Teens can be equal parts fun-loving and frustrating, especially when it comes to travel. They’ve outgrown petting zoos, merry-go-rounds and kiddie coasters. Now they want exhilarating adventures they can share, ’gram and brag about to their friends. We’ve got you covered: here are eight of our favorite high-octane trip ideas for teens in the U.S.
San Luis Obispo County, California
San Luis Obispo County (fondly known as “SLO CAL”) lies mid-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco on California’s Central Coast. Boasting 315 days of sunshine and 80 miles of exquisite coastline, it’s no surprise the area is widely considered among the happiest places on the planet. It’s also home to a treasure trove of adrenaline-fueled adventures, like paragliding along the coast and darting across wind-swept natural sand dunes in a dune buggy at Oceano Dunes, the only California State Park that allows off-roading on the beach.
Navigating arches, grottoes, sea kelp and rock gardens – trusty paddle in hand – in a colorful kayak en route to Dinosaur Caves at Shell Beach is another favorite among teens. Stay at the new Kinney SLO, which offers loads of fun family games, like Skee-ball and shuffleboard, as well as life-sized Scrabble and Lite Brite.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Known for its rich Native American culture and Southwest-themed arts scene, Santa Fe is also a first-rate destination for thrill-seeking teens. Santa Fe Mountain Adventures offers active adventures across Northern New Mexico, like mountain biking along rugged dirt trails and high elevation mountain hikes. Book an exhilarating and uber-popular off-road “Pinzie” tour to craggy Diablo Canyon in a 4x4 all-terrain military vehicle. This three-hour rip-roaring ride wins over teens with a striking gorge just right for hiking and rock scrambling.
Stay at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado. Its dedicated Adventure Center organizes guided hiking and biking tours in the scrubby high desert, as well as vibrant art tours along Canyon Road in historic Santa Fe.
Panama City Beach, Florida
Panama City Beach – really, most all of coastal Florida – may conjure images of sun-soaked afternoons spent lounging on a chaise while teens catch waves on boogie boards, but there’s so much more. PCB’s 27 miles of white sand beaches and emerald-green waters were made for seaside adventures. Feel the rush and gentle ocean breezes as you parasail high above the Gulf of Mexico (up to 1,200 feet above the gulf waters) with Adventures at Sea. There’s nothing like having a bird’s eye view of the entire coastline.
For more sky-high views, take a seat in a helicopter with Panhandle Helicopter for a 28-mile open-air flight over Grand Lagoon and St. Andrews State Park en route to stunning Shell Island (which, yes, is known for its abundance of sea shells). Rent a jet ski from Bay Point Water Sports and revel in the refreshing gulf spray on an exhilarating loop around Shell Island and St. Andrews Bay. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins in the crystal-clear waters. The new SpringHill Suites by Marriott wows with easy beach access and a lazy river pool.
Family Cycling Vacation
Cycling is a fantastic way to enjoy the outdoors and explore new destinations as a family. Plan out an itinerary on your own, or better, tap an outfitter that offers carefully curated cycling vacations tailor-made for families. Trek Travel offers a six-day guided bike tour of Vermont, from the Champlain Valley to the Green Mountains, which includes cycling, of course, up to 32 miles per day, as well as swimming and sampling (ice cream, at the Ben & Jerry's Factory in Waterbury).
Some tour operators, like VBT Bicycling Vacations, make electric pedal-assist bikes (e-bikes) available to riders, which can make climbing elevations more comfortable and less onerous. Uber-popular six-day guided trips take teens and families across Maine, Mississippi, Florida and Massachusetts. All trips include vehicle support for riders and overnight stays in historic inns and boutique properties.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
For an action-packed winter adventure your teens won't soon forget, look to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Here you’ll have to make tough choices. As in, whether to snowshoe, snowmobile, go dog sledding or ride a fat bike on any given day to maximize your time in this glistening snow-covered winter paradise. In Marquette County, more than 60 miles of snow-packed trails await fat bikers eager to explore the terrain. Meanwhile, the state has more than 6,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and kids as young as 10 to 12 can drive their own snowmobiles across the powdery snow-packed trails.
Go in mid-February for the UP200, a 230-mile sled dog race that is a spectator-favorite. Teens can drive their own team of dogs across 10 or 20 miles of snow-laded trails at Nature's Kennel in McMillan. Kick up the fun quotient with an overnight adventure that includes a stay in a yurt, a snowshoe hike and two dog sled treks.
When considering dogsledding activities, you should know People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is opposed to dogsledding, while other groups like the Sled Dog Action Coalition and US Humane Society support recreational mushing as long as cruel practices (like beating dogs) do not occur.
Southern Utah is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to a bounty of spectacularly beautiful state and national parks, like Kodachrome Basin State Park and Zion National Park. Go in shoulder season to bypass the summer crowds and enjoy Utah’s parks with room to move and explore. Consider decidedly underrated state parks, like Snow Canyon State Park. Set in the high desert of Ivins, this postcard-perfect park wows with its towering sandstone cliffs and stunning red rocks.
Kayak with your teens in the sparkling turquoise waters of the reservoir at Sand Hollow State Park in Hurricane or ride ATVs on 6,000 acres of orange-red sand dunes. Rent four-wheelers, like ATVs and UTVs, at The Beach at Sand Hollow. In Kanab, slow down and spend a few hours caring for homeless animals at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. You’ll gain serious cool points with your teens when you roll up to your stay in an Airstream trailer at Shooting Star RV Resort in Escalante.
Las Vegas, Nevada
There’s much more to Las Vegas than casinos and shows. Here you’ll find extreme adventures of all kinds that will wow even the most discerning teens, like ziplines, rugged hikes and indoor skydiving. In Downtown Las Vegas (as in, Old Vegas), fly Superman-style at speeds up to 40 miles per hour across five blocks of Fremont Street with SlotZilla. It’s an exhilarating way to see the oddities and entertainers down below on Fremont Street, if very quickly.
Back on The Strip, one of the most heart-pounding attractions you'll find – possibly anywhere – is the SkyJump, an open-air leap from 85 stories above Las Vegas Blvd. Don’t forget to breathe. For a terra firma adventure, look to nearby Red Rock Canyon. The 4.6-mile Turtlehead Peak Trail may be strenuous, but the sweeping summit views are rewarding. Escape the in-hotel slots with a stay at the Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa where you can cool off in the private lagoon or take a stand-up paddleboard out on the lake.
Active Multi-Sport Adventure
For active adventures including a mix of activities, like hiking, biking, paddling and cruising, look to well-rated outdoor outfitters, like Backroads or REI Adventures, both of which offer thoughtful multi-sport adventure itineraries. REI Adventures, for one, offers family-centric adventures, like an action-packed three-day hiking and camping weekend at Zion National Park. Teens will be awed by the grandeur of this national park, including its ’gram-worthy red sandstone canyons, soaring peaks and thrilling hiking trails, like Angels Landing and The Narrows.
For an added boost of exhilaration, as well as s’mores-making after-dark, a five-day family adventure on Washington’s San Juan Islands wows with scenic hikes and bike rides across gently rolling hills. On the water, go for a whale watch and an overnight kayak trip to Jones Island State Park. You can even sneak learning into your teen’s adventure vacay with a visit to a marine biology research lab.