Summer Vacation Ideas North America

12 Summer Vacation Ideas for an Epic Summer in North America

Summer is officially here! If you haven’t planned your vacation yet, or have a few days to spare and are up for some adventure, luxury or a road (or train) trip – I have got you covered. I’ve asked over 20 travel bloggers to share their top summer destinations, combined with the best ideas on what to do there, to bring you the ultimate summer adventure bucketlist. I’m super excited about this one. Here comes part one: 12 summer vacation ideas in North America!

Stay tuned for summer vacation ideas in Europe coming up next week!

Adventure summer vacation ideas

For adrenaline seekers and outdoor fans: everything from hiking to sailing and more. And because it’s summer, most of these are water based and refreshing!

Snorkelling and Kayaking with Seals in Vancouver, Canada

Snorkeling with Seals in Vancouver Summer Ideas

Vancouver, Canada is best known for its mountains and hiking. But, there are some pretty incredible activities for ocean lovers as well. My favourite? Snorkelling and kayaking with seals in the Howe Sound. This tour is offered through Sea Dragon charters and it was the highlight of my trip to Vancouver.

If that sounds amazing, trust me when I tell you it’s even better in real life. There are three stops on the trips, each one home to a colony of seals. If you go late summer, like I did, you’ll get lucky and see some fluffy seal pups as well. The seals are incredibly curious and will swim under and around you as you. If you are lucky and quiet, they might come right up to you.

Please note that is that this is an ethical and eco-conscious activity. Tours are limited to a small number of tourists (so book well in advance!) and it is made very clear that getting to close or attempting to chase or touch the seals is strictly forbidden.

While the seals are the highlight, you’ll also love being out on the water. The mountain views in the distance are stunning and will make you forget about the icy water! Wetsuits, snacks, and warm drinks are available for all guests on the tour.

Hannah Logan, Eat Sleep Breathe Travel

Swim in the Cenotes of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

Swimming Cenotes Summer Vacation Mexico

Easily the coolest things to do in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula is to take a dip in one of the area’s thousands of cenotes. What are cenotes, you ask?

Well, essentially they are underground swimming holes formed where the area’s limestone bedrock gives way to underground springs and rivers. They come in many shapes and sizes: some of located deep in caverns, while others are open and exposed to the sun. Some are buried deep in the jungle, while others can be found in the middle of towns and even cities (there’s even one in the Costco parking lot in Merida!).

Cenotes make for a stunning sight and a refreshing spot to for a swim to cool off from the hot Mexican heat. In many cenotes, it’s even possible to go diving deep into the underwater caverns that lie below the surface!

You can find cenotes all over the peninsula, but some of the best ones are accessible from Tulum, Valladolid, and Merida. Favorites include Cenote Suytun, Cenote Azul, and Cenote Caracol, but there are literally thousands to choose from! Whichever one you pick, swimming in a cenote is an awesome adventure that shouldn’t be missed on your vacation to Mexico!

Nate Hake, Travel Lemming

Hiking & Exploring YOHO National Park in British Columbia, Canada

Emerald Lake Canada

If you’re thinking of visiting the enormous country of Canada and you need to narrow down a specific area to visit, put YOHO National Park in beautiful British Columbia at the top of your list. This park is truly a one stop destination with a multitude of attractions and things to do.

A few of the more popular things to do include camping, backpacking, hiking, biking, skiing and snowshoeing, fishing, mountain climbing, and visiting the many historic sites/lakes/rivers in the area. It’s an incredible area to spend time in no matter the season. I would say hiking and walking around would be the best thing to do.

You’ll see lakes, rivers, lots of green forested paths, wildlife, mountains, etc. Of all the things to do, I highly recommend you check out Emerald Lake (featured in the image above). Arguably the most beautiful lake in the area, and definitely the most Instagrammed location in the park, catching the sun set here with a beer or two would make a day of hiking and exploring as memorable as ever. You could spend a few days to over a week just in this Park. It’s an awesome getaway destination for all ages and I really hope you consider it!

Jason Li, Mint Habits

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Cancun, Mexico

Migratory whale sharks have been around approximately 60 million years, and can currently be found in warm, tropical waters ranging from Central America all the way to Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

But Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is arguably the best place in the world to see them. Due to the abundance of spawn from the little tunny (a type of tuna) every summer, there’s an annual gathering of whale sharks off the coast of Isla Mujeres that typically lasts from June through September. In 2011, there were more than 400 of these gentle giants spotted at this afuera, the largest number ever recorded. This slo-mo feeding frenzy also attracts opportunistic fish, manta rays, and sea turtles looking to get in on the action.

There weren’t quite that many whale sharks there during our visit. But it is quite a sight nonetheless to see the Caribbean Sea dotted with dozens and dozens of whale sharks swimming in slow, lazy circles, filter-feeding right on top of the water’s surface. Up close, you realize just how massive these animals truly are: Measuring up to 35 feet long and weighing around 20,000 pounds, they’re as big as a small school bus. They’re also much faster than you might expect, which can make keeping up with them a bit of a challenge.

Once you get a briefing on rules (with an emphasis on not touching the animals), you strap yourself into your fins, mask, snorkel, and lifejacket and wait your turn to jump in the water with your guide. Each person gets three chances to swim, and each encounter can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, depending on the whale shark’s speed and reaction.

On my third try I got to swim with one for around five minutes, and it was easily among the most incredible wildlife interactions of my life. It’s a truly humbling experience that only reinforced my love for these amazing animals.

Bret Love, Green Global Travel

Live Aboard Diving in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Live Aboard Diving Sea of Cortez

The abundance of life divers see in the Sea of Cortez is often compared to the Galapagos Islands. Two years ago, a friend of ours who had been to both places told us that the Sea of Cortez is like the Galapagos without the $5000 price tag! After spending a week there on the Rocio del Mar liveaboard, we completely understand. Sea lions, whale sharks, dolphins, nudibranchs, and tons of krill – the Sea of Cortez teems with life.

The highlight of our trip was when we went out looking for dolphins and ended up in the water next to a juvenile sperm whale.

While the water is quite clear for the most part, there was a day when the krill was so thick we had to hold each other’s arms to ensure we didn’t get separated. But lots of krill means big animals – we snorkeled an entire half-day with a bay full of whale sharks!

We recommend a liveaboard in the Sea of Cortez – either the Rocio Del Mar or the Quino el Guardian. Both offer amazing food, incredible staff, and diving that will change the way you look at diving in North America.

Halef, The Round the World Guys

Row, Motor or Sail Your Way Around Newport, RI, USA

Sailing in Rhode Island Summer

Newport, Rhode Island is a beautiful city that boasts the title of ‘America’s Ocean State’. With endless miles of shoreline, the activities to enjoy in this beautiful part of New England are endless.

In the surrounding Narragansett Bay you can go clamming or fishing for a fresh seafood dinner, explore the neighbouring islands on a kayak, or relax on board a beautiful sailboat as you cruise out of the harbour to check out Block Island. Whichever adventurous activity you choose, be sure to set aside some time to explore historic areas like Jamestown or head into Providence for some nightlife.

Rhode Island also boasts a wide variety of high calibre restaurants due to the local culinary school or you can settle down for some grub in one of its many pubs serving some of the best local craft beer you can find.

If you visit Rhode Island at the right time of year, you might even catch free events like WaterFire (May through November) or the start of the Newport to Bermuda Yacht Race (June).

Located close to many of America’s major centres on the Eastern Seaboard, it is a quick drive from New York or Boston. Perfect for a proper vacation or a quick weekend away.

Cally & John Rivett, How Not to Sail a Boat

Bonus idea: Cycle the Virginia Creeper Trail

An additional bonus tip shared by a guest blogger here a few months ago which I think really fits on this list as well: cycling the Virginia Creeper Trail – also a great summer vacation idea, especially if jumping into the ocean maybe isn’t quite your thing. I lived in Virginia for a year and it’s a truly beautiful state which has a lot to offer for outdoor enthusiasts. Summers can get crazy hot sometimes, but the Shenandoah Valley for example is beautiful for hiking and cycling. Jessica’s post on the Virginia Creeper Trail is worth a read, and this bike route is a great one for the summer and doable even for beginners.

Summer Vacation Ideas for Luxury Travelers

If you’re looking for something a bit more relaxing, or you’ve tried all of the above and just want to chill out afterwards, the luxury travel ideas below might just be what you’re looking for for your summer vacation this year. Wine tasting with a view or a lakeside cottage? We’ve got you covered.

Wine tasting at Niagara-on-the-Lake

Wine Tasting in Niagara

Inside the Canadian heartland of the Ontario province, you will find a small Victorian town surrounded by miles and miles of vineyards. Only 2 hours away from the busy Toronto metropolis, and a 30 minute drive from the world-renown Niagara Falls. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a great destination for a foodie getaway.

The wine region surrounds the Niagara peninsula and offers unusual warm temperatures allowing the vines to survive harsh Canadian winters. The region has more than 40 wineries spreaded through the towns of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Beamsville. From mainstream estates to very small family own vineyards and organic farms, there are plenty options to choose from. The tastings range from $8 to $12 and some will offer cheese pairing as well. The tour of the wineries can be done by bike or by car. If you want to do them on your own. There are also tour companies that will drive you around. Niagara on the Lake is a picturesque Victorian town and has a great selection of farm to table restaurants, sourcing some of the best local ingredients from the area. For a curated list of restaurants of vineyards, click here.

This is the best summer vacation idea if you are a wine lover or a foodie.

Melanie Schaffer, BRB Travel Blog

Renting a Summer Cottage on a Luxury Lake in Ontario

summer vacation ideas Ontario Luxury Cottages

Enjoying a cottage in Ontario is a tradition that dates back centuries – allowing you to recharge your batteries and experience pristine wilderness as intended. While there are many lakes in the “cottage country” of Ontario, only a few of the lakes are well-known to outsiders.

These more famous lakes in the Muskoka region are Lake Rosseau, Lake Muskoka, and the famed Lake Joseph – affectionately known as “Lake Joe”. Some of the cottages on these lakes are massive, multi-million dollar places – some are even owned by celebrities! Of course, these lakes also have cottages that are owned and used by families and visitors to the region.

Renting a cottage is a great way to get the best of all worlds. During the day you have the chance to relax in the sunshine or you can choose to hike, swim in the freshwater lake, kayak, go boating – you name it! During the evenings, you can sit by the warmth of a campfire while enjoying a glass of wine, a beer, and even a sweet treat like a s’more!

There are lots of great websites and rental companies that cater to renting both standard and higher-end cottages. Just remember that there are important things to consider when renting a cottage in Ontario and your rental experience will be smooth sailing and unforgettable.

Eric, Penguin and Pia

Glamping in Moab for Luxury Adventure Fans

Glamping Moab Summer Vacation

Moab is (in my mind) the adventure capital of Utah. From rock climbing to mountain biking and rafting to hiking, you can do it all. For a real luxury adventure, spend your nights glamping at Moab Under Canvas just a few miles outside of town. If you prefer an actual hotel, consider Sorrel River Ranch along the Colorado River.

To make the most of your time in Moab, and to avoid the crowds, start your day as early as possible. Head into Arches first thing and hike to Delicate Arch. If you only do one hike in Arches, I would do this one. You’re more likely to have it to yourself at sunrise, too. From there you can either see the rest of the park, which I would recommend at least driving the entire scenic road, or head out to Potash Road. If you want something more active, check out some climbing or biking options outside of town.

Potash Road is a scenic drive in Moab that will take you along the Colorado River to see petroglyphs, dinosaur tracks, Corona Arch, and Jug Handle Arch. This is a great place to spend the afternoon and if you like rock climbing, you can do that on Wall Street, a section of Potash Road. Finally, head into Canyonlands for a sunset hike to Mesa Arch. This is a popular sunrise spot, but it’s just as beautiful (and less crowded) at sunset. From here head back to a relaxing night in a teepee or around a campfire.

Megan Johnson, Red Around the World

Bonus idea: Head to the Caribbean for an All Inclusive Resort Vacation and Hang out on a Private Island

Private island near Montego Bay, Jamaica

So this one may surprise you a little if you read my blog regularly and know that I mostly do independent travel around South East Asia when I have the time for it, but I actually switch between years of freelancing with lots of time to travel and years of intense corporate jobs with little time to travel – and in those years I favour a bit more luxury during my short vacations, sometimes splurging on business class flights or going for an all inclusive vacation. There are some beautiful all inclusive resorts in the US or just a short flight away. I had a great summer vacation once at a couples only resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, which even had a small private island. It was pure luxury and an awesome way to relax. Adventure came in small bursts, as the resort offered diving (even that was included in the package!), windsurfing, sailing and a number of tours to explore the surrounding areas. If you’re looking for islands to explore and don’t mind going a bit further, check out my blogger summer vacation idea posts from last year on island escapes around the world and island getaways in Europe.

Summer Vacation Ideas for Road Trip Enthusiasts

It’s not a summer without a road trip. As I don’t drive much, I’m also including what sounds like a very cool and adventurous train trip – they’re the relaxing version of a road trip where nobody in your party has to be the driver, and the views are usually much nicer too!

Roadtrip to Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park Summer Road Trip

Yellowstone National Park can easily be visited from Portland, Oregon. It’s a long but doable road trip. Once you’ve arrived, you have a wealth of things to experience. From visiting the Geyser Basins near Madison and seeing Old Faithful erupt, to witnessing the sheer power of the Upper and Lower Falls around Canyon Village, mother nature is present in a variety of forms.

Wildlife is high on the agenda at Yellowstone, with bison the most abundant. If you’re up early and lucky, you might catch sight of wolves or bears. Elk are best spotted along the river banks in the evenings and a coyote or two are also possible.

If you are a history fanatic, then stop at the Albright Visitors Centre at Fort Yellowstone to learn about the history of the park and those who first discovered it.

And before you leave Yellowstone, make sure you join the Old West Dinner Cookout. This experience, not to be missed, sees you board a wagon, driven by cowboys and bound for the site of the first hotel in Yellowstone. You will dine on steak, cooked how you like it, and sides, before you get to enjoy country western music and coffee brewed on the camp fire. This is one of the best ways to end your time in Yellowstone National Park.

Catherine, BattleMum

Discovering Northern Mexico with the “El Chepe” Train

Mexico El Chepe Train Summer Adventure

The northern part of Mexico is rather undiscovered and less visited by international tourists. However, the landscape and scenery in this part of the country is incredible and you won’t regret your visit. The best way to explore northern Mexico is with “el chepe” – a historic train running from Los Mochis on the coast of the state Sinaloa all the way to Chihuahua city, passing through the breath-taking Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon).

Departing at Los Mochis, the train stops at several smaller towns and villages, such as the beautiful El Fuerte. Soon, the landscape is changing, and the train will run through the incredible and wild canyon, where you can enjoy awesome views. Go to the open platform at the end of the train for the best picture opportunities. After a few hours, the train will stop at the village Divisadero for half an hour. This is enough time to get a glimpse of the incredible canyon – however, I highly recommend spending one night in the village in order to see a little bit more.

There’s also an adventure park, where you can go zipling through the canyon! Another great stop on the train line is the town of Creel, with its unique culture and nature. While the whole journey can be done in one day, I recommend taking some more time and doing some overnight stops in the towns along the way – it’s certainly worth it!

Patrick Muntzinger, German Backpacker

Drive the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, Canada

Peyto Lake Alberta Canada summer vacation

The Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies is considered one of the most spectacular drives in the world. And rightfully so! The 232-km (144-mile) road runs between Banff and Jasper and winds its way through some of the most gorgeous parts of the two National Parks.

Along this drive, you’ll see craggy mountains, pristine glaciers, roaring waterfalls, gorgeous green forests, meandering rivers, and lots of wildflowers in season. Every curve in the road brings a new vista that will make you say “Wow!”

My favorite spots in this paradise are the alpine lakes that line the road, like sapphires on a necklace. Make sure you stop at Bow Lake, where, on a clear calm morning, you’ll see fabulous reflections of the surrounding mountains in the ice-blue waters. Or Peyto Lake, with its wolf shape and surreal blue color.

Stop at the Columbia Icefield, where you can ride the Ice Explorer, an ATV, on to the Athabasca Glacier. You can walk on the ice, and even taste the glacial water in a melt at the glacier. The glass-bottomed Glacier Skywalk that hangs out over the Sunwapta Valley is another must-do. And if you see cars parked by the side of the road, stop to check out what’s happening…it’s almost certainly a wildlife sighting!

June or September are lovely months for this drive. You’ll miss the worst of the high season crowds, but still have decent weather. We went in late June, and it was perfect. The lakes had thawed out, and it wasn’t too cold.

Tips: Allow a full day to do the drive with all the scheduled and unscheduled stops. Get gas in the towns of Banff, Lake Louise or Jasper. There’s only one gas station on the Parkway, and the prices are sky-high. Food services are not great along the Parkway, so pack a picnic lunch and load up on snacks. You’ll need a National Park Pass to drive the Parkway. The road is fully paved, with a wide shoulder in most places. Stay safe and follow park regulations.

Dhara from Not About the Miles

So, which of these summer vacation ideas sounds like your kind of trip?

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