Disneyland draws an average of over 14 million visitors each year. That’s more than Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon, and Universal Studios combined. Disney’s parks are immensely popular for a reason, but there are a variety of other options when it comes to mapping out a family vacation.
You don’t have to spend a bundle on theme park admission when there are plenty of less trafficked family destinations waiting to be discovered. These ten not-so-obvious vacation choices offer a nice blend of outdoor activities, historical significance, and good ol’ family fun.
Crash on the Outer Banks
Location: North Carolina
Occupying 200 miles of coastline, this string of islands offers a relaxing family getaway complete with plenty of beachside activities. Between fishing, kiteboarding, surfing, wreck diving, sunbathing, and fourwheeling, there’s something for everyone.
The area offers numerous accommodations, and even if staying in a hotel isn’t your thing, there are plenty of vacation rentals (as well as campsites). Plus, if you’re looking for a bit of historical significance, you can take a trip to Kitty Hawk, home of the Wright brothers’ first flight.
Camp at Olympic National Park
Spanning over 900,000 acres, Olympic National Park includes coastline, glaciers, and even a temperate rainforest. The park offers year-round camping, hiking, and lots of opportunities for multi-day backpacking trips.
There are 16 different campgrounds within the park, and RVs and trailers are also welcome. The diversity of the park’s terrain allows for a wide variety of activities and scenery, and makes it an ideal destination for families looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city living.
See The Moonbow at Cumberland Falls
Location: Corbin, Kentucky
It sounds kind of fake, but a moonbow is basically a rainbow that’s caused by reflections from the moon rather than direct sunlight. They’re extremely rare, and Cumberland Falls is one of the few locations where you can witness this phenomenon firsthand.
However, lest you think the moonbow is all this location has to offer, there is also the falls themselves, which are impressive in their own right.
Vacation on Deer Isle
A coastal town of less than 2,000 people, Deer Isle is known for its rich artistic community. The historic city offers a quiet escape along its 87 miles of shoreline, with numerous inns, vacation rentals, and bed and breakfasts.
Sailing and hiking are among the most common activities, and there are also a surprising number of art galleries in Deer Isle and the neighboring town of Stonington. Temperatures in the summer months hover in the 70s, but winters can dip well below freezing and snow is quite common.
Explore Dinosaur Ridge
Location: Morrison, Colorado
Just outside of Denver sits an unconventional theme park. Dinosaur Ridge is a subsection of The Morrison Fossil Area National Natural Landmark, which has been host to some of the world’s most famous fossil formations. The park features exhibits, trails, and activities designed to educate children and get them interested in the science behind this historic site. Younger children are even encouraged to participate in a simulated dinosaur dig. What’s not to love?
Hike the Appalachian Trail
Location: Eastern United States
While hiking the entire trail isn’t really practical for most, you can always pack up the camping gear (or even plan a day hike) and traverse a small portion of this famous patch of wilderness.
Extending over 2,100 miles and across 14 different states, the Appalachian Trail was designed specifically with hikers in mind. It’s relatively safe, features countless viewpoints, shelters, and parking areas, and offers families a place to experience nature while getting a bit of exercise to boot.
Discover the Aircraft Boneyard
Location: Tucson, Arizona
The Pima Air and Space Museum offers visitors a chance to take a tour of something that would normally be off limits: the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, also known as The Boneyard.
The Boneyard is a collection of over 4,000 planes that are currently out of commission. Daily bus tours allow visitors to experience the largest aircraft storage facilities in the world, and offer an absolute dream for any child who ever fantasized about being a pilot.
Visit Glacier National Park
With 1,000,000 acres of land, 130 lakes, and over 1,000 different species of plants and animals, Glacier National Park is referred to as the "Crown of the Continent Ecosystem." The park includes plenty of first class accommodations, as well as the expected options for families who prefer camping to a concierge.
While the park does pull in a little over 2 million visitors each year, between its massive size and numerous points of interest, it never seems crowded.
Stay at a Dude Ranch
Location: Southwestern United States
White Stallion Ranch (pictured above) is just one of many dude ranch getaways that offer families a chance to participate in activities like horseback riding, cattle penning, and old fashioned barbecue cookouts.
Many of the ranches are all inclusive and offer as much or as little action as you want from your outdoor adventure. More active families can tackle mountain trails on horseback while leisurely visitors can relax poolside while still soaking up the frontier atmosphere.
Take a Road Trip on Alaska's Seward Highway
Seward Highway is a 127 mile stretch of road between Seward and Anchorage. It’s considered one of the most scenic roads in the U.S. and includes mountain peaks, fjords, lakes, meadows, and glimpses at all kinds of Alaskan wildlife.
The road itself can be driven in about five hours, but you can also take a more leisurely approach and split the journey into two days if you’re looking to enjoy as many sights as possible.
Has your family discovered any hidden gems on vacation?
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