family-friendly multi-generational trip ideas
Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Best Multigenerational Trips: Family-Friendly Vacation Ideas

Multigenerational trips are a rising travel trend, and that makes sense. A vacation between grandparents, kids, and grandkids gives extended families time together without the expectations of holiday gatherings, and with so many vacation schedules to juggle with quality time, families are finding it easier to simply see each other while they relax. To help make your own three-generation getaway work better, it helps to pick places with plenty of options for every age, because not everyone wants to do the same thing. It also helps to decide ahead of time who’ll pay for what. Whether riding horses across the open plains, exploring a city, rafting rivers, or cruising, these diverse ideas offer vacations that your family will remember for all the right reasons.   

Best Multigenerational Trips: Family-Friendly Vacation Ideas: Dude ranches
The Ranch at Rock Creek
Dude ranches

Whether you never-ever put a foot in a stirrup or you're a cowpoke from way back, dude ranches make for memorable multifamily vacations, especially if the ranches are resort properties where choosing a trail is as easy as booking a massage, tennis workshop, or fly-fishing outing. Such extra options not only assuage the saddle-sore but also cater to non-riders.

The best ranches feature lessons for all ages, rides for grade-schoolers and teens, as well as pony excursions for little ones. At resort ranches, lodging ranges from comfortable to luxurious rooms, cabins, and homes staffed by real chefs. In the evening, get together over s’mores, storytelling, roping, and square dancing.

At some ranches, the all-inclusive fee covers horses, lessons, accommodations, and meals while other properties price à la carte. For the Ranch at Rock Creek (pictured), a Relais & Châteaux luxury property 20 miles southwest of Philipsburg, Montana, summer and fall are prime saddle time. The best horseback-riding weather at Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, lasts from February through April. 

Best Multigenerational Trips: Family-Friendly Vacation Ideas: All-inclusive Caribbean resorts
Grand Velas Riviera Maya
All-inclusive Caribbean resorts

All-inclusive resorts can keep budgets from ballooning—the pervasive risk of all multigenerational trips. But when everything's included, it’s not a problem when the grandkids want more windsurfing, or when teens grab second helpings of lobster.

The upscale Grand Velas Riviera Maya (pictured above), a luxury resort on 206 acres in Mexico, delivers good food and a sense of expansiveness. The oceanfront, family-friendly Ambassador suites are around 1,100-square feet apiece, and the spa, which administers treatments inspired by local traditions, provides ample space for relaxing. At the kids' clubs, those aged 4 to 12 take mariachi lessons, listen to stories, and enjoy arts and crafts. Teens get foosball, air hockey, and video games.

At Beaches Turks & Caicos, expect more crowds but also more activities—wakeboarding, sailing, scuba diving—as well as no-extra-fee child care for infants through 3-year-olds, and a full day's worth of activities for kids ages 4 to 17. The waterpark’s geysers and slides divert kids for hours, while Sesame Street characters thrill preschoolers, who can bake cookies with Cookie Monster, take a nature walk with Big Bird, or listen to stories with Elmo for added fees. For a bit of luxury, consider a two-bedroom suite or a 3- to 4-bedroom villa. Both lodging categories come with butlers.

Best Multigenerational Trips: Family-Friendly Vacation Ideas: River rafting
Chad Case Photography, courtesy ROW
River rafting

Rafting is exhilarating, and the teamwork required to maneuver tricky waters goes a long way toward building family bonds. Watching grandparents paddle through a Class III rapid elevates their status from fuddy-duddy to fabulous in the eyes of most grandchildren.

Both the Rogue River in Oregon and the main section of the Salmon River in Idaho combine rapids with riffles—perfect small eddies for kayaking—and stretches of smooth water for floating. On family trips operated by ROW Adventures and OARS, an additional staff member engages kids with hikes and games.

On ROW’s Rogue River lodge-to-lodge trips, families paddle each day but retire to comfortable cabins at nighttime. If you have older teens, consider Snake River’s Hells Canyon in Idaho, known for big waves and big drops.

Looking for something milder? At the Nantahala Outdoor Center near Bryson City, North Carolina, you can build a multiday adventure by overnighting at NOC’s cabins. By day, take an excursion on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, zipline through the trees, hike on the Appalachian Trail, or explore the Nantahala River at NOC’s paddling school.

Best Multigenerational Trips: Family-Friendly Vacation Ideas: City explorations
Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau
City explorations

In many big cities, a mix of history, art, outdoor sites, and science attractions enables families to follow their interests without roughing it.

Take Boston, for example. Along the Freedom Trail, grade-schoolers can find the Old North Church and other places they might be learning about in history class. Little ones like to build houses and blow giant bubbles at the Boston Children’s Museum as well as climb the duck sculptures in the Public Garden (pictured above).

At the New England Aquarium, animal lovers can see harbor seals, penguins, and endless tanks of fish. The Museum of Fine Arts houses one of the largest collections of Monet paintings in the United States. Science-oriented teens find fossils and dinosaurs to ogle at the Museum of Science—one of the best in the country—and kinetic sculptures to activate at the MIT Museum, located across the river in Cambridge.

In season, enjoy family bike rides along the Charles River Esplanade, Boston Red Sox baseball at Fenway Park, or ice skating on the frozen Frog Pond in Boston Common

Boston is just one example, though. Many U.S. cities are equally good playgrounds for multiage family vacations.

Best Multigenerational Trips: Family-Friendly Vacation Ideas: Cruises
Royal Caribbean Cruises

Megaships are now being designed expressly for families. The slate of amusements is huge and surprising: zip lines, bumper cars, laser tag, movies, skydiving simulators, as well as multiple pools and children’s activities—older, well-behaved grade-schoolers and teens will enjoy the freedom to roam the ship without you.

When the ship stops at new ports, diverse itineraries give you even more options. Europe’s castles intrigue aspiring royals; urban art museums and trendy boutiques draw tweens and teens. In Hawaii and the Caribbean, families can sign up for water sports or bask on beaches.

Easy to pay for, cruise fees already include lodging, entertainment, and standard meals, plus children’s and teen activities. Just practice tough love and limit the add-ons, and be sure the line you choose has programming suited to the children in your group. 

Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess, Norwegian, and Disney lead the way in offering comprehensive kids' diversions and making sure every age level—including yours—has a good time. 

Pictured above: family Suite on Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas

Best Multigenerational Trips: Family-Friendly Vacation Ideas: Villas, houses, condos
Rental villas, houses, and condos

Villas, houses, and condos provide extended families with more space for the money than booking multiple hotel rooms, plus you'll get the home-like conveniences of living areas and kitchens. What's more, your time will be your own, with no pressure to join scheduled activities.

Many rental companies have search engines that allow you to specify whether you want a property at a beach, in the mountains, or in the city. The key: understanding the rental. A luxury villa that comes with a cook and maid eliminates hassles but cuts out family cooking time. A swimming pool makes it easy to splash with the grandkids. 

WIMCO’s Caribbean villas (one in Anguilla is pictured above) come with housekeeping and sometimes the services of a cook. Resorts that rent their own condo units carefully maintain them and typically include maid service, too.

For homes and condos listed by owners on rental sites, be sure to read user reviews as well as the fine print to assess the property and know what’s included.

Best Multigenerational Trips: Family-Friendly Vacation Ideas: National Parks and nearby towns
National Park Service
National parks and nearby towns

Many of the biggest national parks in the American West have a huge range of options for multigenerational groups. 

One of the most spectacular spots is, of course, Yellowstone National Park, where even the most blasé kids look up from their phones as the Old Faithful geyser shoots spray more than 100 feet into the air or a herd of bison moseys in front of the car. Learn about the park on an outing or multiday trip operated by Yellowstone Forever, the park’s nonprofit partner. Naturalists tell you about the wildlife and set up high-powered telescopes so you can spot wolves in the hills and goats on mountain ridges. 

After Yellowstone, sample the western culture of Cody, Wyoming. President Theodore Roosevelt called the drive from Yellowstone’s east entrance to Cody “the most scenic 50 miles in the world.” At the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, five museums showcase firearms, Plains Indian culture, Western art, and wildlife, including grizzly bear claws and live encounters with hawks and owls. In summer, watch cowboys ride bulls and race horses around barrels at the Cody Nite Rodeo

Best Multigenerational Trips: Family-Friendly Vacation Ideas: Bicycling trips
Sam Dean
Bicycling trips

There’s something freeing (as well as nostalgic) about the wind-in-your-face sensation of bicycling. The 22-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail in Massachusetts goes through six Cape Cod towns. For mountain scenery, tackle the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail (pictured) that begins in Abingdon, Virginia, and ends in Damascus, Virginia. Affording spectacular views, the trail crosses 47 wooden trestle bridges, including Creek Junction, known for its trout fishing.

On guided family trips, mileage is kid-paced and outfitters will tote weary toddlers as well as trailer cycles, a one-wheeled bike that hooks to yours so youngsters can ride along. Backroads' "multi-adventure tour" in the San Juan Islands of Washington State adds sea kayaking and hiking to all the pedaling on an experience designed for families with teens and older kids. Butterfield & Robinson also arranges a variety of biking and multisport trips for families at destinations around the world. 

Best Multigenerational Trips: Family-Friendly Vacation Ideas: Resort stays
The Broadmoor Resort
Classic resort stays

Sometimes it’s more relaxing to base the extended family at a destination resort that lists a wealth of activities—sort of like a cruise without an ocean.

Among the many programs at The Broadmoor, an upscale, 3,000-acre resort in Colorado Springs known by some as the “grande dame of the Rockies": golf, tennis, fly fishing, horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, zip lining, falconry, pickleball, and spa services. Paddle a canoe or captain a boat in a family armada across the lake. At the seasonal Bee Bunch kids’ camp, guests ages 3 to 12 visit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, take pony rides, and go on nature walks. 

Seven Falls (pictured), rated among Colorado’s most scenic waterfalls, is a mile from the resort. For more Colorado vistas, drive the switchbacks to the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak and explore Garden of the Gods, where sandstone formations eroded by rain and wind dominate the landscape.

The Broadmoor has standard hotel rooms, but it also rents connecting suites and cottages with up to eight bedrooms. Now everyone’s happy and all family members have their own space. Problem solved!