offers a wide array of family-friendly activities, including hiking, horseback riding, fishing, boating and backpacking. “This park is filled with stunning beauty, abundant wildlife, some of the country’s most scenic hikes and opportunities for families to explore and learn,” says Nancy Schretter. “For the ultimate family adventure vacation, combine a visit to Glacier National Park with a stay at a dude ranch, such as Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge or Three Bars Ranch.” 960 1280
Kids Sea Camp in St. LuciaBook your 6-day/7-night stay at the Kids Sea Camp in St. Lucia, hosted by a top-ranked Caribbean resort, Anse Chastanet. In addition to hiking, mountain biking and kayaking, parents can take their kids snorkeling or diving. “Four-year-olds can get in the water for the Professional Association of Scuba Instructors’ (PADI) sanctioned training program,” says Rainer Jenss, president and founder of the Family Travel Association. “That’s great news for parents who thought they’d have to give up diving when the kids were born.” 960 1280
Panama City, PanamaSkip the crowds of Costa Rica and visit a new family-friendly destination, Panama. We recommend exploring Panama City’s colonial history, architecture and culture. “Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a great spot to pick up trinkets to take home, grab an ice cream and enjoy a stroll through the old Spanish architecture of Panama,” says Keryn Means. In addition to sightseeing around the city, tourists should venture outside its limits to take a boat tour on Gatun Lake, go white-water rafting on the Chagres River or enjoy the sun and waves on one of Isla Contadora’s beautiful beaches. 960 1280
PeruPeru is one of the top adventure destinations for 2015, and it's a great choice for an amazing family expedition. Go white-water rafting on the Urubamba River, explore the Amazon’s diverse wildlife and culture, ride Peruvian Paso Fino horses through villages, and mountain bike along dirt roads to see Incan archaeological sites. “Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is popular for families with teens and older children, but family-friendly tour operators such as Austin Adventures offer multiple options for reaching this iconic site,” says Nancy Schretter, a family and multigenerational travel expert. 960 1280
Tofino, British ColumbiaOn Canada's west coast, Tofino has it all: endless beaches, camping, luxury lodges, surfing, kayaking and self-guided hikes in the rain forest. “Take a boat tour to go whale-watching and visit natural hot springs,” says Bruce Kirkby. “But for kids, nothing will beat the beaches.” We suggest family-friendly spots such as MacKenzie Beach, Tonquin Beach and Chesterman Beach. For a more adventurous trip, families can hike the Rainforest Trail at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Bear-watching, bird-watching, kayaking, fishing and surfing make Tofino the perfect location for a family getaway. 960 1280
Tokyo“Between the cartoons (kids) watch at home (think Avatar: The Last Airbender and Beyblade), the pop culture they’re exposed to (Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls) and the video games they swoon for (Nintendo and Sega have Japanese ties), Tokyo is where families will find plenty to keep them busy,” says Heather Greenwood Davis. Rent a bike to take in the Imperial Palace grounds, or take a local course in the art of origami or tai chi for a bit of culture. Then, go further. Hop on the new bullet train — which travels from Tokyo through the Hokuriku region — and watch your child’s eyes light up as you approach speeds of up to 300 mph. All aboard! The new train route is open to the public starting March 14, 2015. 960 1280
Out-of-This-World Views: The Lasso, SD, to Devil’s Tower, WYTV host Don Wildman chose the 110-mile loop from Rapid City, SD, to Devil’s Tower, WY, as one of the country's best road trips. While Wildman was brave enough to cover the Badlands during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, he says it’s just as memorable to travel by car, since either way you’ll drive through deep forests and thrilling mountain vistas. If you’re not brave enough to ride a Harley like Wildman, you can at least follow in his footsteps and stop at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum in South Dakota.
"Maybe you’ll even have a close encounter to write home about,” adds Wildman; Devil’s Tower is the site where the iconic alien landing scene was filmed in the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 960 1280
Off-Road Adventure: Salar de Uyuni, BoliviaFor the intrepid road tripper, Bolivia offers off-road adventures across otherworldly landscapes. “The world’s largest salt flat, Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is a surefire, natural amazement,” says Don Wildman, host of Mysteries at the Museum. After a short flight south from La Paz, Bolivia, a number of skilled tour companies will house you in a hotel constructed entirely of salt and then drive you out to experience extraordinary visuals not to be missed in this life, adds Wildman.
While the salt flats are the smoothest “road” you’re likely to drive on, keep in mind you’re at an altitude of 12,500 feet, so take measures to prevent altitude sickness. 960 1280
Unexpected Fall Foliage: Glacier National Park, MontanaOne of the most iconic drives in the country, Montana's “Going to the Sun Road,” is a true bucket list drive not to be missed, says RoadTrippers.com CEO and founder James Fisher. The road spans a breathtaking 50 miles of Glacier National Park's most beautiful twists and turns. Considered an engineering marvel, the road was completed in the fall of 1932, after workers blew through half a million pounds of explosives for its construction.
Jackson Glacier Overlook, between Logan Pass and St. Mary offers the park's best views of a glacier from the road. And while Montana might not be the first place that comes to mind for viewing fall foliage, we suggest taking a drive here in autumn to witness the dazzling color show. 960 1280
Castles, Caves and Cheese: Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, EnglandIt’s no surprise that Fisher, born and raised in the English countryside, also picks a road trip in the United Kingdom. It all starts at a castle, says Fisher: Tintagel Castle, located high atop the rugged coast of Cornwall. Fisher advises then taking the scenic route to Bath, past the fishing village of Boscastle, which dates back to the 1500s. The gorge itself is one of England's most interesting areas, a land of witches, caves and waterfalls.
Fisher adds, “But most importantly it is home to the original, cave-matured, cheddar cheese.” See the cheese being made by the town’s only remaining cheesemakers at Cheddar Gorge Cheese Factory, followed by free tastings of the town’s namesake. 960 1280
Mountains and Mining Towns: The San Juan Skyway, ColoradoNicknamed the "Road to the Sky," the San Juan Skyway loops through the heart of southern Colorado's towering San Juan Mountains and is a "must-do" for road tripping fans, says filmmaker, photographer and road tripper, Allison Otto. The Skyway passes through old Colorado mining towns like Ouray, Telluride, and Silverton, climbs to an elevation of more than 14,000 feet and circles down to the ancient cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park.
“The views are dazzling, especially in the late summer/early fall, but be careful along the cliffside-clinging stretch known as the ‘The Million Dollar Highway,’ where there are parts of the road that lack guardrails," adds Otto. 960 1280
Adventure South of the Border: Creel to Batopilas, MexicoSkip the touristy beaches of Mexico and take an adventurous road trip instead. Otto suggests driving from the Mexican town of Creel to Batopilas: “This is an amazing white-knuckle, eye-popping drive to the base of Mexico's Copper Canyon, which is actually a series of 20 canyons formed over the years by 6 rivers,” says Otto. The narrow, mostly dirt road begins in Creel, which has a frontier feel, and ends in Batopilas, a sleepy old silver mining town at the base of the canyon.
There are no guardrails on this route and drivers can expect to weave through a few cattle, donkeys and goats along the way. “The views are truly breathtaking, though, and Batopilas, which was founded around 1632, is definitely worth a visit and a perfect base for day hikes in the canyon,” adds Otto. 960 1280
Beaches and Leaf Peeping: Michigan's Gold Coast“Leaves, lighthouses, and sugary beaches! New England? Nope: Michigan!” reveals Robert Firpo-Cappiello, executive editor of BudgetTravel.com. Treat yourself to a 3-day autumn road trip starting in Grand Rapids, MI, where you can soak up serious art, public gardens and craft beer, suggests Firpo-Cappiello. Drive along the “Gold Coast” highway west to the jaw-dropping shoreline of Lake Michigan. “From Grand Haven down to Saugatuck and on to South Haven, you'll have a great weekend and bring home bragging rights for having 'discovered' some of the finest beaches, highest dunes and freshest seafood in America,” says Firpo-Cappiello.
Take a break from driving and ride on Saugatuck’s ferry to Oval Beach, the only remaining chain-driven ferry in the United States. 960 1280
The European Tour: France to Italy to SwitzerlandSkip the train, and travel at your own speed on a road trip through Europe’s charming lakeside towns. Start your journey along the banks of Lake Annecy that sits under the French Alps’ Mount Blanc, advises travel writer and TV personality, Kim Mance. “You’ll cross many picturesque canal bridges as you drive toward Italy, with countless castles on hilltops,” says Mance.
After you stop for an Italian fondue lunch (yes, that exists!), Mance suggests you head back north toward Switzerland’s tiny villages, which dot the mountainside. From here, make your way to the stunningly beautiful Belle Époque city of Montreux, Switzerland on the shore of Lake Geneva. The entire drive from Annecy to Montreux can be done in about 4 hours, but Mance suggests taking a week. 960 1280
Tour of the Island: Oahu, HawaiiThe best way to explore the island of Oahu? By car, preferably a Mustang convertible to be exact, says Kathleen Rellihan, interactive producer for TravelChannel.com. Escape Honolulu’s crowds and explore the hidden gems on Oahu, from the Halona Blowhole to Lanikai Beach (often ranked as one of the world’s best beaches) and Tropical Farms’ Macadamia Nut Farm.
Plan to stay at least a night on Oahu’s famed North Shore , a relaxed surf mecca that’s home to Pipeline, a world famous surf break, and beach-basking sea turtles. “Don’t miss the garlic shrimp trucks along Kamehameha Highway and stop at Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach to watch big wave surfers and incredible sunsets,” adds Rellihan. 960 1280
Seaside Foodventure: Puglia, ItalyIf you’re looking for a road trip off the beaten track with plenty of unforgettable food stops, look no further than Italy’s Puglia region. With over 250 miles of ancient olive groves, charming fishing villages and glistening Adriatic coastline, Puglia “the heel on Italy’s boot,” is less tourist trodden than other regions in Italy and best explored on a slow-paced road trip, says Rellihan.
As you drive along the coast of Puglia, steering clear of cattle and steep rocky drops, stop at cliffside wonders like Vieste’s fortified whitewashed castle and Bari’s Grotta Palazzese, one of the many restaurants nestled inside ancient caves perched over the blue-green Adriatic Sea. 960 1280
Moab, UtahHome to both Dead Horse State Park and Arches National Park, the resort-like town of Moab offers some of the most stunning red-rock scenery you’ll ever experience, says Anna Vawser of blog, The Legendary Adventures of Anna. Whether you’re a novice outdoorsman or seasoned explorer, there’s no shortage of exciting adventures to be had, including mountain biking, hiking and 4-wheeling. Vawser recommends “rock climbing among the gorgeous cliffs, touring the Hell’s Revenge Jeep Trail and whitewater rafting down the grand Colorado River.” 960 1280
Black Hills, DakotasWant remote, rugged beauty with a heaping helping of Americana? Then head directly to the western Dakotas. “Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorials are some of the largest mountain carvings ever, a testament to the United States’ ‘bigger is better’ motto,” says the Martin family of thatTripUSA.com. “Awesome day trips include the historic Wall Drug Store (a rustic mall for weary travelers), Minuteman Missile National Historic Site (an underground, nuclear-themed throwback to America’s Cold War) and the Enchanted Highway (home to rest stops decorated with a bunch of world-record sized scrap metal sculptures).” While you’re there, visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park, one of the Martins' favorites, for a chance to be surrounded by herds of buffalo, chattering cities of prairie dogs, deer, and herds of wild horses. 960 1280
Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaRemember what absolute silence sounds like? Most days, neither do we. That’s when we escape into the Mojave Desert to Joshua Tree National Park, a treasure trove of its namesake Joshua trees and rock formations like Skull and Arch Rock. Kinga Philipps, our resident National Parks expert, suggests “spending days bouldering among Martian-looking landscapes, exploring the palm-fringed oases, watching [fiery] sunsets and experiencing silence so golden that you can hear the rush of air through a bird’s feathers as it flies overhead.” 960 1280
Crater Lake National Park, OregonYou can comb the states over and not come across a body of water more mind-blowingly beautiful than Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon. “The lake is the purest shade of blue, surrounded by striking, 2,000-foot cliffs,” Vawser says. Formed in a dormant volcano’s crater, the magnificent blue lake is entirely filled from direct precipitation of rain or snow – the crater receives an average 44 feet of snow a year! “You can make your way down the Cleetwood Trail for a swim, try your hand at fishing, or have a relaxing picnic while enjoying the view,” says Vawser. Just don’t put off your summertime visit – Crater Lake’s first snowfall is often in September. 960 1280
Nantucket Island, MassachusettsJust off the coast of Cape Cod, MA, Nantucket is full of New England charm, great restaurants, eclectic shops and truly stunning beaches – making it a summer island paradise. The Grey Lady [nicknamed for its mystical fog and weathered grey-shingled houses] educates and delights, says Travel Channel host Don Wildman. “The Whaling Museum provides the sea legs for future readers of Moby Dick and Great Point Lighthouse is a family expedition for the books.” 960 1280
Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaPittsburgh in the summer? Hear us out on this one. Home to more than 39 colleges and universities, Pittsburgh is bubbling over with young people helping to redefine the city. Steel City has even become an arts destination thanks to institutions such as the iconic Andy Warhol Museum, as well as the Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum with room-sized installations spread throughout a 4-story warehouse. “It’s not only one of the hippest cities in America, but also it’s located in the great expanse of western Pennsylvania,” Wildman says. “Spend the day in town at the Carnegie Museums, then head south to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater to see an architectural wonder or to Ohiopyle State Park for thrilling whitewater.” 960 1280
Everglades National Park, Florida<a href="http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/road-trips/articles/everglades-national-park-florida">Florida’s Everglades National Park</a> has one of the most unique ecosystems in the US, a subtropical paradise of plants, birds and rare wildlife -- even manatees. But don’t just take our word for it. “Take an airboat tour and keep your eyes peeled for alligators and crocodiles – it’s the only place in the world where they coexist,” says Philipps. The Everglades offers an array of activities, from fishing, camping and hiking to biking, kayaking and canoeing. Explore the tropical mangrove forests and miles of sawgrass, says Philipps. “Just don’t forget the bug spray.”