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Summer is just around the corner, and if you haven’t made your plans yet, it’s time to get started. If you’re lacking ideas, consider one of the top summer vacation destinations in the U.S.
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Located in Alaska’s Interior, Denali National Park is home to North America’s highest mountain, Denali, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet above sea level. Summer temperatures are ideal, averaging around 66 during the day, perfect for getting out and enjoying the Great Outdoors, breathtaking scenery, and wildlife viewing. As the park is home to diverse habitats that include forest at the lower elevations, tundra in the middle, and glaciers, snow, and rock at its highest elevations, a wide range of animal species live here.
Summers in Cape Cod, just an hour from Boston, are renowned for enjoying time on beautiful beaches, exploring lighthouses, and dining on delicious seafood, including fresh lobster and out-of-this-world clam chowder. In July and August, the water temperature is often ideal for a refreshing swim, or you can always enjoy simply lounging on the sand or strolling through the dunes. Provincetown, located on the far end of the Cape, is famous for its scenic surroundings and over 30 miles of beaches, as well as its colorful downtown area, which hosts everything from grand mansions and fine eateries to fabulous seafood shacks.
Located in the northwest corner of Arizona, the Grand Canyon is something everyone should see at least once in their lifetime, as pictures just can’t do this 277-mile-long canyon justice. Instead of spending just a day here, make it a vacation so you can truly immerse yourself in all that it offers. At the South Rim, you’ll find one of the most awe-inspiring vistas, and if you want a closer look, you can embark on a mule ride down to the bottom or take a helicopter tour. By driving to the North Rim, the less-visited and far less crowded region of the park, you’ll discover more amazing panoramic views as well as plenty of twisting trails to enjoy them from. In the park’s southwestern region is Havasupai, which means “people of the blue-green waters,” – the famous jaw-dropping waterfalls with turquoise-hued pools at the bottom.
The Black Hills of South Dakota host a surprising number of sights and attractions that make it an ideal summer vacation destination. Outdoor adventures abound, with countless lakes ideal for swimming, fishing and other activities on the water, particularly Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. On the park’s scenic Wildlife Loop Road, all types of animals are frequently spotted, including large numbers of bison, elk, pronghorn, deer, coyotes, prairie dogs, eagles, and even wild burros. If you’re here on the biggest holiday of the summer, Fourth of July, you can celebrate with Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt at Mount Rushmore by taking in a spectacular fireworks display and more. Within just minutes of this famous monument, are Wild West shows in Hill City, gold panning in Keystone, cave tours in Custer and much more.
While Seattle is notoriously wet, in the summer months it’s usually dry and sunny, making it an ideal time to enjoy this outdoor paradise while massive Mount Rainier looms overhead. In addition to being surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty, the Emerald City is home to the famous Pike Place Market where you can enjoy the quintessential Pacific Northwest experience by getting to know many of its interesting, and sometimes eccentric characters, along with the sounds and sights of street performers, and the famous fishmongers who toss the fresh catch of the day while cracking jokes. The city has an exceptional café, music and arts scene as well as a host of green spaces and waterfront trails for walking and biking.
Frequently ranked as one of America’s, and the world’s, most spectacular island destinations, the San Juan archipelago, just off Washington State’s coast, is like entering another world. Getting there is an incredibly scenic adventure in itself, riding the as if weaves across glistening waters through small forest islands. San Juan Island, the second largest and most populous, is arguably the most popular for a summer escape, home to the charming historic seaport town of Friday Harbor, with its wealth of museums, art galleries, eclectic shops, and numerous eateries boasting menus based on local ingredients, including fresh seafood, produce and herbs. Lime Kiln Point State Park, on the west side of the island, offers an ideal opportunity for watching the orca whales that frequently pass by during the summer months.
Glacier National Park offers the chance to completely immerse yourself in a world of turquoise-hued glacial lakes and rivers as well as jagged cliffs that soar above the clouds. Nicknamed “Crown of the Continent,” this region’s incredible natural wonders may make you feel as if you’ve entered a dream world. Not surprisingly, it’s been the setting for a number of films, including “What Dreams May Come.” Nestled in the northwestern region of Montana bordering Alberta and British Columbia, it covers more than 16,000 square miles of pristine wilderness and is home to a wide array of wildlife species, including rare and endangered animals, like grizzly bears and the Canadian lynx as well as mountain goats and bighorn sheep. While it’s best to get out on the trails and explore this hiker’s paradise on foot, the world-renowned Going to the Sun Road, a 50-mile highway that bisects the park east and west, spanning its width and crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, offers the chance to see many of the park’s highlights.
Boulder sits at the base of the foothills of the Colorado Rockies and makes an ideal summer vacation destination with easy access to a wealth of outdoor adventure along with city delights. The Flatirons, just south of downtown, are a popular destination for hikers and rock climbers, as well as wildlife spotting mule deer, black bear, bobcat, and coyote. One of the summer’s highlights is the chance to go tubing on Boulder Creek, which runs right through town. Another must-do is to visit Pearl Street Mall, Boulder’s central hub and one of the country’s top open-air pedestrian malls. It’s not just for shopping, dining, and drinking, but for enjoying some of the best people-watching and free live entertainment with buskers.
San Francisco makes an ideal vacation destination when you want to escape the heat, famous for its cool, foggy summers, though the sun usually breaks out in the afternoon. Plan to dress in layers and then enjoy a cruise on the bay for a tour of Alcatraz, the formidable fortress that once housed the likes of George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Al Capone. Take in incredible views of the Bay by walking the 1.7-mile span of the iconic Golden Gate bridge, and capture postcard-perfect photos of it from Battery Spencer on the Marin County side. Other highlights include rides on the famous cable cars and driving down Lombard Street, the most crooked street in the world. Of course, cultural attractions abound as well, including the California Academy of Sciences, one of the largest, most innovative, and most eco-friendly natural history museums on the planet.
If you enjoy taking quiet strolls along moss-covered paths, the thundering sound of falling water across a vivid blue lake, and scenic landscapes, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a favorite heartland getaway, may be calling. You’ll feel as if you’re worlds away from the chaos of urban and suburban life, and you won’t be suffering from summer’s extreme heat either. Daytime highs tend to be around 75, and the evenings, with lows in the high 50s, are perfect for gathering around a fire. This is a stunning, if often overlooked, vacation destination that draws families with its forests, lakes, falls, and heatwave-beating chill.
While summer is peak tourist season at Grand Teton National Park, there are plenty of options for exploring among its 300,000+ acres, including remote areas for hiking and scenic drives. Even the best photographs won’t prepare you for the breathtaking sight of the jagged Teton peaks, dominated by the 14,000-foot-tall Grand Teton. There are glistening lakes, glaciers, and forests too, along with abundant wildlife with the opportunity to catch glimpses of moose, elk, wolves, bald eagles, and black and even grizzly bears.
You can’t beat Alaska when it comes to a true wilderness experience in the U.S. For a town that offers a little bit of everything, consider Seward. It’s easy to reach from Anchorage via a scenic drive on the Seward Highway, bringing spectacular views of the Chugach Mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, lakes, and wildlife like moose, eagles and bears. Once there you can paddle or cruise across Resurrection Bay inhabited by humpback and orca whales, harbor seals, porpoises, otters, sea lions, and more, while bald eagles are just about everywhere you look. The five-mile coastal trail to Caines Head is one of the best hikes in the state, while Kenai Fjords National Park is less than a 20-minute drive away.
The Lost Coast is a nearly 25-mile stretch of stunning undeveloped shoreline, an area where you’re unlikely to run into many other people, but you will encounter jaw-dropping beauty in every direction. Hike the trails along the coastal cliffs, surf, or just watch the surfers ride the legendary waves with consistent year-round swells. An hour’s drive inland will bring you to Humboldt Redwoods State Park where you can gaze up at the world’s largest remaining contiguous old-growth forest of coast redwoods.
While Honolulu may be packed with people, you can almost always find a quiet spot on Hawaii’s Big Island – it’s aptly named the largest in the state by far with 4,028 square miles of terrain. You’ll have plenty of room to hike, sunbathe, or dip down into the brilliant underwater world to snorkel. Or, join a guided horseback riding excursion to visit the hidden wonders of Waipio Valley, including the long black sand beach where it meets the sea. After dark, be sure to visit the Kalapana Lava Refuge where you’ll be able to witness active lava light up the night’s sky.
Great Basin National Park is one of the least-visited and most remote national parks in the continental U.S. with miles and miles of hiking trails where you’ll rarely run into another soul. The trails wind through ancient pine forests, leading to pristine mountain lakes surrounded by magnificent mountain scenery. It’s also home to Lehman Caves, ornately decorated with stalactites and stalagmites, and offers some of the darkest night skies, for stargazing, with meteors, millions of stars, and five planets all coming into view.
North Cascades National Park is one of the least visited parks in the country and a hiker’s paradise, protecting unspoiled wilderness areas and the largest concentration of glaciers other than Alaska, with over 300. There are endless trails to hike – the Blue Lake trail is one of the favorites, a 4.6-mile round-trip journey that brings views of colorful wildflowers in the summer along with the turquoise gem itself, surrounded by soaring mountain peaks. Along the way watch for moose, bears, and bald eagles as well as the more elusive gray wolves and cougars.
Crested Butte is known as Colorado’s Wildflower Capital. In July and August, you’ll find the meadows exploding with color, including paintbrush, columbine, lupine, and dozens of other beautiful blooms. The Taylor, Gunnison and East River offer world-class trout fishing as well as kayaking and river rafting. After a day of outdoor adventure, you’ll find a surprisingly impressive dining and drinking scene, complete with farm-to-table experiences and lots of great brews. While it offers the amenities of more popular towns like Aspen, it’s also very isolated, so crowds are rare here.
Amelia Island offers a much quieter beach paradise with more than 13 miles of sands far from the big tourist crowds. The barrier island lies off the state’s northern coast and is exceptional if you’re looking to enjoy the scenery along with peaceful relaxation. There are plenty of things to do for those who want to get active as well, like cycling along the miles of scenic trails, horseback riding on the sand, paddling and sailing in the tidal creeks and marshes, or golfing. Fort Clinch State Park hosts one of the best-preserved 19th-century forts in the country as well as a fishing pier, hiking, and biking trails. In the historic downtown of Fernandina Beach, take a horse-drawn carriage ride to see the points of interest.
Just about 14 miles off the coasts of mainland Rhode Island and Montauk, Block Island offers a magical summer destination with 17 miles of andy coastline. As it’s off most tourists’ radar, it’s a great place for peace and quiet as well as cycling, yachting, or simply browsing the art galleries and specialty boutiques. There are winding roads to drive and charming 18th-century lighthouses, along with eateries that serve fresh lobster rolls.