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Call of the Wild: Adventure Vacations for Families

For families looking for a vacation that's out of the ordinary, nature meets adventure at these popular -- and activity-driven -- destinations.
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Yosemite, Salt Lake City, and San Juan Islands Geocaching in Yosemite
Geocaching in Yosemite
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Jae Feinberg

The destination: The central Sierra Nevada mountain range offers 1,200 miles of vast wilderness with waterfalls, meadows, and trails -- and myriad opportunities to hike, fish, camp, and explore.
The adventure: The modern-day equivalent of a treasure hunt, geocaching is as much fun as discovering a chest of pirate's gold. Using GPS (global positioning system) technology, geocachers enter latitude and longitude coordinates into a handheld receiver to locate "caches" of trinkets, candy, and other items hidden near various destinations. At Evergreen Lodge, bordering Yosemite National Park, you'll learn how to use the GPS units, which will point you to waterfalls, park vistas, and other scenic locales in the wilderness ($15 for geocaching, evergreenlodge.com).
Don't miss: The breathtaking Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is home to trees that are 2,700 years old. Take an open-air tram to the Upper Grove for a great view from the top ($16 adults, $10 kids). For info: nps.gov/yose.
Where to stay: The cabins at the historic Evergreen Lodge don't have televisions or in-room phones, but many have heat and private bathrooms. One-bedroom cabins for two to four people start at $209 a night; family cabins for four to six start at $249 (evergreenlodge.com).

Zip Lining in Salt Lake City
Zip Lining in Salt Lake CIty
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Utah Olympic Park

The destination: Nestled in the valley between the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountain ranges, Salt Lake City has a vibrant downtown and unparalleled access to natural beauty.
The adventure: Utah Olympic Park has two zip lines (cable and pulley systems set on an incline) that let riders zoom down the mountain at 50 miles an hour. The Xtreme Zip ($20) is the world's steepest; it runs down the park's K120 ski jump hills and drops more than 430 feet. (Riders must weigh at least 100 pounds.) The slower Ultra Zip ($15) travels down the winter freestyle hill; minimum weight for riders is 50 pounds. Park admission is free, and there's also an alpine slide and bobsled rides (ages 14 and up). For info: 435-658-4200 or olyparks.com.
Don't miss: Spend an afternoon at the Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake and trace your family's roots. This is the largest library of its kind and has a database of more than 1 billion family names. For info: 866-406-1830 or familysearch.org.
Where to stay: Park City's 106-room Best Western Homes Landmark Inn is located at the base of Olympic Park. The kids will enjoy the heated indoor pool. Rates start at $110. For info: 800-548-8824 or bwlandmarkinn.com.

Kayaking off San Juan Islands
Kayaking Off San Juan Islands
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San Juan Safaris

The destination: Situated off the coast of Washington State and British Columbia, the San Juan Islands boast rugged shorelines and soaring evergreen trees, and afford awesome opportunities for seal spotting and whale watching.
The adventure: The best way to see the roughly 450 islands is from the water. San Juan Safaris offers a three-hour tour for families with children as young as 6 in two- to three-person kayaks. The guides provide equipment, give paddling lessons, and will point out sea birds and marine animals ($65 per person). For info: 800-450-6858 or sanjuansafaris.com.
Don't miss: Learn about the mammals that inhabit the local waters at the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. Then, in the spirit of Free Willy (some scenes were filmed on the islands), adopt an orca for your family for $60 -- all funds go to whale studies and conservation. For info: whalemuseum.org.
Where to stay: Children 12 and under are free at the 74-room Elements Hotel and Spa, just steps from the ferry dock, restaurants, and shops. An on-site spa can save a rainy day, although San Juan Island gets almost 250 sunny days a year. The extra-large Sun Places rooms begin at $199 (hotelelements.com).