These adventures are legit workouts that both break a sweat and encourage family bonding.
The exhilaration you get from an action-packed outing is pretty great. (Here's how to plan an epic adventure vacation.) Sharing that natural high with your kid just feeds the thrill. Here are some amazing ways to set off beyond the swing set.
Conquer a climb.
If your kids live to scale trees, make a date with a rock wall (indoorclimbing.com lists nearby gyms) or the real thing (locate climbs by state at rockclimbing.com). For you, it's a serious total-body workout (that burns 374 calories per hour) wrapped in a fun adventure quest. "Some facilities even offer toddler classes where the parent holds their child's waist as they climb," says Devin Pardias, the director of rock climbing at Chelsea Piers Field House in New York City. When kids are ready to climb with a harness and rope, they'll need a climbing-specific helmet like the children's Petzl Picchu ($60; backcountry.com). Indoors or outdoors, you can either hire an instructor (find one through rei.com) to take turns belaying each of you or work the ropes yourself: Clubs with climbing walls, like Chelsea Piers, offer belaying certification classes. For another way to feel the climbing high, go to a local rope-course park. "They're elevated outdoor rope trails where you're harnessed at all times," Pardias says.
How about a little cross-training to go with those baby jogger runs? Take the babe—and the big kids—to the trails. "Hiking with a baby on your back means you are burning a lot of calories," says Katie Jones, an instructor for REI Outdoor School in Seattle—about 500 calories per hour. Make sure to bring hiking gear essentials. Try a hiking-specific baby carrier like Osprey's Poco Plus ($290; rei.com.) "And for any kid, there are so many new sights, smells, and sounds in nature that they can interact with." Turn your older ones into run buddies: "I do races with my 5-year-old down the trail," Jones says. Or get creative—parks have lots of geocaches (mini containers with hidden "treasures"), so check out geocaching.com to devise a GPS-enabled hunt. That hour or so will fly by, Jones says, "and all the while you're helping to build a healthy foundation in your kids."
Biking can be a fresh joy for you and your crew with a change of terrain. Try a pump track—imagine a dirt bike path with mini mounds. "Most towns have them," says Meagan Coates, a trip design manager for Trek Travel bike tours in Madison, Wisconsin. (Google "pump track" and the name of your town to find one nearby.) "My son was a little under 3 when he first rode on one using a balance bike without pedals," she says. And it's equally fun for all ages. "There are no rocks, nothing super steep, so kids can go at their own pace," Coates says. Meanwhile, you get stronger from the added balance challenge. "You really engage your core and quads as you handle the nonstop bumps," she says—plus, you burn 550 calories per hour.
Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are two water sports that can accommodate all levels and take little planning, says Gina Bradley, the owner of Paddle Diva in East Hampton, New York. (Here's a beginner's guide for SUP newbies.) The rental store supplies all the equipment, and the instruction is simple "so that within a typical 90-minute outing, you can learn a new skill and have a great time," she says. And get a great workout: Kayaking burns 323 calories an hour; SUP burns 387 and works your core at the level of an ab exercise, according to the American Council on Exercise. Bradley's youngest SUP clients (toddlers ages 2 to 3) sit crisscross in their safety vests on the feet of an instructor—or their mom, if she's a paddle pro—while older kids love to muscle through the strokes; ages 5 and up can man their own SUP. (An absolute SUP must for kids: no waves, no strong current, and no wind, Bradley says.) For kayaking, ages 8 and up can go solo; younger paddlers need a two-person kayak with an adult as backseat power.