From hiking through the Grand Canyon to heli-skiing in Iceland, adventurous trips have long excited 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 (South Africa, New Zealand, 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.
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During these years, children are insatiably curious about their surroundings and have the energy for short, exciting excursions. It is best to stay in the U.S., to limit travel time and to take advantage of the many wonderful family-friendly properties. Maine’s thickly forested coastline is perfect for fun summer activities like hiking, kayaking and canoeing. Good bases for exploring are resorts like 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 spaces and many national parks, presents wonderful 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. 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.
Related: American West Road Trip
For both land and sea adventures, you can’t beat the 50th state. The beautiful Four Seasons Hualalai, on Hawaii Island’s exclusive Kona-Kohala Coast, is a family-friendly staple where 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.
Preteens are old enough to travel longer distances and engage in more challenging exploits, but they still require some oversight. In Switzerland, family-friendly resorts like Zermatt’s Mont Cervin Palace and St. Moritz’s Badrutt’s Palace are perfect bases from which kids can hike, climb, golf, go on heli-tours, participate in summer ropes courses and, in the wintertime, downhill ski, snowshoe and toboggan.
Related: The Top 10: Best Places to Hike
Greece also presents preteens with plenty to try out and explore. Based at stylish Amanzoe, they 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.
North America offers more offbeat adventures. Alaska’s majestic Denali National Park, reached via a cruise 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 where preteens can zip-line, bike, kayak and camp in luxury at Clayoquot or Nimmo Bay.
Related: Camping in Style at Clayoquot
Active teens will want to test their limits on extraordinary journeys. This is the perfect time to embark on expeditions as a family, before kids head off to college or choose to travel with friends instead. An African walking safari to view the Great Migration is an incredible experience for wildlife enthusiasts. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s most diverse biospheres, affords incredible diving and snorkeling, which your teen can do from the luxe Lizard Island resort. 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 fly-fishing and heli-skiing at Iceland’s ultra-plush Deplar Farm are unparalleled, and teens can even learn to surf in the Arctic Sea. 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.
Related: On the Road With…Teens