March 5, 2013 at 9:59 AM ET
If a 12-year-old had a life list, we bet the rainforest of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula would be near the top. With activities that range from tree climbing to rappelling down waterfalls, it’s a paradise full of new adventures—with a hammock at the end of the day.
Some of our finest childhood memories come from the trips that we take with our families. And while Costa Rica is one of the most compelling travel destinations nowadays, many of the other trips we believe every kid should take are quintessentially American, close to home, and affordable.
Take Colonial Williamsburg, VA, which remains a true eye-opener for kids—the kind of hands-on experience bound to keep any iPods or other gadgets pocketed. At the 301-acre living museum of restored 18th-century buildings and costumed reenactors, little ones can learn the art of wigmaking, cheer on a drum parade, and play dress-up with rented Colonial-era costumes.
Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is another rite of passage; shaking Mickey’s hand and taking a photo in front of Cinderella’s Castle could be considered a birthright for American toddlers and tweens alike. We’ve got tips for how to jump the lines and go high tech.
But to really get kids out of their comfort zone, you’ll want to head to the great outdoors, preferably to Utah's Arches National Park and Yellowstone National Park. The latter's 3,472 square miles are a playground of geothermal wonders (gushing geysers, steaming hot springs) and roaming bison, sheep, and moose that can make a nature lover out of the most hardened city kid. Credit also goes to the rangers, who can help spot animal tracks as your kids work their way to a Junior Ranger badge.
Such travel experiences make you bond as a family, and some places end up being so special that you want to return year after year. For the Holleys of Washington, D.C., that place is the Cloister at Sea Island, GA, which has a kids’ club. “We always watch the Fourth of July parade and fireworks,” says eight-year-old Pierce. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Why not jump-start your own travel traditions, whether it’s sailing at family camp in Maine, skiing in Colorado, or racing down waterslides at a Bahamas resort.
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