Over the past decade, adventure travel and family travel have both exploded in popularity. While more and more consumers are staying away from the old ‘fly & flop’ vacation for ones that offer real, authentic, local adventure activities, they are also realizing the joys of traveling with their kids, nieces & nephews, and/or grandkids.
Thus, it was only a matter of time before the two categories started to overlap into ‘family adventure travel’ and one example of this confluence is adventure resorts.
Unlike your traditional resort, which is often quite expansive and located on the shore of a large lake or ocean, adventure resorts are more intimate, often (but not always) rustic properties built in a local adventure area, like a rock-climbing area or whitewater river.
My own criteria for ‘real’ adventure resorts would reject any property that has the words ‘casino,’ ‘spa,’ ‘convention,’ or ‘golf’ anywhere near their name. If they do have any of these things, they might certainly offer other adventure activities, but they are not a true adventure resort. And if their total number of rooms can be measured in the 100’s, then they’re also disqualified.
We’ve pulled together some pre-qualified, family-friendly adventure resorts that you and your family can consider either for a nearby escape or a longer-haul getaway. We’ve highlighted several scattered around the Midwest but also offer up other options around the U.S. too.
ACE Adventure Resort
Oak Hill, West Virginia
One of the original adventure resorts, ACE has been in business for some 35 years. Their spacious grounds cover 1500 acres and offer up a tremendous variety of activities for families. To start, kids will be thrilled with the waterpark — a lake in the center of the resort village that is filled with massive inflatable slides, rockers, and climbing apparatus. The list of adventures includes zip lines, climbing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, mud obstacle course, team-building course, fishing, paintball, trail and mountain biking, hiking, caving, disc golf and – this being West Virginia – probably the best white-water rafting on the east coast.
Their kid’s camp is excellent and a great way to give kids exactly what they want out of a day while the adults slip off to do some serious mountain biking or rafting.
Accommodations range from primitive tent camping to teepees to rustic cabins and there is a restaurant and bar on-site.
Adventure North Resort
This resort is a classic ‘Up North’ Minnesota experience. The family-owned property has been in operation for more than 80 years and here, like in much of Minnesota, it’s all about the lake.
While there are a heated pool and various trails, much of the family fun is to be found in the water with inflatable slides and climbing structures, various beach toys, kayaks, hydro-bikes and more. There are boat and pontoon rentals and a covered harbor for a boat of your own.
You can celebrate the seasons at Adventure North Resort by taking in the changing leaves in the fall and there is fishing year-round with heated ice fishing houses for the winter. Favorite festivals include the Leech Lake Walleye Tournament, Fall Has It All, and The International Eelpout Festival. There are seven spacious cabin homes to rent.
Adventures on the Gorge
Lansing, West Virginia
‘The Gorge’ refers to West Virginia’s New River Gorge, carved by one of the oldest rivers on the continent. Perched on the lip of the gorge, with stunning views up and down the canyon, is Adventures on the Gorge (AOTG). While most white-water focused resorts are generally quite rustic, AOTG is anything but with fresh, new, classy facilities and well-appointed cabins to rent.
There is ample access to hiking, biking, rock climbing, paddle boarding, zip lines, and other activities, but really the Gorge is all about white-water. The New River offers a variety of entry-level, family-friendly floats and class 1-4 whitewater, while the fall dam release of the Gauley River is world-renown and absolutely epic (minimum age is 15). For younger kids, there’s an on-site pool and a small splash park as well as three separate playground structures. There’s also on-site dining and entertainment or you can hit the nearby town of Fayetteville for more dining and shopping options.
Buffalo Outdoor Center
This resort along the upper Buffalo National River offers float trips, hiking, and zip lines, as well as some 20 cabins, a lodge that can accommodate up to 36 people, and an RV park.
Younger children can play along the river bank or explore a local swimming hole. Kids 10+ can fly through the forest on the zip lines and there is a selection of family-friendly hiking trails. The Elk Education Center is right across the street and local side trips include trail rides, fishing, the Mystic Caverns, and Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.
While the size and scope (and golf course) of this resort two hours north of Toronto would usually exclude it from a list of true adventure resorts, its remote location and family-focus make it one to consider.
There are a wide variety of activities to enjoy on the lake, from pontoon boat tours to water skiing and flyboarding. There’s a splash zone filled with inflatables to play on, kayaking, and plenty of fishing. Summertime land adventures include canopy treks, nightly campfires, and youth ATV tours while winter offers sleigh rides, snowshoeing, skating, and youth snowmobiling. The adventures don’t stop when the weather turns sour though, as there is an indoor pool, climbing wall, treehouse play space and arcade. It’s truly a kid’s paradise.
The accommodations are myriad with various rooms, suites, and condos to choose from and multiple dining options on property.
Echo Canyon River Expeditions
Cañon City, Colorado
A true luxury experience, your family can enjoy a well-appointed, luxurious cabin that sleeps up to six or a tented ‘glamping’ experience for 2-4 guests. Families can raft Colorado’s Arkansas River via a variety of family-friendly options, including gloat trips for kids ages 4 and up, an adventure that includes a historic train ride with a rafting adventure, or rougher white water for kids 14 and older. On-site dining at the 8 Mile Grill is classy and stylish, yet fun – and there is a kid’s menu too.
Venture Out Resorts
Venture Out is actually a collection of nine resorts in Michigan, located from Arrowhead Lake to Kalamazoo. There are watersports galore, hiking and biking, fishing, basketball courts and volleyball pits, playgrounds, and… golfing (well, putt-putt golf, which is acceptable for an adventure resort). The individual resorts often celebrate a variety of festivals and holidays, and often offer activities such as DJ’s, magicians, animal encounters, bounce houses, crafts and more.
Accommodations run the gamut from cabinets to park models to houses and lodges.
Adventure resorts offer many, if not all, the amenities as a traditional resort but with the added bonus of providing real, challenging, rewarding adventure activities for adults and older kids. They’re generally far removed from major population centers so they not only offer a more remote experience, far away from the throngs but often more affordable pricing too. And, if you’re lucky, there might even be one close to you, close enough to drive there for a long weekend. But whether they’re nearby or further away, they make an excellent option for families looking to really spice up their next adventure.