Woo! Summertime! No more pencils, no more textbooks! Time to trade those backpacks for rolling luggage and get your family travel on.
But what if unearthly lines to hug Mickey aren’t your thing? What if revisiting a crowded beach makes you want to stomp on sandcastles? And what if you don’t want your social pics to simply repeat what your memory feed is already regurgitating from years past? It’s time for something new.
Fortunately, there are plenty of family attractions across the country to enjoy—underrated, unconventional, off-the-beaten-path places that gift you with the benefit of discovering something new together as a family. No matter where you end up this summer—whether you intentionally seek out the offbeat, or you happen to be passing through Nebraska for a cousin’s wedding—family fun isn’t far away. Check out these coast-to-coast attractions to make your summer extra special.
For kids who can’t get enough of spotting bulldozers and cranes on a road trip, Diggerland Construction Adventure Park in West Berlin, New Jersey, is the perfect vacation destination. Fifty minutes from Atlantic City, the country’s only construction-themed park lets kids ride, drive, and operate real heavy machinery. Hop aboard the Greased Beast, the rear hopper section of a steel demolition trailer, and wave to those waiting 34 feet below as you are raised in the air and experience a simulated cargo dump. Or, for the ultimate thrill-seeker, spin yourself silly on the Spin Dizzy, or see the entire park from the Soaring Eagle Zipline.
About 100 miles west is Hersheypark® in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I mean, how can an entire park named for chocolate be anything but great? From the low-key rides for the littles, to high-speed coasters for the adrenaline junkies, more than 70 attractions, including a water park, will keep kids of all ages entertained all day. Make sure to check out the new interactive gaming ride, Reese’s Cupfusion℠, and take the free Hershey’s Chocolate Tour. If you’re planning on sticking around for more than a day, you might want to stay at one of Hersheypark’s three resorts—Hershey Lodge, The Hotel Hershey, and Hersheypark Camping Resort.
Don’t you fret that Nebraska wedding for one minute. The Cornhusker State is a prime summer vacation destination, with endless family-friendly activities to choose from. Add Wildlife Safari Park in Ashland to the top of your list. Just 30 miles from Omaha, Wildlife Safari Park offers an up-close-and-personal wildlife experience. On your four-mile drive through the park, you’ll see elk, prairie dogs, bison, and so much more. Hike two miles of trails, befriend bald eagles at the Eagle Aviary, and search for the camouflaged white-tailed deer throughout 10 acres of grassland and wooded ravine. If that’s not enough, kids can interact with farm animals. Hi, goats!
A completely unexpected museum experience will be yours at City Museum in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. You won’t be hushed or told to step away from the art in this 100-year-old warehouse. Instead, you’ll interact with the exhibits. At times you may feel like a ninja warrior as you climb, slide, duck, crawl, and ride the ever-changing installations designed from found and repurposed objects. You may never have actively yearned for a real-world version of Chutes and Ladders, but here’s your chance: there are nearly 30 slides, including a 10-story spiral slide (think about that height for a sec!). Give your knees a rest from the tunnels and caves by exploring the architecture collection and engaging in art projects. Maybe even let one of the grandparents watch the kids for a minute while you pop over to the Cabin Inn for a boozy slushie.
Above- and below-ground discovery awaits you at Mammoth Cave National Park in central Kentucky. Choose from a variety of ranger-led tours of the longest known cave in the world. Some tours are dramatic (traverse terrain guided only by lantern light), some magical (pass through geologic wonders, dripstone formations, or the rotunda and church), and all are educational and fun. In addition to its central attraction (called “mammoth” for a reason!), the 52,000-acre park boasts rivers, rolling hills, and is home to 70 threatened or endangered species. Hike the extensive nature trails and carefully examine the ground for tracks of opossum, foxes, and bats. Several campgrounds are available to make yours an overnight adventure.
Fed from underground springs, Barton Springs Pool is an idyllic spot in Austin, Texas. On the grounds of Zilker Park and part of Austin’s Parks and Recreation municipal pool facilities, the limestone pool averages a delightful 68–72 degrees. Visitors are drawn to its natural water source and beautiful landscape. It’s a favorite for Austin locals, too, so you know it’s the real deal for summer fun. In between splashing in the water, soak up the Texas sunshine or relax in the shade of the pecan trees. Don’t forget your SPF!
Fairytales come true for your whole family at the Enchanted Forest in Salem, Oregon. This beautiful, mostly shady gem will change how you think about amusement parks. Yes, there are plenty of rides (from bumper cars to roller coasters), but the magic is in the enchanted theme that transports you to faraway lands. Your favorite nursery rhymes and fairy tales come to life: crawl through Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole, poke around Pinocchio’s Playhouse, and explore a witch’s castle. Water and light shows, comedy musicals, and Irish music performances are fun for all ages.
Explore the mysteries of volcanoes and hydrothermal activity at Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California. Less well-known than its famous neighbor, Yosemite, Lassen is one of the only places in the world where you can see all four different types of volcanoes. Hydrothermal features and 150 miles of hiking trails provide endless exploration. Climbers may choose to spend the day on Brokeoff Mountain to be rewarded with stunning panoramic views. You’ll want to stay through the evening—Lassen is one of the best places to experience natural darkness. Far from city lights, the night sky over Manzanita Lake offers an unparalleled stargazing opportunity. Pitch a tent or stay in a cabin on one of the park’s seven campgrounds.
Change it up
Seek out the road less traveled and discover new adventures along the way, far from the maddening crowds. Go forth, and get your family travel on!