8 Last-Minute Trips to Take Before School Starts

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If you still haven’t decided on your summer vacation yet, fear not because there’s still time to book a last-minute trip for you and the family. From simple beach breaks to exploring one of the nation’s 60-plus national parks and a good ol’ U.S. road trip, there’s dozens of possibilities on your doorstep. Here are eight trip ideas to consider before you or your kids have to hit the books.

Take a Beach Break

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It’s summertime so what better way to enjoy the sunshine than by hitting the beach towns of the country’s 12,000 miles of coastline? Whether you want round-the-clock entertainment or tranquil beachfront lodgings, you're sure to find it. The best part is, the beach is pretty accessible for a quick trip. Drive up, unpack the car and stretch out for an afternoon or a whole weekend. Seek out an underrated beach town or go for a more popular stretch of sand, like Santa Monica Beach in California. You'll find more family-friendly sights at Wildwood, New Jersey, or wind down completely at Barnstable, Massachusetts and Corolla, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Explore a New City

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If you aren’t the beachy type, then perhaps you’ll prefer a few days discovering a new city, or even rediscovering one close to home. On the West Coast, hit up urban hotspots from San Diego to Seattle, or head inland to Las Vegas, which is a great option despite the high temperatures. East Coasters can always check out the Big Apple, or slip away to Boston or even underrated Pittsburgh. Alternatively, grab your passport and head across the border to Toronto. Canada’s Wonderland, Centerville Amusement Park and the CN Tower provide hours of excitement when you aren’t uncovering gems in the city’s walkable neighborhoods.

Go on a Cruise

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Think it's too late to book a cruise? Think again. Booking a multi-day cruise is an excellent way to feel the weight of back-to-school stress fall momentarily by the wayside. Plus, many lines offer last-minute deals. The Carnival Vista departs from Galveston for the wonders of the Western Caribbean, including stops at Mahogany Bay, Belize and Cozumel. Onboard, the adult-only terrace, brewery, IMAX theater and waterpark mean everyone’s needs are taken care of. For a different kind of coastal scenery, the Canada and new England Cruise sets sail from New Jersey for Bar Harbor, Canada’s Bay of Fundy and Halifax.

Go Gold Panning

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Journey back to the Old West of the mid-1800s, when colonial settlers, gold prospectors and pioneer families came in search of new riches. While the potential to earn a living from finding gold has diminished somewhat, you can still have a blast panning for a piece to keep as a souvenir. What’s better is that you’ll find many of the places set amid areas of spectacular natural beauty. Try the Libby Creek Recreational Gold Panning Area in Montana’s Kootenai National Forest and combine treasure hunting with camping at the Alabama Gold Camp. There’s numerous opportunities for prospecting in Jamestown, California, close to where the gold rush began.

Discover American History

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Quench your thirst for knowledge by visiting a city that is both new to you and also of historical significance to the nation. Kids in the group will delight in memorizing facts to impress their peers and teachers when back in class. Consider Gettysburg for its museums dedicated to the Battle of Gettysburg and San Antonio for its connection with the Battle of The Alamo. Meet costumed actors at living history museums such as Colonial Williamsburg, Dearborn’s Greenfield Village and Old World Wisconsin. You can even watch gunfight reenactments at Tombstone’s O.K. Corral.

Hit the Road

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Road-tripping is one of the USA’s great vacation traditions and it doesn’t matter if you’ve only got a few days — sometimes a quick road trip is all you need. In the mood for some mountain scenery? Cruise in the shadow of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains on the 233-mile-long San Juan Skyway. Perhaps you’ll prefer to see the stark desert landscapes of Arizona’s Monument Valley via the 17-mile Vally Drive. In contrast, the 125-mile Seward Highway passes the glaciers, rivers and snow-covered peaks of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. And those with a love for watersports can plan stops for fishing, kayaking and snorkeling while driving the Florida Keys.

Visit a National Park

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National parks let us escape the urban centers in which many of us go about our daily business. Get back to nature by hiking to fascinating geological sights, camping beneath big skies illuminated by a million stars and spotting magnificent wildlife. Time your visit for August 25 and you can visit any of the national parks for free as part of the National Park Service’s birthday celebrations. Despite being one of the smallest parks, the diversity of Maine’s Acadia National Park ranges from beaches to granite peaks and hardwood forests. Experience the wilds of Alaska while spotting caribou, moose and wolves at Denali National Park. Great Smoky Mountains National Park may be the busiest of all but summertime is worth the crowds for the magical colors of the wildflower meadows. The rains that dampen Redwood National and State Parks throughout much of the year disappear in summer to create ideal hiking conditions.

Visit a Theme Park

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Walt Disney was onto something when he described theme parks by saying "Wholesome pleasure, sport, and recreation are as vital to this nation as productive work." Today, these centers of fun are as much a part of U.S. culture as apple pie and a Thanksgiving Day NFL fixture. Californians and Floridians are spoilt for choice and the states’ sun-soaked summers make them the ideal locations. Try Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park as an alternative to Magic Kingdom. Indulge in some summertime Christmas spirit at Santa’s Village, in Jefferson, new Hampshire. In the Pennsylvania town of Elysburg, Knoebels Amusement Park is the biggest free-admission park in the country.

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