Kids love water parks. Adults do too. But after another ride down yet another plastic tube you might find yourself longing for something a little more authentic. Surely there are places the whole family can get a thrill from the water while still being at one with nature?
Log flumes are lovely – but to really make a splash with the kids, try something new with these eight ideas for a wild, watery adventure.
Get up close to an awe-inspiring waterfall in Croatia © Anna Gorin / Getty Images
Feel the roar of a cascade
Give your kids the chance to be as loud as they like for once, and introduce them safely to some thunderous waterfalls. A popular place to get pummelled by a heart-stopping cascade is the base of Skradinski Buk waterfall in Croatia’s Krka National Park. Follow the trail over boardwalks, through little islands and into the emerald green lower lake where the 800m fall ends.
Splash and play in the UK at diminutive Janet’s Foss in England or the spectacular Lower Ddwli Falls in the Waterfall Country of the Brecon Beacons. Both will be chilly for most of the year so come prepared for the cold (wetsuits, layers, thermos).
Warm up in thermal waters
There are thermal spas and baths all over the world but not all welcome or allow children. Icelanders think differently: children under 12 often go free, and some municipal pools have even added slides and kids areas. Dodge the tourists at the Blue Lagoon and try the more accessible and local-friendly Laugardalslaug, which has an 86m water slide, seven ‘hot pots’ and plenty of shallow water for little ones.
Lake Bled is idyllic, especially when the sun is shining © Ferrantraite / Getty Images
Slip off a slide
OK, we admit this is veering dangerously into waterpark territory... but we promise you that bombing down a water slide is much more appealing when you can take in beautiful scenery along the way. Take the lido on Lake Bled in Slovenia; it’s pretty simple – enclosed pools, one slide, deckchairs to hire – but you’re in the Julian Alps and it’s breathtakingly beautiful. And the short, sharp, shock of cold as you hit the water ups the ‘wow’ factor.
Island types should try Citta Del Mare, a hotel in Sicily with a complex of three pools linked by slides which eventually tip the kids out into the Mediterranean sea. There’s a private beach for some sandy fun when they’ve had enough of the slide loop.
Let the kids explore nature's water parks © Marcos Welsh / Getty Images
Dive into a natural pool
What’s more fun for a water baby than flying through the air and plunging into a natural pool? At White Rock Park in Indiana you can do just that with zip-lines, ropes and a variety of diving boards all at your disposal. There’s also Sliding Rock in North Carolina, a 60ft sloping boulder that carries swimmers down into a deep pool of cool water.
Down under, Queensland’s Currumbin Rock Pools have rope swings for your Tarzans-in-training, plenty of ledges at different heights for kids who like to jump, shallow-water coves for pre-schoolers to frolic in, plus the all-important shade for a BBQ.
Brave boys and girls will love flinging themselves off cliffs in Wales © Garry Ridsdale / Getty Images
Take to the cliffs
Coasteering started in Wales and involves scrambling up sea cliffs, plunging into the water below, then going again and again until you complete a circuit. It’s not for the faint-hearted, nor for the very young (over 8s only). Being out on the open sea gives it a real sense of adventure and we guarantee the adrenaline high at the end beats anything you get in a chlorine-filled aquadome.
Rock pooling is perfect if you have little people in tow. All you need are some proper shoes and a net, an eye on the tide and a decent set of pools to explore. Lonely Planet Pathfinder Christine Knight recommends Austinmer Beach in New South Wales, but the world really is your oyster when it comes to rock pools.
See what treasures you can find beneath the surface... © Elvera Venus Tandog / Getty Images
Swim with Nemo and friends
Swimming alongside aquatic life creates a different kind of high to that gained from the likes of Splash Mountain, so kit your kids out with a snorkel and mask, read up on what you might see and get swimming. The world’s not short of ‘10 best places to snorkel’ lists, but to get off the beaten track consider Palawan in the Philippines. As well as the requisite bright blue water, crazy-coloured fish and beautiful coral, there are coves and caves to keep your wannabe Indiana Jones engaged.
Try the Florida Keys if your children aren’t quite ready to get in the water. You can take a glass-bottomed boat at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to view the underwater park and then hire a canoe to paddle around.
Cool off in Hong Kong with a trip on a junk © Chinnaphong Mungsiri / Getty Images
Jump off boats
Kids are mostly told to stay put on boats, and are watched carefully to ensure they don’t fall overboard. So there’s something rather exciting about mooring up and walking the plank. Hong Kong is famous for its junks, which can be hired for a day by people who want to relax, socialise and dip in and out of the water as they please. This being Hong Kong, anything is possible and you can even make like a family of pirates and hire a HMS Bounty replica. Or simply settle for a junk with inflatable super slides. The kids will be happy either way.
If you plan well, island-hopping in Greece or Croatia can involve plenty of exhilarating plunges off the side of boats, as well as the essential ingredients for a relaxing holiday: sunny weather and good food.
Mexico's cenotes will get their imaginations whirring © Victor Korchenko / Getty Images
Find secret swimming pools
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is home to thousands of cenotes – natural freshwater swimming holes formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock. Some are cavernous, others are lit by shafts of light from the jungle canopy above. Combining bright turquoise water and the thrill of finding something so unusual, swimming in a cenote is usually a big hit with kids. A dip in Cenote X’Canche is a good way to cool off after visiting the ruins at Ek Balam.
Alternatively, head to Hamilton Pool Preserve, Texas – a beautiful swimming hole created by geological movements over thousands of years. The ¼ mile trail to the pool itself is interesting for kids and the gentle beaches ensure the water play is family friendly.
But remember, folks: safety first
It always pays to get advice before taking your kids into natural watery environments. The UK’s Outdoor Swimming Society provides guidance on swimming in waterfalls, rivers, seas and in the cold, and Australia’s Outdoor Swimming Society has some excellent wild swimming tips too.
Are you and your kids curious about the world? Come explore! Let’s start an adventure on the Lonely Planet Kids blog.