5 Great Family Vacations
You don’t need to travel far to experience wonderful family vacations! Patricia Schultz, author of 1,000 Places to See in the United States and Canada Before You Die (Workman), shares some of her favorite family-friendly summer destinations in North America that are great for family vacations. Read on for a few of her tips on great family vacations —then get packing!
1. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Colonial Williamsburg re-creates the crucial period of 1750 to 1775, the end of the colonial era and the anxious eve of the Revolutionary War. The level of detail is breathtaking, from the actors who portray Revolutionary-era statesmen, blacksmiths, and wig makers to the flocks of squawking ducks and grazing sheep. It’s the country’s largest and most popular living history museum and one of the world’s finest.
Williamsburg is a great experience for all generations. Walking the cobbled streets of the Historic Area, you might find yourself having an impromptu discussion with “Thomas Jefferson,” or one of the wide cast of townspeople going about their daily lives. You can attend the trial of a pig thief or watch a gunsmith craft a flintlock rifle. Tour famous spots like the Governor’s Palace with its topiary gardens and holly maze, or the George Wythe House, home to Thomas Jefferson in 1776. Stop for a bite at any of the four historic taverns offering colonial dishes in period settings, served by a wait staff in period dress.
2. Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
One of the world’s most scenic roadways, the 142-mile Icefields Parkway links Banff and Jasper National Parks, passing through and along glacier-topped peaks, waterfalls, and turquoise lakes. The high point is 11,450-foot Mount Athabasca, surrounded by the Columbia Icefield, which covers more than 200 square miles at the crest of the Continental Divide.
The parkway ends in Jasper National Park where you can raft the roiling white water of the Athabasca and Sunwapta rivers, hike narrow Maligne Canyon, saddle up for trail rides around Patricia Lake, or canoe mirror-still Maligne Lake, the largest of the Rockies’ glacier-fed lakes.
3. Inside Passage, Alaska
Alaska has over 40,000 miles of coastline, and you can take in some of the most beautiful from your ship’s deck while sailing the Inside Passage, stretching through 500 scenic miles in the southeast of the state. Dozen’s of cruise lines sail here every summer, and long-distance ferries depart from Bellingham, Washington, year-round.
With snow-capped mountains and deep rain forests, the big draw is the astounding and pristine wilderness. A maze of islands are the home of whales, sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals, porpoises, and seabirds.
Cruise options range from 2,000-passenger megaships to expedition vessels (with 100 or fewer passengers) that can generally offer a more intimate glimpse of real Alaska. For a more independent experience, the Alaska Marine Highway ferries offer a hop-on/hop-off adventure along the coast.
4. Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
The Niagara River creates the largest and most powerful waterfalls in North America. This incredible river draws water from four of the five Great Lakes and flings it down 20 stories at the rate of 42 million gallons a minute. Almost a mile wide in total, the falls straddle the U.S.-Canada border and are divided by islands into three sections: the 1,060-foot American Falls, which includes a smaller section called Bridal Veil Falls, and the 2,600-foot Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.
To get up close to this incredible force of nature, start your visit in New York’s Three Sisters Islands, where visitors can stand within a few feet of the brink of the falls. Take a trip on the Maid of the Mist, a sturdy 600-passenger boat: passengers don plastic ponchos and sail right into the maelstrom at the base of Horseshoe Falls.
The Canadian side offers the best views. At Journey Behind the Falls, descend via elevator through 150 feet of rock for views from behind the cascading water of Horseshoe Falls. For creature comforts, the Canadian side also wins out—it has better facilities—nightclubs, restaurants, upscale hotels, and some excellent vineyards if you can pull yourself away.
5. Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho
Outdoor enthusiasts consider Idaho to be one of the top white-water rivers in the world, as the state has 3,100 white-water miles—more rushing water than any other state in the continental U.S.—and the very best for a rafting adventure is the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. All of this makes Idaho great for family vacations.
The Middle Fork carves a canyon through central Idaho’s 2.36-million-acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the largest federally protected forest wilderness in the lower 48. The river drops some 3,000 feet in 100 miles, carrying you through amazing forests, rocky gorges, and past sandy beaches for overnight camping.
Sightings of bears, river otters, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, elk, and large birds of prey are common. Rafters can also sneak in some superb fishing as Idaho’s acclaimed crystal clear waters are rich with rainbow, cutthroat, and Dolly Varden trout. The best part may be sleeping under a canopy of stars at the end of each idyllic day.
Patricia Schultz, Author, 1000 Places to See Before You Die | August 30, 2017
Patricia Schultz is the author of the #1 New York Times bestsellers 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and 1,000 Places to See in the United States and Canada Before You Die. A veteran travel journalist with 25 years of experience, she has written for guides such as Frommer’s and Berlitz and periodicals including The Wall Street Journal and Travel Weekly, where she is a contributing editor. She also executive-produced a Travel Channel television show based on 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Her home base is New York City. To purchase a copy of the best selling book, click here!