For this USA Bucket List, we’re looking at USA experiences that offer unique family adventures.
Those activities that stretch your comfort zone a little, teach you something special about the region you are visiting, and create those ultimate memories.
The ones that make you cry, scream or laugh together. There is no better way to bond as a family then stretching together in a stunning natural setting.
As we continue to explore the USA, we hope to add to this list and continue to share these with you via our channels. Let us know in the comments a few USA Bucket List travel adventures to add to our list.
Airboat and Kayak the Wacissa River, Florida
The Wacissa River is a first magnitude clear, spring-fed stream that is fed by about 20 springs at the headwaters.
We joined Captain Brad Cooley from 5 Rivers Adventure who took us on an 11-mile airboat adventure zigzagging over the eelgrass and bright green lilies covering the river.
We navigated through narrow channels canopied by Spanish moss cypress and oak trees, chasing egrets and bald eagles, and fast diving alligators.
We traded our airboat for kayaks and set off on a thrilling and challenging adventure through the Slave Canal which connects the Wacissa to the Aucilla River.
The Slave Canal is marked but you could get lost and despite the quickly moving water assisting your paddling, it’s quite a technical paddle as you navigate narrow spaces, fallen logs and the overhanging branches of ancient oaks, cypress and palmettos draped with Spanish Moss.
Video: Wacissa River Adventures
Hang Gliding in the Outer Banks, North Carolina
When we visit a destination, we like to experience what is unique to the area. Without a doubt, Hang gliding with Kitty Hawk Kites is a unique North Carolina attraction that helps tell the Outer Banks story!
There is a long history of flying in the Outer Banks. It was in the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina that the Wright Brothers took the first flight in the early years of the 20th Century.
Today, kite flyers and hang gliders from all over the world visit the Outer Banks to have their own flying experiences.
Hang gliding with Kitty Hawk Kites in Jockey Ridge State Park is the story you’ve been looking for. A Beginner’s Dune Hang Gliding lesson will take you on five solo flights (with an instructor running beside you) soaring over the dunes with beautiful views of Roanoke Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s a unique USA Bucket List adventure for sure!
- Click here for full review of our hang gliding experience with Kitty Hawk Kites
- 16 Fun Things to do in the Outer Banks with Kids
Video: Hang Gliding in the Outer Banks
Skiing in North Idaho
For a family that seeks flip flops and humidity, skiing was something we always avoided. There was the lingering fear of being too cold to enjoy myself, but also of snapping a few bones.
But, we’re adventurers and know that you should never let fear get in the way of a good story or experience.
So we bought our thermals, registered for lessons, and had one of our best family adventures yet – skiing in three North Idaho ski resorts.
Y’all know how much we LOVE Idaho. We couldn’t have chosen a better place for our first family ski experience – spectacularly beautiful, lots of fresh powder, long runs, and limited crowds. In fact, many times we had the whole runs to ourselves.
This is the kind of adventure every traveler dreams of: complete newness, thrills, spills, laughter, and growing together as a family. IT’s the adventure where I can home and said, “I’ve changed for the better.” There are so many moments from this trip that I’ll remember and share forever.
Read now our full post on our first family ski trip at three ski resorts in North Idaho.
Jet Boating the Rogue River, Oregon
The girls will never forget this adventure squealing and waving their hands in the air with their friends as we bounced over rapids and did some fast 360 degree turns.
The scenery is rugged and spectacular and it’s highly possible you’ll see lots of wildlife along the way.
Bears are commonly spotted and the odd mountain lion. We didn’t get lucky with those animals but we saw plenty of deer and birds.
Commentary along the six hour tour is informative and entertaining.
There are long (104 miles) and short (80 miles) tours. I recommend the 104-mile Wilderness Whitewater tour with Jerry’s Rogue Jets so you can experience the thrill of the rapids which is mostly featured on the longer tour.
It travels into the ‘Wild’ section, an area only accessible by jet boating, rafting and hiking.
You will stop along the way for lunch and a brew if you feel up to it. OR, you can take your own picnic lunch like we did. The picnic spots above the river are serene.
This is wild, rugged, and unique thing to do in the USA with kids. They will LOVE it! It’s thrilling without them having to exert too much energy. But enough, that they’ll be worn out by the end of the day.
Video: Jet Boating Rogue River
ATV Exploring in Sand Hollow State Park, Utah
How does zipping around magnificent red sand dunes in an ATV or quad bike sound?
Not only is it an epic Southwest USA activity, it is in some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen.
Sand Hollow State Park in St George, Utah is renowned for its 6,000 acres of ATV and OHV off-road trails that take you to 3,500ft in elevation.
The sand areas are divided by incredible rock formations in the upper areas and bounded by the blue man-made lake at the lower edges.
This is a USA Bucket List adventure that will get the kids squealing and giggling. Finish it off with a magnificent sunset over the sand dunes.
I will never forget Kalyra yelling at me from the back of the ATV, “Show them what you’re made of Mum!” as I pressed my foot down on the accelerator and roared up the sand dune!!
The cheered as we came flying back down the other side!! A family who adventures together, stays together.
- Read More: Thrilling ATV adventures in St George Utah
- 13 places to see in Utah that no one tells you about.
Video: ATV Tour St George
Sea Cave Kayaking in the Channel Islands National Park, California
One of our favorite family travel moments was kayaking around the cliff faces of Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park and snorkeling amongst the kelp forest.
We loved discovering sea anemones and urchins and the friendly seals that popped up to say hi.
There’s not much over on the Channel Islands except for you and remote beaches, cliff faces, valleys and canyons for hiking, and sea caves to explore on kayaks.
Video: Channel Islands National Park
Scalloping in Steinhatchee, Florida
Every year, from June to August, those in the know flock to Steinhatchee on the Florida Gulf Coast to go free dive in the shallows for wild sea scallops.
This region is known as the scallop capitol of the US, making it a unique US bucket list attraction. The girls dubbed it “the most fun ever!”
We spent four hours snorkeling among the turtle grass, spying the scallops camouflaged and grabbing them with our hands. Pretty soon you get the hang of it and can spy their mouths opening and closing.
There are limits on how many each person can catch, and we didn’t even come close to that, making sure we only grabbed as much as we could eat.
Our private charter captain, Captain Mike was a fantastic guide with an easy going, friendly nature.
He took us to a sand bar on the way home – again waist deep, where we could swim and hunt though the sand for sand dollars.
Thankfully, he was able to find a couple and we got a closer look at these beautifully designed animals.
Captain Mike organized for our sea scallop bootie to be shucked back at the marina, and then Fiddler’s Restaurant at our resort cooked them up or us and we enjoyed them with a cold drink and live music on the newly built deck overlooking the river.
This is definitely one of the best things to do in Florida with kids!
Read more: Wild scalloping in Florida
Video: Wild Scalloping, Florida
Bike the Route of the Hiawatha, Idaho
This is probably the gentlest of all the USA adventures in this list.
No matter how new your kids are to adventuring, they can easily manage a bike ride on the Route of the Hiawatha.
Now I know you may think a 15-mile bike ride is not for novices, but this one makes it easy for you – it’s 15 miles on a flat, well-maintained path that is mostly downhill!
There is a good chance you may see deer along the way, and with 9 tunnels and 7 high trestle bridges spanning the steepest parts of the valley, the kids will LOVE it. You will LOVE it.
The forested Bitterroot Mountains provide a spectacular setting as you cycle one of the USA’s most famous rail to trail paths taking in stunning Idaho scenery.
Be prepared for the first tunnel which is almost 1.7 miles long – that is over 10 minutes at least riding in the pitch black. Flashlights are essential, as is a jacket as temperatures sit in the 40s.
You can take your own bikes or hire them from the Lookout Pass ski area.
We hired bikes including a tag-along for Savannah. She’s 8 and probably would have made the entire bike ride on her own bike, but we didn’t want to risk it. She had a blast singing the entire time.
You can catch the shuttle back to the first tunnel, or if you really like adventure, cycle the 15 miles back uphill. We opted for the shuttle.
Read our full review of the Route of the Hiawatha
Video: Route of the Hiawatha
Hike to a Glacier, North Cascades NP, WA
We set out for what we thought was to be the biggest hike with the kids: 7.4 mile return with an 1,800ft elevation gain – thankfully gradually over a series of 35 switchbacks.
The Cascades Pass Trail is meant to be the most popular of the North Cascades national park hiking trails with beautiful views of the surrounding mountain peaks and glaciers.
The hike took us through old-growth forests, that gave way to clearings with views of the surrounding glacier covered jagged peaks. A short walk across a rocky open path took us to the end of the trail at the Pass, a place where verdant meadows curved down to a saddle that offered sweeping views of nearby valleys, glaciers, mountains, and passing wildlife.
Some saw bears in the distance, others marmots.
Then the kids had the idea to continue on. They wanted to touch a glacier. It turned our 7.5 mile hike into a 15 mile hike, with a total elevation gain of over 4,000 feet.
The trail to Sahale Glacier started with steep switchbacks, and black bears munching berries just off the trail. It turned into valleys, forests and meadows, and stunning glacier lakes (Doubtful Lake), and even more black bears, including mother and babies.
And the views. 360 degree panoramic views of jagged mountain peaks and glaciers. I’ve never seen anything like it!
It was one of the most challenging hikes I’ve done and I was blown away with how well the kids handled it. I did have ot carry Savannah for most of the last hour back down. But, boy is this a story she loves to talk about now all the time.
Upper Grinnel Lake Hike, Glacier NP, Montana
Can you imagine our surprise and elation as we came up from the last of the steep climbs after a 5 mile hike, trying to grasp our breath and asking, “Are we there yet?” to see a milky turquoise lake completely covered in bopping icebergs.
No one had told us this is what we’d see in Upper Grinnell Lake on the 11 mile return hike.
The highlight was supposed to be Grinnell Glacier but we were like, “what glacier?”
Grinnell Glacier was there on the mountain face standing guard over its chunks of ice it released into the water. It was mesmerizing.
What’s even better about the Grinnell Glacier hike is that the views all the way there and back are absolutely stunning. You get panoramic views down into the valley over the brilliant aqua of the famous Glacier National Park Lakes: Grinnell Lake, Swiftcurrent Lake and Josephine Lake.
You walk through huckleberry gardens and forested sections. It’s just beautiful.
The Grinnell Glacier hike is in Glacier National Park in Montana. It was our favorite hike in this national park.
Like the Sahale Glacier hike this is one of the best things to do in the USA with kids so they may understand the importance of caring for Mother Nature. And to see these precious glaciers first hand before they sadly disappear for good.
Night Swim with Manta Rays, Big Island of Hawaii
WOW…I’m not sure there is anything else to say. This was definitely our favorite things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.
It didn’t hit me until our traditional Hawaiian 40-foot double-hulled Hawaiian sailing canoe pointed towards the setting sun that it hit me what we were about to do.
Swim in the ocean, in the dark, with manta rays and my five-year-old child!
I wasn’t expecting anything like we experienced.
Here came these gentle butterflies of the sea, flapping over to where we lay on our boards, snorkeled face in the water. They barrel rolled over and over again so close that we could peer into their stomachs.
They glided by so close to our faces that we could have easily planted a sloppy kiss on their horned fins. Their eyes looked into mine, “I see you. Stay still and let me show you how beautiful we are.”
Swimming with the manta rays AT NIGHT was one of the best USA Bucket List experiences for our family.
While Savannah refused to put her snorkeled face into the water and see the manta rays, she definitely saw them swimming below illuminated by the lights.
The lights attract the plankton which attracts the manta.
Off Roading Pink Jeep Tour, Sedona
The Broken Arrow Pink Jeep tour is a renowned Sedona attraction and definite USA Bucket List.
Sedona in Arizona is one of the most beautiful and spiritual regions in the USA. There is no better way to see it then in the back of a pink jeep as you bounce around over rock faces and down the 45 degree graded rock face called the Devil Staircase.
At the time, this was the most thrilling adventure our girls experienced. I loved watching their eyes widen in disbelief as we navigate some scary passages, squealing with a mixture of terror and delight.
This tour also combines education, with a few stop offs as your guide informs you about the history and geological richness of the Sedona area.
Their next crazy rock crawling adventure happened in Moab, where we really turned up the thrill dial!
- Don’t miss the thrilling Pink Jeep tour in Sedona (our full review post)
- Book your Pink Jeep tour here
Horse Riding through the Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho
We all agreed that our horse ride through the Sawtooth Wilderness in Stanley, Idaho was one of the best horse-riding experiences we’ve ever had.
Our horses were so gentle and steady. Our guide was very friendly, encouraging, and knowledgeable about the Sawtooth Wilderness and surrounding Stanley area.
And the scenery was simply stunning. It was WOW at every turn.
The final stretch was when we had panoramic views of the jagged Sawtooth Mountain peaks and Redfish Lakes, one of my favorite lakes in the country. We say life is all about the memories, and this outdoor family adventure gave us a great one.
The Stanley region in Central Idaho is one of our favorite places in the USA (and we’ve seen a lot!)
Find more amazing things to do in Idaho.
Video: Horse riding Sawtooth Wilderness
Jeep Rock Crawling in Moab, Utah
We didn’t realize we’d be rock crawling when we joined this guided jeep tour of the surrounding rock country in Moab.
If we had of known we may let fear stop us from going on this American Southwest activity!
Rock Crawling in a Jeep was an incredible family adventure we continue to talk about. There was loads of laughter, a few tears, and plenty of screams.
This is an exercise in trust. Jeeps are the most versatile and trustworthy vehicles. There’s probably not a rock they can’t spread their wheels over in all different directions to climb up and over with more skill than a crab.
But letting go to trust that jeep when you’re laying back in your seat at a 90 degree angle hoping you’ve given enough gas to get up, or to leaning right down to almost kiss the ground hoping that the Jeep will stick and then right itself up is difficult.
Adding to the thrill of the adventure were the stunning views that surrounded us of Moab, Utah.
What a wonderful way to explore the backcountry and an EPIC USA Bucket list travel adventure for sure!
Comment: What are some of the best things you’ve done in the USA with kids? We’re looking for those USA Bucket List unique experiences.