From the Atlantic to the Pacific, the United States has so many worthwhile destinations that planning a vacation can be overwhelming. But if you want to forget the beaches, forego theme parks and skirt the big cities, here are some suggestions that will yield lots of memories and whet your appetite for future off-the-beaten path travel. Guaranteed!
A century ago, elegant trains crisscrossed the North American continent. Today, most U.S. luxury trains have disappeared, but Canadian trains still travel a distinctive and breathtaking route through the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and Alberta, with deluxe accommodations, food, drink and sights the entire way. The Rocky Mountaineer is not inexpensive, but it’s an unforgettable way to see glorious sights in total comfort. Even an Amtrak journey, however, can be fun for a family and is a relaxing alternative to a road trip
Agritourism is a trend, not only in Europe and Australia, but also in the United States, where it is possible to experience a rural lifestyle on farms and ranches as diverse as a Florida alpaca ranch, a permaculture farmstead in western Montana, a Vermont dairy farm or a southern California orchard. Choose the type of accommodation you prefer—from bunkhouse to private cabin, and choose a farm when you participate in daily chores—or not. “Farmstay” opportunities can be tailored to the kind of vacation you have in mind.
Family Camp at One Tranquility Base in Huntsville, Alabama, allows adults and children to participate in virtual missions, and even train with real astronauts. Three-day programs introduce children aged seven and up to the exciting world of science and space travel. Activities include simulated missions, rocket building, and lessons about the past, present, and future of the American space program.
Youth programs are also available throughout the year at NASA’s Space Center U in Houston for age groups 11–14 and 14–18. If there’s a space enthusiast in the family, the day camp format might be just the ticket for fun in conjunction with a family trip to Houston or Galveston Island. Cosmosphere, a flight and space museum in Hutchinson, Kan., has space-oriented family programs and educational exhibits.
Help care for animals, build trails, plant gardens, repaint buildings or use your skills at a nursing home or shelter at locations throughout the country that accept volunteers. You’ll pay for the experience, but the benefit is the “feel good” feeling that comes from helping others. Like ecotourism and agritourism, voluntouring is the new way to plan an enriching vacation as a single or with the entire family. Find your match in budget and philosophy; be gone for few as three days or as long as 12 weeks.
There are some vacation destinations that defy description, but they’re certainly not for the faint of heart. There’s a “human nest” in California that offers a bare bones (or twigs) experience for those who want a one-of-a-kind night in nature.
There’s an undersea hotel in Florida where your only neighbors are fish, and you can order a room service pizza delivered via waterproof container. Or check out the Hobbit Huts in Tennessee that can be reserved for groups of up to eight people with a separate cooking and dining hut included.
Anyone looking for an unusual experience can also book Yurts and Teepees for upscale “glamping” vacations. They’re available on secluded mountaintops in Colorado or in the sunny Southwest.
For an unusual winter vacation in Alaska, head to the Aurora Ice Museum and Chena Hot Springs Resort north of Fairbanks. Visitors enjoy the “warm” and friendly atmosphere, although everything is carved from ice. The bonus is a chance to see the Northern Lights during a stay there.