Since summer is just around the corner, it’s likely you’re already dreaming of where to spend your vacation. 

You won’t be alone. The June-to-August season is the USA’s busiest travel season, with warm days across the entire country drawing big crowds and higher prices. Music and food festivals as well as outdoor activities ensure that summer is the liveliest time to travel the country. Kids are out of school, and some of the country’s outdoor spaces, including national parks, are fully open for the season.

Whether you’re ready to brave the crowds to see some of the most incredible, best-known places or you want to get a bit more off the beaten path, here are 14 incredible places for a summer vacation in the United States.

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Couple hiking in Glacier National Park, Montana
Fully experience the beauty of Glacier National Park in summer © Evgeny Vasenev / Getty Images

1. Glacier National Park, Montana

Few places on earth are as magnificent and pristine as Glacier National Park. Protected in 1910 during the first flowering of the American conservationist movement, Glacier ranks with Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon among the United States’ most astounding natural wonders. The glacially carved remnants of an ancient thrust fault left a brilliant landscape of towering snowcapped pinnacles laced with plunging waterfalls and glassy turquoise lakes. The mountains are surrounded by dense forests, which host a virtually intact pre-Columbian ecosystem. Grizzly bears still roam in abundance, and smart park management has kept the place accessible and authentically wild.

Although the park remains open year-round, most services are closed between October and mid-May, making a summer visit the best, if not only, time to get the park’s full offering. Going-to-the-Sun Rd, which crosses Glacier National Park, opens when crews finish plowing the snow, which could be as late as July.

Visitors walk and ride bicycles at Market Street on Mackinac Island, Michigan
Michigan’s car-free Mackinac Island is a quintessential summer destination © Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock

2. Mackinac Island, Michigan

From either Mackinaw City or St Ignace, you can catch a ferry to Mackinac Island, Michigan. The island’s location in the straits between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron made it a prized port in the North American fur trade, and a site the British and Americans battled over many times. The most important date on this 3.8-sq-mile island was 1898 – the year cars were banned in order to encourage tourism. Today, all travel is by horse or bicycle; even the police use bikes to patrol the town. Eighty percent of Mackinac Island is state parkland.

The crowds of tourists – called Fudgies by the islanders – can be crushing at times, particularly during summer weekends. But when the last ferry leaves in the evening and clears out the day-trippers, Mackinac’s real charm emerges as you drift back into another, slower era.

A boat sits on a waterfront with nice buildings in the background.
Lewes is the perfect place to visit in the summer © Getty Images / iStockphoto

3. Lewes, Delaware 

This tiny, darling dot on the coast is known as the “First Town in the First State” and is a must-visit come summer. The main attraction in Lewes is its gorgeous, wheelchair-accessible beach, part of the 5000-acre Cape Henlopen State Park – which also contains a nature reserve with excellent programming (bird walk, anyone?). But the entire town will draw you with its historic Victorian homes, some dating from the 1700s, treasure-filled antique shops and beachy boutiques, multiple restaurants and the not-to-be-missed King’s Homemade Ice Cream.

View remnants of the War of 1812 and other relics at Cannonball House, part of the 90-minute Lewes Legends Walking Tour, which brings local history to life every Wednesday evening. Explore the Saturday morning Historic Lewes farmers market, then make your way to Eggcelent for a divine breakfast spread. Take a seat at an outdoor table at The Station on Kings, a knock-out cafe, restaurant and home and garden store that begs to be photographed, as does the adjacent Marigold Creamery ice cream truck. Reserve at table at Heirloom or pop into Striper Bites for a scrumptious dinner and drinks. Be sure to get out on the water, too: we love Cape Water Tours “Dolphin Watch” cruise.

Group of hikers walking on cooled lava flow in Hawaii.
A visit to Kilauea Volcano is top activity on the Big Island © Sami Sarkis / Getty Images

4. The Big Island, Hawaii

The island of Hawai’i (most often referred to as “the Big Island”) is the largest of the state’s chain of islands, and it’s full of scenic beauty, miles of volcanic rock formations, breathtaking peaks and valleys, waterfalls, trails and rugged beaches (including the Papakōlea green-sand beach). With eight of the world’s 13 climate zones, the island of Hawai’i is ecologically diverse to an astounding degree, with thousands of unique species of plants and animals.

A car is a must with so much to see, but the roads are rarely crowded (save for rush-hour traffic around Kona and Hilo). Dive with manta rays in Captain Cook, ride horses in Wailea, stargaze near the summit of Mauna Kea, swim at Mahaiʻula Beach and most definitely take a hike in stunning Volcanoes National Park. Better yet, plan to shack up at the historic Volcano House inside the park, where Mark Twain once stayed. Start the day by sipping a hot cup of Kona coffee at 4000ft and wrap it up with a sunset mai tai aboard a catamaran followed by a delicious dinner at Moon and Turtle in Hilo.

Beach front houses on the sandy coast of North Carolina.
Enjoy the incredible coastline of North Carolina © David Louis Econopouly / Shutterstock

5. Outer Banks, North Carolina

North Carolina’s Outer Banks are fragile ribbons of sand tracing the Atlantic coastline for more than 100 miles, separated from the mainland by sounds and waterways. Broken up by villages, the ribbon of Cape Hatteras National Seashore is home to several noteworthy lighthouses. A meandering drive down Hwy 12, which connects much of the Outer Banks and makes up part of the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway (and its 21 coastal villages), is one of the truly great American road trips.

The quaint waterfront area of Manteo is a pleasant base from which to explore the Outer Banks. Near the harbor is the Roanoke Island Festival Park, where visitors can learn about the first English colonies on North American soil. In summer, be sure to catch an atmospheric amphitheater performance by Lost Colony Outdoor Drama, which portrays the story of the colonists who arrived in Manteo in the 1580s (before the European settlers arrived at Plymouth Rock) – and then disappeared.

A volcanic crater at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
In the summer months, Yellowstone National Park is fully open to visitors © Joe Ybarra / EyeEm / Getty Images

6. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park is the wild, free-flowing, beating heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Its real showstoppers are the geysers and hot springs – nature’s crowd-pleasers – yet at every turn this land of fire and brimstone breathes, belches and bubbles like a giant kettle on the boil. The park’s highways traverse these geysers, through meadows and forests, past roadside herds of bison and campsites aromatic with pine needles and family campfires. In between lies the country’s largest collection of elk, the continent’s oldest and largest wild bison herds, and a pristine wilderness roamed by wolves, grizzlies, moose and antelope.

June to August is the busiest time to visit Yellowstone (when more than half of the park's visitors arrive), perhaps because it’s the time of year when the full range of visitor services, accommodations and entrances to the park is open. Hotel rates peak at gateway towns, park campgrounds fill by lunchtime – and reservations are essential.

Tourists wandering along Acorn Street in Beacon Hill on a warm autumn day.
Soak up the history of Boston © Albert Pego / Shutterstock

7. Boston, Massachusetts

Boston’s history recalls revolution and transformation, and today the city is still among the country’s most forward-thinking and barrier-breaking cities. For all intents and purposes, Boston is the oldest city in the US, and you can hardly walk a step over its cobblestone streets without running into some historic site. Yet Boston has not been relegated to the past. A history of cultural patronage means that the city’s art and music scenes continue to charm and challenge contemporary audiences. Cutting-edge urban-planning projects are reshaping the city even now, as neighborhoods are revived and reinvigorated. Historic universities and colleges still attract scientists, philosophers and writers, who shape the city’s evolving culture.

Although summers in Boston are hot and humid, the city is noticeably quieter when students have vacated and Bostonians head to their summer homes. When you need to beat the heat, join them at the irresistible North Shore beaches nearby, which draw crowds thanks to the hot sun and cold sea.

8. San Diego, California

San Diego calls itself “America’s Finest City” – which embodies the breezy confidence and sunny cheer that filters down here even to folks you encounter every day on the street. The city may feel like a collection of villages, each with its own personality, yet San Diego is the nation’s eighth-largest city. And even with its huge size, there’s probably nowhere more laid-back on earth.

What’s not to love? San Diego bursts with world-famous attractions for the entire family, including the zoo and the museums of Balboa Park. And that’s not to mention the excellent seafood, a buzzing downtown and beautiful hikes for all, plus more than 60 beaches and  perhaps the USA’s most perfect weather.

Young couple enjoying the evening in West Town Chicago, skyline behind them.
Chicago is a great place to soak up summer culture © Getty Images

9. Chicago, Illinois

Steely skyscrapers, top chefs, rocking festivals: the Windy City will blow you away with its low-key, cultured awesomeness. It’s hard to know what to gawk at first in Chicago. High-flying architecture is everywhere, from the stratospheric, glass-floored Willis Tower to Frank Gehry’s swooping silver Pritzker Pavilion to Frank Lloyd Wright’s stained-glass-filled Robie House. Whimsical public art studs the streets; you might be walking along and...wham, there’s an abstract Picasso statue that’s not only cool to look at, but climbable, too. For art museums, take your pick: Impressionist masterpieces at the massive Art Institute of Chicago, psychedelic paintings at the midsize National Museum of Mexican Art or outsider drawings at the small Intuit gallery.

Chicago’s peak visitor season is June through August. Summertime festivals rock Chicago’s neighborhoods almost every weekend, and Millennium Park plays hosts to many concerts downtown. Fireflies glow everywhere. It can be hot and humid, but who cares?

Young man standing on 4x4, mountain in background.
Aspen, Colorado isn’t just a winter destination © Getty Images

10. Aspen, Colorado

Aspen is one of the world’s most famous mountain destinations, but that doesn’t mean it’s just for winter skiing. Aspen takes on new shades and personalities with the seasons. In fall, the hills are set afire with the quaking of a million golden aspen leaves. In winter, the slopes come to life and the party hits maximum velocity. Come springtime, the flowers start to bud near the mirrored alpine lakes. And finally, in summer – ah, summer in Aspen! – everything comes together, with music festivals, arts, miles upon miles of trails to explore and perfect days under the bluebird-hued Colorado sky.

There are excellent restaurants at nearly every corner of the historic downtown area. Top it off with an understated chic that permeates nearly everything you do, eat, see and experience here, and you have the makings of maybe the best mountain vacation ever.

People sit outside the Petite Provence Boulangerie & Patisserie in the chic Alberta Arts District of Northeast Portland.
Enjoy the buzzing streets of Portland © benedek / Getty Images

11. Portland, Oregon

Best-in-class coffee. The most food carts. Top craft breweries. The world-famous quirkiness. Portland is a city of indie-spirited superlatives and humble, offbeat charms. Portland has an almost unfair abundance of natural beauty: perfect parks, leafy trees, vibrantly flowering shrubs lining pretty residential streets, the Willamette River meandering through town and Mt Hood on the horizon. Summer in Portland sees festivals galore, including the Oregon Brewers Festival and the Bite of Oregon. Long-awaited wildflowers reach their peak bloom in early summer.

A woman looking out towards the Grand Canyon.
Head to the Grand Canyon in summer © Kristen Curette & Daemaine Hines / Stocksy United

12. Grand Canyon, Arizona

No matter how much you read about the Grand Canyon or how many photographs you’ve seen, nothing really prepares you for the sight of it: it’s so startlingly familiar and iconic and simply awe-inspiring, you can’t take your eyes off it. The canyon’s immensity, the sheer intensity of light and shadow at sunrise or sunset, even its very age, scream for superlatives. The Grand Canyon embodies the scale and splendor of the American West, through its dramatic vistas, dusty trails and stories of exploration, preservation and exploitation.

Most visitors head to canyon’s South Rim – yet the summer months are the best time to visit the North Rim, which is open only from mid-May to mid-October. The North Rim is Grand Canyon plus. Here, the elevation is a little higher, the temperatures are a little cooler, the trails are a little steeper and the views…yeah, they’re a little bigger. Since this side gets more rain and snow, erosion has chewed deeper into the North Rim, creating mazes of side canyons while leaving sky islands and temples towering above the Colorado River.

People walk by a shopping mall on the Florida panhandle.
Enjoy the communities known as South Walton © Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock

13. South Walton, Florida

Sandwiched between Destin and Panama City along Scenic Hwy 30A in the Florida Panhandle are 16 unincorporated communities collectively known as South Walton. Each town has its own identity, most master-planned resort towns with architecture following set themes. If you only make two stops, we recommend delightful Grayton Beach, which feels as though it was settled by old-school hippies who came into money (stay a night here if you can) and the meticulously manicured village of Seaside, which is so well planned they filmed The Truman Show here. Other points of interest include the whimsically named community of WaterColor, Moroccan-themed Alys Beach and the Dutch-inspired hamlet of Rosemary Beach.

St Francis River at Lee's Bluff in the Ozarks, Missouri
Nature rules in the Ozarks, the hill country of Missouri that extends into Arkansas and Oklahoma © / Getty Images

14. The Ozarks, Missouri

Even though flashy Branson receives the lion’s share of tourists (nowhere in the USA will you find more family-friendly entertainment, with huge hokey musicals in abundance), hiking and river floating are the two best reasons to visit the Ozarks. Indeed, beyond Branson, nature rules in this mountain range, which straddles Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. The Ozarks’ true charms can be found in its rolling hills and deep clefts, where wild spring-fed rivers carry legions of happy people floating downstream. The Ozark National Scenic Riverways – the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers – boast 134 miles of splendid canoeing and inner-tubing. Back on land, you never know when you’ll stumble onto another tiny village seemingly conjured up on a Hollywood back lot.

This article was first published April 2018 and updated May 2023

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