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Some of the best places to go in the summer are the country’s national parks, like Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon. Other classic summer vacations involve more of a trip, like a scenic drive along Route 66, where you can stop and explore some of the hidden towns and diners along the nostalgic Mother Road.
When you travel around the United States, one of the best parts is that you don’t have to go far to find the ocean, the wilderness, the desert, city life, or peace and quiet. Sometimes, you can even do all of these things in one trip. As you plan your trip, it’s important to know that the best summer vacation spots are often at their best when everyone else is there.
In June, July, and August, these popular places will have more people and higher prices, but you will also get to see the best of what each place has to offer. With a little bit of planning, you can keep an eye out for cheaper fares and have the trip of a lifetime.
Check out our list of the best places to visit in the U.S. during the summer to get ideas for your next trip.
1. Door County in Wisconsin
The peaceful peninsula of Door County, Wisconsin, is one of the best places to spend a summer vacation in the United States. Along the peninsula, there are 19 small towns. Each one is unique and charming, with things like cherry orchards, beaches, cliffs, and historic bed and breakfasts. With 300 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan on one side and Green Bay on the other, there are many ways to make summer memories.
Take a guided kayak trip through Peninsula State Park or over the shipwrecks of North Bay. You can also take the ferry to Washington Island and visit Schoolhouse Beach, which has pebbles instead of sand, and the Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, which has a relaxing smell.
In the evening, gather around the fire at one of the historic inns for a traditional Door County fish boil and stories. You can easily spend a day or two in Green Bay on your way to or from Door County. In Green Bay, you can see Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, and many other interesting places.
2. Grand Canyon in Arizona
The Grand Canyon is one of the most famous and family-friendly summer vacation spots in the United States because of its views, fame, and activities. Summer is peak season, and kids are out of school, so if you want to stay somewhere, you should book it many months in advance. Plan ahead for things like rafting on the Colorado River that might need a reservation.
There are lookouts and hiking trails all over the Grand Canyon. From Williams, Arizona, you can take the Grand Canyon Railway to the South Rim, which is a popular place to see the canyon. The Grand Canyon Village and the winding Bright Angel Trail are both on the South Rim. The Bright Angel Trail is a popular hike for people who want a more challenging trip.
The North Rim is the least busy place because there aren’t as many people there, and it’s only fully open from May to October. From October 1 to December 1, only day use is allowed.
3. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is a great place to go on vacation in the summer because it has some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the United States. The park is in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. There are more than two million acres of natural landscape and wildlife to see.
Plan some time for this trip because there is so much to see and do, like hiking the many trails or taking pictures of the Old Faithful geyser, which is one of the most popular stops in the park.
It is thought that two million people visit Yellowstone in the summer. This means that the park will be crowded. It’s also the best time to go, not just because the weather is nice and there are lots of animals around, but also because there are many summer festivals in the towns near the park.
4. Cape Cod in Massachusetts
When you think of a cottage escape, you think of Cape Cod in the summer. Cape Cod is one of the best places to go on vacation in New England. It has beautiful beaches and small towns with old-fashioned ice cream shops.
You can almost never lose sight of the ocean or public beaches, unless you choose to ride your bike on one of the many paths that weave through the area. Kayaking and fishing are two of the best things to do in Cape Cod. You can also walk along the beach, listen to live music, and go to art galleries, where you can find many unique pieces made by local glass blowers and painters.
There are 40 miles of beaches on Cape Cod, and many famous people live there during the summer. Herring Cove in Provincetown and Nauset Beach in Eastham are two beaches that are worth going to. July and August are the best times to go to the beach, but you should be ready to spend a lot on this classic summer trip. If you don’t book your hotel, resort, or bed and breakfast several months or even up to a year in advance, you’ll pay more and have less choice.
5. Outer Banks in North Carolina
The Outer Banks, which are the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, are one of the best places to go on vacation in the United States. You can stay in one of the small towns along the 130-mile stretch and take day trips along Highway 12 to places like Cape Hatteras National Seashore or some of the historic lighthouses along the Outer Banks.
People often rent beach houses in Duck, Nags Head, Hatteras, or Kill Devil Hills when they go to the Outer Banks for their summer vacations. Long stretches of beautiful beaches are great for family vacations in this area. Because the area is so popular, it’s best to book a place to stay six months to a year ahead of time.
Even though the beautiful Atlantic Ocean and dramatic sand dunes are the main things to see in the Outer Banks, there is much more to see. In Corolla, at the northernmost point of the Outer Banks, you can see Spanish mustang horses running free on the beaches.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial, the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum are all places with a lot of history that are worth seeing. At Jockey’s Ridge State Park, you can walk on the 100-foot-high sand dunes or take a hang-gliding lesson at the world’s largest hang-gliding school, which is also in the park.
If you want your vacation to be truly memorable, you might want to go camping in the Outer Banks. Most campgrounds are safe because of the dunes, but it’s easy to get to the beach from them.
6. Grand County in Colorado
Grand County, Colorado, is a quiet, outdoorsy place that is perfect for a quiet summer vacation. During the summer, when the weather is warm, animals are active, and plants and flowers are at their best, most people come to this beautiful place.
A mountain dude ranch like Latigo Ranch is one way to spend a vacation in Grand County. You spend a week learning how to ride horses and getting a real taste of what it’s like to live on a ranch.
You can also rent a cottage or stay at a resort near Colorado’s largest natural lake, Grand Lake, and enjoy the view. Take kayaks out for a morning paddle trip, and then drive through Rocky Mountain National Park in the evening to watch elk herds graze.
7. Jekyll Island in Georgia
Jekyll Island, off the coast of Georgia, is a peaceful place to spend the summer. Since the island is a state park, its natural beauty has been kept in a way that will make you feel like you’re in another world while you’re there. This means that you will see artistic driftwood along the shores, historic sites, beautiful beaches, and native sea turtles making their way to and from the ocean during your vacation.
Jekyll Island is one of the four barrier islands that make up the Golden Isles. The other three are St. Simons Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Sea Island. All of the islands have a laid-back feel, and the nearby golf courses, art galleries, historic museums, and quaint restaurants reflect this.
Plan to go to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. It’s a unique way to see how the sea turtles on the island are protected and cared for.
8. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan
At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore in Michigan, sliding down the huge sand dunes is one of the best things you can do on vacation. This vacation is nice because most of the things to do are outside and most of them are free.
At one of the best beaches in Michigan, you can hang out on the sand and relax by Lake Michigan. For more adventure, try one of the many hiking trails in Leelanau State Park and North Manitou Island to get close to nature and wildflowers.
There are a few places in the area where you can rent kayaks and go on tours of the area. Or, you can go out on your own and take pictures of your family climbing the 400-foot-tall sand dunes.
Along the 65 miles of shoreline, there is a lot of wildlife. People especially like to watch birds in this area. One of the most relaxing parts of a trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes is watching the beautiful sunsets over Lake Michigan from the balcony of one of the area’s resorts.
9. Portland in Maine
Summer is when most people visit Portland, Maine, but it is also one of the best times to go if you want to get a feel for the city. Even in the summer, temperatures are comfortable and rarely go above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you like to be outside, Portland is a good place to go on vacation because it has kept its natural beauty and has a simple vibe.
When you get there, you’ll spend a lot of time on the rocky coast, listening to the waves crash. Lighthouses are one of the things that make Portland famous. There are six of them nearby, with the most famous one being the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth. You can visit one or all of them to get a sense of how important the town is to maritime history.
Outside activities in Portland include kayaking, fishing, sailing, and golfing. Since Portland is on the coast, you can find small restaurants that serve seafood and dishes made with fruits and vegetables that are in season.
10. San Francisco in California
San Francisco is a great place to visit almost any time of the year, but a summer trip to this city in California is especially memorable. Summer is the most popular time to visit the San Francisco Bay area, so the beaches will be full and places to stay will be hard to come by. You should also book hotels and transportation a long time ahead of time.
Some of the best things to do in San Francisco are to see the Golden Gate Bridge, take a boat tour on the bay, and ride a cable car through the city’s hilly streets. You should also go to Alcatraz, but since you need a ticket and a time slot, you might want to buy these online before you go.
In the summer, San Francisco comes to life with street artists and musicians, festivals, and a lively, mixed-up vibe. Visit Pier 39, where dozens of sea lions rest on the docks of the marina. Another great place to visit in the summer in the Golden State is the city of San Diego.
11. Mackinac Island in Michigan
A summer vacation on Michigan’s Mackinac Island is like a trip back in time to the simple summer vacations of the 1800s. To get to the island, you have to take a ferry. Once you get there, there are no cars or chain hotels.
You can get around by horse-drawn carriage, bike, or on foot. On the island, there are a number of resorts, such as the well-known Grand Hotel and Mission Point resort, where Adirondack chairs line the lawn next to Lake Huron. The island is a good place to go on vacation with your family or your significant other.
On Mackinac Island, you can enjoy the outdoors with a carriage ride and tour, kayaking trips on the water, horseback riding through Mackinac Island State Park, relaxing at the spa, or taking a leisurely bike ride through a place that seems to have stopped in time.
In the afternoon, you can get high tea at the historic Grand Hotel on the hill or a mega-scoop of ice cream at Sadie’s. Everything on the perfectly kept island is what a perfect summer vacation looks like.
12. Gatlinburg in Tennessee
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is a great place to go on vacation in the summer if you want to do a variety of things and also have some downtime. The heart of Gatlinburg is full of tourists and busy with families in the summer, but that’s part of its charm.
Gatlinburg’s center doesn’t need a plan. It has lots of things to do, like museums, pancake restaurants, and mini golf. Use the main things to do in the area, like the Gatlinburg Space Needle, Ripley’s Aquarium, rides, shops, live entertainment, and the SkyLift, which is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America.
The Aerial Tramway is one of the most popular things to do. It starts in downtown Gatlinburg and takes people up the mountain in a cable car to a park and restaurants at the top. There are a lot of hotels along the main parkway, or you can stay in a cabin in the woods just outside the main part of town if you want to be more private.
Gatlinburg is in the Great Smoky Mountains‘ valley, so every sunrise and sunset is beautiful.
Spend a day or two hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to get inspired by nature. It is the most popular national park in the United States and has more than 50,000 acres of trails, wilderness, and wildlife to explore. New visitors should stop by the visitor center near the main entrance to get advice from park rangers about where to go based on their time and skill level. Cade’s Cove and Clingman’s Dome are two must-see spots.
13. Virginia Beach in Virginia
The best time to go to Virginia Beach is in the summer. The beachfront and boardwalk are where most things happen in Virginia Beach, so you will spend a lot of time there. In June, July, and August, there are the most people at the beach, so be prepared for that when you go to find a spot for the day. But there is plenty of room for everyone with 35 miles of shoreline.
In addition to beach activities, you can take a deep sea fishing charter, plan a day hike, attend a local festival, or just relax at an oceanfront restaurant and enjoy the view. For an active way to see Virginia Beach, tourists can do things like parasailing and go on outdoor tours like kayaking.
14. Route 66
If you like to go to a lot of different places during your summer break, a road trip along a section of Route 66 might be just the thing. If you have time, you might want to drive Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, stopping along the way in small towns that still have neon-lit diners and historic sites from when the Mother Road was built as a main East-West highway across the country.
Anyone who has taken the long trip along Route 66 will never forget it. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll want to make more stops along the way so you can show them some of the historic sites. If you decide to drive the whole route, you will go through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California on this summer vacation. It will be a nostalgic trip back in time, but it will also be a great summer vacation that you can put on your bucket list.
15. Panama City Beach in Florida
Florida’s Panama City Beach is one of the best places to go to the beach in the summer. On the 27 miles of beaches, there is no bad place to choose as your beach spot for the day. Long walks along the beach are great, and you can watch people from the pier.
You can relax at the beach, hike or ride a bike in one of the two state parks nearby, or go kayaking at sunset. The eco-friendly spot also makes it easy to visit the nearby, undeveloped Shell Island or take an airboat ride to get close to local wildlife.
Pier Park is a place where you can get food and do other things to break up your beach time. The SkyWheel is a fun way to see the beach from a bird’s-eye view. Pier Park has more than 124 stores, including boutiques, gift shops, ice cream shops, and other shops in case you forgot your sunglasses. In Panama City Beach, summer is a great time to enjoy the local flavor at one of the many festivals that happen during this time.
If you like fishing, you can spend a day on a deep-sea charter catching a variety of fish, then have them filleted at the marina and ready for you to take to a local restaurant for dinner. If you’d rather eat fresh seafood than catch it, there are a lot of casual and fancy seafood restaurants in Panama City Beach.