Group tours are also perfect friend-finders, with families being placed together so that kids have instant BFFs (which, let’s be honest, makes things easier for everyone!). So whether you want to climb Machu Picchu, horseback ride in the Wild West, or stay in a 13th century castle in Wales, here are some small group tour companies for families that can make it happen:
National Geographic Expeditions Family Journeys
It’s only fitting that the company that brought nature up close and personal to the world with its stunning photographs and stories would also want to bring people up close and personal to nature…in real life! National Geographic Expeditions’ Family Journeys aim to give multigenerational families “a meaningful way to discover the world together,” with epic itineraries that will give travelers a front-row seat to nature’s (and mankind’s) majesty. All of its trips are inspired by National Geographic’s photography and storytelling as well as its focus on culture, history, wildlife, and geography.
Group size: No more than 20 people.
Destinations include: France, Costa Rica, Peru, Japan, Southeast Asia, Southern Africa, Iceland, Morocco, Alaska, Yellowstone & Grand Teton.
Coolest-Sounding Trips: The Alaska Family Vacation takes families on a catamaran cruise to watch massive ice chunks crash into the sea while scanning for orcas, humpbacks, and other local sea life. This, before walking a winding boardwalk through the northernmost rainforest in North America; pulling a hand-operated tram high above a rushing river; taking a wildlife safari in Denali Park; touring quirky local towns; and snuggling with sled dogs. Another fave is the Peru Family Vacation, which leads intrepid explorers through the bustling local markets of several Peruvian cities to the peaks of the famed Lost City, where you’ll arrive at sunrise to admire the views and end the day with a train ride back to the town of Cusco (which, your kids will learn, was once lined with Inca gold!). The trip also includes a motorized canoe ride through the jungle and three days In the Amazon rainforest, where you can all be on the lookout for toucans, monkeys, and anacondas while learning from experts about the medicinal uses for local plants.
Cost: Prices range from about $1,800 per person to $5,300 per person, depending on the trip and date.
What’s included: Accommodations, arrival transfer, transportation for scheduled activities, breakfast daily, some lunches and dinners, snacks, water, and scheduled activities, as well as the services of two CEOs (Chief Experience Officers).
More information: Nationalgeographic.com/expeditions
Backroads Luxury Hiking Trips
Hiking with kids can be a gamble. The question is always: Will they get tired after 20 minutes and demand to be carried, sherpa-style, the rest of the way? Backroads, a luxury adventure tour company, wants to make sure all goes well with your active travel goals—even with the littles in tow. Their family journeys specialize in trips that center on hiking, biking, kayaking, and sailing—with adventures designed to be suitable for the smaller set but thrilling for all. You’ll be joined by other families as well as three experienced trip leaders who will keep everyone motivated and learning as they explore Backroads’ various destinations around the globe.
Group Size: Up to 26 people (with an average of 18)
Destinations include: Costa Rica, Czech Republic & Austria, Dolomites (Italy), Galápagos, Germany to Austria, Ireland, Thailand, the Great Smoky Mountains, Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, North America, and Hawaii.
Coolest-Sounding trips: The Dolomites Multi-Adventure Tour takes families on a bike ride between majestic mountain peaks and through the countryside on the twisting-turning trails of old railroad lines before ascending the hills to make like a Von Trapp and hike the mountaintops. Travelers will take a scenic chairlift ride to see the Dolomites’ famous stone pinnacles—as well as explore historic World War I trenches and dine at a traditional hiker’s hut along the way. Kids will get a rock-climbing lesson from an expert mountaineer; grown-ups will enjoy an Italian wine tasting.
Want to stay closer to home? Another popular trip is the Yellowstone & Tetons Montana’s Big Sky Multi-Adventure Tour. This adventure, which is suitable for kids 6 and up, will take you and your fam on a multi-state trip across the canyons, rivers, and gorges of the Wild West by way of raft, bikes, horse, and hike. You’ll see a menagerie of local wildlife (it’s where the buffalo roam!) as you make your way past the Tetons, up into the hills, and past erupting geysers including Old Faithful himself.
Note: There are always sag wagons driving alongside during bike rides in case anyone gets too tired to bike. Also, families can decide ahead of time what route they want to take to make sure their biking or hiking itinerary isn’t too tough for little legs.
Cost: Trips start at about $3,000 a person.
What’s included: Three trip leaders, including a dedicated “Kids Adventure Leader” who orchestrates children’s activities (including an hour or two per day of kids-only fun!); van shuttles to support a variety of route options; private guided tours; gratuities at hotels and restaurants; snacks, drinks, breakfasts, four lunches and four dinners (one lunch and one dinner are on your own); comprehensive travel planner with detailed pre-trip information. For biking and multi-adventure trips, all equipment is provided (including a Backroads titanium bike plus helmet and accessories—as well as trailercycles, carriers, and kid-sized helmets for kids).
Ages: 4+ (kids have to be 9+ to ride their own bike, and some activities, such as zip-lining, horseback riding, rafting, and rock climbing have age restrictions).
More information: Backroads.com
Adventures By Disney
Ah, Disney. You just know how to do things right. The company’s expertly-curated adventures offer a first-class traveling experience like no other. From being treated to a private showing of the Royal Crown Jewels to spending the night in a 16th-century castle, Disney gives families adventures that go beyond the thrills of its theme parks—with the same attention to detail that the brand is known for. You’ll also get dedicated guides trained by Disney to be kid-approved. That means that while one of your guides is telling you about a destination, another is finding a super-fun way to make it cool for your kids. As for the excursions, expect immersive, authentic experiences that entrench you into faraway cultures, with local experts called upon to help groups engage with the people and traditions of each destination.
Group size: 35-40 people
Destinations include: Egypt, South Africa, England & France, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, Argentina, Spain, Danube River (stops in four countries), Iceland, Italy, Norway, Antarctica & Patagonia, and various areas of the U.S. and Canada.
Coolest-Sounding trips: Want a whirlwind tour of four countries? Disney’s Danube River Cruise offers an eight-day float down the Danube River aboard a luxury river cruise ship—with eight stops in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany. Explore castles, hike mountains, bike along the Danube River, and learn to waltz in the ballroom of a Slovakian palace. Highlights include a boat ride across the underground lake of a 7,000-year-old salt mine; and a walk across the Tree Path Kopving, where you’ll get to traipse above the trees and get a panoramic view of the Austrian Alps via a network of connected wooden bridges.
Devoted Disney fans might want to book the Disneyland Resort & Southern California trip, where they’ll get a VIP behind-the-scenes tour of California Adventure and Disneyland (including getting front-of-the-line passes and VIP seating for all parades and shows). The trip also includes VIP tours of Disney Studios, Disney Imagineering, and the Jim Henson Company Lot in Hollywood—as well as a walking tour of Hollywood and lunch at the century-old Tam O’Shanter, Walt’s favorite Hollywood restaurant.
Cost: Trips start at about $4,000 per person.
What’s included: All accommodations, transportation (excluding airfare) and transfers; admission fees to museums and attractions; most meals, snacks, drinks, and tips; two adventure guides plus local experts; activities (including zip-lining, rock climbing, art lessons, etc.).
Ages: 5+ (though the recommended age varies by destination)
More information: Adventuresbydisney.com
Related: Disney’s ‘Private Jet Adventure’ Takes Superfans to 31 Sites in 24 Days
Thomson Family Adventures
This family-focused travel company became the first of its kind when it opened in 1998, with its mission being to create travel experiences that could thrill the kids as much as their parents and grandparents. Its unique “Friends Across Borders” program aims to broaden perspectives by connecting travelers with local families, scheduling meetups so kids of different backgrounds can play soccer, share a meal, or just hang out (kids can also become pen pals before even meeting in person!). Groups of 8 or more will also get a “Rafiki” (it’s the Swahili word for friend), whose main job Is to engage the kids to socialize with each other, learn the local language, and learn about the local plants and wildlife.
Group size: About 6-10 people.
Destinations include: Italy, the Azores, Morocco, Tanzania, Baja, Costa Rica, Ecuador/Galapagos, Peru, Japan, Thailand, Canada, Hawaii, and Yellowstone.
Coolest-Sounding trips: Active families will love the Galapagos Multisport Adventure, which will take you and your family snorkeling around the mangroves of Santa Cruz Island, trying surf lessons in island water swells, kayaking Academy Bay, hiking the Sierra Negra Volcano, planting a tree in the Santa Cruz Highlands, and learning about the local plants and animals of the Galapagos (including spotting the lumbering and adorable giant tortoises!).
Want a more urban escape? The Japan Family Vacation offers a jam-packed whirlwind through Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and the KII Peninsula, where families will experience an astounding array of Japanese history and culture. Highlights include touring the trendy city of Harajuku (and singing in a traditional “karaoke box”); taking a bullet train to Osaka; riding bikes through the rural town of Asuka; learning taiko drumming from a world-famous drumming troupe; walking the Kumano Ancient Trail; taking a jet boat ride through emerald waters; touring the 17th-century Nijo Castle; and meeting local students for games.
Cost: Trips start at $3,790 per person.
What’s included: A pre-departure specialist who can answer questions before the trip; a private guide during the trip (plus a “Rafiki” for groups of 8 or more); hotel accommodations, including tax and service charges; private transfers; ground transportation; local flights; most meals (varies by itinerary), snacks and water; all activities; entrance fees to parks or museums.
Ages: 8+ (varies by trip)
More information: Familyadventures.com
Intrepid Travel prides itself in what its North American Director Matt Berna calls “a way for families to use the power of tourism as a force for good.” That means that while families are zip-lining over rainforests, catching an overnight train in Egypt, or traveling via tuk-tuk through the streets of Bangkok—they’re also learning how they can help make the world a better place.
Destinations include: Gambia, Ghana Namibia, Zanzibar, Armenia, Pakistan, China, Belize, Honduras, Panama, Egypt, Turkey, North America, Antarctica, Greenland, Brazil, Argentina, the U.S., and across Europe.
Coolest-Sounding trips: The Borneo Family Holiday takes families to Batu Puteh, a small village on the banks of the Kinabatangan River., where the hosts for the night are the local community-run conservation organization KOPEL (whose aim is to provide villagers with the means of making a sustainable living from the forest). You’ll stay in stilt houses made of upcycled wood. deep in the jungle—with no electricity or generator so as not to disturb the wildlife. Families also get to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, which works to re-introduce domesticated or orphaned orangutans back into the wild.
Another popular tour is the Morocco Family Holiday. Families will get to visit a traditional mountain village in the High Atlas Mountain of Aroumd, where they’ll learn a little of the Berber language, gain insight into a traditional Berber family and help cook bread in the traditional way on an open wood fire. They’ll also get to explore colorful marketplaces of Marrakech (they have real, live snake charmers!), and ride atop a camel along the beach.
Cost: Trips start at $715 per person.
What’s included: Accommodations, private guides, transportation/transfers, gratuities, most meals & drinks, activities, museum/attraction fees.
Ages: 5+, with a minimum of 10+ for some more physically-demanding trips.
More information: Intrepidtravel.com
Sierra Club Outings offers what it calls “environmentally-friendly adventure travel,” with its mission being to bring families up close and personal with the beauty of nature so that they can then go off into the world and protect it. The outings are led by Sierra Club volunteers and take groups on active trips that include rafting, hiking, canoeing, and volunteering—as well as service trips that’ll have you helping rebuild villages, restoring native plant habitats, and picking up trash at wildlife refuges. Accommodations range from shared lodges to basic camping tents and mountain huts.
Group size: 10 to 12 people.
Destinations include: Botswana, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Antarctica, New Zealand, Vietnam, Australia, India, Canada, Israel, Europe, The Caribbean, U.S. (many National Parks), Panama, and many more.
Coolest-Sounding trips: The Sun, Service & Whales trip to Maui gives travelers a taste of island life while also giving back. The work aspect of the trip includes weeding, planting, and clearing invasive species as well as picking up trash or doing other projects. On the non-service day, volunteers get a chance to go out on a Zodiac to observe the migrating humpback whales—who come to the islands between November and April to breed and give birth—and snorkel and swim in a protected cove. Swimming and snorkeling is also possible after the work portion of the day on other days as well. Note: The condo you’ll stay in is shared with other travelers—mainly adults—so this trip is recommended for older kids (12+).
Ski families will want to try the Gliding Through Glacier National Park trip, which takes adventurers on a cross-country and downhill ski journey through the mountains of Montana, where they’ll view local wildlife with expert guides and stay in luxurious lodge accommodations (this is one of the few Sierra Club outings that doesn’t have shared accommodations!). The trip requires a minimum skiing ability of advanced beginner to intermediate.
Cost: Trips start at about $595 per person.
What’s included: Accommodations (which are often shared with other travelers); airport transfers; meals and snacks; activities.
Ages: Varies by trip, but we recommend 12+ due to the physical difficulty of many of the active adventures. Many of the trips are adult-only, but teens are welcome, and family trips are offered periodically. Check the website for details.
More information: Sierraclub.org
A century-old travel company, Tauck launched its Bridges family venture in 2004 to cater to globe-trotting grown-ups who didn’t want to slow down just because they had a few kids in tow. The company now offers family trips designed to build deeper connections to local cultures while keeping multi-generations of travelers entertained. Whether via snorkeling, zip-lining, hot air ballooning, horseback riding, or river cruising, expeditions aim to give travelers a unique look at the world through immersive hands-on activities. Families are grouped together and accompanied by two guides (three plus a host family on river cruises) who stay with the group throughout the trip.
Group size: Up to 40 for land adventures; up to 130 on river cruises.
Destinations include: Tauck operates in 65 countries, including Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, India, Nepal, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, Jordan, Peru, Costa Rica, and throughout the U.S. and Europe.
Coolest-Sounding trip: The Italia Bella tour gives families everything they’d want in an Italy vacation—Rome! Pisa! Venice! Florence!—with exclusive experiences Tauck has developed over its many years of traveling the region. Families will get an after-hours tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel; experience dinner board a pirate ship on the Venice waterways; learn to make gelato at a 17th-century cooking school in Rome; and spend two nights on a private island in the Venetian Lagoon at San Clemente Palace Kempinski Venice, winner of Condé Nast Traveler’s 2018 “Top Hotels in Italy/Venice.”
The Castles & Kings tour of London and Paris is also a bucket lister, with wow factors including an after-hours tour of the Louvre; a visit to the Palace of Versailles; a speedboat ride down the River Thames, a private double-decker bus tour of London, an interactive London “Spy Walk,” a peek into the Windsor Castle, a private capsule aboard the towering London Eye, tickets to a hit show in London’s West End theater district. The tour also includes travel aboard the Eurostar train from London to Paris.
Cost: Trips start at about $3,000 per person.
What’s included: Private guides, accommodations, transportation/transfers, gratuities, most meals & drinks, activities, and museum/attraction fees.
Ages: 3+ (with some exceptions—the minimum age for river cruises is 4; safaris is 5+; Galápagos cruises, 6+).
More information: Tauck.com
If you’re an outdoorsy family looking for a smaller group experience, this may be your best bet. Austin Adventures aims to keep its groups at a 6:1 guest-to-guide ratio, with guides trained to keep kids (and their parents) entertained throughout the journey. You’ll be paired with one or two other families and taken to the Great Outdoors on trips that include horseback riding, glacier trekking, kayaking, trail biking, and hiking—while visiting destinations around the world. Personalized touches abound: You’ll even get a call before you leave to ask about your kids’ favorite foods, so you can rest assured your tiny explorers will be sufficiently fueled for the journey.
Destinations include: North America, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Austria, France, Iceland, Botswana, South Africa, and New Zealand.
Group size: Average of 12 people
Coolest-Sounding trips: The popular Yellowstone and Grand Teton Family Adventure gives families everything they’d want in a trip to these two treasured national parks. You’ll pedal winding bike paths, raft Wyoming’s finest whitewater rapids, kayak between mountain ranges and hike to high overlooks of Yellowstone’s own Grand Canyon—while by night you’ll stay in luxurious lodges where the views of the sky are unparalleled.
Want to try something more exotic? The Croatia Family Vacation takes families to the often-overlooked “Pearl of the Mediterranean,” where they’ll get to bike through picturesque villages, hike mountainous coastlines, sea kayak the peaceful emerald-colored waters, and take a private boat ride to an island vineyard.
Cost: Trips start at about $3,800 per person.
What’s included: Accommodations; all meals, snacks, and receptions (except one dinner on own your own); two guides and knowledgeable local partners; equipment for active travel (bikes, helmets, etc.); Vehicle support and land transportation during the trip; Austin Adventures T-shirt, water bottle, luggage tags, and luggage service; pre-departure and packing information; taxes, dining and housekeeping gratuities, local partner and expert gratuities, and national park entrance and permit fees.
Ages: 6+ for most trips.
More information: Austinadventures.com
OARS Family Rafting Trips
If you’ve been wondering when your little adventurer is old enough to try white water rafting, the answer is: Probably younger than you think! OARS has been offering rafting and kayaking adventures for families for more than 50 years, with paddlers as young as 4 enjoying the ride. You’ll be joined by experienced guides (with a 1:4 guest-to-guide ratio!) and matched with other families for multi-day adventures that include rafting or kayaking by day and hiking, cookouts, and camping by the riverside in the afternoons and evenings. Want just a taste of adventure? There are one-day trips as well!
Destinations include: Rivers in the U.S. and Canada as well as waterways of Croatia, Cuba, Fiji, Galapagos, Botswana, Costa Rica, and Peru.
Coolest-Sounding trip: The Lower Klamath River trip is the perfect intro to river rafting that’s great for kids as young as 4. With gently bubbling waters through scenic canyons and warm waters just right for swimming, it’s enough of a thrill for the littles without making any parents nervous about the whitewater. When they’re not in the water, families will spend their time on gentle hikes, picking blackberries, or enjoying meals and campouts by the river.
If your kids are a little older and you want a little more adrenaline flowing, the Lower Salmon River 4 or 5-day expedition snakes its way through gorgeous Idaho river gorges via Class III rapids that are thrilling while still being safe for kids 7+, according to OARS. Families will camp out on sprawling sandy beaches with stargazing galore (they’re some of the darkest skies in the nation!). In the calmer parts of the river, kids can choose from a whole fleet of boats, including paddle rafts, dories, inflatable kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards.
Cost: Trips range from $120 per person for 1-day trips to $7,000 per person for a 13-day trip.
What’s included: All rafting/kayaking equipment (including life jackets); All meals, desserts, and drinks; guides (including, for family trips, a designated ”Fun Director” who helps keep the kids entertained); a “Fun bag” stocked with games and toys for all ages; accommodations (including all camping equipment); sleep kits for camping.
Ages: 4+ (varies by trip, based on difficulty/risk)
More information: oars.com
Related: Shooting the Rapids: Your OARS Whitewater Family Adventure
Trafalgar prides itself on making a positive impact on the communities it visits. As a founding partner of the TreadRight Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to helping underprivileged communities and supporting sustainable tourism, it has donated more than $2 million to the cause since 2008. Its tours take families almost everywhere you’d want to travel, with destinations on all continents of the planet except Antarctica—with unforgettable touches the kids will appreciate. From becoming a Roman gladiator in Italy to ziplining down the side of a volcano in Costa Rica, there are adventures for all ages to be had.
Destinations include: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Hungary, Italy, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Botswana, Namibia, Egypt, Kenya, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Coolest-sounding trips: On the 8-day, Monkeys, Jungles and Volcanoes trip, families can embark on the ultimate jungle adventure The journey takes guests through the beaches and rainforests of Costa Rica, where they’ll zipline through a cloud forest, float through canals and hike a volcano. Kids will learn about wildlife as they seek to spot sloths, monkeys, crocodiles, and more. They’ll travel to the district of Horquetas, where they’ll have the opportunity to connect with a local family before traveling to Sarapiquí, where they’ll visit a wildlife rehabilitation center. Later, guests will hike up the Arenal Volcano and then relax in the thermal springs.
Want to go back in time for a week? The Pioneer Adventures of the Old West is an 8-day adventure through Arizona and Utah’s Canyon Country that will transport families back to the Wild West. You’ll explore the majestic sights of the deserts, lakes, and canyons—including trekking through the Sonoran Desert, traveling by train to the Grand Canyon (where you’ll wake up the next day to see the sunrise!), horseback riding Zion National Park, hiking Bryce Canyon, and taking a boat ride on Lake Powell before flying out of Las Vegas (where you can choose to extend your stay!).
Group size: Average of 30 people.
Cost: Trips start at about $2,000 per person.
What’s included: A private travel director and driver; all accommodations; sightseeing activities; porterage and restaurant gratuities as well as hotel tips, charges, and taxes; breakfast daily and up to half of evening meals; audio headsets for flexible sightseeing; all transport and transfers; a luxury, air-conditioned coach with Wi-Fi (in most countries) or alternative transportation (including rail journeys).
More information: trafalgar.com