From hiking in Peru’s Sacred Valley and dog-sledding in Sápmi to snorkeling in Hawaii and whitewater rafting in New Zealand, high-energy, back-to-nature trips are exciting for children of all ages. There is no better way to expose your children to incredible landscapes and instill an appreciation for the world than to take them on an adventure-filled vacation. Destinations both near (the American West, British Columbia) and far (Tanzania, French Polynesia, Chilean Patagonia) offer thrilling activities while demonstrating the importance of ecological conservation. Here, we describe the best places to bring your kids, organized by age range—plus some of the best resorts to stay at in each destination.
Maine’s thickly forested coastline is an easy getaway for fun summer activities like hiking, kayaking and canoeing. Good bases for exploring are resorts such as Cliff House and Hidden Pond, which have kids’ clubs, family pools, outdoor games and nightly bonfires with s’mores.
Related: First Look: Cliff House, Maine
The American West, with its wide-open landscapes and many national parks, presents opportunities for daring activities spiced with cowboy charm. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is home to a luxurious and family-friendly Four Seasons, where youngsters can enjoy easy hikes and pony rides in the summer or ski lessons and ice skating in the winter. Similarly, Montana’s Ranch at Rock Creek has a top-notch kids club where children can learn about wildlife, embark on treasure hunts and group horse rides and enjoy the property’s theater, bowling alley and game room. Winter at this lodge means ski lessons, snowshoeing and horse-drawn sleigh rides, and the suites and one- to five- bedroom homes with their own kitchen are an excellent base for families.
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To experience more of the region’s varied landscapes, a short road trip is ideal. Start at Zion Lodge in Utah’s Zion National Park, known for its spectacular rock formations, then drive two hours to the Grand Canyon and overnight at Arizona’s El Tovar Lodge. Young children can keep up with beginner canyon hikes and appreciate the stunning natural beauty.
For both land and sea adventures, the 50th state is unmatched as far as domestic getaways go. Four Seasons Hualalai, on Hawaii Island’s exclusive Kona-Kohala Coast, is a family-friendly classic; kids can learn about wildlife conservation with expert naturalists, snorkel in a protected pond, head out on whale-watching cruises and relax on the beach.
While the U.S. options for families with young children may seem like the simplest, destinations like Mexico and Costa Rica require even shorter flight times than Hawaii and have plenty of family-friendly resorts combining adventure and relaxation.
On Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the Rosewood Mayakoba’s Kids’ Club has inspired loyal returners. It’s also home to three pools and the option of using golf carts to traverse the property (an exciting treat for young kids). The jungles, easy-to-reach Maya ruins and water sports are ideal for active adventures with younger kids and well-complimented by the relaxation at the resort.
Four Seasons Costa Rica is another property that doesn’t disappoint, with a highly attentive staff and a vast selection of room categories, plus landscapes that double as a natural amusement park for kids of all ages—think volcano hikes and zip-lining.
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And for the adventurous family, looking to take their young kids further afield, there are few destinations that are as naturally wondrous as the Galápagos: the brilliantly colored flora and fauna are sure to mesmerize younger children. Families will be best off experiencing these exotic islands by boat. All meals and activities are included and you are free to opt out of an activity if need be.
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This group is old enough to travel longer distances and engage in more challenging exploits, but they still require some oversight.
Sápmi in northern Sweden is another winter destination with adventures that are guaranteed to appeal to the preteen and early teenage set, including dogsledding, snowmobiling, Northern Lights viewings and exploring the crystalline halls of the Icehotel, which disappears each spring and is rebuilt each year when winter comes. We recommend staying at Fjellborg Arctic Lodge or Sápmi Nature Camp, with a night reserved to experience the Icehotel.
Related: The Soul of Sápmi
In Switzerland, family-friendly resorts like Zermatt’s Mont Cervin Palace and St. Moritz’s Badrutt’s Palace are great bases from which kids and their families can hike, climb, golf, go on heli-tours, participate in summer ropes courses and, in the wintertime, downhill ski, snowshoe and toboggan.
North America offers more offbeat adventures. Alaska’s majestic Denali National Park, reached via a cruise or yacht charter or while stationed at a luxury lodge, is a frontier for kids to discover through glacier walks, dog sledding, wildlife tours, fly-fishing and white-water rafting. British Columbia, meanwhile, has a dramatic coastline that offers zip-lining, biking, kayaking and camping in luxury at Clayoquot or Nimmo Bay.
Ideal from June to October, Greece presents plenty of new experiences and exploration. Based at stylish Amanzoe, kids can take ATV excursions, jet-ski, sail and hike to historic sites. Leaving land behind, a yacht trip through the Greek isles provides great opportunities to snorkel off unspoiled beaches, hike or rock climb on uninhabited islands and dive to shipwrecks.
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Belize marries a plethora of adventure with a distinctly laid-back vibe. From the eco-jungle resort of Chaa Creek (which has suites accommodating families of five), days can be spent visiting Maya ruins, cave spelunking, zip-lining, hiking the lush environment and partaking in cooking classes. In short, there is plenty to do that kids will come home raving about.
With Mars-like salt flats, fiery ridge-lines, snow frosted volcanoes and lagoons speckled with pale pink flamingos, Chile’s Atacama Desert is rich with otherworldly landscapes to explore with your crew, whether they prefer to go by foot, bike or horse. The three-bedroom suite and casual vibe at Tierra Atacama makes it an ideal option for this age, with a pool and some of the world’s best stargazing as an added bonus.
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For families looking for a far-flung outdoor adventure, they may find it in French Polynesia. . Although it is a favorite of honeymooners, Four Seasons Bora Bora caters to families through myriad activities including snorkeling (ranging from basic to exploring with sharks and rays), kite-boarding, 4x4 jungle excursions and more. The two- and three- bedroom villas offer families ample space and privacy and can be booked at an all-inclusive rate.
Active teens will want to test their limits on extraordinary journeys. This is the perfect time to embark on expeditions as a family, taking advantage of school breaks before kids head off to college or choose to travel with friends instead.
Beginning in the north, the fly-fishing and heli-skiing at Iceland’s ultra-plush Deplar Farm are unparalleled, and teens can paddle board with seals, whale watch in the fjords and even learn to surf in the Arctic Sea.
Whether winter or summer, the jagged peaks and rolling hills of the Italian Dolomites are a showstopper, with hiking and biking from late spring to mid- fall and skiing in the winter. In between activities, families with teens can enjoy the three-Michelin-starred cooking at Rosa Alpina, a resort known for its excellent service and cuisine—cooking classes here are a favorite among children, teens and adults.
In Africa, a walking safari to view the Great Migration is incredible for wildlife enthusiasts. In Tanzania, the best time to view the hordes of zebra and wildebeest is from late June to August, but the sweeping plains of the Serengeti and the diverse wildlife of Ngorongoro crater is magnificent to behold no matter the time of year, with top accommodations at lodges like Singita Sabora, Chem Chem and Mwiba Lodge. For teens 15 and up, Tanzania works great in combination with gorilla trekking in Rwanda.
The awe-inspiring sites of the Sacred Valley in Peru make for a powerful experience, one made all the more rewarding because of the hikes you can take to reach them. While Machu Picchu is certainly the main draw, Inca sites like Pisac and Moray, climbs up Wayna Picchu, ATVing through the valley’s natural splendor and kayaking on the Urubamba River can all be part of making this a memorable adventure for teens that is great when paired with Peruvian cities like Cusco and Lima or the Peruvian Amazon.
In Chilean Patagonia, families can stay at Tierra Patagonia and take challenging hikes through the lunar-like landscapes and wide plains of Torres del Paine National Park, sail on glacial lakes or horseback ride with a gaucho.
New Zealand is an adrenaline junkie’s dream, with its dramatic terrain and opportunities for daredevil activities like skydiving, rafting, caving and hiking from such retreats as Minaret Station, which is accessible only by helicopter. The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs on North Island is ideal for any families with golfers and also offers sailing, deep sea fishing, snorkeling, sea kayaking and even sheep shearing. An excellent dessert to any New Zealand trip is a stay at Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown where excursions like a trip to the striking Milford Sound or helicoptering to a nearby glacier for a private lunch are sure to leave a lasting impression on teens and adults.
Related: The Top 10: Best Places to Hike
An underwater wonderland can be found at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s most diverse biospheres. This destination affords incredible diving and snorkeling, which your teen can do from the sophisticated Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island.
For a remote, nature-based sojourn, teens may enjoy a yacht charter in Indonesia, with days spent surfing on Sumba Island, snorkeling and diving, visiting temples, shrines and palaces and hiking through the mountainous landscape, before retreating to the relaxation of the boat.
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