Like your childhood elation of being done with classes for the year, summer break is the time to get out and explore the United States in all its glory by embarking on a road trip with your crew. Whether you drive all the way from your home state or fly and rent a car, there's no better place to be in the height of summer.
Take advantage of the warm weather and the outdoors in these great summertime destinations.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone became the world's first National Park for a reason. Formed over half a million years ago - after the explosion of a gigantic volcano - Yellowstone today is a very different scene. The lush and green ecosystem now offers mountains, rivers, lakes, fumaroles, geysers, mud pots, and thermal springs all within the parks borders.
August is one of the busiest times in the park, but most visitors congregate in touristy areas leaving the rest of the park open for exploration in solitude. You can literally park your car, walk off for a mile or two, and be all alone. Yellowstone is one of the best National Parks for wildlife viewing. Be sure to bring binoculars to help you spot bison, buffalo, moose, bear, elk, and the recently reintroduced wolves. Yellowstone's visitor center volunteers are very helpful and offer excellent maps of the park.
Inside tip: The best time to explore and take pictures is at dawn; as there are fewer crowds, the animals are out, and the weather is dryer. Thunderstorm are frequent in August but generally only happen later in the day.
Located on the Pacific coast in Northern California, Mendocino is a quaint little town with a whole lot of charm. There are plenty of fun, family-friendly activities to enjoy, including shopping, horseback riding, wine tasting, golfing, bicycling, kayaking, fishing, and of course, just relaxing on the beach. August is a great time to enjoy the warm breeze along the coast. Be sure to bring a light jacket in case of fog in the afternoon.
Glacier Bay, Alaska
With cool and long days, August makes a perfect time to visit Glacier Bay. In 1794 when Captain George Vancouver charted the waters of Icy Strait the bay was only 5 miles long. When John Muir explored the bay in 1879 the bay had grown to 31 miles. Now at 72 miles long, Glacier Bay continues to grow as the Grand Pacific Glacier melts over time.
Inside tip: As you make your way up the bay towards the face of the glacier, you'll hear a roaring crack as ice dislodges and crashing into the water below making the boat bob up and down. Be sure to look for the famous humpback whales, sea otters, bald eagles, or brown bear along the shore.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
In 1961 John F Kennedy declared Cape Cod (or "The Cape") a National Seashore not only for the endless beaches but 42 square miles of marshes, meadows, uplands, trails, cranberry bogs, and ponds. There are several beach activities to partake in including swimming, surfing, bicycling, and hiking.
Inside tip: Visit the harbor in Provincetown to catch a whale-watching cruise to spot majestic humpbacks or just linger along the beautiful coastline. Route 6A offers some great spots for antique hunting or art gallery shopping. Be sure to stop at a local lobster shack to order the fresh catch of the day.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Known for its other-worldly landscapes, Bryce Canyon is filled with hundreds of red rock spires (known as hoodoos). Stop and take pictures of the canyon at any of the 14 view points along the 18 mile road (one-way) or hike into the canyon to marvel at the hoodoos up close.
Inside tip: Bryce Canyon draws a large crowd of astrologers that flock to the park for its limited "light pollution" making it easier to see galaxies far, far away. Try to catch a ranger-led astronomy program to learn about the night sky and catch a glimpse of it through a telescope.