You’ve watched videos of skiers ripping down a Rocky mountain, their GoPros shaking with each twist and turn, or of rafters crashing through Class V rapids, their “Woo-hoos!” echoing off the Grand Canyon walls. That’s just a hint of the bigtime fun that awaits you in the great American West, the ultimate playground for adventurers of all ages.
So wax your skis and pack up the kids—these top destinations are easy to get to and hard to forget.
Glacier National Park, Montana
You may need two pairs of hiking boots to cover the 734 miles of trails and see the six National Historic Landmarks in Glacier National Park. Although the park is known for its well-maintained hiking and biking trails, there’s ample opportunity to explore the park by car or bus—a wonderful choice for families with any mobility issues. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is an engineering marvel that spans 50 miles through the park’s wild interior, winding around mountainsides to take you face-to-face with the very best the great outdoors has to offer. Check out—or more precisely, check in to—one of the many family-friendly lodges and dude ranches that dot the area, including the third-generation, family-run Flathead Lake Lodge and the luxurious Resort at Paws Up, which offers daily programming for kids along with horseback riding and a spa.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
It used to be dubbed “The Big One” for its extensive backcountry access, but to the chagrin of some locals, Jackson Hole is now “All New, All Blue”—a reference to the color of the intermediate ski trails. Whatever “they” call it, you’re going call it “OMG amazing” at first sight. Nestled in Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole has just about every activity a family could ask for, from ski camps and sleigh rides to whitewater rafting and fly-fishing. This is the ideal place to try something bold and new: race down the largest series of bike and Nordic ski trails in the Lower 48; paraglide over the rocky spine of the Tetons; hoot and holler during a real life rodeo; tour the sweet-smelling distillery of Wyoming Whiskey, a local brand not yet available east of the Mississippi; or indulge at one of the five restaurants that make up the award-winning Fine Dining Restaurant Group created by chefs Gavin Fine and Roger Freedman.
Aspen has a ritzy reputation—just ask one of the many billionaires who live there, if their personal assistants let you get close enough to ask—but there’s still reasonably priced pleasures and perks for all ages. At Aspen Snowmass, kids six and under ski for free, while private and group lessons are available for all skill levels. For those who want to go totally tubular, Elk Camp has four snow-tubing runs designed and dedicated for ages 4-14. And for veteran skiers like yourself (don’t be modest…we all know how awesome you are on the slopes), you can push yourself to the limit at the Highland Bowl—it’s a 45-minute hike to the 12,392-foot summit, but your reward will be 160 acres of Colorado pure backcountry powder. Let your legs recover while your mind soaks up the Shigeru Ban-redesigned Aspen Art Museum, where admission is always free, before the whole crew takes a sleigh ride over to the Elk Mountains to fuel up on western classics at Pine Creek Cookhouse.
Trade the frostbite for some sun and sizzle in Scottsdale, where you can work as a cowboy and sleep under the stars at the no-frills Arizona Cowboy College—don’t worry, younger buckaroos are allowed to attend this college. This is also the perfect place to introduce the family to golfing at TPC Scottsdale, a PGA Tour facility with a stunning backdrop of the McDowell Mountains and a Family Tees program, which makes the championship course shorter and more playable. Keep your hands to yourself at the Desert Botanical Gardens, where you’ll discover over 50,000 types of cacti scattered along five desert trails. And if you can’t stand the heat, make your way to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in historic Old Town to cool off with some modern art.