Mesa Verde National Park
In A.D. 550, ancestral Puebloan people made their homes in the canyons, cliffs, and mesas of the southern Colorado Rocky Mountains. Today their architecture is not only intact but stunning -- and makes for an outstanding learning vacation for kids. Not much is hands-off here -- visitors climb up and down ladders, edge along narrow shelves of rock, and wiggle through small tunnels to explore the networks of cavelike dwellings.
Setting Up Camp
If you can, visit in early fall, when the crowds are light. The park offers only two places to settle in for the night. Morefield campground charges $12 per night and has a laundry facility but doesn't take advance reservations. Or you can sleep in the clouds - literally -- at the Far View Lodge, elevation 8,200 feet. Reservations should be made at least two months in advance ($98 per night; 800-449-2288).
The best guided tour for kids ages 3 and up is the Balcony House hike, which is nicknamed the Indiana Jones tour because you'll feel like an action hero as you tiptoe along the cliffs. Tour fees are $1.75 per person.
Watch your kids like a hawk. The mesas can drop nearly 500 feet to the valley floor, and most of their edges are unprotected.