You and your family have done the Disney thing, spent countless hours on random beaches and skied multiple mountains. These trips have been fun, but you are ready for a kid-friendly vacation that is a bit less harsh on both the wallet and the environment. Even with the young ones, there are many options for adding nature appreciation, and perhaps even some education and volunteerism, to a family holiday.
One of the largest — and oldest — environmental nonprofit organizations in the country hosts several outdoor excursions specifically for families. This year, grandparents, parents and children can take part in more than a dozen Sierra Club-led programs including hiking and whitewater rafting in a California national forest, archeological digging in Utah or kayaking in the Smoky Mountains. Sierra Club also leads a grandparent-grandchild(ren) trip each year.
On a family service trip, the club's Web site notes, “children learn to be good stewards of the environment on fun, kid-centered projects.”
Ages: Each trip lists its minimum age, which ranges from age 6 to age 13. Visit sierraclub.org for details.
There are nearly 400 places with a total of 84 million acres of land protected by the U.S. National Park Service, and most all of them are accessible to families. Many of these national treasures are childhood homes of presidents, remnants of ancient civilizations and wars, and countless trails and natural phenomenon. At national park sites, families can stay in local hotels or on campgrounds. The National Park Service also hosts events during the year at various parks, such as Presidents Day programs at several of the childhood homes. A visit to nps.gov, the Web site maintained by the National Park Service, can get you started.
Ages: Depending on the park and the accommodations, park vacations can be suited to children from infancy to young adulthood.
National Geographic Expeditions Family Adventures
Visit Alaska, Greece, the Galapagos Islands, the Artic and several other international destinations with the experts from National Geographic Expeditions, the travel program of the National Geographic Society. Each of their trips includes experts such as naturalists, archeologists, biologists and historians to lead hands-on activities and seminars. For example, on the Alaska trip, children will explore the feeding patterns of humpback whales and learn to identify bear tracks in the wild. An eco-friendly visit to the Land of the Polar Bears (aka the Arctic) includes hiking, kayaking and animal viewing. These trips can be pricey, but they fulfill the requirements of a full eco-friendly family vacation.
Ages: School-aged and up
This Caribbean hot spot has become a destination for nature-inspired families because of the family friendly region’s rich wildlife, and ecosystems like volcanoes and rainforests. Parents and children can easily plan their own itineraries or hook up with several U.S.-based travel companies that specialize in family tours. Among the area’s diverse eco-friendly and educational attractions are the Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui Wildlife Boat Ride, where participants view animals up close without a long hike; the Poas Volcano, where you can drive up to the crater; and the Pacific Coast beaches. Costa Rican hotels are often child-friendly, with amenities for young ones and needed kiddie supplies. Check with the hotel or tour guide for more information.
Ages: Infancy on up, depending on activity participation
Know of other ideas for kid-friendly vacations? Leave us a note in the comments below.