As the school year draws to an end, the shoes get tossed for bare feet, and the summer sun feeds your wanderlust, it just might be time to think about those family RV vacation destinations.
One of the greatest things about RVing is that you can load the family up into the rig and take off down the road knowing that you’ve got just about everything you need right on board. Road trips and family vacations are fun, adventurous, and easy-going. The entire trip is part of the vacation!
But if you’re looking for some great ideas to consider as vacation destinations for your RVing family, we’ve got 11 suggestions to offer – and Disney isn’t on the list.
Now, don’t get us wrong here – we’ve got nothing against Disney. Disney is amazing from concept to reality, and we understand why it’s generally high on family vacation destination lists. But because Disney is so popular, and Florida (Disney World) and southern California (Disneyland) are super hot in the summer, we thought we’d focus this post on ideas that aren’t Disney.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at 11 family RV destinations that aren’t Disney!
- 1) Our Criteria for Determining the Following Vacation Destinations
Our Suggestions For Family RV Vacation Destinations (of the NON-Disney Kind!)
- 2.1) Bar Harbor, Maine
- 2.2) Niagara Falls, New York
- 2.3) Winter Park, Colorado
- 2.4) Telluride, Colorado
- 2.5) Dollywood in the Great Smoky Mountains
- 2.6) Gatlinburg, Tennessee
- 2.7) Outer Banks, North Carolina
- 2.8) Mackinac Island, Michigan
- 2.9) Cheyenne, Wyoming
- 2.10) Alberta, Canada
- 2.11) Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
- 3) Share Your Favorite Family RV Vacation Destinations
Our Criteria for Determining the Following Vacation Destinations
Though we don’t have kids of our own, we’ve traveled with children of various ages and understand that it can be difficult to keep everyone happy if you’re a family of people who are at very different life stages and phases. So, while we’ve kept our criteria simple as we organized this list, we’ve made holding the interest of young children through teens a top priority.
We’ve also tried hard to focus on affordability, though this is a tough one because vacations are generally somewhat expensive, and the definition of “affordability” varies so much from family to family. Let’s say we’ve tried to stick to vacation destinations that won’t break the bank as badly as lots of others. 😁
We’ve also made sure that every suggested destination has a reasonable amount of fun things to do that are likely to interest everyone in the family… from the eldest adult to the youngest child.
And, because we’re such big fans of nature, we’ve made sure that every location has some beautiful natural surroundings to offer. One thing we know for sure is that the natural wonders intrigue and feed the souls of all ages.
Finally, we’ve tried to include family RV vacation destinations throughout North America, in the hopes that there’s one within a reasonable traveling distance for most of our readers.
Our Suggestions For Family RV Vacation Destinations (of the NON-Disney Kind!)
Now that you know the criteria we used for selecting these destinations, let’s get to the list. The summer season is already here and you’ve got planning to do!
Bar Harbor, Maine
Maine, from its rocky seashores to its pristine beaches to its expansive glacial lakes and majestic mountain ranges, has some amazing personality to share with its visitors. They don’t call Maine “Vacationland” for nothing.
For our list of family RV vacation destinations, we’re choosing Bar Harbor in particular, but Maine is an adventure from border to border, and no matter what your family likes to do together, Maine is a wonderful RV vacation destination.
In Bar Harbor, you’ll find lots of opportunities for swimming (all free!). Echo Lake is a favorite for its slow, easy waves which kids love, but any lake or swimming hole you can find will beckon to you. Many are spring-fed and you can feel the cold springs as you swim over them. Very refreshing on a warm summer afternoon!
Good fishing in Maine is plentiful pretty much everywhere you find a lake, river, stream, or ocean inlet.
In Bar Harbor, you’ll find hiking, walking, and cycling trails that cater to the abilities of all ages. There’s a very cool heritage discovery trail – a self-guided walking tour around Bar Harbor that you and your family can set out on together and complete at your own pace. Simply follow the signs that say “Museum in the Streets”.
And, of course, the pièce de résistance in the Bar Harbor area is Acadia National Park. This is a DO NOT MISS National Park your entire family will love. Hike or bike the carriage trails, and enjoy lobster rolls and popovers on the lawn of Jordan Pond House before walking the amazing loop around Jordan Pond.
Get up early one morning and head up to the top of Cadillac Mountain, where you’ll have the privilege of seeing the sunrise from the highest peak on the Eastern Seaboard.
Let’s talk affordability: $30 gets your entire family a vehicle pass to Acadia National Park for 7 days! The pass admits private, non-commercial vehicles with a capacity of 15 passengers or fewer and all of its occupants. This includes RVs (as long as there are fewer than 16 people in the rig). Purchase the 30-dollar vehicle pass, and no other pass within the park is needed. Now that’s a deal.
A caveat here: If you’re planning on camping in or near Acadia during peak season (summer!), you’ll need to plan ahead. Check out this site for information on Acadia’s campgrounds. Otherwise, check out our posts on RV trip planner apps, The Dyrt app, the 7 best free camping apps for the avid boondocker, how to save money on campgrounds, and, if you’ve got a big rig RV like we do, how to find big rig RV parks.
NOTE: We’re not going to repeat the links noted in the paragraph above over and over throughout this post, but rest assured that you can use the links in the paragraph above and their associated apps and websites to plan trips and find campsites at ALL of the locations noted throughout the rest of this post.
Let’s head to western upstate New York!
Niagara Falls, New York
Once again our focus remains on something that will thrill all of your family members regardless of age. And we’re pretty sure Niagara Falls qualifies.
Niagara Falls is one of the largest, most powerful waterfalls in the United States. Even your teens will be impressed by the 3,160-ton water flow rushing over the edge of the falls every SECOND.
The waterfall is 176 feet high and you really can’t imagine what a 3,160-ton-per-second water flow is like … unless you’re standing there experiencing it first-hand from either the observation deck or from a tour boat. If you’re looking to save a little cash, we can assure you that experiencing Niagara Falls from the park is sufficiently thrilling – no tour boat is necessary!
To experience Niagara Falls for FREE, walk into Niagara Falls State Park – it’s open 365 days a year. There are lots of highly commercialized attractions available as well if that’s your family’s preference.
There are also many free things to do in the Niagara Falls area. Just remember that if you cross into Niagara Falls, Canada, (which you can actually do on foot!), you’ll need to make sure you have adequate documentation for all crossers. At the time of the writing of this post, that would include current valid passports (or enhanced driver’s licenses from certain states) and proof of Covid-19 vaccination for anyone over the age of 12. Check here before you go as there could be updated information available.
Should you decide to cross into Canada, you may choose to visit Toronto, Montreal, or Quebec City, while you’re there!
For lots of free things to do in Niagara Falls, though, check this website.
And for campgrounds, RV parks, and other places to stay, check here or use the apps and sites noted in the first section of the post.
Winter Park, Colorado
Winter Park, Colorado is another great RV family vacation destination. In summer, this may be one of the more desirable vacation destinations… especially if you’re looking to stay out of areas of extreme heat.
Winter Park offers such family adventures as hiking, wall-climbing, ropes courses, gondola rides, and something the kids will really enjoy, a 3,000-foot alpine slide, Colorado’s longest!
Speed is controlled by the slider, so your easy-going 7-year-old will enjoy this little adventure as much as your speed-demon 16-year-old. (The slide is not an attraction recommended for children under 2, though, and children under 5 need to share a sled with an adult.)
Day passes are a little pricey but give you unlimited all-day access to the Alpine Slide, as well as the gondola, putting course, climbing wall, and 2 ropes courses. So, if you’re a family of adventurers, this one might be for y’all! (Age 13 and up = $59 if you pay in advance and $72 if you just walk up and pay. Ages 5-12 – $54/$67, and ages 4 and under = $11.)
Snow Mountain Ranch is really cool too, (and we really do mean COOL as it offers one of the only summer tubing hills in the entire country). You’ll also find mini-golf, swimming, and indoor/outdoor climbing walls available here, as well as an RV park!
Snow Mountain Ranch, also known as the YMCA of the Rockies, has two locations – one being Estes Park Center and the other, Snow Mountain Ranch. Each location has over 30 different activities for all ages, lodging, and campsites (including RV sites), and on-site dining options. Take a look at each, and see what you think!
For more camping and RVing options in and around Winter Park, click here.
Telluride, Colorado is a historic mining town with much to offer to families: including hiking, biking trails, natural mineral hot springs, and fishing – all while you’re surrounded by some truly majestic scenery.
In summer, Telluride is a hotbed of festivals including the Americana Music Festival, a variety of other music festivals, as well as art festivals, and more.
There’s so much to do around Telluride, that we think it’s best that we simply direct you to the Telluride Summer Activities website, so that you can connect your family’s interests with the vast offerings of Telluride. When you’re planning your visit, don’t forget to check out the area camping and RVing options.
Before we move on, we want to mention that if you find yourself in Telluride, you’ll be a short (1.5-hour) car ride from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (worth a day trip)! And, if you’re willing to include it in your plans, you’ll also be just a few hours from another amazing destination, Arches National Park… a phenomenal place that’s well worth the visit.
Dollywood in the Great Smoky Mountains
Yes, indeed, we said DOLLYWOOD! Whether you’re traveling with children or not, you’re very likely to love Dollywood. Talk about something for everyone! No one is left out of the joy of Dolly Parton’s beautiful family destination in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains.
If your family is into theme parks, you’ll be in paradise here. Dollywood’s theme park has over 50 world-class rides and, at Dolly’s insistence, the park is among the friendliest in the world.
In addition to the theme park, you’ll find a plethora of fabulous dining options, and some truly fantastic entertainment everywhere you turn.
Do your kids love a great water park? Look no further than Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Park where you’ll find more towering slides, lazy rivers, and splash pads than you can even imagine. Lifeguards are everywhere, and the Dolly-driven friendliness is something reviewers regularly gush over.
Dollywood’s theme park and water park are award-winning for a reason. But if those sorts of adventures aren’t your thing, you’ll still enjoy the entertainment, 25+ dining locations, 20+ shopping locations, and craftsmen and women offering some wonderful live demonstrations. And everywhere you go, you’ll be surrounded by the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains.
We noticed that both USA Today and Tripadvisor rank Dollywood as one of the world’s best theme parks, so this family RV vacation destination has some pretty great reviews.
For ideas about some of the best RV parks and campgrounds to stay at near Dollywood, have a look at this page from the Pigeon Forge, Tennesse Chamber of Commerce.
Not far away, and very close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is Gatlinburg, Tennessee, another great vacation destination for families.
Gatlinburg offers 800 miles of hiking trails as well as biking, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting! The Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community is an amazing destination of its own, with handmade goods from local artisans in a setting surrounded by many fabulous dining options.
There are lots of campgrounds and RV parks in the Gatlinburg area. Whether you enjoy camping high in the mountains or close to town, there’s a campsite for you, and you’ll never be far from trails, shopping, dining, and a wide variety of attractions.
To start your research into campgrounds and RV parks in the Gatlinburg area, click here.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
For those who are less inclined to enjoy theme parks, attractions, nightlife, and shopping, and are more inclined to enjoy nature, the Outer Banks of North Carolina may be a truly wonderful vacation destination for you.
In the Outer Banks, you’ll find 100 miles of family-friendly beaches, rolling sand dunes, and some incredible options for water activities in a truly spectacular environment.
The Outer Banks is an area where the breezes always blow, which is why it’s regarded as one of the top destinations for kiteboarding and windsurfing in the entire world. In addition, you’ll find many options for kayaking, diving, surfing, parasailing, fishing, jet-skiing, and cruises with the dolphins.
If you’re looking to surround your family with great natural beauty, in an area where you’re less plugged into commerce and more tuned into nature, the Outer Banks of North Carolina won’t disappoint.
See this link to check out campgrounds and RV parks in the Outer Banks region.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
If you’d like to introduce your family to a lovely, old-fashioned, quaint way of life, Mackinac Island in Michigan is a wonderful summer destination. This National Historic Landmark is a place void of cars and big box stores. People bike all over the island and paddle around its coast on kayaks.
Bike over to buy some world-famous Mackinac Island Fudge or afternoon tea at the historic Grand Hotel, where your kids can visit the stables or swim in the gigantic pool before playing mini-golf or lawn games.
We won’t be able to tell you where to park your RV on Mackinac Island, because RVs and other vehicles aren’t allowed on the island at all! But there are campgrounds near Mackinac Island that may interest you, and you can leave your rig there and jump onto the ferry with your bicycles in tow!
Once on the island, you can dine at a restaurant or take your family on an amazing picnic. You can even take them on a horse-drawn carriage ride!
A word of warning: Once you’re on Mackinac, you may never want to leave. It’s like entering a time capsule of a point in history when things were simpler.
Got a family of kids who’re interested in the Old West and things like rodeos and old-time railroads? Head over to Cheyenne, Wyoming and, as Cheyenne’s slogan says, “Live the Legend”.
The world’s largest rodeo is in Cheyenne, and you’ll also find plenty of attractions to interest the family. More fascinating, though, are the Native American communities offering immersive experiences.
Outdoor activities, concerts, and festivals, lots of breweries and arts options, and great weather to enjoy them in await your family in Cheyenne.
For reference, Cheyenne is just about an hour and a half or so north of Denver, CO.
Our friends Kyle & Olivia Brady published a post on the best RV parks in Cheyenne, WY that you’ll find to be very helpful!
In beautiful western Canada, just north of Montana and east of the Canadian Rockies, lies the province of Alberta, Canada. It’s hard to imagine a more magical vacation destination, particularly in summer. In some parts of Alberta, summer brings 18 hours of daylight and perfect temperatures in the 70s (Fahrenheit… it’ll be in the 20s if you’re looking at a local thermometer in Celsius!). If you and your family enjoy the outdoors, RVing in Alberta is hard to beat.
The Canadian Rockies will astound you. You’ll be awestruck by the expansive natural beauty of Banff and Lake Louise. Banff National Park and the three provincial parks adjacent to it will take your breath away. The same is true of nearby Jasper National Park, the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies.
No matter what outdoor activities your family enjoys, this area offers it in a uniquely mind-blowing way. When you’re surrounded by the natural beauty of Alberta, your hiking, biking, paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, and sightseeing adventures will be heightened in ways we can’t describe. You really have to experience the wonder for yourself.
Speaking of wonder, if you visit this area, be sure to step into the rich indigenous culture and experience the sacred heritage of the 45 First Nations of Alberta.
If you’re looking to spend part of your Alberta visit in the city, simply head to the Edmonton area in northern Alberta where you’ll find festivals like North America’s longest-running Fringe Festival where artists and performers receive 100% of ticket revenue from their performances, and the fabulous Edmonton Folk Music Festival, held in August.
Southern Alberta brings rodeos, parades, motocross, dog shows, and concerts every summer night. Here again, the traditions of the First Nations are evident in culture and art throughout the area.
There are more than 300 private campgrounds and RV parks in addition to those present in provincial and national parks. You can start your research here, and be sure to check out the sites of the national and provincial parks you hope to visit as well.
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
And finally, we present an area that is near and dear to our own hearts – British Columbia, Canada.
A cool and affordable place to visit where adults, teens, and young children can adventure together is Wildplay Element Parks, an aerial adventure park with something for everyone: from zip lines to rope swings to crazy wobbly bridges, hanging nets, Tarzan swings, and even bungee jumping. (When they say “Wildplay”, what they really mean is WILD PLAY.)
The adventure courses (from “classic” to “extreme”) and the zipline tours and thrill jumping might just be the thing your teenager (and your inner teenager!) resonates to!
If you’re not the
crazy adventurous type, you’ll find much enjoyment in the beautiful lakes and beaches of Victoria, the quaint areas with markets & boutiques, dining, whale-watching, and plenty of arts and culture.
Start researching campgrounds and RV parks in Victoria, BC here. But be sure to plan appropriately, as getting to Victoria in your RV will require the use of a ferry out to Vancouver Island. BC Ferries has regularly-scheduled service, with HUGE ferries that can accommodate any size RV, and you can book a spot in advance.
And there you have it! Our thoughts on 11 family RV vacation destinations that AREN’T Disney.
We’d love to know what your favorite family RV destinations have been and why. If you’ve traveled with children, what were their ages, and what did they love about this particular vacation? We, and all of our RVgeeks readers, would love to hear about your favorite family vacation experiences.
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