10 Best Adventure Vacations for Families

See recent posts by Steve Jermanok

The finest family adventures escort you into a world of active travel you would probably never attempt on your own. If you go beyond your comfort zone and try something new as a family, the memories will last a lifetime. These adventures should get you started in the right direction.

Written by Stephen Jermanok


Multisport Trip in the Canadian Rockies

Austin Adventures, formerly Austin Lehman Adventures, is known for its long list of family adventures around the globe. The Canadian Rockies, not far from its home base in Montana, is a great one to sample first. While Banff and Lake Louise are swelling with tourists in the summer months, the guides do an excellent job of steering families on hikes and bike rides far away from the masses. You'll bike past turquoise-blue glacial lakes nestled in the high peaks, walk up a gorge where waterfalls tumble down, and view a fair share of bear, elk, and Bighorn sheep.

AA's two guides transport you around the region in a minivan, hiring additional local guides when necessary. For example, on the rock climbing adventure on Mt. Yamnuska, our rock-climbing mentor was Dave Stark, a highly respected guide at Yamnuska Mountaineering. Another local guide takes you on a glacial walk on the massive Athabasca Glacier on Icefields Parkway, the stunning roadway that leads from Lake Louise to Jasper. Dinners are a gluttonous feast around a large table, where you can relive the day's exciting activities with other families.

Related: 7 Tour Group Companies for Families

Multisport Trip in Sardinia with Ciclismo Classico

Ciclismo Classico has branched off to destinations like Norway and New England, but their specialty is still the Italian countryside. One of the owner's favorite trips for families is the multisport jaunt to Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean. Far away from the European traffic, travelers bike along the pristine coastline, stopping at under-used beaches for a dip.

Other highlights include a hike up Capo Spartivento, rewarding young climbers with vistas of the shoreline; a day-long boat ride in and out of coves; soccer on the beach; strolling to the markets in small villages; and a grand finale feast at the home of your Sardinian guide, with his mother and brothers grilling sausage. After all, what child doesn't like Italian food?

Sailing Maine

Maine's 2,500-mile stretch of jagged coastline, where long inlets form sheltered bays, is tailor-made for sailing. No other sport gives you the freedom to anchor in a pristine cove, hike on an untrammeled island, and sleep with a lighthouse beacon as your nightlight. Yet, most people don't have the requisite experience to charter a sailboat. A viable alternative is to crew those schooners of yesteryear that line the mid-Maine coast, the Windjammers.

It"s hard to go wrong with any of these historic vessels, so choose whatever"s available. Each boat has a story to tell. The Victory Chimes was built in 1900 in Bethel, Delaware, to carry lumber within Chesapeake Bay. Today, she's the only remaining three-masted schooner on the East Coast. The 92-foot American Eagle was built in 1930 as part of the Gloucester fishing fleet. It was revamped in 1984 and, along with Victory Chimes, Lewis R. French, Stephen Taber, and Isaac H. Evans, is a National Historic Landmark. Captains let children hoist the sails every day, and even take the wheel to sail these big boys.

Snorkeling Oahu

The legendary Hanauma Bay on the island of Oahu might be teeming with neon-colored fish, but it's also crowded with humans. It is best to take a private boat tour to your own pristine reef. If you're staying at any of the Ko Olina properties on the western end of the island, including Disney's Aulani Resort, choose to go on a snorkeling trip aboard the Ko Olina Ocean. You'll spend the day swimming with wild spinner dolphins, watching fish nibble the shells of sea turtles (which keeps the shells clean), and, of course, snorkeling with the kaleidoscopic frenzy of tropical fish. The excellent ocean visibility only enhances this warm-weather paradise.

Sea Kayaking or Paddleboarding on Lake George, The Adirondacks

This middle section of 31-mile-long Lake George, near Bolton Landing, resembles a river, narrow and hemmed in by the Adirondack peaks. This exquisite scenery once inspired Hudson River School painters to grab their canvases and head north, followed by Georgia O'Keeffe and her camera-toting husband Alfred Stieglitz. Today, the best way to appreciate this beauty is to get out on the water.

Rent sea kayaks or paddleboards on Green Island, best known as the home to the classic Adirondack resort, The Sagamore, a large wedding cake of a hotel that's been the lake's premier address for over a century. Paddle in the morning when the water is calm, following the ducks under a small bridge. You'll pass houses on Green Island that you'll dream about owning, before hitting the docks of Sagamore and the open waters. In the middle of the lake sits the primitive looking Dome Island, a rounded forest of trees. Behind Dome is that magnificent view of uninterrupted forest forming a silhouette of mountains against the sky.

Multisport in Costa Rica with Backroads

Best known for its biking trips around Napa, Provence, and Tuscany, Backroads' most popular vacations these days are adventures where you can sample more than one sport. With its mix of rainforest, active volcano, cloud forest, and coastline, Costa Rica has the ideal landscape to host a multi-sport journey.

Over the course of the week, you can zip line across the cloud forest canopy, spotting toucans along the way; take a naturalist-led hike past the monkeys and sloths of the rainforest in Manuel Antonio National Park; kayak to a deserted beach; and soak your weary limbs in a hot tub as you stare in awe at Arenal Volcano. What Backroads fails to get across in their brochures is the seamless synchronicity of the activities involved, from one to the next. Not an easy feat in a country known for rutted roads and poor signage.

Related: 10 Best Family Zip-Lining and Treetop Adventures

Hiking in the California Redwoods

Often called the finest forest drive in the world, The Avenue of the Giants is a 32-mile stretch of road in California's Humboldt County that winds through 17,000 acres of old-growth redwood forest. By all means, don't just drive. Get out of the car and take a hike. As soon as you veer off Highway 101 onto Avenue of the Giants (Exit 674 from the north) and stop to pick up a map, you'll have numerous chances to get lost on a trail surrounded by these gargantuan patriarchs of the forest.

Covered in shaggy bark with trunks the size of a Dodge Ram, you look up and it's impossible to see the tops of these trees piercing the blue skies. At the Drury-Chaney Grove, you can climb atop a fallen redwood, 15 feet above the ground, and walk a good 100 yards on that same tree. It's mind-blowing. It's hard not to feel dwarfed by these mega-sized giants rising from a carpet of ferns. In Myers Flat, drive your car through the roots of a redwood at the Drive-Thru Tree to take that iconic redwood photo. The redwood forest continues all the way north to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Stroll from the Visitors Center on the Cathedral Trees Trail and you'll quickly be immersed in this primordial forest.

Adventures in Oregon

Oregon is blessed with spectacular scenery around every bend, from the snowcapped peak of Mount Hood to the electric blue waters of Crater Lake National Park, to the water plunging down picturesque Multnomah Falls. To best savor the state, slow down and sample the many sports.

Hood River, an hour's drive from Portland, is best known by kiteboarders and windsurfers for the wind tunnel on the Columbia River Gorge. Another 90-minute drive and you'll reach Maupin, the start of an exhilarating whitewater rafting trip on the Deschutes River. Then it's on to the outdoor hub of Bend to go on a mountain bike ride in the nearby forest. Top it off with a hike around the rim of Crater Lake National Park, where hopefully you booked a room at the Crater Lake Lodge. You've never seen water such a shade of vibrant blue, the result of sunlight pouring down on the deepest lake in America.

Yes, California deserves the hype, but if you want to take your family out West, consider Oregon, a state with far less traffic at much more affordable prices.

Horseback Riding in New Mexico

The half-million acre Gila Wilderness sits in the southwestern part of New Mexico, near the border of Arizona. This is desolate country where 10,000-foot peaks tower over deeply eroded canyons and hundreds of miles of lonely river. Once infamous for Apache raids on early settlers by the likes of Geronimo, Gila is now known for its large herds of elk, Bighorn sheep, black bears, and mountain lions.

The only way to pierce this vast interior is by foot or on horseback. Tom Klumker, owner of San Francisco River Outfitters, has been leading pack-trips into this region for decades. In the saddle of a strong quarter horse, you'll lope through large stretches of ponderosa pines and tall saguaros, some as high as 60 feet. In the nighttime, you can soothe your sore bum in a cool river. Horses, camping equipment, and hardy steak dinners that could satiate John Wayne are all included in the affordable price.

Related: Dude Ranch Family Vacations

Strathcona Park Lodge

If you're indecisive about which sport to choose or simply want to attend an adventure camp that's designed for the entire family, then head straight to Strathcona Park Lodge & Outdoor Education Centre. Opened in 1959, the lodge attracts families from all over the globe. That's not surprising when you consider its setting, surrounded by the towering peaks and old-growth forest of 550,000-acre Strathcona Provincial Park in the heart of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

The lodge is a complex of chalets and cabins fronting 30-mile long Campbell Lake and is only a 40-minute drive from the Pacific Ocean. Strathcona's Family Adventure Weeks in July and August take full advantage of its glorious locale. Guests canoe, sea kayak, rock climb, go on naturalist-led hikes, try the high ropes course, and learn orienteering and survival skills. The highlight of the week is an overnight canoe and camping trip where kids learn about no-trace camping and wilderness ethics. Back at the lodge, there is no television reception -- just you and your youngsters sitting on the stone deck, taking in the views and the crisp fresh air as you talk about the day.

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