Vacations With Kids

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When the temperature rises, tempers do too, and parents long for a chance to get the kids out of the house for a change of scenery. But no one wants the same old getaways of pools, amusement parks or pricey themed resorts. Take the kids on an adventure they’ll remember; it’s a chance for parents to escape, too!

Everyone knows from the movie City Slickers that heading to a dude ranch can change one’s perspective on life. But for kids, it’s more than stepping out of a comfort zone. It’s about getting close to nature, discovering how the West was won, and getting a screen break (no phones or video games allowed). While ranches big and small exist across the country, perhaps some of the best are in the Southwest. Activities at the ranches engage and entertain as well as educate kids on the importance of teamwork. The whole family can ride horses, hike, swim and learn all about the desert landscape. Who can resist cooking dinner over an outdoor fire, making s’mores and singing cowboy tunes?

While in that neck of the woods, don’t miss the chance to visit the Aircraft Boneyard in Tucson, Arizona. Located around the Pima Air and Space Museum on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, this destination features 75 acres of aircrafts and aerospace vehicles currently being re-serviced, regenerated or stripped for parts by the U.S. Air Force. Walk through 4,400 piloted machines from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Coast Guard and NASA.

Speaking of NASA, let the kids take a giant leap as they explore space. Locations from coast to coast offer space camps, but facilities also cater to families on a quest. From Kennedy Space Center in Florida or the U. S. Space and Rocket Center in Alabama, to Johnson Space Center in Texas, California Science Center and the Kansas Cosmosphere, kids can learn about the history of space exploration, see demonstrations, experience zero gravity, maneuver through spacecraft and feel moon sand (the real stuff, not the sticky kind that gets all over the house). Don’t forget about the National Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian in D.C.; if it’s cool enough for a Night at the Museum movie, the kids are bound to love it, too.

In addition to out-of-this-world fun, experience the underworld and try spelunking, or cave exploration. There are countless caves to explore safely–and safety is key. Be sure to always take guided hikes with proper leaders and equipment. Also, be sure that claustrophobia or fear of the dark aren’t concerns for the kids, as these tours can mean being underground for several hours, sometimes in pretty tight spaces. But the discoveries are magical. This is also the perfect way to beat the heat, as the average temperatures in caves is around 55 degrees.

When the kids get tired of being in the car, try a new way to get around–see the sights by train. Most states offer a train ride, but some of the best are in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, Arizona, West Virginia, Arkansas and New England. Learn about steam locomotives, the historic narrow-gauge era, and, if you’re lucky, the train will get robbed and the kids will get up close and personal with the likes of Jesse James.

If the kids are more hands on, and the idea of touching Legos that four million other people have touched is nauseating, head to an archeology site and get dirty. Some of the most famous are in South Dakota and Montana, but smaller-scale sites can be found elsewhere if you do some digging. These destinations can be oftentimes pretty hot and sunny, but seeing the faces of little ones light up when they find a treasured bone is priceless.

Tug on Dad’s heartstrings with a trip to the ballpark. The crack of the bat, the smell of the grass, hot dogs and peanuts are timeless. There are plenty of fields to visit, from Little League to the big leagues. Families on a budget can swing minor league games day or night, and the smaller venues mean the chance to get up close and personal with the players. Take a picnic and spread out on the lawn behind the outfield area and catch a home run. Kids Club packages get the kids extra perks (jerseys, foam fingers, autographed balls and more), making them sure to feel like MVPs.

No matter where the family ends up, the idea of a vacation is to reconnect with each other, put the screens away and focus on what’s out there beyond the confines of the house. And for those who can’t get away, pitch a tent in the backyard, look at the stars, sing songs, give horsey rides and make a vacation out of being at home. That’s sure to be a grand slam, too. HLM

Sources:,,,,, and the experience of the author.