Yellowstone National Park. Credit-Wendy Altschuler
Photo: Wendy Altschuler

Have a future veterinarian on your hands? Or maybe you have kids who simply love creatures, big and small. For your next big vacation, consider taking them on an animal adventure that will blow their minds.

You can spot lions in Kenya or polar bears in Canada. Within the U.S. there are elk and bison in Wyoming and woodland creatures in West Virginia. We picked six trips that can fit a range of budgets, from tight to extravagant, and are sure to delight everyone in your crew. Lace up your hiking boots and don’t forget to bring a pair of binoculars. 

Churchill, Canada

Polar bears in Churchill, Canada.
Photo: Eric Rock for Natural Habitat Adventures

Polar bears roam the tundra around Churchill, Canada just below the Arctic Circle. Fall is a magnificent time to hop in a rover and search for these magnificent creatures. Also be on the lookout for Arctic foxes, Arctic hares, snowy owls, and ptarmigans. When you’re not marveling at all things wild, you can enjoy the thrills of dog sledding through a boreal forest, helicopter riding above the frozen flatland and Hudson Bay, and even curling on an ice rink. Once a vibrant fur trading post, Churchill is now a stellar destination for wilderness exploration, full of experiences where you can learn about the local culture and arctic conservation. 

What to Pack: Packing for the cold weather is, of course, of utmost importance. Warm gloves, a hat that covers your ears, insulated pants, and warm socks are essential. You’ll also want to bring along footwear with good grip. 

Trip Planning: Natural Habitat Adventures runs a family-friendly, small-group trip led by expert guides. 

Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming

Photo: Wendy Altschuler

Fall and winter are surprisingly great seasons to explore one of America’s best national parks: Yellowstone National Park. Park roads are closed to normal traffic, with the exception of the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance, but paths are wide open for “over snow” travel. Ski, snowshoe, snowmobile, or ride in a snowcoach to explore sites around the park like Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and Mammoth Hot Springs. Dozens of popular winter ski trails can be found throughout the park’s Canyon, Mammoth Hot Springs, Northeast, Old Faithful, Tower, and West Yellowstone areas. Look out for giant snow-covered bison, herds of elk, foxes, and more. 

What to Pack: Warm layers are key when playing in the outdoors during the colder months.

Trip Planning: Plenty of authorized snowcoach and snowmobile tour companies can help your family organize a trip into this rugged outdoorsy landscape. 

Mackinac Island, Michigan

The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island. Credit-Wendy Altschuler
Photo: Wendy Altschuler

Car-free Mackinac Island is an outdoorsy wonderland worth exploring, especially for bird lovers. Look for seagulls and ducks splashing near the shore; finches, warblers, swallows, sparrows, and birds of prey; and cute woodland creatures like squirrels, chipmunks, bats, and snowshoe hares. Those with keen eyesight might spot red foxes, raccoons, muskrats, and weasels. The strait waters are home to over 25 species of fish, including trout, whitefish, and yellow perch. Your family will create dear memories, whether you decide to discover the trail that rounds the island on foot, bike, or horse carriage; see the historic Fort Mackinac; wander on Mackinac Island State Park’s trails; marvel at the limestone Arch Rock formation; visit the local toy store; or eat your weight in locally made fudge. Part of the fun is getting there.You’ll arrive by seasonal ferry boat from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace. 

What to Pack: Bring active wear to explore the trails and dressier clothing for the nightly dinners. Early fall is cooler so you should bring layers. W

Trip Planning: One of the best places to stay is the lovely and popular Grand Hotel, part of Historic Hotels of America. From Afternoon Tea to lawn games to nightly family-friendly dancing with live music, there’s much to experience here.

The Maldives

The Maldives. Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu. Credit-Olive Ridley Project. Turlte Rescue
Photo: Olive Ridley Project Turtle Rescue

Warm and sunny, the Maldives are perfect if you want to snorkel amidst an underwater world full of fish and coral. Visit the Olive Ridley Project’s Marine Turtle Rescue Centre at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu to learn about the first veterinarian-led rescue centre in the Maldives. Hundreds of patients have been cared for and treated here, including hawksbill, green, and loggerhead turtles. Dhuni Kolhu is nestled in the southern waters of the Baa Atoll, which can be reached via a short and scenic seaplane ride. You’ll be rewarded with a stay at a lovely and quiet property, with access to a designated UNESCO biosphere reserve full of marine life and colorful reefs. Guided tours with a marine biologist will give context to your snorkeling experience. Enjoy the weekly outdoor cinema night, sunset cruise, fishing, or dolphin watching excursions. Families will bond while exploring the palm tree tunnels, onsite garden, and stretches of sandy beaches. 

What to Pack: Beyond sun protection and island wear, you’ll want a swimsuit or two.

Trip Planning: Each of Dhuni Kolhu’s 12 lagoon villas comfortably sleep four; villas can be booked next to each other to accommodate larger families. All villas include a private splash pool and a terrace.

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia 

Rafters at the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia

See fall colors is West Virginia’s New River Gorge National Park. Our nation’s newest national park is open year-round and has much to explore for families, including 70,000 acres of land along the New River. Whitewater rafting is popular in this area and adventurers can take part with a guided tour on the New and Gauley Rivers. ACE Adventure Resort offers tours from spring—fall, April through November. And, as far as wildlife goes, you can spot a wide variety in and around the park including birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and 65 species of mammals like groundhogs, deer, beavers, mink, river otters, coyotes, and foxes. Black bears and bobcats are there too, although harder to spot, as well as 10 species of insect eating bats. 

What to Pack: In the Appalachian Mountains, weather can change and be unpredictable. Pack layers and be prepared. Portland based hiking boot and shoe company, Danner, has been crafting well-made gear since 1932. Built to last, the Mountain 600 style, for example, has superior grip for wet or dry surfaces, perfect for your adventures in West Virginia and beyond.  

Trip Planning: Sleep in a tree house or glamping tent, which includes an outdoor hot tub, at Country Road Cabins, located near the national park. 

Kenya, Africa

Elephant in Kenya
Photo: Wendy Altschuler

For most people, travel to Kenya is a bucket-list adventure, full of wildlife sightings like zebras, lions, giraffes, rhino, and wildebeests. For a guided small group adventure, or to organize a private experience for just your family, look no further than Exodus Travels. See yellow grassland, sprinkled with acacia trees; enjoy a sunrise hot air balloon ride, complete with an outdoor breakfast; visit a Masai Mara village and learn about the local culture; and sleep in a glamping tent. The vast landscapes here are indelible. 

What to Pack: Be sure to bring sun and bug protection. 

Trip Planning: Be aware that a visa is generally required and that you should be up-to-date on all vaccinations, including typhoid and yellow fever.