Disneyworld, Legoland and the Grand Canyon. Already been there, done that and got the T-shirts to prove it? If you’re ready to start planning your next family vacation and are looking for some fresh inspiration, we’ve rounded up some unique destinations that will yield unforgettable memories.
Here are 11 trips you can take before your child turns 11—and that might just spark the childlike wonder in you adults, too.
Oh, and if you’ve got older children, check out our guide on the 18 best places to visit with your children before they turn 18.
1. Touch real dinosaur bones in Vernal, Utah
Go time traveling to the Early Cretaceous period with a trip to Vernal, Utah, the home of Dinosaurland, aka Dinosaur National Monument. The national park site straddles Colorado, but you’ll find most of the good stuff on the Utah side. That includes an Instagram-worthy big, pink dinosaur in the center of town and, of course, the Quarry Exhibit Hall, where visitors can see more than 1,500 dinosaur fossils that are exposed on a cliff. (Yup, you can even touch some of them.)
Once you’ve had your fair share of the dinos, turn your attention to the petroglyphs left behind by the Fremont tribe at McConkie Ranch. An easy, family-friendly hike that’s less than a half mile will get you up close to the panels of petroglyphs on this private ranch that the owners graciously open to the public.
2. Explore ancient Mayan ruins in San Ignacio, Belize
Get your kids hooked on history with a trip to San Ignacio, Belize—which is one of your easier international trips, as it’s a relatively short flight from the United States and is an English-speaking country.
If you go during the summertime, you’ll likely find renowned archaeologist Jaime Awe and his team working on an excavation at Cahal Pech, an ancient Mayan ruin. You’ll get the opportunity to witness them unearthing history, and the team will even field your questions.
In addition to exploring the ruins, you can go cave tubing—which beats a lazy river any day. Stay at San Ignacio Resort Hotel and your kids can feed friendly green iguanas that are being rehabilitated at an on-property iguana rescue. These reptiles love posing for pictures. The resort also puts binoculars on the outdoor tables during breakfast so you can bird watch while eating your fry jacks (think: airy, puffy pastries that are similar to beignets, but less sweet).
3. See volcanoes bubble in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii is one of the few places where you can witness active volcanoes. Do just that at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, which is on the Big Island and home to the Kilauea volcano. The night sky can cast a remarkable, fiery glow. As you’re planning your trip, you can keep up to speed on the volcanic activity with United States Geological Survey reports from the Hawaii Volcano Observatory.
Book a stay at Hawaii Island’s Hilton Waikoloa Village, which practically doubles as a museum. The mile-long “Museum Walkway” on the property features 1,800 pieces valued at $15 million that features art from Asian, Western and Oceanic cultures, all of which play an important role in Hawaii’s culture. Of course, you and your family can participate in quintessential Hawaiian activities, too, like ukulele or hula lessons.
4. Make your own chocolate in Hershey, Pennsylvania
Head to a real life candyland, and get a history lesson while you’re at it! Hershey, Pennsylvania is rich with both history and chocolate. The Hershey Story, the Museum on Chocolate Avenue explores the rags to riches story of Milton S. Hershey, an American entrepreneur known for his famous Hershey’s milk chocolate. The Hershey Story Museum also houses a Chocolate Lab, where guests learn how chocolate is made from bean to bar and can even make their own chocolate treats. There’s also an amusement park in town for thrill-seeking families.
5. Search for the Loch Ness monster in Scotland
For intrepid families, who love a touch of folklore, too, REI (your favorite outdoor retailer) leads some epic vacations. Among them: An REI Scotland trip that involves hiking, cycling, kayaking, a zodiac ride across Loch Ness in search of Nessie and a ride on the steam train that was featured in the Harry Potter movies. Legend has it that Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, inhabits the Scottish Highlands. Also on the itinerary: hand-feeding reindeer, exploring ancient castles and learning archery.
6. Swim in hot springs in a Colorado mountain town
Nestled in Colorado’s mountains are some marvelous hot springs. In fact, the state has so many great hot springs, it developed a hot springs loop to make it easy for visitors to navigate. But, if you’re traveling with young children, point your GPS to Glenwood Springs. The Glenwood Hot Springs Pool is a massive mineral pool complete with water slides the kids will love. If you can peel yourself away from the hot springs, head to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, which is perched on top of million-year-old caverns. Thrill-seekers can get aboard the giant “Canyon Swing.”
7. Discover hidden beaches in Aruba
Yes, Aruba features the azure blue waters that look like your screensaver came to life, the type of place you associate with a Caribbean vacation. But Aruba is actually a desert climate, and you can hire Jeep companies to take you off-roading into the back-country, where you’ll discover craggy, hidden beaches. Worth a stop is the “Natural Pool,” an inlet with calm waters, surrounded by volcanic rock and teeming with tropical fish you can see once you strap on your snorkeling gear. While there, stay at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, which will lend you waterproof books you can take into the water, complimentary mountain bikes to explore the island on and a collection of tropical birds, like parrots and cockatoos.
8. Explore the rainforests in Costa Rica
From ziplining through the rainforest to taking a horseback ride to a serene waterfall, Costa Rica is a fun family destination. The perfect base camp for your rainforest adventures is Los Sueños Marriott Costa Rica, which is set on an 1,100-acre tropical rainforest and will lend you complimentary and waterproof GoPro Hero4 cameras to document your excursions. Your children will also get some authentic ecological experiences by planting a tree via the property’s “Reforest the Rainforest” initiative, or by learning about the 150 species of plants and animals that live on the resort’s trails from the resident rainforest agronomist.
9. Stay on a ranch in California
Need a little time to “unplug,” commune with nature and get some high-quality family time? The Alisal Guest Ranch Resort & Spa is a 10,500-acre ranch perfect for a family getaway. About 30 miles northeast of Santa Barbara, California, this working ranch features 50 miles of horseback riding trails and a spring-fed lake. Children can visit the Barn Yard that’s on-property, and learn to care for ponies, chicken, bunnies and pigs. They can also take part in an egg gathering that takes place every afternoon. Families can go on horseback rides, canoe together and go fishing. There are no TVs at the ranch, but there is Wi-Fi.
10. Conquer the coolest waterslide on Earth—in North Carolina!
There’s no going back to the rec center’s waterslide after this one! Sliding Rock, a 60-foot natural rock slide that splashes into a pool in Brevard, North Carolina, is an epic family attraction. There’s also a huge toy store in town, O.P. Taylor’s, and a surplus of waterfalls in the DuPont State Recreational Forest.
11. Meet mermaids down in Florida
Have a child who loves “The Little Mermaid”? Then you’ve got to check out Weeki Wachee State Park in Florida, where mermaids perform “The Little Mermaid” in a submerged, 400-seat auditorium. They also do a show called “Fish Tails,” where they graciously perform underwater feats like drinking and eating. After vacation, your children can even stay in touch via “tail mail,” in which the mermaids create video responses to your letters and post them to social media. The legendary Weeki Wachee Springs with crystal-clear waters is one of Florida’s most popular roadside attractions.