Calling all thrill-seekers! It’s time to create incredible memories on one of these epic family-friendly adventure vacations! From a Nascar ride-along and cowboy lessons to a vacation where the destination is a surprise, these top family vacations are made for big-time fun. Jump into the action, and scroll on to check out the best adventure family vacations in the U.S.

Cowboy Lessons at Gateway Canyons, CO

Giddy up! Time to lasso in some adventure at Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa in Western Colorado. This first-hand ranch experience includes daily guided trail rides and cowboy lessons on more than 500-acres of horseback riding trails. Jump into the saddle while experienced guides take riders of all skill levels, ages 8 and up, through picturesque deserts and red rock canyons at the resort's onsite Palisade Ranch. Families can also participate in roping lessons and cattle drives.

Prefer your adventure with a different kind of horsepower? Buckle into one of the resort's UTV's or Jeep Wrangles and set off on an off-roading adventure through the canyons. No matter which style adrenaline rush you choose, you'll love knocking off the dust and retreating to luxury accommodations, onsite restaurants and solar-heated pools to recap a day well spent. 

Online: gatewaycanyons.com

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Backpacking Hike to Hut in Western Maine

Reconnect with nature (and each other!) on a backcountry hike to hut camping adventure with Maine Huts & Trails. Families start their trek by selecting one of four off-the-grid eco-lodge "huts" and choose a trail to get there. Trails have varying levels of distance and difficulty, and families must hike in their own gear and food. Families can choose to hike, bike or even snowshoe from trail to hut and will be treated to the stunning natural beauty of the area no matter the season.

The Flagstaff Hut is a great first choice for families with little hikers. Located about two miles from the trailhead, this welcoming respite on Flagstaff Lake has European-style accommodations, boardgames and self-service kitchen. Once at the hut, daily activities include swimming, fishing, hiking and paddling. Don't forget to unplug, as huts are a cell phone-free zone for optimum reconnection.

Online: mainehuts.org

Zipline Over Niagara Falls, NY

Discover the wonder of Niagara Falls from a totally thrilling perspective––on a zipline! Adults and kids age 7 and up can take a breathtaking ride toward the American and Canadian Horseshoe Falls on one of four parallel ziplines 220 feet above the Niagara River Gorge. Gravity will then take riders on a 2,200 foot thrill ride at speeds over 40mph to the Falls Landing and Observation Deck. Getting up close to one of nature's wonders has never been so thrilling!

Online: wildplayniagrafalls.com

Hot Air Balloon Expedition in AZ

Up, up and away! Get a birds-eye view of breathtaking desert sunrises and sunsets with Hot Air Expeditions in Phoenix, Arizona. With 300 days of sunshine a year, this desert oasis boasts the most flyable days per year of anywhere in the country, making it an ideal spot to take to the skies.

Once your balloon inflates, guests gently soar between 400 to 3,000 feet in the air for unparalleled 360-degree views of the Sonoran Desert. The knowledgable pilot will guide families through an air journey pointing out desert landmarks and plant life. After you momentously land back on solid ground, a table with linens and a gourmet meal awaits flyers. First-timers are treated to a Balloonists Ceremony, a tradition carried out by balloonists for over a century. Hot Air Expeditions welcome families with children ages 5 and up.

Online: hotairexpeditions.com

photo: Kerry Cushman

Go Canyoneering in Zion National Park, UT

Prepare your crew for an epic hike with jaw-dropping views at Zion National Park. The famed steep red cliffs of this southwest Utah preserve provide memorable hikes for all ability levels. Before you board the shuttle to the trails, stop by the Visitors Center to receive a Junior Ranger's booklet to be filled out by your little adventurer. Once completed they'll take an oath and become a Zion Junior Ranger. Now it's time to choose your adventure level, whether an easier trail like the beautiful Emerald Pools Trail or a more daring hike through the waters of the Virgin River in the famed Narrows. Take it up another level, and book a half-day or full-day canyoneering trip with Zion Adventures, who provide guided trips for families with kids under 12 years.

Online: zionadventures.com

photo: Norwegian Cruise Line

Thrill Ride Cruise Ship on Norwegian Encore

Enjoy the best of both worlds (total relaxation and major thrills!) on Norwegian Cruise Line's epic new ship, Encore. Onboard, you’ll put the pedal to the metal with the largest race track at sea, Encore Speedway. When you’re ready for a dip in the pool, big kids can plunge into the over-edge waterslides and little ones can get into a splash waterpark just their size.

The fun continues in the Galaxy Pavilion with jaw-dropping virtual reality games like the Jurassic Park Jeep experience and custom-designed VR race car. For a little friendly competition, form your team and head to the lost city of Atlantis for a game of laser tag on the open seas. When you need a break from the action, the kids will love hanging at the complimentary Splash Academy kids’ camp while you relax poolside with a mojito or schedule in a romantic dinner at the acclaimed Onda by Scarpetta. Total relaxation and epic adventure? That’s a family vacation we never want to end.

Online: ncl.com

photo: Kerry Cushman

Snow Speed at Mammoth Mountain, CA

With the jaw-dropping Sierra Nevada mountain range as a backdrop, a trip to Mammoth, California is a thrill ride the whole family will love. Start your adventure off the beaten path with Mammoth Mountain's Snowmobile Adventures. Kids age 5 and up can ride along with a parent as they cruise through tree-lined trails and take in epic mountain views. Once back at the base, riders cheer the awesome ride with well-earned hot cocoa. Just down the hill, a thrill ride of a different kind awaits at Woolly's Tube Park. Here, adults and kiddos 42" and taller will soar down six groomed lanes in a high-speed snow tube. Whether you go as a group or get a super-spin from the friendly staff, this is big-time fun for the whole family. For little ones too small to hit the big hill, check out the adjacent Snow Play Area with sleds and Woolly's Merry-Go-Round.

When you're ready to hit the slopes, Mammoth Mountain offers an exceptional day of shredding for all skill levels. Sign new skiers and boarders up for a half or full-day lesson while you and your partner explore over 3,500 skiable acres. After a day of snow-filled fun, chill out at the well-appointed Juniper Springs Resort. Located steps from the Eagle Lodge, Juniper Springs Resort is the perfect home-base for families with ski-in/ski-out access, a full kitchen, hot tub and ski and snowboard lessons right outside your doorstep. Don't forget to check out Woolly's Party every Saturday with music, face painting and complimentary cocoa!

Online: mammothmountain.com

photo: Rising Tide Tours

Kayak the Caribbean in Turks & Caicos

If your idea of a thrill is aquamarine waters and sandy beaches, consider a trip to the breathtaking islands of Turks and Caicos. Here, you'll find kayaking adventures and can enjoy stand up paddle boarding over coveted Caribbean waters with Rising Tide Tours. This overwater experience starts in Providenciales where local guides take guests on a guided tour through the national parks of Turks and Caicos. From your water-level view, you'll encounter sea life such as turtles, barracuda, lemon sharks and puffer fish. This stunning look into the local ecosystem will be a trip to remember.

Online: risingtidetours.com

photo: courtesy Space Camp

Family Space Camp in Huntsville, AL

Calling all space lovers! The whole family can channel their inner astronaut with a memorable mission to Family Space Camp. Here, you'll train like an astronaut on the 1/6th Gravity Chair, launch simulated missions to the International Space Station and construct and launch your own model rocket. This two-night camp is for kids between the ages of 7 to 18 and at least one accompanying adult.

Online: spacecamp.com

photo: REI

Surfing & Snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez

Say hola to adventure as you and your family discover the natural aquarium known as the Sea of Cortez with REI's 7-day Baja Family Adventure. The action-packed week starts off at the beach with surfing lessons for all skill levels and then heads to the kitchen for lessons on preparing (and eating!) Mexican cuisine. Families will camp on beautiful Espiritu Santo Island in deluxe safari-style tents, and days are spent kayaking on clear-blue waters, taking scenic hikes and snorkeling with sea lion pups. All accommodations and meals are included, and kids receive an REI day pack for their adventure.

Online: rei.com/adventures

Nascar Ride Along in Daytona Beach, FL

Buckle up for a speedy ride with a Nascar racing experience at Daytona International Speedway. Adults can take their turn around the track by themselves, and kids between 4 to 5 feet and under 100 lbs can sit back and hold on as a professional driving instructor takes them on a top speed ride around the speedway. On your mark, get set, go!

Online: daytonainternationalspeedway.com

photo: Pack Up Go

A Surprise Destination with Pack Up + Go

Surprise, you won't know where you're going until hours before your vacation! If this makes your type-A personality break into a sweat, don't worry. The surprise is part of the adventure with a family-friendly trip planned by Pack Up + Go. This surprise travel agency plans three-day trips around the United States and keeps the destination a surprise. Guests fill out budgets, dates and a quick survey, and the Pack Up + Go team goes to work planning travel arrangements and accommodations.

Panicking about packing? Don't worry, one week before your trip you'll receive an email with what items to pack, the weather forecast and starting point for your mystery destination. The whole family will feel the thrill of not knowing where they're going until it's time to go. With 96% of travelers saying they'd do it again, a plan-free vacation might just be the only way you'll want to travel from now on. 

Online: packupgo.com

––Kerry Cushman

 

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