Strap in the brood and load up the car. These family-friendly trips have something for kids of all ages (and your inner kid, too)
Like dinosaurs had a mosh pit
Nearly 200 million years ago, dinosaurs trod the earth around the shores of an ancient lake in southern Utah, and, in 2000, the first of thousands of tracks made by these dinosaurs and other animals was discovered. Today, visitors can put on their archeologist caps and make tracks to the Dinosaur Discovery site at Johnson Farm, where they can see and learn about the history and ecology behind this footprint-thick site in the Southwest. A short movie provides background and context for the dinosaur foot, skin and tail prints, as well as the active excavations taking place in the area. Tip: Dinosaur Discovery is best for older kids who have an interest in prehuman history.
2180 E. Riverside Drive, St. George, Utah, dinosite.org
Comin’ down the mountaiiiiiiiin!
Part natural wonder, part amusement park, part historic experience, Glenwood Caverns is an adventure park perched on a mountain in Colorado with a plethora of family activities. The actual cavern itself features large, open underground rooms that can be explored with a 50-minute tour, and blast-from-the-past diversions include digging for fossils and panning for gemstones. Many of this western-themed park’s rides take advantage of the mountainous setting, including the giant canyon swing and the Soaring Eagle zip ride, which lets riders fly down the side of the mountain. To catch the best views of the Rocky Mountains, ride the Iron Mountain Tramway, a gondola offering a seven-minute ride up the mountainside. Tip: Ticket prices can be steep; look for discounts on Groupon and similar sites.
51000 Two Rivers Plaza Road, Glenwood Springs, Colorado, glenwoodcaverns.com
Sweet dates in a valley ... of death!
For a short getaway from Las Vegas, combine an unusual piece of food history with a chance to enjoy nature at the China Ranch Date Farm located near southern Death Valley. A lush oasis in an otherwise barren desert, China Ranch is a small, family-owned operation that sells date-laden goods on site, but that’s not the only reason to visit. The ranch features an interesting mix of geology, botany, ecology and history, which can be explored via one of several interpretive guided nature walks and hikes that slip back into slot canyons, up to overlooks and through the desert landscape. Keep your eyes open for wildlife — and buy a loaf of date bread before the ride back to the city.
See the website for directions at chinaranch.com
Dig this Wild West mining scene
Hop on the party train — okay, a historic railroad — for an educational journey back to the Wild West. Your destination? Virginia City, Nevada. The period? The late 1800s. Admittedly a little touristy today, Virginia City was a major mining hub back in its heyday, and it’s retained much of its old-time charm. Arrive in style aboard the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, which was in operation for 80 years. The city is bursting at the seams with museums, historic buildings and a cemetery that offer insight into Virginia City’s past, but families might want to purchase an adventure package (available May through October) to bundle activities including trolley tours, mine tours, stagecoach rides and museum entries. Check for seasonal Wild West reenactment shows and quirky community events (the International Camel Races in September? Yes!) to enhance your visit.
About 25 miles south of Reno, Nevada, visitvirginiacitynv.com
Play that funky music (literally)
Whether musical instruments are made from tin cans, rare wood or goatskin, music is a global language, and at the Musical Instrument Museum, the harmony of sound comes together. The museum has a collection of instruments from about 200 countries on display; some are historically significant, others are artistically intriguing and still others are simply a part of the local culture. Wireless headsets allow everyone to have their own musical experiences, and while older kids with an interest in music will most appreciate the museum, anyone can try their hand at music making in the Experience Gallery. Tip: Don’t feel the need to see it all. Though fascinating, MIM can be a bit overwhelming, so take a break mid-visit.
4725 E. Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix, Arizona, mim.org
[HEAR MORE: Go behind the scenes of the Discovery Children’s Museum on "KNPR’s State of Nevada."]
A dane good time in this fairytale village
Once upon a time, there was a village straight out of a dream. That village was called Solvang … So begins the story of a trip to California’s “Little Denmark” and the surrounding Santa Ynez Valley, a trip that feels like you’re traveling to Northern Europe — no passport required. Families can easily get around this walkable and stroller-friendly town by foot, bicycle or even four-wheeled surrey cycles. The Solvang Trolley, a historic wooden streetcar pulled by a pair of draft horses, is a good way to get the lay of the land. Parents may want to squeeze in some shopping in Solvang’s boutique and antique shops, but when the kids want to run loose, there are a few in-town parks as well as fauna-friendly activities. At Ostrich Land, kids can view more than 100 ostriches and emus up close, and some outfitters offer horseback riding excursions through picturesque wine country.
Two hours north of Los Angeles, solvangusa.com
Quiet on set!
Lights! Camera! Insight! Adults and kids alike who love movies or television will appreciate a behind-the-scenes peek at the Warner Bros. studios near Hollywood. Unlike some of the canned amusement park tours that more closely resemble rides, no two experiences at this studio are exactly alike. Guides quasi-customize the tours, so if you’re interested in a particular show that’s filmed on site, speak up — the guide may be able to get you on the set. The experience lets visitors walk on working film sets, watch as sound artists create effects, learn how sets are constructed and view famous props that have been used in film and television. Tip: Best for kids who can sit still for longer periods of time, as they’ll need to ride on the studio tram for at least two hours.
3400 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank, California, vipstudiotour.warnerbros.com
Family bonds forged in thrills (and possibly terror)
Forget those boring corporate team-building trust exercises. Here’s one that’ll truly forge some family bonds: Climb into a tree together and face your fears as you set off on a journey consisting of wobbling bridges, hanging nets, swings, scrambling walls and other adrenalin-pumping suspended challenges. At Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, you work your way through progressively more difficult tree-suspended paths, cheering on family members as you combine fun with physical and mental fitness. Beginning climbers ages seven through 11 can start sharpening their skills in an environment made specifically for their size and skill levels (parents are treated to awesome photo-ready views) while older kids are welcome to hit the adult course, which contains four large circuits, each one becoming increasingly more difficult. Tip: Slots fill up fast, so make reservations in advance.
Historic Fort Tuthill County Park, Flagstaff, Arizona, flagstaffextreme.com