Summer Vacations On The Continent You Call Home

04/03/2017 03:02 pm ET Updated Apr 04, 2017

If you love a summer vacation that serves up the great outdoors and helps you feel farther from home than you really are, say hello (again) to North America. As we’re seeing at my company, Classic Journeys, interest in the U.S. and Canada is trending way up for summer 2017.

It’s high time for one of the periodic swings of the pendulum that inspires travelers go exploring at their back doors, just a few easy time zones from home. And there are plenty of Aha moments waiting to happen. If you are one of the many travelers who thinks that you’ve been there/done that in the U.S. and Canada, it’s time to think again.

It’s easy—and something of a relief—to find out how near you are to the edge of the grid. On Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, there’s nothing usual about paddling a kayak around a cove full of icebergs that have just fractured from the face of a glacier. At the opposite end of the continent in Nova Scotia, there’s an island that’s the last drop of land out in the Atlantic. Walking in that wild place, you can see whales sounding close to shore. Spectacularly land-locked in Bryce Canyon, the towering sandstone hoodoos look like something you’d find on a science-fiction planet.

There’s a lot to be said, as well, for showing your family that there’s no place like close-to-home for a truly exciting vacation. It’s not always easy to distract kids from their smartphone screens, but climbing into the saddle for a horseback ride in the high plains of Montana can do it. Winding through a super-narrow slot canyon in Zion National Park is an almost foolproof way to broaden horizons. The challenge of being the first to spot a moose…or the river rafter who manages to get wettest…or the fastest at strapping on crampons for a glacier walk in the Canadian Rockies, is the kind of competition that’s fun for everybody.

Even though North America’s top adventure destinations are in familiar territory, you can still have terrific and very revealing cultural experiences. In its own evocative way, Québec City is as French as any French village where you’ve nibbled a croissant. In the province’s nearby Charlevoix country, there are artists and artisanal cheesemakers galore in 19th century settings like nothing you see back at home. To the east, explorers landed in Nova Scotia earlier than the pilgrims set foot at Plymouth Rock, and the history is as juicy as one of their fresh-boiled lobsters. Louisiana’s Cajuns came from these parts. The Miqmaq natives canoed on pine-lined lakes that are as quiet today as they were back then. Aboard a working lobster boat, you can get a real feel for the thrill and hard work of pulling your living from the Atlantic waters.

Of course, there are plenty of places where the only “locals” that tourists see are park rangers. But there’s rich human heritage there too…if you know where to look. You may visit Montana for Glacier Park, but it’s also the ancient home of the Blackfeet tribe, and when one of its members calls up his people’s traditional stories, you see the plains and Rockies through new eyes. At the Grand Canyon—where a majority of visitors ooh and ahh for a few minutes before driving off—you can also experience a thousand-year-old Ancestral Puebloan settlement hidden in the cliffs. Even the hotels are historic: my favorite lodge is a National Historic Landmark built by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1927 to lure travelers to take long train rides.

One of the best traits of a modern North American vacation is that you don’t have to put up with anything as time-consuming as those old train trips. From most U.S. cities, you can get to good starting points in just a few hours. But, as I said at the start, their popularity is trending up in 2017 so you still need to undertake some thoughtful planning. Instead of the doing it themselves, more travelers are approaching domestic trips like international ones by joining up with an organized small group adventure. Such trips include fulltime guides, zero logistical worries, and rooms at inns and lodges that have already hung out their “no vacancy” signs for peak season. A few, including the trips my company runs, include all activities at no extra cost. That can add up to big savings and maximum thrills, especially on a family trip where you all want to do every bit of the river tubing, kayaking and glacier walking that you possibly can.

North America belongs on your radar screen this summer. Whether you want to explore a new region for the first time or are ready for a sentimental journey back to a national park you first visited decades ago, there are a tremendous number of no-compromise options for you to choose from. This is the year to go for it!

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