Messy Vacation Ideas That Kids Will Never Forget

If you’re a parent, you know that kids love getting messy! Have you thought about planning a getaway that involves a purposeful mess? We think it’s a great idea and have the best suggestions! A messy vacation is worth a thousand memories that your family will cherish for a lifetime. Down and dirty, hands on activities give kids of all ages a chance to experience adventures on a sensory level.

Here are eight wonderful messy vacation ideas around the U.S. that will allow you to let loose and have fun. Just be sure to pack an extra change of clothes…for everyone!

1. Paint yourself messy at Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Boy painting face at Minnesota Children's Museum
image courtesy of Minnesota Children’s Museum

The Minnesota Children’s Museum is a great way to spend the entire day with children of all ages exploring the family-friendly exhibits. Prepare for kids to roll up their sleeves and enjoy the hands-on activities, including a mirrored exhibit that allow you to experiment with face paints on yourself or other family members. Kids will also enjoy a car wash area complete with soapy water and spray hoses. Dry off in the outdoor play area where the art and sculptures are climbable or upstairs in the imaginary play area. 

2. Get down and dirty while digging for dinosaurs in Grand Junction, Colorado during this messy vacation.

dinosaur dig

Go on a dinosaur quarry expedition and let kids spend time as a real paleontologist. One to five day messy vacation expeditions are led by the Museum of Western Colorado’s Paleontology Division.

These adventures go beyond just viewing sites too. Expeditions are unique and you and your kids will discover new information about prehistoric life that used to roam this area of the world. Dinosaur digs include excavating, prospecting, and prepping fossil specimens, as well as hiking, rafting and touring. This is a great vacation for a the whole family as well as your future paleontologist!

3. Get head-to-toe muddy during Mud Day in Westland, Michigan.

mud day in michigan. great messy vacation idea

An annual event for more than 30 years, Wayne County, Michigan Mud Day targets kids 12 and younger. This is the epitome of a messy vacation idea!!

The day is filled with just what it sounds like; lots and lots of mud! Your kids can participate in relay races, limbo, wheelbarrow races, free play in the mud and more. When it’s time to clean up, you’ll be hosed down by none other than the Westland Fire Department! The event is free and registration is not required.

4. Make the best sandy memories at the Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival at Clearwater Beach in Florida.

sugar sand festival is a great messy vacation idea

Who doesn’t love the feeling of sand between their toes? After a full day at the Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival, you and your little ones will have sand in places you never imagined! This yearly festival features lots and lots of sand, live music, games, fireworks, demonstrations, arts & crafts vendors and a restaurant sculpted out of sand. That’s right, you can dine in a booth constructed completely out of sugary sand.

Kids will love the free sand classes, aqua balls and giant sandbox. If you’re not too exhausted. you won’t want to miss the nightly movies on the beach. Bring a blanket and lounge under the stars. Movies start at dusk. How’s that for a messy vacation?!

5. Go caving and exploring at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

Mammoth Cave
image courtesy of NPS

Mammoth Cave National Park is the world’s longest known cave system with more than 400 miles of explorable chambers and labyrinths. Your kids will love listening to the sounds of the cave, hear their own echos, and feeling the ethereal rock formations. Cave temperatures can vary widely, so we recommend bringing layers and perhaps a rain jacket. It’s important to note that due to the uneven terrain, strollers are not allowed down in the caves. Ranger-led tours and a number of different family and kids activities are available throughout the year. And, before or after your tour, this is a great place to let your kids run around and explore.

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6. Best messy vacation featuring chalk at the Denver Chalk Festival in Denver, Colorado!

chalk festival for a fun messy vacation

What’s a messy vacation idea list without chalk?! The Denver Chalk Festival features amazing chalk artists during this two-day event. You’ll get to peruse through the streets and admire great talent before trying your hand at your own chalk art creation. There is a ‘corner’ especially for the kids and a youth challenge where you can see what high school students and youth groups are capable of! Feeling a bit rusty at your chalk art skills? Bust out the chalk sticks and decorate your driveway or sidewalk. We promise the kids won’t complain!!

7. Get hands-on at the Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort in Solvang, California.

fishing at the dude ranch

The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort has it all for families and kids that like to explore, get messy, and try new things. Kids can help out and visit the barn critters, go horseback riding, take aim at archery, explore the region via bicycle, try their hands at fishing, go swimming and more.

The land, nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley, has loads of history. The current family owners have been working the land since 1943. Your kids will love all the nature surrounding the property, with a river on the northeast and mountains on the southwest. As an added bonus, plans include full breakfast and dinner for the entire family.

8. Plan a messy vacation eating experience at Taste of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois.

aerial view of taste of chicago
image courtesy of City of Chicago

Be sure to pack an extra shirt (or bib) as you spend a glorious week in the July summer sun in Chicago and let your kids eat themselves silly during this messy vacation! The Annual Taste of Chicago has been going strong for almost 40 years. It’s situated right in the heart of the city in Chicago’s Grant Park. The food festival is free, though you’ll buy tickets to taste the food. Every vendor offers “taste” portions of some of their dishes for $3 or less. This is perfect for little kids with smaller appetites.

After exploring the event, kids can take a look at Buckingham Fountain, dip their toes in the cool waters of Lake Michigan, and go crazy at Maggie Daley Park and Millennium Park. All are just steps away from the festival. At Maggie Daley Park, kids of all ages will enjoy climbing, swinging and playing. Before heading back to your hotel, have kids cool off from the summer heat by running through the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park.

9. Gardening at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona.

boy potting plants on a messy vacation

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is one of the most highly rated botanic gardens in the U.S. with 140 acres of exhibits and more than 50,000 different plants species displayed throughout the gardens. This beautiful nature museum opened its doors in 1939. Visitors can participate in all kinds of fun activities to get their hands dirty. From hands-on garden discovery stations to detective bingo where kids who complete the bingo card and find and “discover” everything on the list, receive a prize!

On Saturday nights during the summer, families with kids of all ages can embark on self-guided flashlight tours, which lets families check out night-blooming plants, animals and creatures that emerge after dark. In addition, there are all kinds of child and family programs held throughout the year, allowing you to experience the garden hands-on. It’s great knowing your kids will learn a thing or two while knee deep in the desert dirt!

10. Sculpt, press, paint and mold clay to make jewelry and pottery in Albany, New York.

child squeezing paint to paint pottery

There are all kinds of paint your own pottery places throughout the United States, but the Pottery Place in Albany not only lets you paint your own pottery of choice, kids can make silver and glass jewelry as well! Kids of any age will love choosing their very own piece of pottery to paint and it makes a great vacation keepsake. Get the little ones messy and stamp their hand print, footprint or fingerprints into your pottery of choice for a piece you’ll treasure always.

You can also make silver, personalized, quality silver jewelry with the store’s very own silver clay. The clay is 99.9% pure silver and can be molded, shaped, pressed and stamped into whatever your heart’s desire.

Note: Be sure to call ahead if your family wants to make jewelry, as they need to ensure there is a qualified staff member on duty. 

Please let us know where you’ve experienced a messy vacation or what you would add to our list! Leave your comments below.

**Think about renting a stroller or carrier for your littlest adventurers if you think walking during your entire messy vacation will be an issue. BabyQuip is a vacation lifesaver, messy or not!


  1. Dawn Katherine

    February 19, 2020 at 6:24 am

    Thanks for the something totally new. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like this written. A totally new experience for kdis and parents. These look like so much fun to be had.

  2. Joselyn Bries

    February 9, 2020 at 11:54 am

    Fun and funnny!

  3. Amy Gould

    January 29, 2020 at 12:34 am

    Mud lol, sounds like a perfect day for kids.

  4. Amira Keinonen

    January 7, 2020 at 9:26 am

    What fun ideas. I can see my kids liking lots of these activities.

  5. Stacey Trapper

    January 4, 2020 at 8:09 am

    WONDERFUL Post. thanks for sharing. 😉

  6. Judi Greenhill

    July 13, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Great ideas! One of my fondest summer memories is spreading pudding on the kitchen table and letting my kids draw and play in it.

    1. Jennifer Wold

      July 30, 2019 at 10:00 am

      That sounds super messy and super fun. I bet your kids will remember that forever!! Thank you for sharing.

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