Photograph by Ralph A. Clevenger
Read Caption

Camp Denali lures guests with cozy log cabins and trout fishing.

Photograph by Ralph A. Clevenger

Best U.S. Outdoor Family Vacations

From the May/June 2011 issue of National Geographic Traveler

View Images

Some families are summer vacation traditionalists, never veering from their two weeks together at a condo at the beach or the cabin on the lake. But for those who like to mix it up, here are some out-of-the-box options.

Outdoor Escapes

The 15 tree houses at Out 'n About Treesort in southwestern Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains range from a gazebo 37 feet aloft and accessible only by a canopy walkway to the “Swiss Family Complex,” with separate units for adults and kids and your choice of exit: sliding down a fire pole or swinging from a rope. Back on terra firma, there’s a swimming pool fed by a nearby river and lessons on design and building your own hideout. From $120, including breakfast.

Stay in a Native American tepee (sleeps up to eight) or in a log cabin in an area of southeastern Ohio known for its spectacular sandstone formations. The resort, At Boulders Edge, is close to Hocking Hills State Park for hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, zip-lining, and tumbling down the hills in a giant inflatable ball. From $75.

Back to Nature

At the College of the Atlantic’s Family Nature Camp in Bar Harbor, Maine, families explore the natural world—birds, tide pools, beaver habitat—on guided field trips along the craggy coast of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. Help assemble a minke whale skeleton and take a spin aboard the Starfish Enterprise with Diver Ed, who brings sea urchins, sea cucumbers, hermit crabs, and other critters up from the ocean floor for you to touch. One-week stay from $850 per adult; $425 for kids 15 and under.

Our chances of seeing the aurora borealis are greater this year as the sun enters a period of increased activity. Learn what causes the phenomenon at a special program led by space expert Neal Brown. It’s one of several nature sessions this summer at Camp Denali, a 17-cabin retreat in Alaska’s Denali National Park. Should the aurora kick up, guests get a wake-up call from Brown via handheld radios. Three-night weekend (all-inclusive) rates from $1,545; $1,159 for kids.


Raft Idaho’s Salmon River on ROW Adventures’ five-day Family Magic Rafting Trip. The pace is easy with ample opportunity to loll on beaches, take guided nature hikes, and discover Indian rock art and pioneer homesteads. Your tent and an outdoor living area are set up when you arrive at camp each day. From $1,235; $995 for kids.

It’s not out West, but the sprawling Pisgah View Ranch in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina has all the amenities of a classic dude ranch. There’s daily horseback riding, roping, hiking, and fishing, as well as cookouts every Saturday night. Choose from 20 private cabins, including four on a lake. From $110 per person.