Beyond the big cities and more popular attractions across the nation, the United States also has plenty of small towns and quiet locations with just the right ingredients to settle into a perfect family vacation. The ideal destinations have enough activities, accommodations, and attractions for families to create memories that will last a lifetime. Here are seven such places:
Few destinations offer as wide a variety of family attractions and activities as Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Nestled in the mountains as the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg boasts a vast array of attractions, entertainments, restaurants and year-round family-oriented festivals and events. Thanks to a variety of music, comedy, and magic shows suitable for all ages, family-fun continues after dark in Gatlinburg, as well. The Smoky Mountains are the star attraction, however, and the more than 800 miles of hiking trails and the gloriously scenic drives in the area make an indelible mountain memory. Throughout the area, luxury mountain rental cabins offer a home away from home for families each year coming back to the Smoky Mountains generation after generation. Gatlinburg cabins offer the perfect combination of luxury, modern convenience, entertainment and mountain relaxation.
Abundant sunshine, pristine beaches, and emerald-green waters earned the beach in Seaside the title of “Best Beach on Earth for Families,” from Travel and Leisure magazine. An intimate, master-planned community, Seaside’s charming downtown area has dozens of interesting small shops and galleries, as well as several world-class restaurants that serve up everything from cotton candy to lobster. Emeril Lagasse even featured Seaside on his hit cooking show “Emeril’s Florida.” Movie fans might recognize Seaside as the set for the 1998 film “The Truman Show,” starring Jim Carey. The fact that Seaside has no large hotels, only colorful one to six-bedroom cottages for rent, adds to the town’s laid back vibe. With the beach, the boardwalk and downtown all within easy walking distance of each other, Seaside visitors get to park the car for the length of their stay.
Glen Rose, TX
Dinosaur Valley State Park takes visitors back to the prehistoric age. Located 80-miles southwest of Dallas, the park features hundreds of well-preserved dinosaur tracks. Other popular park activities include horseback riding, camping, picnicking, hiking, swimming, and fishing. Visitors can even download maps on their GPS-enabled phone to make finding less visible tracks along the route easier. Ranger-led programs include Night Hike, Track Talk, and Overlook Hike. The Overlook Hike program takes guests through millions of years of geologic history – including two coral reef layers – on the way up to an overlook with stunning views.
West Glacier, MT
Twenty-six named glaciers, pristine forests, serene alpine meadows, rugged mountains, and spectacular lakes earned Glacier National Park in Montana the title of “Crown of the Continent.” The park’s 700-miles of trails make it a hiker’s paradise and perfect for visitors seeking pure solitude in a wilderness setting. The National Park Service hosts guided boat, hiking, horseback, and bus tours that make learning about the park’s geology fun and easy. Park lodgings vary from historic grand hotels to cozy cabins and backcountry chalets. And of course, the park has many campsites sprinkled throughout as well.
Home to some of the country’s most breath-taking natural landscapes, Moab, Utah has two of our nation’s top national parks within a half hours drive. Island in the Sky – the most popular area in Canyonlands National Park – treats visitors to spectacular 100-mile views in every direction. Located just outside downtown Moab, Arches National Park boasts the world’s highest concentration of natural sandstone arches. Beyond their scenic beauty, both parks offer a wide range of family fun including rock climbing, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, swimming, and fishing.
A fascinating mix of culture, history and unique attractions make Helena, Montana a perfect spot for a family vacation. While Helena’s famous Last Chance Creek has long dried up (Helena was the center of America’s Gold Rush at one time), beautifully preserved buildings and churches still remain. Kids love the hands-on learning experience offered by the Exploration Works Science Center. Along with a Children’s Garden, the Tizer Botanic Gardens & Arboretum boasts a nature trail with several babbling brooks and winding creeks. Winter fun in Helena includes ice skating, cross country skiing, and ice fishing. The Helena Civic Center hosts a variety of ongoing family-oriented entertainment throughout the year as well.
Jim Thorpe, PA
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania is consistently ranked among our nation’s best small town vacation destinations, and offers a little of everything for family visitors. Its quaint and walkable downtown features a variety of accommodations, unique shops, and lots of restaurants and pubs. Jim Thorpe’s location in the Pocono Mountains makes it the perfect base for outdoor fun including hiking, fishing, and whitewater rafting. Kids get a kick out of the eerie dungeon and solitary confinement cells of the Old Jail Museum. Administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Eckley Miners’ Village tells the story of anthracite coal mining, as well as the miners and the towns that spring up with each mine. Formerly known as Mauch Chunk (which means “Bear Mountain”), the town changed its name to Jim Thorpe in 1954 to honor one of the country’s most famous athletes and to attract tourism.