With big travel plans put on hold, many families are turning to staycations and exploring locally to fill their vacation calendars. Thankful we live in the foothills of the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains and have lots to explore. But if there is one thing I learned on our road trip, it’s that there is beauty and wonder everywhere you look. Yes, every state has its gems! I did a lot of researching and asking around in planning for our 50-State Road Trip in our DIY Converted Sprinter Van on the top must-see attractions in every state, especially with young kids, and on a budget. There were so many amazing options all over the country! I definitely made an ultimate bucket list. Here is a list of my top things to explore with kids in each state!
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Huntsville is home to the US Space and Rocket Center where the first manned mission to the moon was launched. We took the girls on the 50th anniversary in 2019. It is a great destination for little ones. For natural wonders one should visit Dismal Canyon Conservatory to see the “glow worms” and the highest point in Alabama, Cheaha Mountain. For history one should stop in Montgomery, which has several sights that focus on the Civil Rights Movement such as the Civil Rights Memorial and Rosa Parks Museum. Down south, Gulf Shores is a beautiful stretch of coastline you don’t want to miss. While on the coast a visit to Dauphin Island and the Audubon Bird Sanctuary are in order as well as the USS Alabama battleship in Mobile Bay.
Alaska, the last frontier, has so much rugged beauty to offer! For glaciers and ocean wildlife take a boat tour at Kenai Fjords National Park. Closer to Anchorage a visit to Bryon Glacier Trail offers a short hike to the edge of a glacier. And nearby stop at Alaska National Wildlife Refuge for a great way to experience Alaskan wildlife, especially with little ones. Denali National Park home to North America’s highest peak, Mt. Denali, is another natural wonder. If you want to wander further north, I recommend Fairbanks for a shot at seeing the Northern Lights. Cruising to the southern coastline of Alaska is also very rewarding to see Tracy Arm Fjord and Glacier Bay National Park or to try your hand at panning gold at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway.
You can’t visit Arizona without a visit to the Grand Canyon. While in the area, pay a visit to Page to see Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. For an unforgettable off the beaten path adventure, an overnight hike to Havasu Falls is a must. Arizona has a lot of other beautiful sights including Red Rocks in Sedona, Petrified Forest National Park, and Saguaro National Park. For some southwest ancient history, a visit to Canyon de Chelly National Monument is well worth it.
A surprise favorite from our road trip for its natural beauty, there’s no wonder Arkansas is known as the natural state. Get lost in the beauty of the Ozark Mountains with a hike to Hawksbill Crag. While up that way, stop in Bentonville to tour the Walmart Museum as well as Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; both free. Arkansas is also home to Hot Springs National Park and nearby Garvan Woodland Gardens.
There is a lot to pack in here, so take a deep breath. Starting in the north, the Redwoods National and State Parks are stunning. If you are limited on time you can visit John Muir Woods outside of San Francisco for redwood forests on a smaller scale. San Francisco has a lot of unique things to see including the Golden Gate Bridge (if you're up for some hiking check out Golden Gate National Recreational Area as well), Fisherman's Wharf, Lombard Street, the cable cars, Chinatown, the Painted Ladies, and more. The Pacific Coast Highway is a beautiful drive down the coastline. Stop in Monterrey Bay for a visit to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Los Angeles isn't my cup of tea, but is high on many bucket lists for seeing Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica Pier, and more. My other must-see destinations in inland California are all breathtaking natural wonders and going from south back north include Joshua Tree National Park, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Lake Tahoe.
There's a lot to see in this picturesque state. Starting in Colorado Springs visit Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak. Head up to Denver to visit the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Children's Museum of Denver, and the Denver Art Museum, which has a Just for Fun family gallery. Now head west to Rocky Mountain National Park. Check out a visitor center and picturesque meadow before strapping on your hiking boots for a family friendly hike to Bear Lake or Emerald Lake. Then drive Trail Ridge Road also known as "Highway to the Sky" over to the western side. Over there we enjoyed playing in the headwaters of the Colorado River. Next stop in Vail for a unique resort town to explore, which was founded by the 10th Mountain Division Vets who had served in the Alps in WWII. Further west is Glenwood Springs, where you can hike to Hanging Lake and south of that are the famous peaks of Maroon Bells. Southwestern Colorado may be a bit out of the way, and may be better suited for a visit to New Mexico or Utah, but Mesa Verde National Park is also high on my bucket list.
For full-on coastal Connecticut vibes, visit Mystic. Mystic Seaport is there, which is the country's largest maritime museum and also Mystic Aquarium. Walk around Olde Mistick Village too, an outdoor mall themed like a 19th-century English village. New Haven is another great stop. Take the kids for a ride on Lighthouse Point Park Carousel built in 1916. Then head over to Yale University to see Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Finally, head up to Hartford to tour the Mark Twain House and see the Elizabeth Park Rose Garden, which is the oldest municipal rose garden in the United States.
Rehoboth Beach is a top destination in Delaware. We happened to visit during their Sea Witch Festival around Halloween, and had an absolute blast! But Wilmington is another nice stop. Tour several mansions including the Nemours Estate, Hagley Museum, and the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, which includes a three-acre Enchanted Garden specifically for kids. Nearby is Brandywine Creek State Park, which has nice walking trails, a playground, and a zoo.
For purely a beach getaway, I recommend the Gulf Coast. We really like Fort Walton Beach near Destin. But for more attractions, start in St. Augustine visiting Castillo de San Marcos and the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. Head down the coast to the "Space Coast" to see the Kennedy Space Center. Inland visit Blue Springs State Park for an up close look at manatees. Orlando has family attractions galore and of course is home to Disney World and Universal Studios. In southern Florida, explore the Everglades National Park by airboat or drive down the Florida Keys to the southernmost point in the continental United States.
For southern charm, visit Savannah and Forsyth Park. Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain is another charming stop. Atlanta is the hub of the south and there is a lot of stuff to see and do there including the Georgia Aquarium, Center for Puppetry Arts, Coca-Cola World, and Centennial Olympic Park. North of Atlanta enjoy the rugged beauty of the Appalachian mountains. Stop at Amicalola Falls State Park, which is also where you can hike to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Nearby is Helen, GA, a Bavarian style town and Tallulah Gorge, another natural wonder.
Hawaii is a tropical paradise! You could go for that reason alone, but there's also a lot of adventure to be had. I'm going to start with the island of Oahu because it's the most likely one to fly into. Here you'll want to check out the Polynesian Cultural Center for living look into Hawaiian culture. Also stop at the Dole Plantation, Pearl Harbor, and hike to Diamond Head Crater. Head over to the big island to visit Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and Akaka Falls State Park. On Maui drive the road to Hana and explore more breathtaking beaches. Kauai is known as the garden island and has even more breathtaking beaches to explore and a fun mountain tubing adventure to check out.
Idaho is another great state for chasing waterfalls. Take a waterfall tour through southern Idaho by first hiking to Jump Creek Falls outside of Boise/Nampa. Then head east to see Ritter Island State Park, Perrine-Coulee Falls, and Shoshone Falls (the Niagara of the West) outside of Twin Falls, Idaho. And further east see Idaho Falls and nearby Fall Creek Falls. While on the southeastern side of the state be sure to stop in at Craters of the Moon National Monument for out of this world geological formations.
We really enjoyed exploring Chicago with the kids from Maggie Daley Park and the "Bean" to the Willis Tower to The Field Museum to the Museum of Science and Industry to Navy Pier to Lincoln Park Zoo, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and more, there is so much to see and do. Outside of Chicago, check out Starved Rock State Park and Buffalo Rock State Park for some beautiful waterfall hikes.
This is another special state to me, because I grew up in Indiana. The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is a must-see with kids as well as the Indianapolis Zoo and White River State Park and Gardens. Just outside of Indianapolis in Fishers is Conner Prairie Interactive History Park. Up north, enjoy the beaches of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Park. In southern Indiana check out Brown County State Park for some hiking or Clifty Falls State Park.
If you can time it right, Iowa's State Fair in Des Moines is the most famous in the country and really worth the trip. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. But outside of fair time, check out the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque. While in Dubuque check out the Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. Also check out Maquoketa Caves State Park. And nearby check out the Amana Colonies, a collection of seven German villages that remained isolated until the mid-1900s.
Stop in Wichita for some fun things to do with the family. The Museum of World Treasures houses a ton of neat artifacts such as t-rex fossils and Egyptian mummies. Also in Wichita, you can visit Bontanica, the Wichita Gardens, Exploration Place, science museum and discovery center, and Old Cowtown Museum, which is an open-air museum recreating 1800s Wichita. Head up to Manhattan, Kansas to the Flint Hills Discovery Center for interactive learning about the tallgrass prairie. On the way stop at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve to explore and hike around protected remnants of the actual tallgrass prairie that used to span from Indiana to Kansas and Canada to Texas.
Kentucky has a bunch of kid-friendly attractions to explore! Outside of Lexington stop at the Kentucky Horse Park to learn more about the animals that Kentucky is known for. Just north you can stop at the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter for more educational, family-friendly fun. For a fun day out in the woods, stop at Kentucky's Bernheim Forest to see the forest trolls by Danish artist Thomas Dambo. And south from there explore Mammoth Cave National Park, which protects the world's largest known cave.
Louisiana is a unique state to visit for it's French influence. Explore the French Quarters in New Orleans for the colorful architecture, jazz music, and unique flare. Make sure to stop in Café Du Monde for beignets with your littles. New Orleans is also home to the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, North America's largest museum dedicated to our little six-legged friends, the Audubon Nature Institute, and Audubon Aquarium. Louisiana is also home to several restored plantations for learning about early plantation life and slavery including Oak Alley Plantation, Laura Plantation, and Whitney Plantation. For a fun hike in the bayou, check out the Palmetto, Bayou Coquille and Marsh Overlook trail at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.
A trip to Maine wouldn't be complete without a trip to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor to see Maine's iconic rocky coastline at it's best. Drive the park loop road stopping at Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and more. At Sand Beach, hike a 1.5 mile hike to Great Head is fun if you are are okay for some rock scrambling. If your kid isn't up for rock scrambling, the Wonderland hike is another great option. While in Bar Harbor take a ride on the ferry. Maine coastline has a bunch of stunning lighthouses to see. West Quoddy Head Light is the easternmost tip of the Unites States and a great place to watch a sunrise. Up north is Baxter State Park, which is home to Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. You won't be able to hike to its peak with the little ones, but there are a ton of other beautiful hikes in the area.
In Maryland, check out Baltimore's inner harbor where you can take your kids to the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center as well as tour the USS Constellation and USS Torsk and head out to Fort McHenry for a tour. But also head out to the coast to the Ocean City boardwark and Jolly Roger entertainment pier. And visit Assateague National Seashore to see the wild ponies.
Follow the Freedom Trail in Boston to see historical landmarks that played key roles in the American Revolution such as the Paul Revere House, the USS Constitution, and Boston Common (among others). Pop over to Cambridge to walk the grounds of America's oldest institution of higher learning, Harvard. Students give free tours that are informative and entertaining. Head out to Cape Cod for a beach getaway, but stop in Plymouth, the first permanent English settlement in New England. Plymouth Plantation is a recreation of the village and there is also a museum. (You can also see Plymouth Rock but I'd rate it as underwhelming).
Mackinac Island in Lake Huron is between Michigan's upper and lower peninsula, and is a charming and picturesque resort town. The best way to see the island is on bike. Visit Fort Mackinac, visit the Grand Hotel, take a carriage ride, and sample some fudge. Drive over the Mackinac Bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, to the Upper Peninsula to visit Pictured Rocks National Seashore and see Tahquamenon Falls. Back down on the Lower Peninsula, visit the Henry Ford attractions outside of Detroit and Belle Isle Park home to the Belle Isle Aquarium, which is the oldest in the United States and Anna Scrips Whitcomb Conservatory. Finally hit up the shores of Lake Michigan to play in the sand dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Minnesota is outdoor lovers' paradise. So many miles of uninhabited wilderness and lakes to explore. I'll start by saying a visit in Minneapolis is of course in order to see the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Mill City Museum, and the Mall of America. But then head north to Duluth, a scenic town at the southern tip of Lake Superior's north shore. Check out Canal Park in Duluth with a lighthouse pier, walking trails, aquarium and more. Then drive the North Shore Scenic Drive up to Grand Portage to marvel at stunning coastline, lighthouses, and waterfalls. Now things get really rugged in Grand Marais, which is an access point for Boundary Waters Canoe Area, which is an amazing way to explore the "Land of a Thousand Lakes."
Mississippi has a lot of musical roots to explore. Head to Tupelo to see Elvis Presley's birthplace and museum. You can also follow the Mississippi Blues Trail to learn more about the iconic blues artists who hailed from the state. Stop at the B.B. King Museum and Interpretive Center in Indianola and the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. If you drive the Natchez Trail, stop at mile marker 122 for a short hike through a Cypress Swamp.
Missouri, the show-me state, has a some amazing sights to see. Definitely stop in St. Louis, the gateway to the west. The Gateway Arch not only is an iconic landmark to see (and go to the top of!), but there is also a museum underneath (Gateway Arch is a National Park), which showcases pioneers, explorers, and more that contributed to the expansion of the United States. While in St. Louis, a trip to the City Museum is a must. City Museum is a 100-year-old warehouse that has been repurposed by artists into one massive, unique indoor playground. It's seriously amazing for kids and kids at heart. To truly appreciate the natural beauty of Missouri, head south of St. Louis to the Ozarks and hit some trails. I recommend Elephant Rocks State Park, Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, or Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park.
Montana is gorgeous! It'd be enough to just sit back and soak up Big Sky country. But while you're there, Glacier National Park really is a must-see. You should drive the Going-to-the-Sun road, picnic at Logan Pass, and hike Trail of the Cedars to Avalanche Gorge, Hidden Lake Overlook trail, or hike to St. Mary's Falls. South of Glacier, just outside of Butte, Montana, stop at Ringing rocks, a unique geological formation where a field of boulders makes musical sounds when struck by a hammer. Then head over to Bozeman to see the Museum of the Rockies, an extension of the Smithsonian, famous for it's dinosaur exhibits.
Did you know that one of the most amazing if not the most amazing zoo in the United States is in Nebraska? That's right! The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha really is an absolute must-see. While in Omaha, you should also see the stunning Lauritzen Gardens. For a quirky but educational destination, stop by the Archway in Kearney, NE. You can't miss it because it is literally built spanning across i80. The unique landmark actually has a museum inside on 19th century westward expansion. Nearby see Pioneer Village, a 20-acre museum site with 28 pioneer buildings to tour.
Las Vegas is the destination of choice for many visiting Nevada. It’s strip really is something unique to experience. Just outside of Las Vegas is Valley of Fire State Park, which has a lot of really neat red rock formations packed in. And nearby is Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. But Nevada also shares shores of Lake Tahoe with California and the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park is another natural beauty must-see.
New Hampshire pairs perfectly with Vermont for travel, so be sure to see the write-up on that state as well. Start at the Windsor-Cornish Covered Bridge, which connects Vermont and New Hampshire. Then head north to the picturesque White Mountains. Make sure to drive the Kancamagus Scenic Byway for some breathtaking views. Stop at Crawford Notch State Park and hike to Arethusa Falls. Also stop at Franconia Notch State Park and hike Flume Gorge. Another picturesque gorge can be seen at the Lost River Reservation. For a fun, stop at Clark's Trading Post, known for it's black bears and the White Mountain Central Railroad or visit Funspot in Laconia, the world’s largest arcade museum.
A trip to New Jersey wouldn't be complete without a trip to its coastline. Stop in Atlantic City or Ocean City to experience on of the Jersey Shore's famous entertainment boardwalks. Cape May is also a beautiful stop with colorful beachfront homes. Up north stop at Liberty State Park where you can catch a boat to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Liberty Science Center is also located within the park and has tons of hands-on exhibits for kids. And check out Peterson Great Falls National Historic Park. If you are near the Philadelphia side of the state, stop in at Adventure Aquarium, which is the only aquarium in the world with a hippo exhibit and tour the USS New Jersey, a WW2 battleship.
New Mexico was one of our favorite states from our 2019 50 state road trip. If you can swing a trip in early October, I highly recommend you visit Albuquerque for the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. It was one of the coolest things I have experienced in my life! I also highly recommend a visit to White Sands National Park, especially if you have kids or are a kid at heart. Sledding down cool, white sand hills is so much fun! And while you are down that way you should check out Carlsbad Caverns National Park as well. For a bit of southwest history, a visit to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and/or Bandelier National Monument are recommended. New Mexico also has several expected and stunning alpine lakes to explore a little more off the beaten path north of Santa Fe such as Williams Lake, Trampas Lake, or Lake Katherine.
New York City has a special place in my heart, so it's a New York must-see that I will always recommend. From the Empire State Building to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island to Times Square and Broadway to Central Park and the tons of museums and activities in between, the city that never sleeps can keep you busy sight-seeing for a week straight, and you'll have only scratched the surface of what there is to offer. But there is an entire state to explore as well (you really must type in 'New York State' to get recommendations outside of NYC). Watkins Glen State Park and Letchworth State Park are waterfall mecas! And of course, New York is home to the mighty Niagara Falls. If you're in the Rochester area, I highly recommend the Strong National Museum of Play for the little ones.
Spanning from the Blue Ridge mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, North Carolina has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty. Be sure to take a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway and stop in Asheville for a visit to the Biltmore Estate. The North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park has so many beautiful waterfalls to explore. Nearby Max Patch in Pisgah National Forest is a great opportunity to see a beautiful bald along the Appalachian Trail without a long hike. Grandfather Mountain and Chimney Rock are also beautiful mountaintop attractions. If the coastline is more your thing, a trip to the Outerbanks is a must.
North Dakota is sometimes known as the last state you'll visit. They even created a Best for Last club. But there are plenty of reasons to move North Dakota up on your list. We were blown away by the scenery and wildlife at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. That's where Blakely decided that bison were her favorite animal. Another cool stop in North Dakota is the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, which was a fur trading site in the 1800s, and showcases life from that time period. Knife River Indian Villages is also a neat place to check out visit and learn about the many Native Americans of the prairie. And finally, if you have any Frozen fans in the family, you may want to detour to Minot. North Dakota is known for its Scandinavian heritage, and at the Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, you can learn about Scandinavian heritage and see a replica Gol Stave Church, which will remind your little ones of Arendelle.
So much to see in do in Ohio! Up north, stop in at the Imagination Station in Toledo; a hands-on not-for-profit science museum for kids. Then head east along the scenic coast of Lake Erie stopping for a thrilling visit to one of America's most iconic theme parks; Cedar Point (or if you are in southern Ohio check out Kings Island)! While up that way you'll definitely want to see Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a remarkable testament to revitalization. Another park you won't want to miss in Ohio is Hocking Hills with its dramatic cliffs and waterfalls. Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati all also have their draws including museums, zoos, and theaters that would make a stop in any of these cities well worth your time.
For a packed few days of activities, opportunities in Oklahoma City abound. From the Oklahoma City National Memorial to the Myriad Botanical Gardens to the Philbrook Museum of Art and more, there is a ton to see. With young kids though, I highly recommend a trip to Tulsa, which features The Gathering Place, a sixty-six acre park that featuring a multitude of themed playgrounds including Fairyland Forest, Chapman Adventure Playground, Skywalk Village and Volcanoville. For nature destinations, I recommend Turner Falls and its natural swimming hole at the base, as well as Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, which is the oldest managed wildlife facility in the United States.
Oregon has a stunning coastline, which is really worth the drive. A few highlights include Cape Kiwanda, Thor's Well, and Cannon Beach. Inland, you'll want to spend some time in Portland. Portland, is known to be the birthplace of food truck parks, so make sure to check one out with the kids. Portland is home to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, one of the nation's leading, hands-on science centers. I like to think of Portland as the city of gardens. Be sure to check out the International Rose Garden, the Portland Japanese Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, and Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. If it's springtime, you'll definitely want to drive south of Portland to Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm. And it's October you'll want to drive just north of Portland to see the Roloff's pumpkin farm . There are also a lot of beautiful waterfalls to explore (on family-friendly trails) around Portland including Multonomah Falls, Latourell Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls.
Pennsylvania is a great family-friendly travel destination. Starting in Philadelphia, you can see so many historically significant sites at Independence National Historical Park including the iconic liberty bell. If your kids are older, make sure they watch National Treasure before the visit to spark their interest. Also for the kids, Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse with a 44-foot long wooden slide! Franklin Square is another iconic park to visit. Make sure you stop at all of the storytelling benches throughout the Historic District to hear stories told by professional storytellers and collect star stamps to earn a free carousel ride at Franklin Square. Philadelphia is also home to the Franklin Institute science museum with a full city block of kid-friendly exhibitions, as well as the Please Touch Museum. Outside of Philly, a visit to Hersey Park beckons, as well as a stop at Gettysburg for an important history lesson
Visit Newport and walk along the Newport Cliffs National Recreational Trail and tour the Breakers, a Vanderbilt mansion. In Providence take your kids to the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, which has amazing family programs including tours for tots. Also stop by the picturesque Providence Athenaeum. And after dark head down to any of the three rivers that pass through Providence to check out WaterFire, which is a series of nearly 100 bonfires that blaze just above the surface of the water.
A stop in Charleston is a must in South Carolina. Explore the historic city center and waterfront including a trip out to Fort Sumter and stop in the South Carolina Aquarium which perfectly marries education and mission work. Tour the McLeod Plantation Historic Site for look into plantation life, where both black and white stories are given a voice. Further inland check out Congaree National Forest outside of Columbia hiking along the Boardwalk loop trail to experience the old-growth bottomland hardwood forest. If a beach getaway is more your speed, pay a visit to iconic Myrtle Beach, or our preference, Hilton Head Island.
South Dakota is a state that doesn’t get enough credit in my opinion. I fell in love with its wide-open expanse of prairie. Of course, South Dakota is known for Mount Rushmore, but don’t forget to also check out the Crazy Horse Memorial nearby. Badlands National Park is also a must see in the western part of the state. If you have lots of time, I also recommend Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. And no trip to western South Dakota would be complete without a stop at the iconic Wall Drug, but don’t worry they won’t let you miss them; there are billboards the whole length of the state along i90 to remind you. I also highly recommend a stop to the Ingalls’s Homestead, especially with little ones as a fun educational experience about life on the prairie.
Tennessee has a special place in my heart; it’s the state we call home! Tennessee has several
unique draws from the natural mountain beauty in the East to its musical fame throughout. Some
natural must-sees in Tennessee include The Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Cummins Falls
State Park and Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. If the music scene is more your thing, be sure to
hit up the Grand Old Opry, Country Music Hall of Fame, and Broadway in Nashville as well as
Graceland Mansion and Beale Street in Memphis.
The Lonestar state gets 5 stars for travel destinations. It has a lot to offer for families. I highly recommend doing a triangle tour of San Antonio, Houston, and Austin if you are looking for a jam-packed family-friendly vacation. Starting in San Antonio, explore the Riverwalk, the Alamo, and the Missions National Historic Park. In Houston visit the Space Center, the Children's Museum of Houston, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. In Austin, stop in a famous dance hall like the Broken Spoke to learn how to two-step. You can also stop for a dip in a natural spring at Barton Springs Pool or head a little outside of town to Jacob's Well, another popular natural spring. For a fun hike in Texas Hill country, check out Westcave Outdoor Discover Center west of Austin. Of course, there is a lot more to discover in the big state of Texas including Big Bend National Park.
Utah has stunning landscape to behold with five national parks all near each other dubbed the Mighty Five. While all of them are worth a visit, I think the easiest to see with little ones is Arches National Park. Delicate Arch is a fun hike, but if you need something a little shorter for little legs, a hike to Broken Arch or The Windows and Turret Arch is well worth the effort even with little kids to see the arch formations up close. Moab has a ton of family friendly resorts, and you can even do a boat ride down the Colorado River, which includes a light and sound show on the canyon walls. Canyonlands is near Moab as well and the Mesa Arch Trail is another short, kid-friendly hike. Bryce Canyon National Park is another must see with kids, and Zion National Park is in my top five out of all the national parks.
While it's beautiful year-round, there is something extra special about Vermont in the fall. And Vermont is a nature-lover's dream. After all, it is where Robert Frost lived and produced his many nature poems. If that interests you, be sure to stop at the Robert Frost Stone House Museum just north of Bennington. Bennington also has three lovely covered bridges; Silk Road Covered Bridge, Paper Mill Village Bridge, and Henry Covered Bridge. Another covered bridge must see (among many) in Vermont is the Windsor-Cornish Covered Bridge which connects Vermont and New Hampshire. While in Vermont, definitely take your kid's to the Ben & Jerry's Factory Tour and Ice Cream Shop. The Billings Farm and Museum is another fun stop for the little ones. But while in Vermont, please do get out and do some hiking. The Appalachian Trail passes through the state as does the Long Trail with many options to soak in some beautiful vistas of the Green Mountains. A few stunning, shorter hikes to check out include the Nose to Chin via Long Trail and Jay Peak Trail up north or Mt. Olga trail in southern Vermont.
“Virginia is for Lovers” is the state slogan, and I think that Virginia is a fantastic destination for those who are lovers of nature or history (or wine). My favorite natural destinations in Virginia include a drive down Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, seeing wild mountain ponies at Grayson Highlands State Park or seeing wild coastal ponies at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. If you are up for a little more off the beaten path adventure, the 8.1-mile roundtrip hike along the Appalachian Trail to McAfee Knob won’t disappoint. If history is more your thing, be sure a trip to Mount Vernon, Jamestown, and Williamsburg is on your list.
So much beauty to behold in the Pacific Northwest. There's a lot of things to see and do around Seattle. Start in the city itself with a trip to Pikes Place Market, the Seattle Center (home to the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass, and the Science Center), and more. Then take a ferry ride Puget Sound to explore Olympic National Parks. Washington has several other national parks and sites that are must-sees including Mt. Rainer National Park (who dominates the Seattle skyline), North Cascades National Park, Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest, and Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument. While in Washington, I definitely recommend hiking to an alpine lake. For a relatively easy one, I recommend the Blue Lake Trail in North Cascades National Park.
Did you know that West Virginia is the most mountainous state in the US? Almost every square inch is covered in mountains, which means there is a lot of natural beauty to behold. I definitely recommend a stop at Harper's Ferry where the Shenandoah River dumps into the Potomac River. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park is there as well as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters and Visitor Center. New River Gorge is another must see in the state. Stopping in at the visitor center will give you some breathtaking views of the gorge and the bridge that spans it. The Endless Wall Trail is a great, short hike near the visitor center. The nearby Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley will give you a glimpse into West Virginia's coal mining past. For another cool historical experience, visit the Heritage Farm Museum and Village, which features a blacksmith shop, log church, homestead site, petting zoo, and a children's machine discovery zone.
Wisconsin is probably most well-known for the Wisconsin Dells, which has numerous family-friendly theme parks, water parks, and entertainment centers that are sure to delight your family. But don't overlook the Dells of the Wisconsin River, which is a five-mile gorge with fascinating sandstone features. There's a lot of great hiking in Wisconsin including the Ice Age Trail, which... But while your in the Wisconsin Dells area, I recommend hiking the Eu Claire Dells segment of the trail. It's an easy, short hike, which is more like a rock scrambling playground. I also recommend stopping in Madison, which is the capital and has an amazing capital building to tour. Madison also is home to the Olbrich Botanical Gardens and the Henry Vilas Zoo, which are both free. While you are in the area, reserve a tour at Hinchley's Dairy Farm.
Wyoming is known for it's national parks, and they really are the top must-sees in the state. Yellowstone is the first national park in the world with over two million acres of protected wilderness. Yellowstone's geothermal wonders are a delight: make sure to see Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring (the hike to the overlook is short and doable by your even youngest hikers), Norris Geyser Basin, and the Mammoth Hot springs. Nearby the Grand Teton National Park has the most breathtaking mountain range. On the eastern side of the state, Devils Tower, is an iconic landmark to see. For an educational stop, I recommend The National Historic Trails Interpretive Centre, which recreates life on the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails through life size dioramas and multimedia.