1. Saddle up at a dude ranch in Texas
Once a staging area for cattle drives, central Texas towns such as Bandera now welcome families to guest ranches tucked among the mesquite-covered hills. The Silver Spur Guest Ranch provides welcoming accommodations in its lodge and cabins, hearty ranch meals and plenty of horse time, with guided rides available in the adjacent Hill Country State Natural Area.
2. Horseback ride through the Rockies in Colorado
Photo credit: ERGR Guests
At the Elk River Guest Ranch in northern Colorado, rides lead from the broad ranchlands of the Elk River Valley into the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. The ranch offers plenty of other Rocky Mountains recreation, too, including hiking, whitewater rafting, spending a night under the stars and attending the rodeo in nearby Steamboat Springs.
3. Stay at a dairy farm in Vermont
Get a taste of rural life with a stay at Liberty Hill, a working dairy farm in central Vermont. Guests can try their hand at daily chores—such as milking cows and bottle-feeding calves—or simply enjoy the farm’s bucolic charms, from berry picking to cuddling farm kittens. And the family-style meals? Farm fresh, of course.
4. Try a tropical farm stay in Hawaii
Photo credit: North Country Farms
North Country Farms gets you beyond Hawaii’s famous beaches and back to its agricultural roots. On Kauai’s north shore, hand-built cottages hide among tropical gardens and banana trees. Laze in a hammock, pick a pineapple and, yes, borrow a boogie board and head for the nearby beach.
5. Hit the road in an RV in North Dakota
Recreational vehicles let you cruise the country with the comforts of home. Sample the RV lifestyle by renting; visit Go RVing for a directory. It opens the door to exploring areas that offer abundant scenic beauty but limited lodging options—such as North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
6. Go retro with a VW Bus in California
Photo credit: Vintage Surfari Wagons, Diane Grace Staggs
Give your RV vacation a vintage spin by renting a classic Volkswagen camper van. The classic trip? A California surfing safari, of course. Even if you don’t surf, you can’t go wrong with a sojourn along Highway 101 from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz, with state park campgrounds along the way.
7. Houseboat on the Upper Mississippi
You don’t need to be a boating expert to captain a houseboat, where every room comes with a waterfront view. Explore the Upper Mississippi River Valley near La Crosse, Wisconsin, where the river rolls smooth and wide between towering sandstone bluffs. While barges busily ply the main channel, its banks and backwaters are havens for bald eagles and shorebirds. Riverfront communities lure boaters ashore with antique shops and Friday night fish fries.
8. Pilot an Erie Canal boat in New York
Photo credit: Mid-Lakes Navigation
In its 19th-century heyday, the Erie Canal helped usher in America’s Industrial Age, transporting goods from New York City inland to the Great Lakes and beyond. Today, the waterway is all about relaxation: Charter a Lockmaster canal boat and slowly glide through the bucolic landscapes of upstate New York. Stretch your legs on the adjacent biking and walking trail, a towpath originally used by mules to pull the barges along the canal.
Lesson-plan resources: Teach Erie Canal history with these worksheets, lesson plans and more from the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.
9. Bunk Down in a fire lookout in Montana
Nature is your only neighbor when you stay in a national forest ranger station or fire lookout. The accommodations may not be fancy (basic bunks; bring your own bedding), but you get a dry place to sleep and a base camp for outdoor adventures. The Forest Fire Lookout Association lists dozens for rent throughout the West, such as West Fork Butte in the Bitterroot Mountains.
10. Cast away on an island in Florida
Brilliant white beaches and the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico provide all the entertainment you’ll need at Cayo Costa State Park, 5 miles off Florida’s west coast. A dozen cabins are tucked behind the dunes on this roadless, resort-free island, which you can reach by private boat or daily ferry.