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For years, our family has been waiting for our oldest son to turn 13. Yes, I understand that most parents dread the teenage years, but we are trying to embrace them. Part of our plan to do that is to take each of our kids on a one-on-one adventure with one parent to celebrate their 13th birthday. Our only requirements are that it take less than a week, and not be excessively expensive (ruling out the initial request to go on an expedition to Antarctica). Other than that, we’re pretty much game for anything. Our teen gets to decide where to go, when they want to go, and which parent they want to travel with. From there, we plan the trip together.
What kinds of vacations do teens like?
When asking our son what sort of trips he wanted to consider, everything was focused on adventure travel. Likewise, our almost 11-year-old daughter had similar ideas for her 13-year-old trip which she’s already dreaming about. Teens want to feel like they’re grown up and can do hard things and push their limits. As we’ve talked to other teens recently, they all feel the same. They want to do something scary (where they won’t die), and that they wouldn’t have been able to do when they were younger.
Where can I go on a trip with my teenager?
Teens are such fantastically easy travel companions. They can take care of their own needs and personal items, are strong enough to walk, hike or bike all day long, and probably have more energy than most adults. As a bonus, teens are usually old enough to participate in most adventure tour groups as well. Really, the sky is the limit when traveling with teens.
How to plan a trip together with your teen
A few years ago, we had a great idea for my husband to take my oldest two kids on a trip while I did a stay-cation with our younger kids. Our oldest kids were only 7 and 9 at the time, and we gave them a budget and a time period they could travel. They literally blew our minds with the trip they planned and booked to the Philippines (we were currently living in the Middle East and they found super cheap flights). They learned how to balance their budget and learned that if they wanted to do an expensive activity, they had to be more frugal in other areas. It was an amazing learning experience AND they had never been so excited about a trip as they were about this one!
Since then, we’ve learned that our trips turn out better if we give the kids responsibility for big chunks of the planning. Maybe you need help planning activities, or aren’t sure where to stay. Pass this planning off to your teen. Chances are, they’ll get a whole lot more excited about the trip, and it gives them an excellent experience in how to plan on their own.
Best adventure trips to take with teens in the United States
Below we’ve compiled a list of the top adventure trips to take with teens in the United States. Many of these are trips that we’ve personally done (both with and without kids), and others are high on our list that friends of ours blow have shared. If you’re looking for more ideas for trips to take with your teens, check out our article on the best international adventure trips to take with teens.
- Multi-day Whitewater Rafting Trip, Western United States
- Hike Glacier National Park, Montana
- Climb a 14er in Colorado
- Stand Up Paddleboard in Acadia National Park, Maine
- Learn to Surf In Hawaii
- ATV Riding in the Nevada Desert
- Hiking the Narrows at Zion National Park, Utah
- Hiking and Camping at Havasupai Falls, Arizona
- A Multi-Day Kayaking Trip, Oregon, West Virginia
- Explore Snowshoe Mountain Resort
- Snorkel in Open Water, Kona Hawaii
- Sea Kayaking, La Jolla, California
- Search for Gators in the Florida Everglades
- Go Biking Through Yellowstone, Wyoming and Montana
Multi-day Whitewater Rafting Trip, Western United States
If you’ve got a teen who really loves to push their limits and get off the beaten path, there’s really no better adventure than a multi-day whitewater rafting trip. All over the American West, you’ll find remote rivers though deserted canyons where you can float for days on end. Our kids love the adventurous side of things, but also thrive on being unplugged (and having mom and dad be unplugged as well). There’s something about being completely isolated and out in the wild that makes bonds and connections grow better than just about anything else.
One of our favorite places to go on a multi-day rafting trip with kids is on the Green River in Utah, either on the Gates of Lodore section, or on the Desolation Canyon section. The Gates of Lodore takes about 4 days to run and has rapids that are up to a class 4. Desolation Canyon is a bit calmer with most rapids being a class 2-3, and this section of the river takes about 5 days.
While both of these sections of river provide some great rapids, there is also plenty of flat water so you have downtime on the boat to just sit back and relax, and connect with each other.
Other rivers to consider besides the Green River for multi-day rafting trips with teens are the Colorado River (Westwater or Cataract Canyon), The Salmon River (either the Main or the Middle Fork), and the Rouge or Deschutes Rivers in Oregon.
Hike Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park is our family’s favorite national park in the United States for hiking. There’s something about it that just feels so wild and rugged, that keeps drawing us back year after year. If you’re looking for a hike that’s challenging and a bit of a thrill, make sure to take the Highline Trail. The Highline Trail is nearly 12 miles long, though the views are worth the long mileage. About a quarter of a mile after you leave the trailhead, the trail narrows and drops off several hundred feet down one side. While it’s not especially dangerous (it’s still about 6-8 feet wide in most places), the thrill of hiking in an area like this is intense. If you’re looking for stunning views, without the dropoff, then head up to the Many Glacier area of the park, where we’ve yet to be disappointed by any hike we’ve done there. We’ve put together our favorite hikes with kids in this article to help simplify things for you.
Make sure that whenever you’re in Glacier, you’re practicing good wildlife safety, especially for bears (we saw 9 on our last visit there). If hiking isn’t your style, we’ve compiled a list of 16 amazing adventures to do in Glacier as well.
Climb a 14er in Colorado
Colorado natives commonly refer to the 54 peaks in their state that are over 14,000 feet, as 14ers. If you love mountains and want a serious bucket list experience, this is a great choice. Between all the peaks, you’ll find a huge amount of variety and diversity. If you’re coming from lower altitudes, or just want something a bit simpler, then your best bet is to choose a shorter hike. Quandary Peak and Mt Bierstadt are some of your easiest options that are also close to Denver, which makes them incredibly convenient. Before you embark on your hike/climb, make sure that you’re well adjusted to the local altitude (Denver is a Mile High), to prevent altitude sickness (this typically takes 3-5 days to adjust). While you’re hiking make sure to start EARLY (I typically recommend starting to hike at sunrise), so you can avoid the dangers of afternoon thunder and lightning storms. Always dress in layers, carry plenty of food and water (at least a gallon), and protect yourself from the sun. To help you decide which 14er is best for you, you absolutely need this book. We’ve used it over and over again, and it’s awesome.
Stand Up Paddleboard in Acadia National Park, Maine
Have you tried Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) yet? It’s a popular new sport that’s gaining a lot of fans since it doesn’t require advanced skills to be able to enjoy. Our family especially loves SUP because it’s something that both parents and kids enjoy equally. We love taking paddleboards to remote areas and getting a whole new perspective than we would from a hiking trail. One of the most beautiful park in the eastern US, is Acadia National Park, and I think that the best way to see it is by SUP. Our friends over at Acadia SUP are amazing guides and do a fantastic job of not only leading you on your trip, but also helping you learn a lot while you’re out on the water. If you’re feeling like you want to mix it up a bit, make sure to try their SUP fishing, or SUP Yoga (yes, I tried SUP yoga and fell in A LOT).
Learn to Surf In Hawaii
If you’ve got a teen who wants to learn to surf, I think Hawaii is the best place in the United States to take them. Sure there are other places in the US where you can learn to surf, but in Hawaii, you get good waves for surfing combined with warm water (which makes learning so much more enjoyable). Our kids have loved learning to surf in Hawaii since the weather always feels wonderful, and the beaches are absolutely amazing. While depending on the time of year you go, you may need to choose different locations. Some locations like the North Shore of Oahu have smaller waves in the spring, and massive waves in the fall (that’s where the Pipeline competition is held every year). Ask around to the locals, and make sure that you sign up for lessons so that you learn to surf well right from the start.
While Vegas is known for it’s adult thrills, we think an adventure out in the desert sounds like a great opportunity for families to experience adrenaline together while providing an opportunity for teens to show their responsibility and skill level with driving. These are fast vehicles and while it seems dangerous, having a good tour operator will ensurd you have proper safety equipment and well maintained vehicles. Different operators have different regulations, but most require that drivers be at least 16-years of age and have a valid driver’s license. Passengers under 18 must have parental consent though each operator has slightly different minimum age for those riding along.
This is a great opportunity to speed through desert trails and see some absolute beautiful terrain that most people will simply drive through without giving it a second thought. It also provides the chance to talk about other topics that just aren’t as fun normally, such as environmentalism, geology, and physics. So take this opportunity and make it something fun as well as educational that your teen will love.
Depending on the operator, various tours are available ranging from scenic desert tours to fast-paced rides along the same trails used by race teams competing in the Mint 400.
By James of Cruise West Coast
Hiking the Narrows at Zion National Park, Utah
If you’re looking for an adventure with teens, you should consider hiking the Narrows at Zion National Park! Located in the southwest corner of Utah, Zion National Park is most easily accessed via Las Vegas, Nevada. Zion has some of the most incredible land forms, scenic vistas, and ample opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors!
Visitors can take advantage of a variety of different hikes at Zion, but the most unique and memorable hike is The Narrows. Your teen will be mentally and physically challenged while hiking in the narrowest part of the Virgin River. Have you ever hiked in a river? With canyon walls shooting up beside you, The Narrows is a hike like no other. The best part of hiking the Narrows is that you decide how far you go and then turn around and go back. From grandparents to teens to toddlers, literally anyone can do it. I watched my tween take the lead, check regularly on the rest of the family, and gain a new confidence in just a few short hours. With a little bit of preparation, the proper equipment, and a positive attitude, your teens will have the experience of a lifetime! I know my kids did!
By Julie of More Than Main Street
Hiking and Camping at Havasupai Falls, Arizona
For active, outdoor-loving teens and the parents who love to keep up with them, hiking ten miles down to Havasu Falls and camping three nights beside Havasu Creek is a memorable spring break worth all of the months-ahead planning. Descending into the Grand Canyon as guests of the Havasupai Indians with hard-won permits and reservations in hand, you will explore, climb, swim, photograph, and picnic to your heart’s content between the Havasu, Mooney, Little Navajo, and Fifty Foot Falls. Go all the way to Beaver Falls if you can. Havasu Creek eventually pours into the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.
We loved this trip because our kids remembered they have strong bodies, they can do challenging things (like hike 10 miles back out!), and they live in a beautiful world full of natural playgrounds to discover. For example, the blue-green waters of the Havasu get their vibrant color from the rich minerals reflecting in the sun, turning the water a bright turquoise hue.
The best time to hike to Havasu Falls is in the spring or the fall. The summer is just way too hot in the canyon. While it is chilly standing at the rim, the temperatures along the canyon floor hover around the 70s in the spring and fall. Also, note the Havasupai Reservation is not in the national park portion of the Grand Canyon, but you will be nearby. It’s definitely worth stopping at the South Rim before or after this adventure.
Seeing is believing, and we think a trip to Havasupai Falls in Havasu Canyon will soon be on your adventure bucket list with teens.
By Tanya of Rad Family Travel
A Multi-Day Kayaking Trip, Oregon, West Virginia
Back when my sister and I were teens, my dad and step-mom took us on a one-week kayaking trip down the Dordogne river in France. A tour company organized the logistics and transported our luggage and tents from campsite to campsite. My memories of that summer holiday are filled with swimming in the calm waters, paddling between echoing gorges, and trying to find cave entrances.
This early experience inspired my partner and me to kayak halfway down the Danube River from its origin in Germany through Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary in 2019. In total, the Danube is 1,770 miles long and one of the most international rivers in the world. We’ll continue that trip in our inflatable kayak from Hungary to the Black Sea in 2021.
During the summer holidays, we shared the Danube with lots of other long-distance kayakers, including many parent-child teams. One particularly memorable group was a father-son duo in a wooden kayak that traveled from Linz in Austria to Hungary’s capital city Budapest. It seemed like the trip was the teen’s initiative.
Truth be told, every continent has a few good rivers for beginner paddlers. Within the USA, I’m thinking of the undammed John Day River in Oregon and the New River in West-Virginia. As long as you and your teenager research your river well, keep track of water level predictions, and pack the right gear for a multi-day kayaking trip. You might just lay the foundation for a lifetime of adventures for your child.
By Iris of Mind of a Hitchhiker
Explore Snowshoe Mountain Resort
Snowshoe Mountain Resort has tons of outdoor activities in every season for an adventure-packed getaway. Teens can learn to ski and snowboard in the winter or mountain bike in the summer. West Virginia has world-class trails and has hosted major competitions. In 2019 the World Cup Mountain Bike Finals brought in thousands of visitors – it’s a blast to watch the pros navigate through rock gardens, steeps and more. A few of the other summer activities include: ziplining, 4×4 tours, horseback riding, swimming and navigating an inflatable obstacle course at the lake, golf and movie nights under the stars. In the winter teens will love night skiing, cosmic tubing, snowmobile tours, sleigh rides and more.
Snowshoe offers live music year-round with the 4848 Festival dominating the summer lineup and Ballhooter Spring Break presenting top acts that perform right in the village. Snowshoe’s design makes it the ideal place to take your teens on vacation. The village is on the top of the mountain (usually ski resorts design is the other way around) and a free shuttle service runs a loop around all the lifts, restaurants and other attractions. West Virginia is remote, but rather than feeling isolated, Snowshoe lends a feeling of a safe and secluded hamlet. Plus, there are many places for teens to hang out in the village: the Split Rock pool hot tubs, fire pits by Starbucks, Waffle Cabin and more.
By Summer of Traveling Summer
Snorkel in Open Water, Kona Hawaii
One of the best ways to explore the coastline and ocean life on the west side of the Big Island in Kona is to sign up for a snorkel and cruise experience. Not only will you get to see the coastline in the early morning to afternoon but along the way if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see some amazing sealife, turtles, dolphins and even whales during whale season. It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors, be on the water and have an experienced staff take you on a wonderful journey. We stop at a fantastic local spot and anchor just off the rocks with lovely views and the staff will help you with gear, instructions and disembarking the ship or you can even jump from a certain part of the ship if your looking for a thrill. The water is crystal clear and you can see all the way to the bottom with beautiful corals, tropical fish and again more turtles and sea life. The snorkeling session is about three hours just enough time to enjoy being in the water and they get a nice spread for you to enjoy a lunch barbeque and other nice fixings along with tropical drinks, soda and water. It’s a really relaxing way to enjoy being in the water with a lot of staff to watch out for safety and friendly vibes. If you’re looking to exploring more of the Big Island in general, check out my post of the best things to do on the Big Island with kids on the attached link.
By Erwin of The Hawaii Life
Sea Kayaking, La Jolla, California
La Jolla, the glitzy and glamorous beach town in San Diego has its fair share of adventures on offer as well. A few years ago, my 15 year old niece from Germany came to visit and I took her kayaking in La Jolla. She LOVED it. It was the perfect activity for a teen. She got to try an exercise that she had never tried before and pushed her a little outside of her comfort zone. At the same time, we saw some incredible wildlife and scenery. The top highlights were, when we saw a sea lion snatch a lobster off the rocks and later, when a dolphin showed up and swam not far from us. La Jolla is a top destination for kayakers, as you are not only very likely to see some wildlife, but also because you can explore the caves on the cliffs of La Jolla. Make sure to select a time slot for your kayaking tour that includes a visit to one of the caves, as it is only possible at certain tides and weather conditions. If you are traveling with teens, I would highly recommend adding a kayaking trip to your itinerary, especially in a stunning place like La Jolla.
By Maria of San Diego Explorer
Search for Gators in the Florida Everglades
Got a wildlife lover in your family? Give them a chance to get up close with wild gators in the Florida Everglades. I’m not sure what it is, but if there’s a chance of a dangerous encounter, my teen is ALL IN! So a hike through the Everglades is the perfect fit. There are several amazing Ranger led programs at the Everglades (more from November-April than the rest of the year) so that you can really learn a lot about alligators and their home habitat here. If you’re feeling like stretching your legs and having a great change to see gators, the Old Ingraham Highway Trail is one of your best bets. The entire 10 mile long trail parallels a canal which is prime gator spotting territory. Even if you don’t hike the entire thing, which you absolutely don’t need to, it’s worth spending a few hours there. While you’re there, make sure to go for an airboat ride. This is a can’t miss activity while you’re in the Everglades, and since they can be very popular, going early in the morning or in the evening is your best chance to avoid large crowds and long wait times.
By Tavia of Big Brave Nomad
Go Biking Through Yellowstone, Wyoming and Montana
Want to see Yellowstone in a completely unique way? Consider biking through Yellowstone National Park. While fighting major crowds and throngs of traffic doesn’t appeal to most cyclists, many people are unaware that for a short period every year in the spring, the parks roads are opened and clear of snow BEFORE they open the roads to vehicle traffic. That makes cycling through Yellowstone not only completely doable, but also incredibly fun since you won’t have the normal crowds. It’s one of the best ways to completely immerse yourself in the park while still being able to cover a lot of ground. Since teens are bigger and stronger, this is a great way to let them explore the national park and to really connect with the nature and wildlife there. Oh, and speaking of wildlife, you’ll probably see a whole lot more of it on a bike during the spring than during the peak of summer, since there are few other people around to scare them away, making this a remarkable opportunity. While there are still places where you can bike in Yellowstone farther into the summer, the window in the spring and fall, without roads open to public vehicles is the best time to go.
By Mel of Traveling Mel