A rental house
No matter what region of the country you’re visiting, if the main goal of your trip is letting Gram and Papa spend low-key time with your kids, renting a multi-bedroom home is the way to do it. It’s usually cheaper than getting two hotel rooms—and you’ll save on food, says Erin Gifford, founder of Kidventurous.com.
How to plan
Reputable websites for locating rentals abound. Homeaway.com is the largest source of vacation rental listings, Vacationhomerentals.com specializes in places for big groups, Vacationrentals.com features last-minute deals, Kidandcoe.com is geared to families with babies and toddlers, and Flipkey.com automatically shares your listing with Tripadvisor.com.
P&C dream trip
South Carolina is a choice spot for a multi-gen house rental, thanks to the balmy weather, family-friendly beaches, and easily walkable small towns. Try planning a stay on the Isle of Palms, a 20-minute ride from historic Charleston. If you have swimmers, reserve a place near the County Park on 14th Avenue, a beach with lifeguards. Take an eco tour of the nearby islands to learn about local wildlife—birds, crabs, and dolphins. And don’t forget to hit up Island Joe’s Espresso & Ice Cream Shop for hot New Orleans–style beignets!
For a bit more bustle, consider a rental on Hilton Head Island, where you’ll find water parks, mini-golf, zip-lining, a children’s museum, and The Black Dagger, an old pirate ship that sails around Calibogue Sound (Piratesofhiltonhead.com). The adventure starts at the dock, where kids will get dressed up like a buccaneer and then race to get to the booty first.
A train trip
A train ride is cool enough, but when you tell your kid he gets to sleep in a bunk bed and eat in a dining car and do it all with his grandparents, you’re guaranteed to hear squeals for days.
How to Plan
If your kids are under age 7, consider an organized tour that’s broken up by overnights at hotels. Look for escorted rides that specify “family,” include lodging at prescreened hotels, and have experts on board to bring the view out the window to life. Check out Vacationsbyrail.com or Amtrak vacations.com for options.
P&C Dream trip
Two days aboard the California Zephyr (Amtrak.com) will remind all of you how beautiful this country is. During the 2,400-mile trek, which runs daily between Chicago and San Francisco, you’ll pass through the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies. Taking just one leg of the multiday route is a good option, too. You can hop on in San Francisco and head into Truckee, CA, a six-hour trip with stellar cliffside views.
Or ride from Toronto to Vancouver, passing through forests, prairies, and the Canadian Rockies on Canada’s Via Rail (Viarail.ca).
A ranch visit
The combo of fresh air, active days, and Old West atmosphere appeals to preschoolers and baby boomers alike. In addition to Western-style horeseback riding, your family can likely enjoy hiking, fishing, bird-watching, roasting weenies, and taking covered-wagon rides, depending on the property.
But the real beauty of living the ranch life is that kids get to see their grandparents in a new light. (They’ll never forget the sight of Nana shooting clay pigeons.)
Bonus: Many ranches embrace the all-inclusive approach, which means fewer opportunities for “We’ve got the check!” battles.
How to plan
Search for ranches by location and features at Duderanch.org or Ranchweb.com. For the most authentic cowboy experience, look for a family-run ranch off the beaten path, with activities and menus that vary with the seasons. Before you book, check to make sure it’s a child-oriented establishment. If you know your parents won’t want to ride horses, ask whether they offer “non-rider” or senior rates.
P&C dream trip
Located near Yellowstone National Park, Mountain Sky Guest Ranch (Mountainsky.com) in Montana’s Paradise Valley houses 130 steeds along with an experienced crew of horse—and kid—wranglers. Children under 6 can safely enjoy a lead-line horseback ride while the older generation ventures into the national park.
Our other top pick
Spring Creek Ranch in Jackson, WY (Springcreekranch.com). Their main event? A chuck-wagon dinner on the banks of a spring; with the Rockies as the backdrop, kids will love imagining you’re a pioneer family traveling cross-country. Grandparents, meanwhile, will get a thrill out of joining an on-staff naturalist on a wildlife safari—think bald eagle, bear, and wolf sightings—in Grand Teton National Park.