HomeAcademics & ActivitiesSummer Activities

Kid-Friendly Adventure Vacations

On these educational and fun immersion vacations throughout the U.S., kids can have adventures and build skills they can use for a lifetime.

By Katherine Relf-Cañas

If you're planning a domestic vacation for your family this year, the good news is there will be no worrying about exchange rates. And you can feel good about reducing your carbon footprint, too. You don't have to cross an ocean to have a memorable family adventure! Why not explore another realm right here at home?

Take On a New Identity With Immersion Travel

If you want your children to develop horse sense on a Colorado guest ranch or literally get their feet wet while learning to sail on the Chesapeake, read on. Immersion travel, as this kind of vacationing is sometimes called, borrows its name from the world of teaching foreign language where instructors limit their use of students' native language. In the same way, immersion travel lets you leave the familiar territory of home and discover what it's like to be part of some other - or someone else's world.

While you spend quality time as a family, you can introduce your kids to skills they can build on over a lifetime. Whether it be a three-day sailing adventure, a week as a cowboy, or an entire month retracing the past - and the path - of a pioneer explorer, there's something available for just about any interest, craft or endeavor.

The problem may not be in finding something to do but rather in narrowing your choices and, of course, finding something that will appeal to everyone. What looks good to mom and sis may bring groans from the male contingent, or vice versa. Some good old-fashioned bargaining and family deal-making are sure to lead to an agreeable compromise.

You might even stumble upon a place that beckons you back. We heard from plenty of families who returned year after year to some of the places described here. Returning each year, these families found familiar faces and also forged a family tradition that will leave them with memories to look back on.

Immersion adventures are not "one size fits all." From the start, consider how well your plan addresses the needs and abilities of all family members based on their age and individual development. Or make arrangements for some family members to have a little adventure of their own or an extended sleepover with friends or relatives.

If your clan is made up of a range of ages and stages, take stock of what your kids and teens are really able to do. "Plan your outings first with children in mind and then adults," says Vicki Lansky, parenting expert, guidebook publisher and author of Trouble Free Travel with Children. "It's also best to plan your trip to fit the needs of your youngest child," she advises. It's something to keep in mind before you get attached to a learning adventure that might end with your learning simply not to ever try this again. Do your research before you make reservations or commit any cash to a deposit.

Learn About Ranch Life at C Lazy U Ranch

Many camps and schools can accommodate a range of age groups. C Lazy U Ranch, which offers a premier guest ranch experience on 5,000 acres in Granby, Colorado, is one such example. Camp C-Lazy-U clearly divides their programs and activities by age and ability. Founded in 1946, they have a lot of experience and know-how in this area.

The camp's toddler-centered program accommodates 3- to 5-year-olds with pony rides, story time and nature hikes. The next level up is geared to 6- to 12-year-olds. At this level, kids graduate from pony rides to horseback riding. Young campers are paired with their own horse for a week. Teenagers 13 to 17 move on to more independent activities, including team-building games and an overnight camp-out.

While benefiting from the exercise, and enjoying the camp's natural setting, you'll also be introduced to America's cowboy ranch heritage. The whole family can learn, practice and then show off their horsemanship during camp 'shodeos.' In summer, Western activities and traditions at the camp include square dancing, archery, rodeo shows, fishing, rafting and campfire cooking. In winter, sledding, ice skating and other nostalgic activities tied in with the holidays are the draw.

Because the camp keeps children occupied, parents can also have time to themselves. Or, as Lansky puts it, "Keep in mind that this is your vacation, too. You and your spouse need some time to yourselves." For adults, there is the appeal of a getaway that also offers luxury dining and atmosphere in addition to casual cowboy amenities. Family members can rendezvous at different points throughout the day.

Katherine Relf-Canas travels whenever she can. Her daughter, Olivia, now 6, is a responsible globetrotter in training. Her freelance writing has appeared in Mothering and GeoParents.

Comments from readers

"Wow! Great ideas! Thanks!"
"Wonderful article!!! Please keep giving us information that is so hard to find - or even hear about. How would I ever know these opportunities existed? Thanks!"