Best travel experiences of 2015: Our top family trips

In the travel industry, there are a lot of articles and advertising messages that tell parents to hurry up and see it all. Go before they grow up. See it before they’re out of school. You only have X number of years left. While I appreciate the effort to get families out their front door, I urge parents to remember that primarily, travel is about time together, sharing experiences and new places, wherever that may be.

best travel experiences of 2015

Fun contests like the #LuvRitzSweepstakes get this, and help parents take the pressure off travel and add the fun. After checking out our favorite destinations for 2015, let us know where you’d like to go, for a chance to win $5000 in Southwest gift cards. (More info below!)

In the meantime, here are our top travel experiences for 2015! We logged over 70 travel days in 2015. We visited many good destinations, a few just ok ones, a couple of duds, and a handful of absolutely amazing ones. Picking just five for our top travel picks proved hard, as usual!

Three Bars Ranch, Cranbrook BC:


Snagging the top spot is an all-inclusive dude ranch tucked into the Canadian Rockies. Three Bars Ranch eclipsed even our already high standards when it came to dude ranch vacations (Wyoming’s Triangle X Ranch made our top five in 2014). What made it so special: somehow, the team at Three Bars have managed to find that perfect balance of relaxation and adventure, all wrapped up in a friendly atmosphere. It’s 1/3 summer camp, 1/3 cruise, and 1/3 mountain lodge. A week at Three Bars actually leaves you feeling refreshed, instead of needing ‘a vacation from your vacation’.

Black Hills, South Dakota:


Readers of Pit Stops for Kids know we like our vacations rugged, usually with some mountain air thrown in. I didn’t expect to enjoy South Dakota as much as I did. What made it special: beyond Mt. Rushmore, much more history awaits, ready to be peeled like layers on the proverbial onion. Badlands National Park doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves (think of it as a less crowded Canyonlands), and Custer State Park sports over 1000 buffalo, making us wonder why more families don’t opt to come here in lieu of Yellowstone.

Hanalei, Kauai:


I haven’t met a Hawaiian island I didn’t like, but I fell in love with Kauai. With a less touristy and more artsy feel than any other tropical island I’ve experienced, Kauai also offers some of the best hiking I’ve seen. We recommend basing a stay in the small town of Hanalei (or in a home rental in nearby Princeville), and spending the majority of your vacation on the wilder, rainier North Shore. Hit an authentic farmer’s market, swim, and try surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, or tubing. Check out all our Kauai coverage.

Palm Beach, Florida:


Families on the East Coast wanting sun, sand, and Caribbean waters can find all of the above within an easy flight or drive into West Palm Beaches. (There is something to be said for accessibility!) I liked the way city and ocean meet in West Palm Beach, making it easy to spend a full day in the surf followed by a night out with kids in one of the many open-air restaurants. Plus, there are excellent harbor waters in the area, perfect for kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. This part of Florida has interesting history, too: we liked checking out the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse. Hands down, stay in a Marriott Vacation Club property like Oceana Palms for the convenience of in-room kitchens.

San Juan Islands, WA:


If you want one location that combines family-friendly activities, outdoor exploration, fine dining, and quaint town life, and you’re on the wrong coast for a visit to Nantucket, head to San Juan Islands, WA. What we love: the natural beauty of the islands, the ferry-entrance, the many state park beaches and coves, the cute towns, and the excellent lodging options. To up your adventure a few notches, book a 2-3 day kayak trip with Crystal Seas.

Honorable mention: Idaho Panhandle


We have to give this awesome region of Idaho a shout-out, because it never fails to surprise us…in great ways! In summer, families can base themselves in either the mountain lake towns of Coeur d’ Alene or Sandpoint, or tuck themselves into the mountains at Kellogg or Wallace. This entire area is rich in mining history and abundant with outdoor opportunities: bike on the newly constructed Hiawatha trail, kayak or swim, or fish. In winter, the skiing is excellent (and affordable) at Silver Mountain and Lookout Pass.

Where would YOU like to go?

Ritz and Southwest Airlines want to know where you want to go and how you enjoy Ritz Crackers. One lucky winner will win $5,000 in Southwest gift cards! Just Tweet or Instagram your response along with #LuvRitzSweepstakes to be entered. (Example: “I want to go to #Dallas for the holidays and enjoy Ritz Mint Thins #LuvRitzSweepstakes”) Personally, the peanut butter, banana, and honey snacks get my vote!

Need more inspiration? Read about our best trips of 2014 and top experiences of 2013!

I partnered with Southwest Airlines and Ritz Crackers on this post. All opinions and destination picks remain my own.