Want to trade epic traffic for epic wilderness? Looking for more wildlife and fewer tourists? Not afraid to get sweaty, dirty or plan ahead? Check out these ten unforgettable adventures for intrepid family vacations:
1. The Wilds of Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska
Six of America’s largest national parks are in Alaska – and Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest of all. At nearly four times the size of Yellowstone, the park’s glaciers, mountains, forests, and rivers are “dream” Alaska – and Kennicott Wilderness Guides brings that dream to life for families every summer. Far from the buses of day-trippers escaping a Disney lodge or cruise, Wrangell is a gorgeous eight-hour drive south of Anchorage that is only the beginning of an unforgettable Alaskan adventure. Fancy a packrafting or ice climbing expedition? How about a glacier or fly-in hike? Or just a guided backpacking or hiking day? KWG has the local, natural and technical expertise to deliver the Alaska of your dreams.
2. The Jungle of Borneo, Indonesia
Wild orangutans. Sun bears. Flying foxes. Irrawaddy dolphins. The Indonesian state of Kalimantan accounts for nearly three-fourths of the island of Borneo and its deepest reaches are still being explored: the WWF says three new species are discovered every month in its dense, virgin rainforests. De’Gigant Tour’s houseboat trips ply its mighty rivers and black water creeks, transporting travelers to the massive island’s interior and providing a glimpse of the formerly headhunting Dayak’s tribal life, jungle landscapes, wild and rehabilitated wildlife, and unfortunately, Earth’s insatiable appetite for oil – both crude and palm. Aim for the more heavily touristed south (Tanjung Puting National Park), the less-touristed east (Kutai National Park), or book a cross-Borneo trek and see it all. Reward yourself with some diving on the world-class reefs of the Derawan Islands before heading home.
3. The Rapids of Hell’s Canyon, Idaho
Looking for whitewater that’s not packed with rafts? Rapids that range from roller-coaster to relaxation? Fishing that runs from trout to sturgeon? Head to Hell’s Canyon, the deepest in the U.S. – and run the Snake River for 34 miles into Lewiston, Idaho. America’s Rafting Company makes 3-, 4-, and 5-day trips on the route that include kayaks, gourmet meals, comfy overnight camps and the chance to see bald eagles, bears, mountain goats, otter and other wildlife. This run of the Snake passes no roads so it’ll just be you, your family, your guides, and your memory-making, whitewater expedition. Click here to read our ROAM Report: Rafting Heaven in Hell’s Canyon.
4. The Red Sands of the Outback, Australia
Uluru stands as a beacon to families aiming for an Aussie walkabout – but there are so many more stunning, strange and mystical destinations in Australia’s vast red heartland. Day treks through stark landscapes, kangaroos hopping on rocks, swags under the stars, meals by campfire – it doesn’t get any more Australian than that. Our 1,500-kilometer Outback camping safari from Alice Springs to Uluru, Kata Juta, King’s Canyon, and the West MacDonnells was run by Wayoutback and ranked as the best part of an awesome Australian summer vacation. The local knowledge of Wayoutback’s guides and the power of their tricked-out 4WD transports paid off: The astonishing Ormiston Gorge, the craggy Kata Jutas, the powdery red sand, and the lack of flies and scary snakes combined for a classic family adventure.
5. The Pans of the Okavango, Botswana
A lion roars at midnight. A lone elephant walks past your tent window in the moonlight. Hyena eyes glint in the campfire. Hippos pop up in front of your boat. Giraffes stare as you bushwalk by. Tent camping in Botswana is the closest you will get to the Africa of the past, and Lelobu Safaris will help you do it. An overland truck navigates the sandy roads between national parks and runs morning and evening game drives to see the lion, leopard, cheetah, ostrich, hippo, hyena and other only-in-Africa mammals and birds. Though no trip to Africa comes “on the cheap,” camping safaris are the least expensive way to experience the Okavango Delta – and for many travelers, the very best way. Expert guides enable you to find the animals, set up camp, cook meals and have the entire veld to yourself.
6. The Rainforests of the Iwokrama, Guyana
Lovers of Latin America who have exhausted the list of usual destinations should beeline for the Guianas – Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Their location wedged between the Caribbean Sea and Brazil’s Amazon makes for a mysterious mix of Amerindian culture and rainforest wildlife that is hard to believe still exists in the 21st Century. Getting around is not for the inexperienced traveler so Wilderness Explorers will set your family’s itinerary in Guyana. Want to see life in the village of one of Guyana’s nine indigenous tribes? Take a flight over Kaieteur Falls, the world’s tallest? Float through one of the four largest, unspoiled rainforests left on earth? Trek in search of giant anteaters, tapir, giant river otters, red howler monkeys, harpy eagles, ocelots and Goliath birdeater spiders? Catch and release Amazonian legends like the Giant Arapaima? Get the kids to Guyana before everyone else does.
7. The Volcanoes of the Aeolian, Italy
If Italy seems like one big blur of beautifully perfect villages, meals, people and art, head for the firey south. Volcanoes dot not only the toe of Italy’s boot but its Aeolian Islands and Sicily as well. After a week of mainland crowds, ferry to Salina for a few nights of R&R along its sapphire seas. If you plan ahead, you can ferry from there to hike two volcanoes in one day: easy Vulcano and challenging Stromboli. A grueling, hot, straight-up trek through volcanic scree ends with a magical sunset and the closest look at a lava-spurting volcano you’re probably ever going to get. Magmatrek delivers these once-in-a-lifetime hikes that adventure-seeking families with teens will find a welcome diversion from the rest of Italy’s civilized perfection.
8. The Fjords of Patagonia, Chile
The vast terrain of Patagonia calls many a wilderness fanatic – but where to begin? Start by taking the Carretera Austral, aiming for Hornopirén and settling down at Patagonia el Cobre. Kayaking with dolphins, penguins, and sea lions? Soaking in sulfur hot springs? Hiking in misty, ancient forests? Sipping pisco sours with locals? It all screams “Patagonia” – and you and your kids may never want to leave.
9. The Backcountry of Yosemite, California
Feel like you’ve seen it all in Yosemite but still want more? Drop David Furry a line. His Yosemite Family Adventures specializes in giving visitors a new and different experience in our most beautiful national park. Just name your interest – hiking, fishing, stargazing, gold panning, or? – and David will craft you a custom itinerary and guide you through it.
10. The Creatures of the Galapagos, Ecuador
Tortoises and boobies and marine iguanas and penguins and more! There’s nowhere on Earth like the Galapagos – and that’s why it’s on every traveler’s bucket list. But Darwin’s favorite islands take effort: To make the journey worthwhile, you need sea legs, money and time – both time to travel and time to plan the trip. Ecuador ensures that you must fly from there to their Galapagos, so many travelers spend time on the mainland beforehand. And once on the isles, families typically choose a one-week “cruise” through half of the islands to take in the epic views, extraordinary geology and native flora/fauna as it changes from isle to isle (like the mid-range Galapagos Eden.) When a flock of massive magnificent frigatebirds hovers overhead, your daughter gets to sunbathe with an iguana, or a sea lion zooms straight for your snorkel mask, all your effort pays off – big-time.
These trips look a bit too sweaty/dirty/effort-full? There’s always the beach 😉
by Maryann Jones Thompson, ROAM Editor, July 2018
Editor’s Note: ROAM contributors have taken their kids on many of these trips but as experienced travelers know, conditions change constantly in these off-the-beaten-path destinations. Check with local tour operators for the current political and atmospheric climate and visit a knowledgeable travel medicine clinic before booking any of these adventurous family vacations.
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