We searched as high as Alaska’s Mt. Denali, peered into Utah’s Homestead Crater, and even set our sights on space in order to round up the most epic places to travel to with kids. Our carefully curated list includes spots perfect for those who are still young enough to marvel at the magic of Disney as much as the world’s most active volcano! Before planning your next family vacation, read on for the ultimate list of places to visit that will wow the kids (and you).
1. Cadillac Mountain—Acadia National Park, ME
From October to March, this is the very first place in the country to see the sunrise, so visiting in winter is well worth it, weather withstanding. In summer, summiting Cadillac Mountain is guaranteed to be as easy as the drive to the top, where kids can explore the granite rocks (a result of volcanic activity over 350 million years ago!), paved paths, and the overall majesty of Acadia National Park.
Find out more: acadiamagic.com/CadillacMountain
2. Niagara Falls State Park—Niagara, NY
It’s not every day you can see another country from where you stand! There are several ways to experience the famous falls up close. From the poncho get-up to venturing close enough to get soaked, Cave of the Winds’ 175-foot descent into Niagara Gorge is a child’s delight. If your little captain would prefer a boat-deck view, Maid of the Mist also promises powerful proximity to the thunder of the falls.
For more info, check out our insider's guide here.
3. Angel Island State Park—San Francisco, CA
For a trip to Angel Island, the adventure begins with a ferry ride from San Francisco, the East Bay, or Tiburon. While you take in stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco skyline, and that other famous bay island, Alcatraz, the kids can run wild where the Coast Miwok roamed 2,000 years ago. Get more tips about Angel Island here.
Find out more: parks.ca.gov
4. Manatee Swim—Crystal River, FL
Year-round water temps of 72 degrees? Check. Swim, snorkel, or kayak with manatees in their home river? Check again (as long as little splashers are 3 & up). Learn all about the peaceful, grazing “sea cow” of Florida’s nature coast? Check once more. River Ventures offers the perfect way to introduce younger kids to the thrill of water life without contending with ocean swells or surprise sea creatures.
Find out more: riverventures.com
5. Yosemite Falls & Yosemite National Park, CA
At over 2,500 feet, Yosemite Falls is the tallest in the country. Lower Yosemite Fall Trail is a paved trail accessible to all ages and takes all of about 30 minutes to stroll so even the newest walkers can hear the power of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls. For more ideas check out our insider's guide to Yosemite here.
Find out more: nps.gov/yose
6. Glenwood Hot Springs Resort—Glenwood, CO
Mountain-bound water lovers will definitely want to visit the world’s largest hot springs pool at Glenwood Hot Springs Resort. Day or night, and throughout the year, you can check out one of 15 mineral springs. If the kids want even more pool time, plan a summer dip to check out the kiddie pool and not one, but two 300-foot waterslides.
Find out more: hotspringspool.com
7. Royal Gorge Bridge & Park—Canon City, CO
If thrill seekers are curious to know what it feels like to be suspended 1,200 feet above ground, one of Royal Gorge’s six aerial gondolas offers an exhilarating way to find out. If anyone prefers to walk, its suspension bridge also straddles the 2,200-foot span of the Arkansas River.
Find out more: royalgorgebridge.com
8. Angels Landing—Zion National Park, UT
As part of our historic “Grand Circle” of national parks and monuments, Zion National Park is one of the easiest to get around as a family. After parking, catch a shuttle bus and get on and off as often as you like along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. You’ll definitely want to stop for a hike to Angels Landing (there’s a chain at the top to hold onto so this may be best for climbers who are sure on their feet). At the top, you can almost see the entire park.
Find out more: nps.gov/zion
9. Walt Disney World – Orlando, FL
While Disney definitely has lifelong super fans, the magic of the Happiest Place on Earth is strongest in childhood. Even if you do it once, it will be worth the look on their faces when they meet their favorite character, take that first ride down Splash Mountain, or otherwise delight in the fairy tales and fireworks. Grab the best Disney money-saving tips and tricks by clicking here.
10. Mt. Denali—Denali National Park & Preserve, AK
Whether you're heading in the heart of winter or the full glory of a wildflower spring, there is something to be said for seeing the tallest mountain in North America with your own eyes. And clocking in at 20,000 feet and change, Mt. Denali has the honors. This is an ideal spot to teach little explorers just how mighty our planet is.
Find out more: nps.gov/dena
11. Empire State Building – New York City, NY
A first trip to the Big Apple is one to remember, as is that ride to the top of the Empire State Building. Nothing beats its 360-degree view of our largest U.S. city—you can see for 80 miles. The grandeur won’t be lost on kids—they’ll feel on top of the world from the 86th-floor observation deck—the highest open-air observatory in the city.
Find out more: esbnyc.com
12. Kīlauea Volcano – Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, HI
If you find yourself on the Big Island, you’ll absolutely want to visit the most active volcano in the world! Because of that, be sure to check conditions before you summit Kīlauea, but when the coast is clear, you’ll have a choice of hiking trails. You can also stay close to the action at Volcano House, camp nearby, or easily reach the park during a day trip from wherever you’re staying (it’s less than an hour from Hilo and two-three hours from Kailua-Kona). Aloha!
Find out more: nps.gov/havo
13. Old Faithful – Yellowstone National Park, WY
While several of our national parks made this list, Yellowstone is arguably our country’s most storied (and its first), thanks in no small part to the legendary status of Old Faithful, a geyser so cool it has its own webcam. And did you know you can see it under the stars (Visibility is best around a full moon.)?
Find out more: nps.gov/yell
14. Homestead Crater – Midway, UT
A true wonder of Mother Nature, Homestead Crater, and its geothermal spring can be found 55 feet down a limestone rock that’s shaped like a beehive and only took 10,000 years to form. And while you have to be at least 10 to learn to scuba dive, this is the only place in the U.S. where you can do so in warm water—it’s 90-96 degrees year-round.
Find out more: homesteadresort.com
15. The Northern Lights – North Shore, MN
You don’t have to travel to Iceland or even Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis. Head to Minnesota’s North Shore for breathtaking views, lighthouses, scenic gondola rides, and spotting the northern lights.
Find out more: Check out our Insider's Guide here.
16. LEGOLAND Resort – Carlsbad, CA and Winter Haven, FL
If you really want epic fun, consider going big with a VIP Experience—you’ll get priority access to all attractions, a VIP Host who will let you in on some LEGOLAND secrets, an exclusive tour of the Model Shop along with a personalized building activity, as well as parent perks like valet parking and a photo package. Get all the tips and tricks you'll need for a perfect trip here and here.
Find out more: legoland.com
17. Hoh Rain Forest – Olympic National Park, WA
No need to venture down to the Amazon in order to experience a rainforest. While Hoh’s major hiking trail doesn’t mess around at 17 miles, your kids may prefer two shorter loops, the Hall of Mosses Trail and Spruce Nature Trail that both clock in at right around a mile. You can camp by the river in the old growth forest or stay in the town of Forks, which is only an hour away.
Find out more: nps.gov/olym
18. Grand Canyon – Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
When we talk epic, it's the Grand Canyon, or go home, baby. Jaw-dropping views, impressive hiking and camping, and riding a mule to the canyon floor are all must-do activities.
Find out more: nps.gov/grca
19. Kennedy Space Center – Merritt Island, FL
Rocket fans literally can’t get any closer than this without applying to NASA. At a few miles away, spectators can see and feel the rumble of the spacecraft as it reaches for Earth’s orbit. But it’s well worth noting that Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has more to offer than rockets and launch pads. As part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, you may just spot otters and dolphins swimming around and bald eagles sharing the skies with those rockets.
Find out more: kennedyspacecenter.com
20. La Brea Tar Pits – Los Angeles, CA
Did you know that the world’s most famous ice age fossil excavation site is in the middle of Los Angeles? Yup! Long before the Hollywood sign went up (some 11,000 years before), greater L.A. was home to a mecca of mammals. After checking out the observation pit that's filled with fossils and watching paleontologists in action, the family can walk over to LACMA, another cultural gem in the heart of L.A.
Find out more: tarpits.org
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Have you been to any of these epic spots? Share in the comments!
— Jennifer Massoni Pardini
featured photo: Rene Passet via Flickr