10 Southern Trips To Take Before The Kids Grow Up

Time flies: Plan these vacations now.

Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

Everyone talks about how quickly kids grow up, and it’s true, but there's nothing like carving out time to make lasting memories with the children or grandchildren before they head off into the adult world. Whether it’s a weeklong vacation, road trip, or weekend getaway, the options of spectacular ways to spend quality time as a family are endless. This list of Southern family favorites has something for everyone and will get you ready to hit the road.

01 of 10

Blue Ridge Parkway & Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina/Tennessee

Linn Cove Viaduct, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
Peter Frank Edwards

The Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains are the two most visited national parks in the United States, and that’s no surprise. Scenic drives, views, and adventures in this welcoming region abound. Stop at some of the area's well-known lookouts, like Clingman’s Dome, or float along the Nantahala River for commanding Appalachian mountain views. Keep an eye out for black bears and elk too. On the North Carolina side, stop in Cherokee to see the outdoor drama Unto These Hills. In Tennessee, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have endless family-friendly attractions, including local legend Dolly Parton’s, Dollywood, which will open its new Big Bear roller coaster in 2023. 

02 of 10

Washington, D.C.

Tidal Basin Washington DC Cherry Blossoms

Getty Images

Dozens of free museums in the city offer lots of opportunities to experience American history and culture without breaking the bank. Admittance to all 17 Smithsonian museums and one zoo in Washington, D.C., are free of charge, but a few, including the Air and Space Museum, require a reservation. Checkout the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, plus honor our veterans at the World War II and Vietnam Memorials. For a behind the scenes tour of the U.S. Capitol, be sure to book tickets in advance or contact your Senator or Representative’s office (subject to availability). While some experiences are great for younger children, like seeing the pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo, this trip is probably best appreciated by older kids and teens. 

03 of 10

Kennedy Space Center, Merritt City, Florida

Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

Whether your child dreams of being an astronaut or not, Kennedy Space Center is out of this world. Located just off highway A1A, the space center is a perfect day trip before or after a cruise or along with a theme park vacation. If you are closer to Texas, Space Center Houston is another great space option. In Alabama, Huntsville’s U.S. Space & Rocket Center also offers camps for children and families.

04 of 10

Discovery Cove, Orlando, Florida

Discovery Cove

Discovery Cove

If your child dreams of swimming with dolphins, Discovery Cove is the perfect place to make that dream a reality. Close to SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove is a calmer, all-inclusive tropical oasis to relax away from fast-paced theme park crowds. Unwind on the lazy river, snorkel in the tropical lagoon, and explore the aviary while learning about marine wildlife in their habitats.

05 of 10

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Sunrise at Bodie Island Lighthouse-NCOuter Banks

National Park Service / K. Moses

It’s not surprising that the Wright Brothers took their first flight at Kitty Hawk. With enormous sand dunes, like Jockey’s Ridge, kids and adults will have a ball playing in the sand, enjoying the views, or trying to fly a kite. Follow the trail of lighthouses from Corolla, Cape Lookout, and the iconic Cape Hatteras; ride the ferry to see wild horses and play like a pirate in Ocracoke, home of Blackbeard; or see the long-running outdoor drama, The Lost Colony, best suited for older kids.

06 of 10

Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida

Harry Potte World

Universal Studios Hollywood

Known for thrill rides like the VelociCoaster and The Incredible Hulk, Universal is a favorite of older kids and thrill-seekers. But you don’t have to be a dare-devil to have a great time, especially if you have Harry Potter fans in your family. Ride the Hogwarts Express between Universal Orlando and Islands Adventure to take in Harry Potter attractions at both parks. Select your own magical wand at Olivander’s, sample some butterbeer, and vanish through the wall at Platform 9 ¾ . Jurassic World fans will also be thrilled to meet dinosaurs Blue the Raptor and Baby Tango, and ride the Jurassic River Adventure.

07 of 10

Winterplace Ski Resort, West Virginia



What kid doesn’t like snow? Even if you don’t enjoy cold weather, it’s hard not to have a good time at Winterplace. Plus, you have to be able to ski to hit the slopes. Snow tubing and snowboarding are increasingly popular, and relaxing at the lodge is never a bad thing. For less-experienced skiers, lessons are available. Cabins at Winterplace sleep up to 15 and include breakfast at Mountain Mama Cafe. Don’t have any skiing gear? Winterplace offers ski, snowboard, and helmet rentals.

08 of 10

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio River Walk Boat Cruise
Wynn Myers

No visitor can leave San Antonio without a visit to the Alamo, but the city has many more surprises for families in store. Theme parks like SeaWorld San Antonio and Aquatica help visitors beat the Texas heat, and Legoland Discovery Center encourages kids to design their own creations. But it's the RiverWalk, with its lively festivals, parades, authentic dining, shopping, and San Antonio cultural displays that draw people back.

09 of 10

Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge, Concord, NC


With 18 locations around the country, there is likely a Great Wolf Lodge within driving distance, wherever you live. Southern locations, like Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas, and Williamsburg, offer a one-stop-shop for family fun. There's plenty for children of ages, from the Slap Tail Pond  and Fort Mackenzie for smaller kids to thrill rides like River Canyon Run and the Howlin’ Tornado for those looking for bigger drops and thrills. What many people don’t realize is that there are lots of other activities outside of the waterpark, like Magiquest, character greetings, bowling, gem mining, and an arcade that can keep kids busy for days.

10 of 10

Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom


Every kid dreams of hearing the words, “We’re going to Disney World!,” and with good reason. Disney has something for the smallest Mouseketeers, like Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland teacups and Peter Pan’s Flight attractions, to Space Mountain and Expedition Everest for teens. Even if you’ve been before, Disney World is worth revisiting with kids at different stages of childhood. This year, teenagers and thrill-seekers are anticipating the opening of TRON Lightcycle and princess fans are waiting expectantly to see the new Journey of Water Moana attraction at Epcot.

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