Popular family vacation spots are often popular for a reason. But for those families who love to wander off the beaten path a bit, we’ve gathered up some of the best hidden gem family-friendly vacation destinations. Don’t sleep on these underrated—and little known—family vacation spots. They just might be the backdrop to some of your favorite family vacation memories.
Check out these 14 unique family vacation spots for your next trip together!
Nestled in the Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth is like stepping into a scene from a fairy tale that involves reindeer, woodland creatures and lederhosen. Leaning into its alpine appeal, Leavenworth branded itself a tiny Bavarian village in the US. Not only are there tons of German restaurants and an old-world village vibe, but there are countless family-friendly festivals. Though any time of year is a good time to visit, winter is especially magical since Leavenworth has earned its nickname of “Christmas Town” with a reindeer farm, nutcracker museum and gingerbread store. During the summer, families can swim, hike, or hit up the waterpark.
Just minutes from Mount Rushmore and the Badlands, Custer State Park has no shortage of excellent camping sites, hiking trails and swimming holes. If you’re traveling with your four-legged family members, Custer State Park is dog-friendly, too. Just make sure to keep Fido (and your kids) away from the bison.
Located on Lake Michigan about an hour north of Milwaukee, Sheboygan has hiking trails, beaches, and an indoor waterpark. Blue Harbor Resort is a great place to gather with extended family and groups (as I can personally attest). In addition to traditional hotel rooms, the resort also has 2- and 4-bedroom villas right on the beach. During the summer and fall, families with younger kids will enjoy Bookworm Gardens, a botanic garden that’s inspired by favorite storybooks. Above & Beyond Children’s Museum is open year-round. Kids can also learn to sail during the summer months.
For adventurous families, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park could definitely be a finalist for best hidden gem. At more than six times the size of Yellowstone National Park, Wrangell-St. Elias is ginormous. There are ice fields, glaciers, and some of the highest mountain peaks in the country. Depending on the season, families can hike, river raft and ski. The best time to visit is late-spring to early-fall, and given the activities involved, this vacation spot is best for families with older kids.
If you like the Leavenworth Bavarian vibe, check out Solvang’s Danish ambience. Located in Southern California, Solvang has a laid-back and relaxing European atmosphere. A short day-trip from Santa Barbara, families can enjoy Danish pastries while strolling past authentic windmills. Catch a ride on the Solvang Trolley for a full tour of the city. If you visit Solvang, you won’t want to miss Old Mission Santa Ines, Hans Christian Anderson Park, or Nojoqui Falls Park.
An island on Lake Erie, Kelleys Island is a short ferry ride from Marblehead, Ohio. Cars are limited on the island and golf carts or bikes are the primary mode of transportation. With tons of public parks and beaches, nature preserves, museums and mini-golf, there’s something for kids of all ages. Kelleys Island is a great day trip (it’s a short distance from Cedar Point) or a long weekend.
Named as the first national monument in 1906, Devil’s Tower is great family-friendly spot for families who like to camp or travel in an RV. It’s a two and a half hour drive from the Badlands and seven hours from Yellowstone National Park, making it the perfect stop on a family road trip. In addition to the amazing rock formations, Devil’s Tower also boasts several kid-friendly hiking trails and amazing stargazing.
Located off the coast of Georgia, Jekyll Island is filled with beaches—including driftwood beaches that are like natural climbing structures for kids—and kid-friendly activities. Take a cruise to spot dolphins, look for alligators, or if you’re really lucky, watch a healthy sea turtle released into the sea from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Families can also rent bikes, play mini-golf or stroll through the historic center. Lodging option range from campgrounds to five-star resorts and everything in between. The best time to visit is in the fall when the temps are warm but the summer crowds have dispersed.
Broken Bow is paradise for families who love the outdoors. Not only is the scenery gorgeous but there is so much do to – horseback riding, fishing, swimming, hiking, and stargazing, just to name a few. In addition to vacation rentals, there are many affordable family-friendly lodging options.
Just 40 minutes from San Juan, Dorado is home to amazing beaches and perfect weather year-round. Dorado is also a short drive from the rainforest, mountains and Old San Juan.
11. Banff, Canada
Banff is hands-down most underrated place I’ve visited. The lakes in Banff National Park—Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and Peyto Lake, to name a few—are an other-worldly color of blue that feels like magic. An adorable mountain town in the Canadian Rockies, Banff attracts families year-round, depending on whether you like to hike or ski. You can easily spend a week strolling through Banff, hiking its many trails, riding the ski lifts, and visiting the nearby ice fields and glacier that are a day-trip away.
12. Sayulita, Mexico
Less than 30 miles from Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita is perfect for families who want to chill on the beach and enjoy its laid-back vibe. In addition to making sand castles and swimming in the ocean, you can also take surfing lessons or book a sailing charter. From June to January, you can also watch newly hatched turtles released to the sea.
White Sands is definitely on the top of my family vacation bucket list. Summer is the most popular time for tourists, but spring is the best time to visit since the temps are warm during the day though not scorching. Filled with kid-friendly hiking trails, White Sands feels like you’ve stepped onto another planet and is sure to keep even the most easily distracted child entertained. Other activities include dune sledding, bicycling, and horseback riding. White Sands is about 90 minutes from El Paso, Texas and three and half hours from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
14. Kanab, Utah
Located in southwestern Utah, Kanab is another place that feels like another world. Filled with red rock formations, caverns, and slot canyons, families can hike, go horseback riding, or rent an ATV. Kanab is also a great home base for trips to Zion National Park, Antelope Canyon (in Arizona) and Horseshoe Bend (also in Arizona.)