New River Gorge whitewater rafting

10 Outdoor Adventures Kids (and Adults) Will Go Crazy For

It can be strangely difficult to convince children to spend time outside. Actually, not that strange given how absorbing some indoor activities are (cough, cough, *screens*, cough). 

But when you offer outdoor adventures that are enticing enough, kids will often clamor to get out and get dirty. Here are 10 fun-filled activities that will encourage the whole family to get moving, get learning, and get some fresh air. We’ve got everything from mild to wild—whitewater rafting to swimming with manatees, riding horses on the beach, and more.  

Off-Road Through the Desert

Phoenix, Arizona

Riding SWINCAR in Chattanooga

Looking for an adrenaline-fueled excursion with an incredibly scenic backdrop? Drive ATVs or UTVs (which seat 2 to 4 people) through the Sonoran Desert outside of Phoenix with Stellar Adventures. Climb sandy trails past prickly cacti under crisp, blue skies. Kids will get a kick out of their parents hitting the gas. And kids over 12 can experience the freedom of driving their own vehicle.

Ride at a Luxury Dude Ranch

Clark, Colorado

Mom and daughter with horse at Vista Verde horse ranch

Soaring peaks, long trails and crackling fires make for memorable family vacations. Book a stress-free ranch getaway at the all-inclusive Vista Verde Ranch, just north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. You and your crew will enjoy activities like mountain biking, fly fishing and yoga under the trees, as well as elevated dining and AAA Diamond-level hospitality. Kids ages 6 through teens can participate in activities like Capture the Flag or tubing with Kid Wranglers, if they choose.

Whitewater Raft at the Newest National Park 

New River Gorge, West Virginia

New River Gorge whitewater rafting

New River Gorge became America’s 63rd national park in 2020. Experience the thrills of whitewater rafting Class I through Class IV rapids on a variety of paddling trips offered by Adventures on the Gorge. Soak in the sunshine on rivers surrounded by tall cliffs and verdant forest. Your day can range from paddling rushing rapids to floating in serene waters, jumping off rocks and picnicking on the beach. Sundays through Fridays, one kid under 11 can raft for free with each full-paying adult. Additional adventures include rock climbing, zip lining and laser tag.

Swim with Manatees

Crystal River, Florida

florida manatees

Feel incredibly small snorkeling next to huge, docile manatees in the warm waters of Crystal River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has (fortunately) reported record numbers of these marine mammals in 2022. The Plantation Adventure Center will wet suit you up and take you out on a boat into Kings Bay. There, you’ll observe manatees as they often swim up next to people. Remain quiet and calm and take in the exhilaration of being surrounded by gentle giants.

Zipline Across Mountaintops

Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville zipline

Immerse yourselves in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains with an endorphin-fueled adventure ziplining with Navitat’s Mountaintop Tour. Long, high zip lines, including side-by-sides and ones where you reach up to 65mph, enable you to soar above the treetops. To participate, kids must be at least 5 years old and weigh between 70 and 250 pounds.

Drive a SWINCAR eSpider

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Chattanooga SWINCAR

The SWINCAR e-Spider is an electric, all-terrain quadricycle with spider-like arms and pendulum seating. Adventure Sport Innovations in Chattanooga, Tennessee is one of a few outfitters to offer SWINCAR rides in the United States. Take a tour across Lookout Mountain and feel the thrill as you sway over bumps and inclines yet remain upright and in control.

Ride and Slide in Sand Dunes

Silver Lake Sand Dunes, Michigan

Silver Lake dune riding-Brad Reed

Towering sand dunes and beachy shorelines beckon families to Silver Lake Sand Dunes, Michigan. Rent an off-road vehicle and hit the hills of the ORV park or leave the driving up to Mac Woods Dune Rides. Their 40-minute tours often include knee-slapping jokes and squealing like you’re on a rollercoaster. You can also rent a pontoon boat and sandboards from Wave Club Water Sports and savor the day sliding down a sand dune and swimming in refreshing lake waters.

Ski Where Olympians Train 

Copper Mountain, Colorado

kids skiing at copper mountain colorado

Go big this winter and ski where Olympians train: Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado. No worries if you’re a novice—the resort offers lessons with skilled instructors and has an area dedicated to beginning skiers and families. An alpine coaster, snow tubing lanes, and trampolines in Woodward Copper Barn provide boundless options to get energy out. 2022 is the 50th anniversary season, so expect special anniversary celebrations.

Ride Horseback on the Beach

Amelia Island, Florida

Horseback Riding on Amelia Island

A more serene, yet still bucket-list-worthy outdoor adventure, is horseback riding on the beach. Amelia Island, Florida is one of the few places in the United States where you can relish this relaxing activity. Sunrise and sunset tours are spectacular times to savor the scenery. Cool ocean breezes and the gentle rhythm of horse hooves in the sand and surf make for warm memories.

Winter Tube and Sleep in an Ice Hotel 

Quebec City, Canada

tubing in Quebec

Be spellbound by the winter splendor of Hotel de Glace, the only ice hotel in North America. Erected each winter with a new, whimsical theme and made entirely of snow and ice, Hotel de Glace promises a magical day visit or unforgettable overnight. View magnificent ice sculptures, glide down the ice slide, sit in a bubbling hot tub under the stars and drink cocktails at the ice bar. Hotel de Glace sits on the Village Vacances Valcartier property, which includes outrageous snow slides for tubing and an indoor water park.

Cortney Fries is an award-winning, Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in family travel, outdoor adventure and girlfriend getaways.