As summer winds down, families with school-aged children are either getting ready to haul kids back to class, or wondering how best to spend these remaining days of freedom. Some school districts don’t begin the new year until after Labor Day, opening up a bit of room for parents to squeeze in one last adventure. Alternatively, you might want to pull your kids out of school for a day before they have too many homework assignments to get away for one last summer hurrah. Here, we’ve found a handful of destinations with cool summer climates (preceding the very cold weather in the months to come), thrilling attractions and activities for youngsters, beautiful scenery and plenty of delicious eats. Celebrate a fresh academic start with some serious excitement!
Best End Of Summer Family Vacations To Take Before Back To School
Cowboys' Lodge near Yellowstone National Park is the perfect place to get away with the kids.
1. Yellowstone, Wyoming
America’s first national park and one of the most treasured protected lands in the country, Yellowstone National Park in itself is a treasure trove of geysers, hiking trails, fishing holes and unforgettable scenic overlooks. Its iconic status attracts thousands of visitors per day, but with so much space to roam and gradual tapering-off of activity after mid-August, it’s unlikely that your group will feel crowded. A must-see landmark is Old Faithful, a geyser instantly recognizable from postcards: let your kids marvel at its foul smell and the earth science behind erupting geysers. All around Yellowstone are elk, bears, bison, wolves and coyotes—with safety in mind, look out for these creatures and have a camera ready! From dusk till dawn, every glimpse of Yellowstone makes for a wonderful photograph or desktop screensaver. Seven-day entry fees for individuals (16 and older) and vehicles begin at $15, and prices increase with a joint purchase for entry to nearby Grand Teton National Park.
2. Bar Harbor, Maine
Drive up to beautiful Maine and out onto Mt. Desert Island to reach Bar Harbor, a pleasant little town with top-notch seafood and various outdoor activities for families of all ages. Reserve a spot in one of many of Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School’s newcomer-friendly outings, during which you’ll scale the Otter Cliffs in adjacent Acadia National Park and rappel under the guidance of an expert teacher. If your kids are six years old or older, take a two-hour voyage with Lulu Lobster Boat Ride and let Captain John show you the crustaceans, seals and other animals that live around Bar Harbor and Egg Rock Lighthouse. Aquaterra Adventures, a kayaking company, offers special two-hour trips for children six and older (the usual age limit is ten) —and at least four feet tall—that feature Aqua-Scopes for looking into the water and learning about sea creatures. In the center of town along Main Street, expect to have trouble deciding between brunch spots.
This cabin in Minocqua, Wisconsin is right on the lake so you can go for an easy swim!
3. Minocqua, Wisconsin
Rent a little cabin in the quaint island neighborhood of Minocqua, which is surrounded by other little islands, Minocqua Lake and a thick forest that leads to even bigger bodies of water further from town. Play around in the water on a rented boat or jet-ski from a local supply shop, or spend time at Torpy Park, a clean, public beach with a lifeguard on duty. Just out of town, there’s fantastic attractions for kids of varying ages, stamina and energy: travel five minutes south of Minocqua to enjoy an 18-hole mini golf course at Settlers Mill, along with uncommon flavors of frozen custard to cool off, or try the go-karts at Holiday Acres Recreational Park, which is just up the street from Settlers Mill—this amusement business also has horseback riding tours and pony rides for little ones. Still on Highway 51 with the previously mentioned sites, Northwoods Zipline offers scenic group adventures with tours specially crafted for children as young as three years old, tours that let two zipliners take a ride at once and, of course, tours for people ten and older that hit up to 13 zip lines and can last up to five hours—plenty of time to see the best of Wisconsin’s lush wilderness with gusto. Finally, go north on Highway 51 and just a bit west on 70 to experience the state’s second-largest zoo, Peck’s Wildwood Wildlife Park: it houses zebras, lemurs, giraffes, bears and big cats, runs a petting zoo and even has wide open spaces for wild deer, so don’t hesitate to plan a memorable visit before Wildwood Wildlife Park closes for the year on October 17th.
4. Rumney, New Hampshire
Older and athletic children will go nuts for a getaway to the heart of New Hampshire that revolves around rock climbing and going headfirst into the Granite State’s impressive outdoor marvels. Accommodations here come in the form of cottages around Stinson Lake, a pristine body of water up in Rumney’s end of the White Mountains. Along with appreciating and perhaps going out onto this popular fishing lake on a kayak or small boat, gear up and traverse the Rumney Rocks Day Use Area (part of White Mountain National Forest and subject to a $3 entry fee), a challenging set of “crags” and boulders that are best to climb in late summer, but definitely requires getting equipment and doing a little bit of research about the landscape and park map beforehand; inquire with The Rumney Climbers Association for tried-and-true advice and tips from locals. Also in Rumney is the Polar Caves Park, a fascinating natural labyrinth created by continental glaciers nearly 50,000 years ago (and open as a tourist attraction since 1922) that has caves of varying sizes and nature trails weaving through rock formations. Guests over 13 get in for $17.50, tickets for kids between 4 and 12 cost $13.50—toddlers and babies are free of charge. If you work up an appetite, pop in to the Maple Lodge on the premises for pizza, hot dogs and homemade maple syrup.
Stay in a charming house like this one in downtown Custer, just minutes to Mount Rushmore.
5. Custer, South Dakota
Founded on the heels of America’s Gold Rush era, the tiny town of Custer is close to bustling Rapid City, South Dakota and even closer to Mount Rushmore, and its tasteful little homes, quirky vibe and central location in the Black Hills makes it a great place to stay while visiting the Great Plains. All around Custer and its backdrop of national forest land are roaming bison and donkeys, some of which will stick their heads into friendly cars. Twenty minutes west of town on Highway 16 is Jewel Cave National Monument, where multiple ranger-led tours of a huge, calcite-lined cave are given and vary in difficulty. The cheapest, quickest and most accessible tour (containing an elevator) takes only 20 minutes and is just $4 per adult 17 and older (everybody else is free), but Jewel Cave does offer longer and more strenuous ways to explore this natural wonder. Rivaling the national lands is Custer State Park, with its paved vehicle roads and hiking trails going deep into bison territory, “prairie dog town” and through tunnels on Highway 87. Maintain a similar elevation as Custer’s (over 5000 ft.) and check out the Gordon Stockade (a replica of a post-Civil War pioneer stronghold), Bismark Lake, or climb atop the castle-like Mt. Coolidge Lookout Tower. Sometime during your vacation, consider stopping between Custer and Mount Rushmore (in Keystone) at Rushmore Tramway Adventures for unparalleled views of the mountains via an 800-foot double zip line, a pine-scented chairlift, a brand-new, 60-foot free-fall tower and a thrilling “alpine slide”. Each ride can be purchased separately, or invest in a package deal with multiple ride tickets—age and weight restrictions apply to the more adrenaline-fueled activities.
6. Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Deep in the mountains of western Colorado, Glenwood Springs is an oasis of charming, hardy houses with hot tubs, views of reddish hillside (and the Colorado River) and close proximity to diverse food options like Polish and Creole fare. Nearby outfitters lead groups in all kinds of outdoor sports, giving indecisive families a handful of great ideas that don’t require leaving town. Along with bike rentals and fishing gear, tourists can try their hand at taking to the air with Adventure Paragliding, an affair that leaves in the morning, is suited for beginners and accepts fliers of any age (except infants); get in on the action before this company closes for the season in October. A slightly less daunting adventure can happen on a ride down the Colorado on a Whitewater Rafting, LLC-guided trip, in which the rapid intensity ranges from “mild” to Class III-IV: mild trips cater to kids as young as three and those not ready for a half- or full-day trip, which require a minimum age of five and can get a bit hairy, although August and September are calmer months on the water. Kids 12 and under get to ride for $42 instead of the adult charge, $52, on half-day, three-hour trips. Not yet satisfied? Ride some roller coasters against a canyon backdrop at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park—purchasing a Summer Funday Pass ($50 for adults and $45 for kids under 13) grants you access to a gondola ride, the “Cliffhanger” and “Alpine” coasters, a “zip ride” and other enticing rides. The deal also includes 40-minute, non-wheelchair-accessible tours of Glenwood Springs’ naturally breathtaking caves and underground formations. Afterwards, soak in mineral-infused water at Iron Mountain Hot Springs, a spa that welcomes families and has both a huge community pool and smaller, hotter, designated holes to dip into and relax.
This house with a stunning view in Bozeman is off-the-beaten-path and close to the local trails!
7. Bozeman, Montana
Grade-school kids love burgers and dinosaurs, two of which are recurring themes in a trip to Bozeman; adults will be as pleased with the beverages at the breweries in town as everything else on the menu, especially after a long day of running around the Museum of the Rockies’ fantastic fossil exhibits. Any child familiar with dinosaur-related media knows that all the great fossil digs occur in Montana, Wyoming and other sparsely-populated desert states in the northern U.S., and have heard the incredible stories of piecing skeletons back together at world-class museums. In the “Tyrant Kings” hall, exhibits creatively and comprehensively explain the growth and development of T.rex through 13 specimens of that kind; elsewhere, a Triceratops and its immortalized offspring provide a rare look into ancient reptilian motherhood. MOR also has a planetarium with films playing at regular times. Currently, a travel exhibition featuring Pompeiian remains from the eruption of Vesuvius, which will interest children that already have a morbid curiosity with extinct dinosaurs. For all this and “MOR”, the museum charges $14.50 for adults (18 and older), $9.50 for kids and nothing at all for toddlers 4 and under. Happy digging!
This article was written by Juliana Cohen.