With the kids out of school and a few weeks of vacation on hand, summer is the ideal time to make memories with your family. Don't let these three months slide by visiting the same old beach or amusement park, or—worse yet—sitting in front of the TV.
There are plenty of off-the-beaten-path options so start making plans now. This summer, you're going to have an adventure.
Saddle up at a dude ranch. Toss aside your pre-conceived notions of big, burly cowboys and damsels in distress—though you may enjoy those sweeping Western sunsets as seen through the fenceposts of a dude ranch. Dozens of family-friendly guest ranches and working farms have popped up over the years, offering everything from very basic living quarters and extensive hands-on work to luxurious guest houses with spas and a selection of outdoor activities of your choosing.
For the most part, though, dude ranches offer a good middle ground of exploring wide-open spaces by horseback, comfortable accommodations and plenty of free time to help on the farm, hike through the wilderness, play to your heart's content, eat s'mores, huddle up by the campfire and explore at your family's leisure. Perfect for kicking back on those long summer days.
2. Rise with the Tide
Rent a houseboat. If your family has had it with the beach, mix things up a bit and rent a houseboat on one of the many lakes scattered throughout the U.S. Houseboats come in a variety of sizes with a myriad of amenities including water slides and barbecue grills, and they offer just the right mix of water-logged fun and space to enjoy board games and other family activities free from outside distractions. Keep in mind that staying on a houseboat is akin to staying in a hotel room with the same people, only on the water. So this may be a good option for shorter getaways.
3. Family Cabin Fever
Sign up for a family summer camp. If you thought summer camp was only for kids, think again. Like dude ranches, these family retreats can range from rustic to downright homey, but they usually include all the classic activities you remember from childhood. What better way to spend time with your kids than tromping through the woods on nature hikes, getting creative with arts and crafts, belting out songs around the campfire and competing with other families in water sports?
Lest you forget that this is, in fact, summer camp, parents and kids together enjoy sleeping on cots in cabins, eating meals in the mess hall and battling bug bites. (Don't worry—this will all make for a great story later!).
4. Ditch the Kid's Zone
Seek out a stimulating museum. Even though school is out for the summer, you can still mix family fun with an educational edge. Wherever your summer vacation takes you, look for museums of interest for both parents and kids (and that means more than just hum-drum children's museums).
For example, the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., has lots of hands-on exhibits that let visitors learn the tricks of the trade. A huge collection of games, books, dolls and other toys are packed into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y. And historical artifacts meet strange sideshow attractions at Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
5. Do-Gooder Vacay
Combine vacation with good work. Volunteering as a family is a chance to teach kids about giving back to others while still enjoying the break in routine of a summer vacation. Ranging from a couple days to several weeks—and with opportunities all around the globe—there are tons of options for parents and kids to donate time together for a good cause.
Opportunities include caring for animals, building homes and cleaning up wilderness areas. Keep in mind that, despite the fact you are volunteering your time, most organized programs come with a fee that covers lodging, meals and other logistical details.