5 Unique Multigenerational Vacations That Will Satisfy Everyone from Grandparents to Grandkids

Parents, grandparents, and grandkids will all have the experience of a lifetime on these bucket list-worthy multigenerational vacations.
Horseback riding at C Lazy U Ranch (Photo: C Lazy U Ranch)
Horseback riding at C Lazy U Ranch (Photo: C Lazy U Ranch)

If you’re a parent or grandparent planning a multigenerational family vacation with little ones (or teens) in tow, you’ve probably considered a few of the obvious choices like Disney World, a Florida beach vacation, or cruising on a mega resort at sea. Those are all great options to keep everyone entertained for days on end, but you might find the kids enjoy it even more when you slow the pace, spend more time outdoors, and just spend quality time together.

As both a grandparent and someone who has traveled to many destinations around the world, I’m most interested in multigenerational vacations that offer something a little different. Here are my suggestions for unique vacations with parents, grandparents, and grandkids that go well beyond the ordinary.

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1. A Northern Colorado Road Trip and Dude Ranch Getaway

Exploring the riding trails at C Lazy U Ranch (Photo: C Lazy U Ranch).jpg
Exploring the riding trails at C Lazy U Ranch (Photo: C Lazy U Ranch).jpg

The towns of Boulder, Fort Collins, Loveland, and Estes Park offer all kinds of kid-friendly activities like hiking, fly fishing, and museums. Plan to fly into Denver, rent an SUV for your road trip adventure, and then make a few detours along the way before visiting Rocky Mountain National Park.

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After exploring Estes Park, and maybe going for a thrilling ride on the Mustang Mountain Coaster, use the Beaver Meadows Entrance into the park. Then, drive along scenic Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the U.S. (it crests at 12,209 feet), en route to Granby and your last stop, a dude ranch vacation at C Lazy U Ranch

Situated on 8,500 acres, C Lazy U Ranch is a working dude ranch that offers families an authentic Western experience with everything from horseback riding and horsemanship clinics to a “Shodeo,” where kids show off their new skills and adults try their hand at barrel racing and other ranch activities. In the winter, you can go ice skating, snow tubing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. You can also take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snow.

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During my visit in the fall, the kids at the resort were excited about fly fishing, riding horses, making s’mores outdoors at the fire pit, and going stargazing after dinner. Be sure not to miss one of the best parts of a day at the ranch (and one of the most memorable), the morning and afternoon Jingle (in season). This is when the wranglers round up the thundering herd of horses to bring them into the ranch for trail rides during the day and take them back out to pasture in the evening. 

2. A Covered Wagon Train Trek along The Oregon National Historic Trail

Following the Oregon Trail with Historic Trails West (Photo: Morris Carter)
Following the Oregon Trail with Historic Trails West (Photo: Morris Carter)

For another outdoor-based Western adventure, Historic Trails West offers three- and five-day wagon train treks along the 2,200-mile-long Oregon Trail. Yes, you can follow in the footsteps of our country’s early pioneers and indigenous people. You can bet the kids will think this real-life journey is way cooler than sitting in a classroom learning about the trek along the historic trail.

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The rugged five-day trip departs from Casper, Wyoming, and follows the original trail systems where you’ll see old Outpost and Pony Express sites, cross over the high plains, and wind through scenic mountain passes. During your living history adventure, where you’ll have lots of storytelling with wagon master Morris Carter, you’ll also learn about the rules of a wagon train, what life was like on the trail, and how to cook in a Dutch oven over a campfire.

“We will lose this part of our history if we don’t continue to tell the story and pass it down through the generations,” Carter explained when I met him during a trip to Casper in May 2023. We took a short ride in the covered wagon and then had a chuck wagon meal, and I came away impressed with this once-in-a-lifetime experience for multiple generations of family to bond in a living history environment.

You and your brave young homesteaders will also see areas along the trail with the old mines and historic buildings, have the chance to view herds of antelope roaming the plains, and sleep under the stars every evening in a thipi (or conical-shaped tent) while listening to yipping coyotes in the distance.

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In preparation for your trek, plan to arrive a day early in Casper to visit the National Historic Trails Interpretative Center. This thoughtfully curated museum is where you can gather more information about the three National Historic Trails that converge in Casper—the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails—and learn about the 500,000 emigrants that traveled through Casper between 1840 and 1869.

3. A Cruise Onboard the Family-Friendly Explora I with Explora Journeys

Explora Journeys (Photo: Explora Journeys)
Explora Journeys (Photo: Explora Journeys)

If you’re thinking about booking a multigenerational family cruise but prefer a smaller ship with upscale amenities (no go-kart tracks or onboard water parks), consider sailing with the new luxury line Explora Journeys. Geneva-based MSC Group is a family-owned business, so it’s no surprise there’s year-round children’s programming and a kids club on board the 922-passenger Explora I, the first of six planned superyacht-style vessels for the new line.

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Nautilus Club, the dedicated space for kids ages six to 17, features video games, foosball, a pool table, board games, a jukebox tablet, and other kid-friendly options. The club’s hosts also plan activities, including arts and crafts sessions, dedicated time at the Sports Court and pools, and other events around the ship. Children under six years of age can play in the club when accompanied by an adult.

The size of the host staff will increase when more families are onboard, especially around the holidays and in the summer. And at the beginning of the cruise, the hosts meet with the families to plan activities for the week, so programming is tailored toward what the kids are interested in doing—and how much time they want to spend with other cruisers their age.

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If you’re traveling during the holidays, look for Christmas and New Year’s festivities like gingerbread house making, a Santa meet-and-greet, and a Nautilus Christmas parade. Young kids and teens will also enjoy some of the best cuisine at sea, including kid-friendly options like handmade fresh pasta, pizza, burgers, crepes, Belgian waffles, smoothies, gelato, sorbet, and much more.

4. A Winter Adventure Chasing the Iditarod and the Northern Lights in Alaska 

Northern Lights over Fairbanks, Alaska (Photo: Travel Alaska)
Northern Lights over Fairbanks, Alaska (Photo: Travel Alaska)

Parents, grandparents, and grandkids alike will have a once-in-a-lifetime journey together on the 11-day Iditarod and Aurora Adventure with John Hall’s Alaska, offered annually in late February/early March. I was fortunate to experience this trip last winter and the details remain roughly the same from year to year.

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The group tour begins in Anchorage, where you’ll attend the Musher’s Banquet (and meet some of the dog mushers) and have a private dinner the next evening with a celebrated Iditarod musher, one of the exclusive experiences curated by John Hall’s intimate tours. An adventure day offers activities like skiing, fat tire biking in the snow, or taking a glacier flightseeing trip. And after watching the ceremonial start of The Last Great Race on Earth in Anchorage, it’s on to Talkeetna, the small town that was the inspiration for the quirky show Northern Exposure.

The two-night stay at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge also affords the first opportunity to see the Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights) if there’s a clear dark sky. This is where you’ll have a photography lesson on how to best capture the phenomena on camera with famed photographer Frank Stelges.

Other highlights of the journey include attending the official start of the Iditarod in Willow and flying into a remote wilderness checkpoint during the dogsled race toward Nome. You’ll also have the opportunity to experience dog mushing firsthand at Trailbreaker Kennels, go snowmobiling, try your hand at curling, attend the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, and sleep under the aurora-filled sky in a geodesic igloo at Borealis Basecamp.

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During your Alaskan adventure, be sure to look for moose resting in the high snowbanks along the sides of the road. You might even see a couple of moose running through a church parking lot in Fairbanks (as our group did). And if you’d prefer a private tour with just your family, you can create a personal itinerary at a different time of year.

5. An Outdoorsy Mountain Getaway in Jackson County, North Carolina 

Golden Hour in the Great Smoky Mountains (Photo: Visit NC)
Golden Hour in the Great Smoky Mountains (Photo: Visit NC)

Situated at the crossroads of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountain ranges, the Jackson County area of Western North Carolina offers active outdoor pursuits to suit the interests of multiple generations, such as hiking, wildlife viewing, fly fishing, boating, and water sports. Jackson County is also the trout capital of North Carolina, with 15 of the best trout streams and rivers in the region listed on the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail, the first fly fishing trail in the U.S.

Another highlight of the region is Lake Glenville. The highest-elevation lake in the state (at 3,494 feet) features 26 miles of shoreline with boat rentals, a beach and swimming area, waterfalls, and more. Beginner and expert hikers will want to head out on the many picturesque mountain trails, including Kuwahi, also called the Clingmans Dome Trail. Located on the North Carolina and Tennessee state line, this is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 6,643 feet in elevation. 

If you’re traveling with a large family and want to plan an extended stay, consider reserving The Chalet Lodge, a four- to seven-bedroom rental property located at Outland Great Smoky Mountains. This 22-acre private mountain retreat sits just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one hour from Asheville, and features a full kitchen, a large living room, and expansive outdoor spaces for everyone to spread out. The location near the small town of Sylva is a great base for exploring the area—and you can even bring the family pet (up to 60 pounds). The chalet is also the perfect retreat when it’s time to kick back and relax at the end of a long day spent outdoors.

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Gwen Pratesi
Gwen Pratesi is a James Beard Foundation Award Finalist in Journalism and an award-winning food and travel writer. She contributes to U.S. News & World Report and freelances for many publications, including FamilyVacationist, USA Today, Cruise Critic, Reader's Digest, and SmarterTravel. Her work has also been featured on MSN, Yahoo!, and Business Insider. When she's not on a plane or ship, you can find her at the beach with her husband and Tibetan Terrier, Rhythm.