Yellowstone National Park

Will your children remember family vacations when they are grownups? Travel experts Pauline Frommer and Beth Harpaz contribute to our list of destinations that will make a big impression on the little ones, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Grand Canyon.

Going to Yellowstone, located mostly in Wyoming, is like going on safari. “I can think of few vacation destinations with as much variety for families,” said Pauline Frommer, Bing Travel contributor and creator of the Pauline Frommer guidebooks. Frommer’s daughter loved Yellowstone’s volcanic landscape, bubbling mud pits and unpredictable geysers. She enjoyed getting stuck in a “traffic jam” of bison, hearing wolves howling in the distance, encountering moose and finding huge animal scat right outside the tent in the morning. “It’s an amazing place to take your kids,” Frommer said.

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef off Queensland, Australia, is so large that it can be seen from space. It’s 1,260 miles long and home to thousands of separate reefs. It also lives large in the imagination. “My older son visited at age 13 on a youth trip,” said Beth Harpaz, Associated Press travel editor. “Four years later, he’s still talking about it, and there is no other snorkeling experience that can compare, according to him. He said it was like swimming in an aquarium.”

The Continental Divide

While the concept of the Continental Divide might be a big yawn to kids, the scenery won’t be. The line that separates watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from the river system that drains into the Atlantic or Arctic oceans is a great place to see gorgeous mountain scenery. Take the kids and check out the peaks of the U.S. and Canadian Rockies, including this scenic overlook in Banff National Park.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state can keep the kids entertained all year long. In winter, the Paradise Visitor Center beckons with copious amounts of snow for sledding, snowshoeing or snowball fights. In summer, kids can easily catch sight of elk, deer, and whistling marmots (a kind of rodent). Some trails are accessible for strollers and small children, including Trail of the Shadows (in the Longmire area), Grove of the Patriarchs (near Ohanapecosh), and Emmons Vista (near Sunrise).

Grand Canyon National Park

This 277-mile-long Arizona canyon simply dazzles both adults and children. “When we were there the spring before last, all my 10-year-old wanted to do was take pictures,” said Pauline Frommer, Bing Travel contributor and creator of the Pauline Frommer guidebooks. “She was simply awestruck by the beauty of the place and wanted to capture it to show her friends.” Frommer’s two daughters loved hiking into the canyon and were proud of their bravery and stamina, climbing downward for an hour and then up for 1.5 hours. “They didn't have a single squabble that entire hike, which for a nearly 3-hour period is unusual for the two of them.”

Wild Horses of Assateague Island

The wild horses of Assateague Island National Seashore, located off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, are descendants of domesticated animals brought to the island more than 300 years ago. “It’s one of the loveliest, most accessible wildlife areas you can take your kids to,” said Beth Harpaz, Associated Press travel editor. “It’s crowded in summer but warm enough to hike and very empty in late winter, spring and fall. The horses are there year-round, so it’s a good winter or spring vacation drive-to trip. The horses are easy to spot, the trails are flat loop trails and easy enough for little kids.”

Samburu National Reserve

The Samburu National Reserve in Kenya is home to all three big cats — lions, cheetahs and leopards. It was one of the two areas in which conservationists George and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the Lioness, made famous in the book and movie “Born Free.” Families can also thrill to sightings of elephants, buffalos, hippos and giraffes.

Pack Creek, Admiralty Island, Alaska

Admiralty Island is home to about 1,600 brown bears, the highest density of these creatures in North America. The Pack Creek Brown Bear Viewing Area allows visitors to view them from a safe distance. If you’re taking a cruise to Alaska, this trip is often available as a shore excursion. You’ll take a floatplane into the wilds for viewings of bears, bald eagles — and possibly humpback whales.

The Redwood Forests

The Redwood national and state parks boast the tallest tree species on Earth, aka Sequoia sempervirens, in addition to Roosevelt elk, bald eagles, and the northern spotted owl. Beth Harpaz, Associated Press travel editor, took her family there recently. “My younger son loved it — trees so tall you can hardly see the tops.” Her whole family held hands and tried to encircle a redwood but still couldn’t get their arms around it.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Gutsy teenagers in particular will enjoy the volcanic action in Hawaii. “That's because the best time to see the lava is at sunset,” said Pauline Frommer, Bing Travel contributor. “After the sun has set, you often have to hike a long way over the uneven volcanic rock to see the light show. That takes some courage.” The fumes and jagged hardened lava, however, may be a little too dangerous for smaller children, she cautions.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Children ages 12 and older who would like to crawl around inside a cave have a rare opportunity to do so at Carlsbad Caverns. They can sign up for the Spider Cave Tour that leaves from the underground lunchroom. Participants hike a half mile down Garden Grove Canyon to get to the cave, where excessive crawling and climbing ensue. Highlights of this tour include the Mace Room, Medusa Room and Cactus Spring, as well as a stunning variety of cave formations and dirty cave crawls.

Dinosaur National Monument

What kid wouldn’t squeal with delight at the prospect of discovering real dinosaur bones? Dinosaur National Monument, about a four-hour drive from Salt Lake City and 5 1/2 hours from Denver, has numerous family-friendly hiking trails that are less than a mile long. Be sure to hit the half-mile Fossil Discovery Trail, reachable via a shuttle from the temporary visitor center. A few large dinosaur fossil bones stick out from the cliff along this trail.

The Galapagos Islands

Animal-loving kids are sure to love the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. It was here that Charles Darwin studied the many species that are unique to the islands and found the inspiration for his theory of evolution by natural selection, which resulted in the famous “Origin of Species.” Families will encounter tame and curious sea lions, marine iguanas, giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies.

Humpback Whales in Hawaii

The waters around the main Hawaiian Islands are one of the world's most important North Pacific humpback whale habitats, and the only place in U.S. coastal waters where humpbacks reproduce. As many as 10,000 humpback whales visit Hawaiian waters every year from about November through May, with the peak season being January to March. Whale-watching tours are available, but these creatures are so big you can sometimes spot them breaching the water as you sit on your hotel balcony.

The Matterhorn, Switzerland

Zermatt is a car-free village at the base of the Matterhorn, so families can feel safe and comfortable strolling around town or mountain biking in quiet splendor. The area has lots of activities for kids, including Fun Forest Park. It has a variety of trails for all ages, including a kids’ trail for ages 4 to 7, which has seven child-friendly zip lines and 31 bridges.

The Amazon Rainforest

Want to teach your children about biodiversity? Consider a visit to the Amazon Rainforest. It encompasses 1.7 billion acres and stretches across Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. The Amazon has the world’s richest diversity of birds, freshwater fish and butterflies, and is home to jaguars, pink dolphins, howler monkeys, southern two-toed sloths, poison dart frogs and scarlet macaws.

Komodo National Park, Indonesia

What child wouldn’t want to see a real-life dragon? Komodo National Park, on the volcanic islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar in Indonesia, offers the opportunity to see the world’s largest species of lizard. The population of around 5,700 Komodo dragons exists nowhere else in the world. Komodo dragons are dangerous indeed and will attack humans, so you’ll need to exercise the utmost caution. You’ll be required to hire a local guide, and you’ll want to stick to that person like glue.

Uluru Rock

The large sandstone formation of Uluru (commonly known as Ayers Rock) rises 1,142 feet from the Australian desert. This iconic monolith is one of the largest in the world, with a circumference of 6 miles.

The Bay of Fundy

Wedged between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada, the Bay of Fundy has one of the highest vertical tidal ranges in the world. The water here can fluctuate 55.8 feet between high and low tides. “Watching the tidal changes here is a stupendous experience for all ages,” said Associated Press travel editor Beth Harpaz. “In not too many other places do you actually get to witness a phenomenon as it happens.”

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, on the border between New York and Ontario, Canada, is the best of both worlds for families. It’s one of the world’s great natural wonders, but more importantly for children, the periphery sports a delightfully tacky, permanent carnival. Kids will eat up the Maid of the Mist tour (what's more fun than getting absolutely drenched in your clothes and not getting in trouble for it?) and all of the hokey "museums" (e.g., Ripley's Believe It or Not) and elaborate mini-golf courses on the Canadian side of the falls.

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