Image: Jeep Tours
Courtesy of California Overland
California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park lies between San Diego and Coachella and has more than 500 back roads to explore. With winter temps hitting the 80s, open-air jeep tours are a great way to experience the baked landscape. California Overland (two-hour tours, $55) offers guided excursions that corkscrew up and down the canyon, bypassing mud caves, big-horn sheep, badlands, and cholla cactus, with accompanying hikes to see sacred Kumeyaay Indian pictographs, dusty gold-mine towns, and the mysterious Phantom Desert Lights.
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updated 3/2/2011 4:52:24 PM ET 2011-03-02T21:52:24

While their Brooklyn neighbors shoveled snow and sat in airports over Christmas, the Belfreys lathered on the SPF. Unfazed by the news that 49 of 50 states had snow, the family contentedly spent their December vacation on their paddleboards, cruising the 71-degree water in Duck Key, Fla.

Winter 2010–2011 has not been kind to the United States. Record snowfalls have pummeled several snow-hearty cities like Boston and New York. And U.S. airports cancelled more than 10,000 flights in December. The worst part? It’s only six weeks into winter. Who doesn’t want to escape the tundra for a sunny adventure?

Slideshow: Best Warm-Weather Family Adventures

The Belfreys chose their vacation spot wisely. The one state not touched by Snowpocalypse was Florida. The Sunshine State’s image as a theme park mecca and God’s Waiting Room is slowly yielding way to a wallet-and-eco-friendly adventure destination that’s easy to access. But the Keys aren’t the only warm spot in Florida. With 228 days of annual sunshine and average winter temps in the mid 70s, Central Florida ranks highly among family adventure travelers seeking an out-of-the-ordinary experience. Surprisingly, Central Florida is home to the world’s largest concentration of freshwater springs, not to mention opportunities for diving with dolphins, kayaking over gators, snorkeling among manatees, and more.

“Adventure travel has been growing in popularity because it appeals to all ages and is something families can do together,” says Tom Armstrong from Tauck Operators, whose family-adventure-oriented Bridges Trips are the fastest growing in its portfolio. “Everyone feels a real sense of shared accomplishment and bonding.”

While families have begun acting more like teams (some even taking advantage of hotels’ corporate team-building activities), local tour operators have upped the ante and increased the adrenaline factor for family travel, a genre that no longer suggests a sanitized encounter.

California and Arizona desert jeep tours have become full-fledged safaris that involve robust hikes with opportunities to identify native animals and study ancient petroglyphs. And canopy ziplines are being installed at family-friendly destinations from Yeehaw Junction, Fla., to Mendocino County, Calif. Off-roading, rock climbing, snorkeling, and eco-touring have also become great ways for families to discover a new dimension of destinations they might have overlooked years ago.

Finally, the family vacation is cool. And you don’t need to be the Swiss Family Robinson to make an adventure out of it.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

Video: 5 spring break getaways for the family

  1. Closed captioning of: 5 spring break getaways for the family

    >>> sebripring break. time for kids to get off school and there is enough time to book a fun affordable vacation. we have the features director for travel & leisure magazine . good morning.

    >> good morning, ann.

    >> i thought it would be too late.

    >> it's the perfect time to think about where to go with your brood and not having a headache, just easy peasy.

    >> you say away from snow and you will go for things in this country so e eel save money.

    >> save money, easy access . fly in and out, have some fun.

    >> number one, resort getaway. you found one in san antonio .

    >> we love the marriott in san antonio in hill country about 20 minutes outside san antonio . it's a new property, a year old. it has everything you would want on property especially with tons of activities specifically for the spring break period for children. if you want your kids booked from 8:00 a.m . to 9:00 p.m . you can do that. there are fun things with your kids like family yoga and fun activity including smoers at the fire pit and a water park on property.

    >> that sounds good. there is a drop-off as well if you want to go to dinner.

    >> that's important when planning a family getaway. you need time for mom and dad , too.

    >> okay. national park get away. of course yosemite.

    >> it's gorgeous any time of year. spring is the perfect time to go and if you're feeling adventurous, curry village is a tented camp.

    >> curry, hmm.

    >> i like that. maybe your ancestors.

    >> i don't think so. they're asian.

    >> in 1899 was the first tented camp right on the valley floor. for only $100 a night you can be so close to nature and march through may is great. you can see the waterfalls which go away for summer.

    >> that's valuable information and that's why you're here. a dude ranch option in tucson.

    >> we lo the dude ranch idea. this is a great one. in fact, today launches the first ever ipad family act. this is something free on the ipad. download it. tons of hassle-free ideas. the reason it's great is because it's all inclusive. your activities and your room are all included as well as food.

    >> if the kids say i don't want to do horseback riding .

    >> they can, but there are tons of activities. if they want to hike, go fishing, hiking. tons of stuff. there is no shortage of activity. and there is dinner with dinner bell included.

    >> if you're going the opposite direction to a city you're talking chicago. why?

    >> the windham chicago has a cute program for i think little girls and moms. if your little girl is into american girl this is an american girl hooray for hair package. you get the american girl doll's bed of its own with turn down service.

    >> oh, my gosh.

    >> it's cute. a little girl who's into this and you're three blocks from the american girl shop where you can spend the day, have lunch and the package is reasonably priced around $200 a night.

    >> supports the fantasy. now to the beach in san diego .

    >> who doesn't love san diego ? there is a great property there. the sheraton is on the bay. request a high floor. you will get great views of the city and the bay. also, there is so much to be done in san diego proper. i'm crazy about the zoo. kids love the pandas and i'm a kid at heart. i'm crazy about them, too.

    >> we have known you to be a great kid at heart. that makes it fun. you help us see the world . thank you. coming up

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