10 Bucket List Trips for Kids
Since there are only so many years when kids will be kids, we’ve put together 10 must-tak bucket list trips that are perfect for kids and families.
Spend a Week at a Dude RanchRide horses, dine under the stars at chuck wagon dinners and learn the basics of horse care during a week-long stay at a dude ranch. It’s a must for any kids’ bucket list. Elk Mountain Ranch in Colorado offers so much for families ranging from daily trail rides and cookouts to fishing trips and a kids’ rodeo at the end of the week. The Hideout in Wyoming boasts trail riding, cattle drives and riding lessons for all levels. Beyond horses, look for photo workshops, dino digs, canoeing and daily rodeos in the summer. 960 1280
Set Sail on a Caribbean CruiseKids love cruises. There’s so much to do on-board and at each port, making a Caribbean cruise a must for any child’s bucket list. Book a sail on the new Carnival Vista, the largest of their ships, which boasts a ropes course, mini golf and several waterslides. Or, try the Disney Wonder, recently updated with AquaDunk, a new water slide, and Marvel Avenger’s Academy, a part of the Oceaneer Club for kids. Disembark at each port for horseback riding, kayaking and fun explorations. 960 1280
Take a Family Ski VacationThere are many amazing ski resorts across the country, making a ski vacation a must for any bucket list. Hit the slopes, but save time for snowcat rides, snowmobiling, fat biking and snow tubing. Colorado is already getting loads of snow and Keystone is a great ski destination for families. Camp Keystone boasts a world-class ski school, a massive snow fort and ice skating. On the East Coast, try Seven Springs in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, which has lots of snow, great skiing, sleigh rides and snowshoe tours. 960 1280
Build Rockets at Space CampWhat kid doesn’t dream of going to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama? For an out-of-this-world experience, look for three- and four-day family camps where kids can train like astronauts, launch simulated missions and learn all about space exploration. Kids as young as fourth grade can go on their own to a six-day Space Camp where they build model rockets, learn what it’s like to live on board the International Space Station, even train like a real-life astronaut on the 1/6th Gravity Chair and Multi-Axis Trainer. 960 1280
Go Camping in a National ParkEvery child should go tent camping under the stars at least once. All the better if you can score a campsite inside one of our iconic national parks, like Grand Canyon or Yosemite. Many take online reservations – the most popular sites book up months in advance – though some do have first-come, first-served campgrounds, which can fill up by noon each day. Not ready for camping? Rent an RV from Apollo, which has pick-up locations within an easy drive of many major parks. 960 1280
Go on a Rafting AdventureWhether an easy float or a more adventurous rafting ride, there’s something for everyone when you’re looking to get out on the water as a family. Adventures on the Gorge in West Virginia offers rafting adventures for children as young as six. As a bonus, look for treetop canopy tours, ziplines, fishing, hiking and rock climbing. Or, go west for a half-day rafting adventure in Arizona with Colorado River Discovery, which books rafting trips along the Colorado River. 960 1280
Experience the Holidays in New York CityIt’s hard to get more magical and bucket list-worthy than visiting New York City during the winter holidays. Take selfies in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, then walk along Fifth Avenue to see the holiday window displays at each of the department stores. Get tickets to the Christmas Spectacular, featuring the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall (kids will be wowed by the living nativity), then warm up on board The Ride, which is far from your typical sightseeing tour of New York City. 960 1280
Mush a Team of Dogs on a Dog Sledding TripMush your own team of dogs or ride in the sled at Nature’s Kennel in McMillan, Michigan. Kids as young as 10 can drive their own team of sled dogs as part of a 10- or 20-mile sledding trip into the snowy forest. Even better, book an overnight adventure and kids can help feed and care for the sled dogs. Another idea is Arctic Paws Dog Sled Tours, which runs sled dogs in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. 960 1280
Embrace the Magic of Walt Disney WorldNo bucket list for kids would be complete without a visit to “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Pick up park-hopper passes and take the kids to each of the four parks at Walt Disney World, including Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom, as well as Disney Springs, which boasts a variety of new restaurant concepts. Stay on-property to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours so you can arrive early or stay late at a different park each day. 960 1280
Catch a Wave at Surf SchoolKids will love learning how to catch the waves and ride them onto the beach at the five-night Endless Surf Camp in San Clemente, CA. There are even day camps available to kids ages 10 and up that are good for both surfing newbies and those who want to up their skills. You'll also find incredible surf schools for kids in beach locales, like Huntington Beach and Hawaii. Or, head to the east coast of Florida for Ron Jon Surf School in Cocoa Beach. Hang ten! 960 1280
Wingaersheek Beach - MassachusettsWingaersheek (pronounced Wing-er-sheek) Beach near Gloucester, Massachusetts, is great for families because the sea here is like one giant bathtub. The ocean at Wingaersheek is largely protected by the Ipswitch peninsula, so it's usually calm and warm, creating perfect swimming conditions for the little ones. At low tide, sand flats seem to stretch forever (or at least to the Annisquam River). 960 1280
Wingaersheek Beach - MassachusettsAnother benefit: glorious tide pools, which are perfect places for inquisitive tykes to get up-close-and-personal with snails, hermit crabs, sea stars and other critters. Perhaps the only downside to this natural treasure is parking; since beach access is smack in the middle of a residential area, daily fees can be steep. 960 1280
Bean Hollow State Beach - CaliforniaPocket beaches are plentiful along the San Mateo County Coast south of San Francisco, but Bean Hollow offers something different: privacy. Bookended by wind- and water-carved bluffs, the beach has a number of natural nooks and crannies that are perfect for family picnics--and Frisbee, book-reading or some serious sunbathing. 960 1280
Bean Hollow State Beach - CaliforniaThere's also a self-guided nature trail that winds atop the bluffs, offering a great vantage point from which to see passing grey whales (in the winter and spring). Three miles up the road, in the sleepy town of Pescadero, be sure to bring the family on a tour of Harley Farms Goat Dairy, where kids can feed, pet and even milk a bunch of alpine goats. 960 1280
Robert Moses State Park - New YorkWhen most New Yorkers seek ocean waves, they flock to Jones Beach, one of the oldest and most famous stretches of shore on the Eastern Seaboard. Farther east along the Fire Island National Seashore, however, is another beach that sees far less tourist traffic: Robert Moses State Park. Kids will love wake-boarding and wave-jumping in the lively surf; parents will appreciate that the beach isn't crawling with humans. 960 1280
Robert Moses State Park - New YorkToward the eastern end of the beach, past Field 5, the circa-1891, black-and-white ringed Fire Island Lighthouse, is a living window into the past, offering tours and historical photos of yesteryear. Be warned: just beyond the lighthouse is a nude beach. 960 1280
Kure Beach - North CarolinaThis tiny seaside community sits at the southern tip of North Carolina's Pleasure Island--a strip of barrier beaches that front the Atlantic--and while some of its northern neighbors are teeming with tourists in the summer, Kure remains fairly empty. That's good news for vacationing families, who usually have most of the town's attractions to themselves. 960 1280
Kure Beach - North CarolinaOn the list of must-sees: the fishing pier, which is the oldest on the Atlantic Coast; and the North Carolina Underwater Archaeology Center, which spotlights shipwrecks and dive sites nearby. The ocean beaches are breathtaking; for a more off-beat experience, hike the trail at sound-side Fort Fisher State Recreation Area and look for native plants and animals along the way. 960 1280
Ebey's Landing - WashingtonTechnically speaking, Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve contains 17,500 acres, 18 farms, 400 historical structures, two state parks and the second-oldest town in the state of Washington (Coupeville). We, however, love its beach best. On a clear day, the rocky, driftwood-strewn shoreline serves up too-amazing-to-believe views of the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier off in the distance. 960 1280
Ebey's Landing - WashingtonA three-mile bluff trail provides even more perspective on these sites, and some good (read: protected from the elements) picnic spots for the family to spend an hour. For children who appreciate wildlife, nearby saltwater lagoons and wetland marshes are teeming with birds; with the right pair of binoculars, it's like going to the zoo, only free. 960 1280
Grand Cayman, Cayman IslandsThis set of 3 western Caribbean islands has a ton of things to offer families who can afford to visit. Take the family swimming at Stingray City, where the kids can get up close and personal with stingrays in their natural habitat. And while you’re in a touchy-feely mood, visit Cayman Turtle Farm where the kids will love petting the marine park’s 362 turtles. The park also has breeding ponds and a hatchery where kids can interact with turtles of all sizes while learning through interactive displays about the incubation process. There’s also a tidal lagoon for snorkeling with tropical fish.
If your kids prefer to stay dry, Atlantis Submarines, a fleet of submarine and semi-submarine vessels, will take them underwater to see shipwrecks, reefs and coral canyons. As long as your little one is at least 3 feet tall, they can enjoy this undersea adventure. However, if they’re not, or you want to just frolic in the ocean, Cayman has no shortage of picturesque Caribbean beaches, such as the powdery sands of 7 Mile Beach, the most popular beach on the island.
WHEN TO GO: If you don’t mind the heat, the best time to visit Grand Cayman is in July, when it’s low season for tourists.
WHERE TO STAY: The Holiday Inn Grand Caymanian resort, located on the North Sound of Grand Cayman, is one of the best options for a secluded retreat from the action of Seven Mile Beach. 960 1280
Brooklyn, New YorkThose of us who've grown up in New York's biggest borough have always known what it has to offer. For families, Brooklyn is a more affordable and less hectic option than Manhattan. Take a leisurely walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for a clear view of the New York City skyline.
Spend the day at the Brooklyn Museum or the Brooklyn Children's Museum, the country’s first children's museum. At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, you’ll find a 52-acre horticultural paradise and less than a mile away, in Prospect Park, you can enjoy the zoo, home to animals from diverse corners of the world such as prairie dogs, dingoes and red pandas.
Also you can enjoy a picnic on the 12-acre grounds. Hop on the Q Train and head down toConey Island, where you and the kids can brace yourselves for a ride on the historic Cyclone, one of the nation’s oldest roller coasters. A few blocks down, visit the New York Aquarium and see one of the few baby walruses in any aquarium in the United States.
WHEN TO GO: In early June, right before the heat and high humidity have set in. The locals come out of hibernation and the weekend street festivals begin.
WHERE TO STAY: The New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge is in a prime location, Brooklyn Heights, and offers a stunning view of the city. 960 1280
Pocono Mountains, PennsylvaniaThe Poconos may be well-known for its heart-shaped tubs and romantic suites, but this 2,400-square-mile stretch of Pennsylvania is more than just champagne and bubble baths. If your family loves the outdoors, there’s no shortage of things to enjoy either, like hanging out at Camelback Mountain’s waterpark or hiking near waterfalls such as Bushkill Falls.
With 150 lakes in the area families can take a boat tour on Lake Wallenpaupack, go fishing at Skytop Lodge, white-water rafting along the Delaware River, tubing and canoeing in Milford, PA, water skiing in Beltzville State Park, and kayaking in Jim Thorpe, PA.
WHEN TO GO: The Pocono Mountains has a plethora of activities throughout the seasons, so there’s really no right or wrong time to visit.
WHERE TO STAY: The Poconos are home to over a dozen family resorts, from all-inclusive properties such as the Skytop Lodge to affordable, a la carte accommodations such as the Inn at Pocono Manor. 960 1280
Bloomington, MinnesotaIf you don’t know much about Bloomington as a great family destination, you should. This suburb of Minneapolis has golf courses, art centers, wineries and vineyards, all perfect activities for mom and dad. Bloomington is also home to the Mall of America, a destination in and of itself. The mall is the second largest in the United States and the most visited mall in the world.
Besides shopping and dining, families can visit Nickelodeon Universe, the country’s largest indoor amusement park, and SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium, home to more than 10,000 sea creatures including sharks, stingrays and sea turtles. The kids will love Valleyfair, a 125-acre amusement park, and Water Park of America, the largest indoor waterpark in the United States.
Visit Normandale Japanese Garden for rest and tranquility after all the excitement, or hop on an old-fashioned trolley to explore historic sites like the Cathedral of St. Paul, built in the early 1900s. A host of outdoor water activities such as swimming, fishing, kayaking and windsurfing on “The Lakes,” add to the range of options that make Bloomington an attractive destination for families.
WHEN TO GO: In the summer months -- a great time to cool off in America’s largest indoor waterpark!
WHERE TO STAY: The Hilton Minneapolis, the Sofitel or the Homewood Suites -- all family-friendly hotels near Bloomington’s major attractions. 960 1280
San Jose, Costa RicaThere’s more to Costa Rica’s capital than rainforests and jungles, although your kids will love those, too. Families can learn about Costa Rican culture at small community museums in towns like San Vicente, Nicoya; at the National Museum (Museo Nacional de Costa Rica) in San Jose; and the Children’s Museum (Museo de los Niños), home to interactive exhibits on science, history, technology and art.
Enjoy a hike in protected national parks such as Tortuguero National Park, or walk across a suspension bridge in Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, or fish or windsurf on Arenal Lake. Families can skin dive, snorkel, rent jet skis or simply relax at any one of the beaches, such as Playa Cocles in the South Caribbean region or Playas del Coco in the Guanacaste region.
More active families can enjoy mountain biking and horseback riding on Playa Negra in Cahuita, rafting and kayaking on the Pacuare River, zip lining in a Costa Rican forest, or canopy tours in the Monteverde cloud forest. Summer hotel and airline prices are affordable and comparable for a family traveling from Washington, DC, to San Diego.
WHEN TO GO: June through early September, when the Atlantic green sea turtles are nesting. Generally, the earlier in the year (and the earlier in the nesting season) that you book your flight, the less expensive your plane tickets.
WHERE TO STAY: There’s no shortage of big chain and small boutique hotels to choose from in Costa Rica, so choosing accommodations will really depend upon the region you decide to begin your family adventure. 960 1280