The Thanksgiving holidays are a time to gather up the family and have a multi-generational vacation. And after nearly two years of keeping socially distant, with vaccines and continued health precautions, you might just be able to make those big reunion plans come true. But where to gather? What are the best Thanksgiving travel destinations for families?
That all depends on the majority of your visitors' current location. Some families may choose to drive to the nearest vacation spot. Others might spring for flights to a resort or large Airbnb. Either way, you’ll want to choose a Thanksgiving travel destination that offers plenty of diversions appealing to every member of the family. Fortunately, the U.S. has lots to offer. Whether you’re looking for a bucolic landscape for family hikes, an amusement park to make memories, or a city with museums, great restaurants, and plenty of sites, these locations have it all. There’s even a Bavarian village you can get to without leaving the country! No joke.
Everyone from Grammy down to your cousin’s newborn baby will enjoy these diverse Thanksgiving travel destinations that will make the holiday fun. But by far the best part will be sharing new experiences in an exciting location together after so much time apart.
Want super fall Thanksgiving destinations for families? Few places feel more cinematically Thanksgiving-ish than Vermont. The Green Mountain state becomes a leaf peeper utopia in the fall, ideal for family drives, hikes, or even kayak trips along Lake Champlain. For a large family gathering, pack your bags for Topnotch Resort. Located at the base of Mt. Mansfield, Topnotch is ideal for families because you can opt for either a variety of room configurations or splurge on one of 30 separate two- and three-bedroom resort homes. This means you’ll have a kitchen to prepare your Thanksgiving feast, but still be able to indulge in Topnotch’s pampering with a visit to it’s on sight spa while you send the kids out to play shuffleboard, take a trail ride or bike excursion. To keep guests safe, the resort has instituted strict cleaning and disinfecting standards for public spaces and communal areas, guest rooms, restaurants and bars, meeting and retail spaces, pools, and any area where guests or team members queue including the lobby, concierge, elevator, spa and retail. Masks are also required in all public spaces.
New England gets all the glory for fall foliage, but further South, Virginia is just as stunning in the autumn. You can take in the colors of the season in the town of Irvington by bringing the family to Tides Inn. A true family resort, the Chesapeake destination gives families a waterfront holiday complete with all kinds of outdoor activities like an Oyster Academy where participants get a front row seat to harvesting bivalves, a sailing school for kids and adults, river ecology classes, and an evening cruise in the harbor. Designed to cater to every age group, no one will be bored with a visit to Tides Inn.
Disneyland / Disney World
It’s the happiest place on Earth, right? So why wouldn’t you gather your favorites at either Disney theme park for Thanksgiving? Home to Mickey Mouse and friends, Disney has taken big steps to make its park COVID-safe, which means you can relax knowing that every precaution is being taken to ensure your safety, whether that means on Space Mountain or standing in line for a snack. Plus, going to Disney means you and your fam can split off into different factions — you and the kiddos to the It’s a Small World ride, your Dad and brother to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance — then meet back for dinner.
New York City
There are hundreds of reasons to make New York City your Thanksgiving destination for your family. But this one might get your kids most excited: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is back and allowing spectators along the parade route once again! In addition, Broadway reopened in September, meaning you and the fam can catch a few shows like Hamilton, Six, and Tina Turner: The Musical while you’re there. And do so knowing safety is first and foremost: All audience members must be vaccinated against Covid-19 and wear masks. In your down moments, visit the great cultural sites like the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which also requires proof of vaccine and a mask) or the Tenement Museum, visit the Statue of Liberty and take in Wall Street before grabbing an obligatory family photo at the top of the Empire State building.
Bend, Oregon, is one of the most picturesque cities in America. Built on the banks of the Deschutes River, it sits below the peaks of the Cascade Mountains and is a huge draw for outdoors types. If that’s your family, you can’t go wrong with visiting Sunriver Resort over Thanksgiving. The festivities kick off with a Grand Illumination Tree Lighting & Fireworks Show. If you’re lucky, there might already be snow on the ground. If not, take a bike ride over 40 miles of paved path or head over the Alpine Village with offers activities like ice skating, mini golf, bumper cars, and a bounce house.
Park City, Utah
Often you can go skiing here as early as Thanksgiving, a boon to ski bums. For families that prefer to slide down hills rather than hike them, this is your place. Send the kids to the bunny hill for instruction while you hit the Black Diamonds. When your legs need a break, you can visit the Park City Museum to learn about the town’s history as a silver mining hot spot, or go shopping and grab lunch on Main Street. For those who love the snow but can’t ski, you can go tubing at Gorgoza Park or join a guided snowmobile or snowshoe tour. That’s what makes this one of many great Thanksgiving destinations for families.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
If your new mantra is “If not now, when?” then there’s no question you need to visit the Grand Canyon over Thanksgiving. Taking the whole family to visit this natural wonder is an opportunity not enough people get, so if you can, it’s worth it to convince your crew to pack the camping gear and head to Arizona. Plus, the holiday will be entirely outdoors, meaning you can keep a safe distance from each other. Due to the pandemic, capacity is limited, but what could be better than that? If you can snag a campsite, you’ll have the place to yourself and can really take in the magic of the scenery from the canyon vistas to the light-pollution-free night sky. That’s something to be thankful for.
For many families, Thanksgiving is about anticipating Christmas. Just think of all those Black Friday Sales. If your family uses Thanksgiving weekend to deck the halls and decorate the house for the holidays, get in the spirit by gathering in Leavenworth, Washington for a trip to Germany! This one-time frontier town that once resembled the streets of Deadwood decided in the 1960s to capitalize on its alpine look and scenic spot on the Icicle River and transform itself in a Bavarian village. The entire town (including the McDonalds) have been designed to look straight out of South-East Germany and just like that country’s popular Christkindlmarkts, Leavenworth goes big for Christmas with live music on the streets, downtown sledding, and a Village of Lights Christmas town that goes live Thanksgiving weekend.
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
When you think Idaho, you might think landlocked interior state, but Coeur d'Alene is a watersport paradise surrounded by 55 lakes. Families can enjoy all kinds of outdoor recreations here from paddling on the lakes to visiting nearby Silverwood Amusement Park. You can rent a big family cabin or pack everyone in at Coeur d’Alene resort which is right on Lake Coeur d’Alene. The 18-tower high rise looks out on the water and from here you can use this as your jumping off point to take a family bike ride, see the holiday light show by boat, or play golf on the world’s only floating, moveable golf green.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, including, perhaps, your family. If you have a boatload of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents to keep entertained in between eating turkey, time to check in to Austin. If you can score tickets, you might want to join thousands of Longhorn fans at Campbell-Williams Field to see them play Kansas State the Friday after Thanksgiving. But keep in mind, masks are only recommended in the football stadium. If you’re not football fans, you can send half your crew to the game while you take the kids to Inner Space Cavern or Laguna Gloria and Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve, a gorgeous garden space to roam and walk.
Cheaper than Chicago but with just as many activities to keep you occupied, it might be worth your while to consider going to Milwaukee for Thanksgiving. You can enjoy Lake Michigan’s western shore while visiting the Harley-Davidson Museum (note: wearing of face coverings is optional), tour the Pabst Mansion (home of the famous beer family), see prehistoric animal skeletons at the Milwaukee Public Museum (masks required) or pet some giraffes at the Milwaukee Zoo. And if you’re feeling fit, you have two ways to join runners before the feast in Milwaukee’s annual Thanksgiving turkey trot, the Drumstick Dash 5K or its Gobble Wobble at the Boerner Botanical Gardens.
In Colorado, ski season kicks off Thanksgiving weekend. For some families, that might be all the encouragement needed to book a mid-November trip to the Rocky Mountain resort town. Get ready for some fresh powder and a lot of ways to enjoy it here. You can take the traditional route and ride the ski life or try helicopter skiing where you’re dropped in to the San Juan Mountains for high elevation rides. A true winter wonderland, Telluride also has horseback sleigh rides, sledging, ice skating, and even dog sledding for visitors to try. How’s that for a holiday you can look back and say, “Hey, remember that time Grandma drove a dog sled?”
Ready to load of the family station wagon for some Thanksgiving fun. Before you book your flights, check these destinations for some great Turkey Day ideas.