I am so excited! I finally am sharing some of our favourite family adventure vacations that we discovered on our 3-month van trip. Our kids may have been little at age 3 and 5 but they still mention the people they met and the areas we explored. It seems surreal that we discovered such incredible landscapes and soaked up some epic adventures as a family all in our 1993 Eurovan Dusty. Skip the theme park this year and make memories at one of these 10 Family Adventure Vacations across Western United States.
10 Family Adventure Vacations across Western United States
Bike the 15 Mile Hiawatha Trail
The Hiawatha Trail is an incredible 15-mile bike route that takes you through 10 train bridges and across 7 Trestles (train bridges). It was also called “one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country”. The trail is on a slight downgrade the whole way making it perfect for all abilities. Purchase a shuttle ticket beforehand to ride the shuttle back up to your car or brave the 15 miles back up. Our girls aged 3 and 5 took turns biking on the “ride along” bike attached to my husbands’ bike and heading in to rest in the chariot. If I am completely honest though, both girls would have loved to bike the whole trail. At the time, we just were not sure our 3 year old could have handled the full distance.
Purchase shuttle passes and bike rentals (including ride alongs and chariots) at the Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area. For more activities in the area check out our Guide to Exploring Northern Idaho.
Combine Relaxation and Adventure in McCall
Discover Alien Landscape at City of Rocks
The City of Rocks National Preserve in Idaho is a mecca for climbers and a great place for kids to explore. It also boasts some incredible hikes for the whole family but, the area is not as well known as other destinations like Joshua Tree.
We pulled into a campsite at the City of Rocks in the pitch black and we literally could not see anything. It was eerie not knowing exactly where we were, and it just seemed so quiet. I remember so vividly opening the curtains and wondering how we made it to Mars. We were surrounded by alien like rock, unlike anything I had seen before. It was amazing.
Explore the Arches of Utah
Explore somewhere completely unique and head to Moab and Arches National Park in Utah. There are many short hikes for families that all boast incredible Landscape. I loved that there literally was jaw dropping views for all abilities from Balanced Rock to Delicate Arch. Consider booking a rafting trip to explore the sites while floating on the Colorado River.
This area is incredible but, is can be extremely over populated with tourists. We were there in the down season, but parking lots were still filling up. Make sure to check out the town of Moab as it has so many great little shops and restaurants. There are also tons of hikes for families outside the park, like Corona Arch, that are worth a visit.
Discover an Oasis at Zion National Park
Zion National Park is an Oasis tucked in the desert of Southern Utah. Short hikes like the Weeping Rock and the Emerald pools are great options for most abilities. If your family is a little bit on the more adventurous side, then consider hiking the Narrows or at least part of the river. To see if your family is ready to venture into the water check out our post “Hiking the Narrows with Kids”.
Want to do some climbing or rappelling? We went into the local climb shop and they hooked us up with some great family-friendly climb spots. Guides are a great option if you are new to the sport and can be hired out to take you and your family climbing or rappelling.
Meet a Burro at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is the perfect place to explore. There are so many great hikes, walks and lots of climbing routes. Make sure to put aside some time to meet Jackson the Red Rock Canyon Burro. Just outside of Red Rock Canyon are the Kraft Boulders which are a great place for kids to play while soaking in some climbing.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation was one of our favourite places to sport climb. We loved the variety of routes and that it also boasted some easier climbing for our two little girls. In fact, our 5-year-old made it to the top of her first outdoor climb here! We also loved having a break from our van and found some luxurious accommodation just outside the strip in Las Vegas for $30 a night.
Soak up the Desert Heat at Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is the ultimate outdoor and natural playground. From hiking to climbing, there is no shortage of adventure. Hike the Barker Dam and the Cholla Cactus Garden for two different family-friendly hiking trails. If you have time, check out the famous Gunsmoke route and watch experienced climbers tackle the lengthy route. Most of the action in the park occurs on the strip where Hidden Valley Campground is located.
For a unique and slightly less traveled area then head to Indian Cove Campground in the park to enjoy exploring and climbing one of the thousands of rocks that are piled up. If you’re wanting to try climbing a set boulder problem at Joshua Tree National Park, then rent or buy the guide book, shoes and crash pad at Joshua Tree Outfitters.
Surf Epic Waves at San Elijo State Beach Campground
Wake up to the sound of crashing waves at San Elijo State Beach Campground near San Diego. Camping on the cliff overlooking the waves we were surfing was surreal. The best part was gathering wave beta without having to leave the place we were staying. This made it easy to have a family surf vacation! One of us could pop down for a surf in the morning or during any downtime during the day. The girls also loved boogie boarding and playing in sand. Since we were there in the fall we spent many nights eating dinner while watching the sun set. It was idyllic.
The San Elijo State Beach Campground fills up really fast and it can seem near impossible to get a spot. Note that it is located in the city next to the train track. Spots near the train track are noisy but in our opinion still worth the visit. There is also a grocery store, donut shop and amazing restaurants within walking distance. Carlsbad is also nearby and a good alternate option.
Discover the Secrets of Big Sur
The rugged California coastline Big Sur offers incredible views of the ocean with little beaches scattered down the cliffside. The drive itself offers magical awe-inspiring views. There are many beautiful and easy kid-friendly hikes including the McWay Falls hike and Partington Cove Trail. Sand Dollar Beach was a favourite for exploring and playing in the sand but the waves are too large for swimming.
The area does get busy but, it feels significantly less crowded than Southern California. Pre-booking during high season is especially wise to get a camp site.
Shred the Sand Dunes in Florence, Oregon
Florence is not only a hot spot for surfing and enjoying the beach life, it also has a series of sand dunes that range from mild to seriously epic. We rented some boards at Sand Master Park for the family including boards for our 3 and 5-year-old. We had no idea they would love it so much. We spent a few hours hiking up and sliding down the dunes. Someday when our kids are older, we want to head back and do some surfing and try out the larger, more epic sand dunes together.