Five best family vacation spots to kick off the school year

Published September 2020

With much of the country opting for online classes this fall, many parents are struggling to balance their own workload in addition to their children’s. The stresses of everyday life at home can be overwhelming for both parent and child, so we’ve pulled together our top kid-friendly vacation spots that don’t include packed amusement parks or crowded attractions (though we are hopeful for their quick recovery).

What they do provide are ample opportunities for exploring the outdoors, great biking and hiking paths, and truly unique experiences—so when things do return to normal, kids can say proudly, “Remember that time during quarantine when...?”

old faithful geyser in yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park, Montana

Where to stay: Alpenglow 34B

Established in 1872, Yellowstone is America’s first national park and stretches a whopping 3,468 square miles into parts of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Yellowstone National Park is busiest in the summer months, but mild weather supports trips well into the fall.

There are few places in the country where you can watch a geyser spout, explore a grand canyon, glimpse a grizzly bear on the hunt for prey, and get up close to a herd of bison—all in the same day. Kids will love to experience Old Faithful, which received its name from early settlers observing its regular eruptions. Every 35 minutes to two hours it erupts, sending huge geothermal plumes of superheated water and steam as high as 106 feet in the air! Stay a safe distance away from the geyser and others, but do bring your phone for an epic selfie.

hiking trail at Deep Creek Lake

Deep Creek Lake, Maryland

Where to stay: 5 Little Acorns

The entire area around Deep Creek Lake offers year-round excitement for guests to the area. Throughout summer and into the fall, you’ll find many travelers partaking in water sports, like stand-up paddleboarding, swimming, boating, and kayaking. Fishing on Deep Creek can be quite rewarding as well, with several varieties of large and smallmouth bass, trout, perch, and pickerel that always bite no matter the season.

Deep Creek Lake State Park offers hiking trails for all levels of experience. Snakeroot Nature Trail is less than half a mile long, perfect for an easy stroll. Or you can venture to Indian Turnip Trail, a challenging four-mile hike filled with lush ferns. If you’re headed to Swallow Falls, bring your camera to capture the two gently cascading waterfalls. Herrington Manor State Park and New Germany State Park offer lakeside bliss with smaller, less crowded bodies of water.

cannon beach, or

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Where to stay: Chapman Point Cannon Beach Home with Hot Tub

Cannon Beach is considered one of the state's finest beaches and is dominated by the monolithic Haystack Rock. At low tide, curious beachcombers can be found examining and photographing the starfish, sea anemone, and crabs that make their homes in the tide pools at the rock's base. The sandy white shores are popular with sandcastle builders, kite fliers, swimmers, sunbathers, horseback riders, and four-legged Frisbee chasers alike.

Adventurous souls are also drawn to Cannon Beach's excellent surfing—wetsuit recommended, regardless of the time of year. Beautiful state parks and recreation areas surround Cannon Beach, with a number of spectacular hikes and scenic vistas. Ecola State Park lies just north of town, and don't forget your camera! You'll want it as you hike up to the viewpoint at the Tillamook Head Lighthouse, reach a deserted stretch of sand at the end of the Indian Beach Trail, or follow in Lewis and Clark's footsteps along the Clatsop Loop Trail.

beach in sanibel, florida with large condo buildings in the background

Sanibel Island, Florida

Where to stay: Penthouse Paradise

Captivating Sanibel Island sits on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, 20 miles off the mainland in southwestern Florida. Because more than half of Sanibel Island is made up of wildlife refuges, visitors can expect to spend plenty of time exploring its beautiful coastal wilderness, which is home to 230 native bird species and 50 native fish species.

Lace up your hiking boots and get ready for a day of outdoor immersion at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a 5,200-acre coastal mangrove preserve established in 1976. Bring binoculars to uncover its incredible diversity of wildlife, which includes brown pelicans, roseate spoonbills, river otters, manatees, softshell turtles, fiddler crabs, American alligators, black racer snakes, and many more animal species. A day of shelling on the sand is fun for the whole family and you might even come across a highly-prized Junonia shell, a discovery that could land you on the front page of the local newspaper.

a beautiful day at bear lake in fish haven, id

Fish Haven, Idaho

Where to stay: Two Bear Lodge

This little lakeside community offers direct access to Bear Lake’s turquoise waters, which are often dubbed the “Caribbean of the Rockies.” Visiting families can enjoy everything from jet skiing, sailing, and swimming in the summer to ice fishing in the winter.

As the seasons change and the water gets a little too cold to dive into, more than 48 miles of shoreline can serve as a backdrop for a family picnic or outdoor games. A favorite spot, family-friendly Rendezvous Beach, has plenty of day use areas for larger family gatherings. Hiking and biking are in full effect year round, and cyclists love that the 50-mile trek around the lake has very little elevation gain.