15 Top-Rated Family Adventure Holidays
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Family adventures can take many forms, with some looking for exciting expeditions, and others craving immersion into a completely new culture.
High-energy families will find challenging hikes in the rainforests of Central and South America, along Alpine passes, or along the Grand Canyon, while thrill-seekers can experience the rush of some of the world's best white water rafting, go rock climbing in Spain, or meet the challenge of conquering the Matterhorn on their family holiday.
Tourists looking for a more laid-back but equally adventurous family vacation can watch wild elephants and giraffe roam past the safari guide's jeep, or embark on a sailing ship for a wholesome week at sea.
No matter your family's size, ages, or energy level, there is an unforgettable vacation in our list of the top family adventure holidays.
1. South African Safari
South Africa is home to some of the best game reserves in Africa, including high-end luxury lodges that combine exciting excursions with a stress-free vacation. It is also home to stunning landscapes, as well as a coastline with coral reefs and water sports adventures.
Kruger National Park, located in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces, is one of the biggest game parks, and home to the "big five": elephants, rhino, lions, buffalo, and leopards, as well as the family-favorite giraffe. There are plenty of ways to tour the park, from a classic vehicle tour that gets up-close to a peaceful hot air balloon ride.
Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park is another massive game park, which is home to hyenas, cheetahs, and the black-maned Kalahari lion.
Other major South African safari parks include iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which offers a variety of ecosystems with diverse wildlife, and the much smaller Pilanesberg National Park, which is within driving distance of Johannesburg. All these parks are among the top places to visit in South Africa.
Families looking for even more adventure can head to Cape Town, where tour operators offer snorkeling and diving tours. The bravest can take a dive inside a shark-proof cage to see great white sharks face-to-face.
Tourists can also venture inland for mountain adventures in Drakensberg park, or explore the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve's waterfalls and stunning scenery.
2. Hike the Andes on Peru's Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
The full hike takes four days, requiring endurance and commitment, but it's more than worth the work. Hikers starting at the very beginning of the trail will pass over 30 Inca ruins during the climb, and along the way will enjoy stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The hike culminates in a tour of Machu Picchu, an iconic Inca ruin that overlooks the Urubama River valley.
Tourists will want to be sure to book their hiking tour well in advance, as the trail and ancient site may only be visited with an approved agency guide. Those who aren't up for the full four-day hike can also opt to start at varying locations, skipping some of the more strenuous legs of the journey.
Families can also opt to view the route by train to Aguas Calientes and then take a bus to the historic site, but should be sure to plan ahead, as there are strict admission rules in place to ensure Machu Picchu is preserved for future generations.
In addition to Machu Picchu, tourists seeking adventure can explore the Urubamba Valley, also known as the Sacred Valley. Filled with Inca sites and unbelievable scenery, the valley has plenty of opportunities for hiking and adventure tours. Among the most important historic sites are ruins at Ollantaytambo; ancient agricultural terraces at the towns of Pisac and Moray; and the Inca ruin Huchuy Cusco, which can only be reached via a three-hour uphill hike.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Machu Picchu
3. Diving Down Under
Australia's Great Barrier Reef is the planet's largest coral reef system, so expansive that it is visible from space. Made up of more than 2,900 reefs with both hard and soft coral, it is home to a vast array of ocean life, from the smallest tropical fish to whales and sharks.
Thanks to its size, tourists can access the reef from many points along the northeastern coast of Australia, and the aquatic wonderland can be explored in many ways, both up-close in the water and from above.
Snorkeling is the easiest way to explore the reefs up-close, but those able to take a scuba diving tour should not miss out on the opportunity to explore the deeper regions of the reef. The Whitsunday Islands are home to some of the most stunning dive sites, and tourists can find numerous outfitters and guides that depart from Cairns, Port Douglas, and Airlie Beach.
Those who want a different perspective can enjoy viewing the reefs from glass-bottomed boats and submersibles, a great option for those who can't get in the water. Tour operators also offer aerial views of the reefs by helicopter.
Read More: Top-Rated Outdoor Adventures in Australia
4. Sea Kayaking in Wales
There is nothing quite like exploring the complex shoreline from a sea kayak. Right on the water and small enough to slip into narrower waterways, kayaks give nature lovers a level of intimacy with the landscape.
One of the best bases for a sea kayaking adventure is at the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in southwest Wales. This craggy coastline has countless nooks to explore, allowing kayakers to get into secluded spots for a better chance of spotting the rare wildlife that calls this area home.
Bring the waterproof camera, because there's a chance of spotting elusive birds like razor-billed auks and puffins, and if you are here in August, it's likely you will spot baby seals.
The kids will love this park just as much for its 50-plus beaches, most of them graced with soft sand for playing and sunbathing. If your family enjoys hiking, you can also spend some time walking sections of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail, a 300-kilometer path that skirts the shoreline atop sea cliffs.
Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Wales
5. White Water Rafting in Montana
Home to both Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park, Montana offers so many opportunities for adventure, and one of the most thrilling is its abundance of white-water rivers.
In addition to these adrenaline-packed excursions, visitors can enjoy unparalleled views of the surrounding landscape from the river, as well as try their hand at fly fishing. Rafting outfitters provide services for any experience level on all the major rivers. Late spring and early summer are the ideal time for whitewater rafting, although most outfitters operate through September.
The Flathead River, which forms the western and southern boundaries of Glacier National Park, offers some of the best scenic views from the water. Its most popular stretch is along the Middle Fork's journey through John Stevens Canyon, a seven-mile section that includes both Class II and III rapids. The North Fork of the Flathead River has calmer Class I and II rapids that pass through virtually untouched wilderness.
The Yellowstone River provides stunning views of the park and Paradise Valley, offering more than 670 miles of free-flowing water. The Gallatin River also begins in Yellowstone National Park, as does the Madison River, home to Class III and IV rapids in Bear Trap Canyon. Class III rapids can also be found in the Alberton Gorge section of the Clark Fork River, and the Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor is home to both Class II and III rapids.
6. Ride the Danube Cycle Path
The Danube Cycle Path occupies the majority of the 3,600-kilometer Eurovelo 6, providing a safe and scenic route for families who want to explore the Danube River valley.
The most popular stretch is the Austrian section, which goes from Passau in Germany's Bavarian region to Vienna. The entire path stretches from the source of the Danube in Germany's Black Forest region to its outlet in Romania at the Black Sea.
Whether you are seasoned cyclists who want to conquer the entire length, or just looking for something different to keep the family active while on holiday, this path is an excellent choice since its proximity to the water means it is mostly even and level. It is well-maintained and wide enough to accommodate groups, tandem bikes, and recumbent cycles.
There are also plenty of established campsites right along the trail, which is a good choice for those who want the flexibility. Other options include hotels in the cities along the way and bike-and-barge tours, where nights are spent on the boat and days are spent cycling.
7. Hut-to-Hut Hiking in the Swiss Alps
There are few sights as truly breathtaking as reaching the top of a trail to find that you are face-to-face with the snowcapped peak of a Swiss Alp. Hut-to-hut hiking is an opportunity to spend more time high in the mountains, allowing families to extend their Alpine adventure for multiple days, knowing there are hearty meals and a cozy warm bed waiting just ahead.
The Greina Pass is a good option that can be done in two days (Runachez to Ghirone) with an overnight at the Terri Hut. Once used by the Romans to traverse the mountains, today this trail is known for its pristine condition due to its remoteness.
Those who are up for a longer excursion can trek the Sentiero Alpino Calanca Mountain Trail, which takes three days to complete. Starting at the San Bernardino Pass, this 45-kilometer hike reaches altitudes over 3,000 meters before ending in Santa Maria.
If you're traveling with younger kids and aren't quite up for a full-day or multi-day hike, try the Rigi Panorama Trail, one of the top hikes in Switzerland. Convenient for families sightseeing in Lucerne, this seven-kilometer hike starts at a good elevation, so it's not too difficult to get to the top for those gorgeous views.
8. Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland
Iceland has so many adventures waiting to be tackled, it's hard to narrow it down to one–but why try, when you can experience several in one holiday?
Even the most apathetic of teens will get excited when you tell them they will get to swim in a volcano, a feat that is actually possible at Vatnajökull National Park, one of Iceland's most popular tourist destinations.
An excursion that should be undertaken with a professional guide, just getting to the Askja Caldera is an adventure in itself, requiring a 4WD journey across lava fields and a one-hour hike to reach the geothermally-heated Viti Crater. Parents: heads-up that some tourists prefer to take this dip in the nude!
While volcanic activity warms the water in one area of the park, the Vatnajökull glacier rules the surface of another. Glacial treks (with a hired guide) are a particularly fun way to explore the landscape, but if you're short on time and energy, be sure to at least visit the Skaftafell Ice Cave.
Surprisingly, the best time of year to visit this particular ice cave is in winter, which is also the best time to visit Iceland to catch a glimpse of the northern lights. With that said, it's much easier to get around in the summer, as many roads close when the snow gets deep.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Vatnajokull National Park
9. Exploring the Grand Canyon, USA
One of the United States' most iconic natural attractions, the Grand Canyon is a classic family adventure holiday destination. Located in Arizona near the borders of Utah and Nevada, there are multiple entrances to the park, but the most convenient approach for those wanting to explore is via the South Rim entrance, which is open year-round.
Adventure-seekers have plenty of options when it comes to touring the Grand Canyon, and the most thrilling way to experience it is a helicopter tour. Equally exciting are guided white water rafting trips on the Colorado River, which offer a perspective of the massive canyon walls that few ever experience. For a more leisurely but decidedly unique experience, mule-ride tours down steep canyon trails are also an option.
For those who want to explore on their own by foot, the park has numerous hiking trails and vantage points, including the Mather Point Outlook at the South Rim Visitor Center. Bright Angel Hike is the most popular with die-hard enthusiasts, totaling 19 miles round trip and typically taking two days to complete, however there are shorter legs of the trail that can be completed in an hour or two. Hikers should be aware that many trails are very steep and may have unexpected conditions, including icy spots, despite the warm weather up top.
Among numerous lookouts and vantage points within the park, Desert View is the most stunning and a landmark in its own right. Although it was built in 1932, it was designed to look like an authentic Anasazi watch tower both inside and out while providing two safe observation decks for tourists. This lookout is located along the 22-mile Desert View Drive, a popular auto route that offers views of the river.
The South Rim's seven-mile Hermit Road Drive is home to several good sites, including Hopi Point, Pima Point, and Maricopa Point.
Accommodation: Best Hotels at the Grand Canyon
Read More: Best Time to Visit the Grand Canyon
10. Exotic Ecotourism in Costa Rica
Few places on Earth can offer the diversity of nature and landscapes that Costa Rica has, and ecotourism is one of its biggest draws. One of the most popular areas to visit is Manuel Antonio National Park, which can be explored independently or with the help of knowledgeable guides who know the best spots for viewing sloths, capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, and squirrel monkeys. The town of Manuel Antonio is also home to a beach that is excellent for those learning to surf.
Adventurous families can get a thrilling perspective of the rainforests by taking canopy tours, which provide tourists with a bird's-eye view from canopy bridges and ziplines. These are available in most of the national parks, but the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve have a wide array of options.
Arenal Volcano National Park is home to the greatest range of wildlife, including birds and reptiles, as well as rarer mammals like the puma and jaguar.
For those who want to stick closer to the city, Braulio Carrillo National Park is only 30 minutes from San Jose but still offers plenty of exotic wildlife.
Cap off your visit with some time at one of Costa Rica's lovely beaches. Playing the waves can be an adventure all it's own.
Accommodation: Best All-Inclusive Resorts in Costa Rica
11. Skiing the Swiss Alps
Whether you ski the immaculately groomed trails of St. Moritz or the "off-piste" terrain at Parsenn, rushing down the Swiss Alps is truly an adventure. Many people picture the Alps as the playground of only expert skiers, but even those still new to skiing can find a place to experience the feeling of swooshing down the world's most famous slopes.
Swiss ski resorts also welcome a variety of winter sports enthusiasts, and offer terrain for snowboarding, bobsledding, kite-skiing, ice-skating, and more.
If there are non-skiers in the family, there is still plenty of adventure to be found in the Alps of Switzerland. Hikers, even novices, can enjoy the idyllic scenery and dramatic landscapes and know the thrill of turning around to find themselves staring at the peak of a neighboring Alp.
There are also plenty of opportunities to ride in comfort (and warmth) to visit top Swiss attractions like the Matterhorn Glacier, or one of the many mountaintop restaurants.
12. Hike the Hebridean Way, Scotland
The Hebridean Way is one of the world's most beautiful walking paths, stretching 156 miles across 10 islands in the Outer Hebrides, from Vatersay to Lewis. There are many pit stops and attractions along the way, with a good range of lodging options, from camping to glamping and hostels to hotels.
If your family also enjoys beaches, be sure to visit Luskentyre Sands on the Isle of Harris. Among the most beautiful beaches in the UK, the white-sand beach is a true reward for those who don't mind the three-mile hike from the main road. Water sports enthusiasts will find this an excellent spot for sailing, surfing, kayaking, and even swimming.
If the Outer Hebrides are a bit too far north, take the family on a hike along Hadrian's Wall in northern England. Families wanting to take multi-day hikes along this historic 84-mile route may want to consider using a baggage transfer service to make life easier–and allow you to focus on the adventure instead of a heavy pack.
If you're only tackling part of the trail, focus on the stretch within in Northumberland National Park where the scenery is the most dramatic.
Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Scotland
13. Shopping in Marrakesh, Morocco
This isn't what most people think of for a typical adventure holiday, but the Medina Souks and the adjacent Djemaa El Fna in Marrakesh offers its own kind of excitement and thrill. Located in the heart of the city's historic district (medina), this is an expansive market area filled with activity and, of course, shopping.
While the souks (shops) occupy every nook and cranny of the old buildings, just as many vendors occupy the open square. Shoppers will find almost anything imaginable: brightly colored textiles, jewelry, handcrafts, fresh fruit, street food, spices, and much more. The market is also home to a huge variety of leather goods, from handbags to shoes, made locally from leather dyed at the city's tanneries, which still use traditional methods.
The most exciting part of shopping here, though, is the haggling - be prepared to bargain for anything and everything. When the shopping is done, strolling through the lively and fascinating market is equally entertaining. Visitors will see plenty of street performers, and not just musicians - the snake charmers and fortune tellers are not to be missed.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Marrakesh: Best Areas & Hotels
Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Marrakesh
14. Sailing the High Seas
Families looking for a unique adventure in the northeast U.S. will love taking a Windjammer cruise in the waters off the Maine coast. The week-long sailing trips are well beyond the reach of cell towers and Wi-Fi, allowing families to focus on their time together and appreciating the simple beauty of the open water.
Tourists can sit back and watch the deckhands work the sails or choose to join in, rigging sails and hauling lines. Exact destinations depend on the wind and the weather, but the boat always makes stops at various islands – some with small shops and a few inhabitants, and others pristine and undisturbed, perfect for watching the sun set over the water next to a warm bonfire.
Official site: https://sailmainecoast.com
15. Rock Climbing in Spain
Located about a one-hour drive from the beautiful coastal city of Málaga, El Chorro is the ideal place for active families to take a rock-climbing holiday.
With hundreds of routes for all skill levels and plenty of climbing schools and outfitters at the ready, all ages can get in on the fun. There is a good variety of terrain, with low-grade climbs at Los Cotos, several multi-pitch routes in the Lower Gorge, and expert-level routes at the Makinodromo crags.
If you want to combine an island beach resort vacation with your rock-climbing adventure, head to Pico del Teide on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. There are a huge variety of secured climb sites to choose from, including many beginner-level climbs, as well as several outfitters and climbing guide services.