It’s easy to take the path of least resistance when traveling with kids and just head to the same spot year after year. But if you’re in the process of planning a family vacation, consider venturing throughout America to see more of what the country has to offer.
From breathtaking national parks and natural wonders to one-of-a-kind museums and attractions, there are plenty of places in the U.S. that will wow both kids and parents. Read on to see 25 of the coolest places in the U.S. to visit with kids.
1. Yellowstone National Park
It’s hard not to be impressed by all of the incredible natural wonders the world’s first national park has to offer. Because an active volcano lies beneath Yellowstone, the park has more than 10,000 hydrothermal features such as mudpots, hot springs and geysers — including the famous “Old Faithful.” Plus, there are nearly 300 waterfalls and an incredible array of wildlife — including elk, moose, bison and grizzly bears — in this 3,472-square-mile park that straddles Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
It costs $30 for a seven-day vehicle pass ($50 if you include a pass to nearby Grand Teton National Park). However, there are five times during the year when entrance fees to all national parks are waived. And this year all fourth graders can visit national parks for free as part of the Every Kid in a Park program.
2. U.S. Space and Rocket Center
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., is the largest spaceflight museum in the world and is home to several science-related camps for kids, including Space Camp. But anyone can tour this center to see its collection of rockets and ride simulators that recreate the feeling of a rocket launch (there are height restrictions).
General admission is $15 for children ages 5 to 12 and $23 for those 13 and older.
3. Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon should be on every family’s travel itinerary because it will make such a big impression on both kids and adults. The awe-inspiring 277-mile long, 1-mile deep canyon carved by the Colorado River is one of the most popular national parks — so expect big crowds during spring, summer and fall.
And if you want to go on an affordable camping trip, the entrance fee is only $30 for a seven-day pass for a vehicle. You can camp for $18 to $25 a night, or stay in one of the many lodges, which start at $100 and need to be booked well in advance of stays.
4. One World Trade Center
The tallest building in the U.S., the One World Trade Center now stands at the site of the World Trade Center complex that was destroyed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. You can wow your kids by hopping on an elevator that will take them to the 102nd floor of this 1,776-foot building in 60 seconds then letting them peer out over New York City from the observatory on the 100th floor. Tickets are $32 for adults, $26 for children.
Afterwards, you can stroll for free through the 9/11 Memorial Plaza, which occupies eight of 16 acres of the World Trade Center and features the names of every person who died in the 1993 WTC bombing and 2001 attacks in bronze around pools. And, you can visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum in the heart of the original World Trade Center site by paying $24 for adults, $15 for kids ages 7 to 17.
5. City Museum
There are children’s museums, then there’s the City Museum — an awesome fun house for kids of all ages in St. Louis, Mo. You can crawl through suspended tunnels or man-made caves, slide down a 10-story slide, ride the Ferris wheel on top of the building or simply marvel at how found objects were used to transform this 600,000-square-foot factory into an architectural marvel. Admission is $12.
While in St. Louis, you also can take a ride to the top of the Gateway Arch — the nation’s tallest monument — for $13 for adults, $10 for kids. And at the free Citygarden, parents can stroll through the sculpture garden while the kids splash in the three fountains, which have lifeguards.
6. Yosemite National Park
This national park in California is not only home to the tallest waterfall in North America but also giant sequoia trees. Yosemite also has spectacular rock formations, including the often-photographed Half Dome and El Capitan.
You can get a seven-day vehicle pass to the park for $30, and camp for $12 to $26 per night or stay in lodges ranging from tent cabins to deluxe rooms.
7. Schlitterbahn Waterpark
Ranked as the world’s best water park by Amusement Today, Schlitterbahn Waterpark & Resort in New Braunfels, Texas, has water rides, slides and features for all ages. You can relax in heated pools, float down man-made rivers or zip down twisting flumes or slides that are several stories high.
General admission is $38.99 for children and $50.99 for adults, but the park has several discount days.
8. Arches National Park
A trip to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, is almost like visiting another planet because the landscape of more than 2,000 natural stone arches and red rock formations is truly other-worldly.
For $25, you get a seven-day vehicle pass, but you can easily drive through all of the park’s roads in a day. There are no lodges in Arches, but you can camp for $25 a night or find accommodations in nearby Moab.
While there, you can also visit nearby Canyonlands National Park to see spectacular buttes, canyons and sandstone spires that are hundreds of feet tall.
9. Cedar Point
If you have a family of thrill-seekers, head to the roller coaster capital of the world: Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. With 18 roller coasters, it consistently ranks as one of the top amusement parks in the world.
For those who don’t want the adrenaline rush, Cedar Point also offers tame family rides, kid’s rides and live entertainment. Admission is only $45.
10. Musical Instrument Museum
A visit to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix is like taking a musical tour of the world. The museum has a collection of more than 16,000 instruments — including Eric Clapton’s guitar and John Lennon’s piano — from 200 countries and territories. Visitors can wear wireless headsets to hear the instruments being played and listen to live performances.
Admission ranges from $10 to $20; children under 3 are free.
11. Alcatraz Island
Give your kids a lesson in history with a tour of Alcatraz Island off the coast of San Francisco. It’s most well-known for the years it operated as a U.S. penitentiary that housed infamous inmates such as Al Capone. But Alcatraz also was the first lighthouse on the West Coast, a Civil War fortress and the birthplace of the American Indian Red Power movement.
Tickets through Alcatraz Cruises range in price from $20.50 to $33, or $100 for a family of four. Children under 5 are free.
12. National Air and Space Museum
A family trip to Washington, D.C., isn’t complete without a visit to the National Air and Space Museum. Kids and parents will marvel at thousands of aviation and space artifacts, including the airplane the Wright brothers flew during the world’s first successful powered flight and the Apollo 11 Command Module from the first manned lunar landing mission.
The best part is that it’s free, as is admission to most of the other 18 museums and galleries that are part of the Smithsonian Institute.
13. Georgia Aquarium
Not only is the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta one of the largest aquariums in the world, it also has one of the most diverse assortments of aquatic animals — from harbor seals and penguins to manta rays and beluga whales. Visitors can even interact with several of the animals, including dolphins and sea otters. The Georgia Aquarium is also the only place in the world where you can swim or dive with whale sharks.
General admission ranges from $34.95 to $40.95, but there are additional charges for encounters and the whale shark program.
14. Freedom Trail
Families can walk into history along Boston’s Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile stretch of 16 historic sites that tell the story of the American Revolution. Sites include the Old State House, which was the center of events that sparked the American Revolution, and the USS Constitution, the warship known as “Old Ironsides.”
You can take a tour led by a costumed guide for $12 for adults or $6.50 for kids.
15. Sleeping Bear Dunes
You can hike, hang out on the beach on Lake Michigan or climb the massive dunes that give this national lakeshore its name. You also can float rivers by boat or inner tube, view wildlife along the lakeshore or ride your bike along paved trails in this Michigan park.
There’s a $15 fee for a seven-day vehicle pass. The park also has campsites with nightly fees of $10 and up.
16. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
A Hawaiian vacation can be expensive — but not if you know how to find the best deals in Hawaii. If your family springs for a trip to the Aloha State, go see some of the volcanoes that helped create this chain of islands in the Pacific at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
The park, which is on Hawaii’s Big Island, features hiking trails through old lava tubes, scenic drives near active craters and lava flows into the ocean. Admission to the park is $15 per vehicle for a seven-day pass.
17. San Diego Zoo
A trip to Southern California should include a visit to the San Diego Zoo, which features more than 3,700 animals in natural habitats. You can take a guided bus tour, ride the tram and see animal shows with a $50 one-day pass ($40 for kids ages 3 to 11). The San Diego Zoo also offers special experiences, such as animal interactions and behind-the-scenes views.
18. Everglades National Park
This subtropical wilderness in Southern Florida teems with wildlife, including more than 360 bird species, deer, river otters, manatees and alligators. You’ll see these animals as you hike the park’s trails or explore the area by boat. There’s a $20 entrance fee for vehicles, which is good for seven days.
19. Art Institute of Chicago
If you want to expose your children to famous artworks from around the world, visit the Art Institute of Chicago. This museum houses about 300,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary pieces, and children younger than age 14 get in free (adults pay $25).
Across the street is Millennium Park, where the kids can splash in the fountains and have their picture taken by the iconic Cloud Gate — the bean-shaped stainless steel structure.
20. Mammoth Cave National Park
This national park in Kentucky is home to the world’s longest cave system. You’ll see dramatic formations in all tours that let visitors explore the various parts of the cave, including the more “wild” areas of the cave for those who don’t mind tight, dark spaces.
You can access the park for free, but cave tours range from $5 to $55 for adults and $3.50 to $20 for kids ages 6 to 12.
21. Heartland Harvest Garden
Kids can learn about where their food comes from at America’s largest edible landscape in Heartland Harvest Garden, which is located at Powell Gardens near Kansas City, Mo. You can explore nuts, grains, fruits and vegetables as well as sample some of the produce from this garden.
General admission is $10 for adults and $4 for children in the spring, summer and fall months.
22. Dinosaur Valley State Park
If your kids love dinosaurs, they can see where they once roamed at Dinosaur Valley State Park. You can find dinosaur tracks in the riverbed, watch wildlife that still roams the area or go geocaching — a treasure hunt — in this park near Fort Worth, Texas.
There’s a $7 entrance fee for adults, but kids 12 and younger get in free. And, you can camp for $15 to $25 per night.
23. NASCAR Hall of Fame
Car lovers and racing fans can learn about NASCAR’s history at this high-tech venue with interactive exhibits in Charlotte, N.C. Visitors can see historic race cars, get a behind-the-scenes look at how NASCAR teams prepare for race day and “drive” in a racing simulator. Ticket prices range from $12.95 to $19.95.
24. Denali National Park and Preserve
You can get a true taste of the Alaskan wilderness at this 6-million-acre national park. You can see sled-dog demonstrations, get a glimpse wildlife such as moose, caribou or grizzly bears, and marvel at North America’s tallest peak — the 20,310-foot-tall Denali. The entrance fee is $10 per person over the age of 15. There are six campgrounds in the park, with fees ranging from $9 to $28 per night.
25. San Antonio River Walk
You can stroll for free along the banks of the San Antonio River on this network of walkways that winds through 5 miles of downtown San Antonio. It’s lined by museums, restaurants, shops and historic sites — including the Alamo, a Spanish mission that was the site of an 1836 battle in the Texas Revolution and can be visited for free.
If you don’t feel like walking, you can take a boat tour along the River Walk for $8.25, or $2 for children ages 1 to 5.
From GoBankingRates.com: 25 coolest places in the US to visit with kids