Why particular travel trends happen we can’t always say, but there’s no question that 2017 is shaping up to be the Summer of North America. There’s no question that the continent where you live has plenty to offer: the great outdoors, refreshingly off-the-beaten-path places, and chances for cultural discovery that will appeal to your curiosity and sense of wonder. At my company, Classic Journeys, we’re seeing higher levels of interest in U.S. and Canadian destinations this year.
The obvious appeal is proximity. From most U.S. cities, you can be just a time zone or two from your final destination with travel times that can be as little as a couple of hours. That’s a particularly alluring fact if you’re traveling with kids.
Of course, I often talk to travelers with some biases against nearby places: “When I go on vacation, I want to feel as far from home as I can.” But really, how much is a lobster boat in Nova Scotia like your daily commute? How many artisanal cheesemakers or Alaskan halibut fishermen are your Facebook friends? If far away is what you’re looking for in this summer’s vacation, here are some of the nearest places to find it.
Let’s start on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, at the southern end of the 49th state. It is within easy reach, but it’s just as wild and beautiful as you always wanted Alaska to be. Kenai is the kind of place where you kayak in a cove where the water is chilled by freshly calved icebergs. There are whales to spot as well as elk and sea otters. But you’re even more likely to meet salmon fishermen unloading the day’s haul, gold miners and bush guides who know this land like the backs of their hands.
Prefer the Atlantic over the Pacific? Head for Nova Scotia. There’s a nearly uninhabited island there that’s the last solid speck before a few thousand miles of wind-whipped waves. Walking in that wild place, you can see whales sounding close to shore. But this is also where Europeans came ashore long before any pilgrim spotted Plymouth Rock. Cajuns (originally Acadians) came from these parts. Nova Scotians live in colorful Victorian villages. And there are modern-day vineyards alongside 5,000-year-old petroglyphs just down the road from the towering tidal bores at the Bay of Fundy.
Due west, Québec is something like the love child of Burgundy and Wyoming. At 400+ years of age, Québec City is a sliver of France just north of the border. Leave the city limits, though, and you enter the dramatic Charlevoix region with its blend of wilderness parklands and 19th century villages favored by artists and artisanal cheesemakers. It’s truly a tapestry of history, culture and nature like nowhere else so close to home.
Here in the States, the National Park Service just finished celebrating its 100th Anniversary, and our parks are looking fantastic. If you made the compulsory childhood visit with your parents, it’s time for an encore visit.
The Bryce, Zion and Grand Canyon parks are close enough to be visited in a well-planned week. In Bryce Canyon, go for a walk at the base of the gigantic sandstone spires known as hoodoos, and just see if you can resist comparing the terrain to an alien planet in Star Wars. In some places the sinuous slot canyons in Zion National Park are so slender that you can almost touch both sides at the same time. And beyond what you’d expect at the Grand Canyon — sunset over the rim and timbered lodges that are National Historic Landmarks — you can see the the ruins of pueblos inhabited a thousand years ago.
Glacier Park in Montana is justly legendary for its rugged snow-capped peaks and the incredible switchback views on the Going-to-the-Sun Highway. By all means, it all needs to be seen. But you can also ride a steamboat on a mountain lake. This land is the ancient heart of the Blackfeet tribe, and when one of its members visits with you to explain how his people explained glaciers and related to this awesome place it can cast a whole new light on life. More recently, this became cowboy country, and you’ll never have a better chance to saddle up for a ride in the high plains and get a feel for rancher culture.
Follow the Rockies north into Canada, and you’ll find yourself in spectacular Banff Park. You’ll instantly recognize the mirror-smooth views Lake Louise, but behind that beautiful face there is a lot of fun and activity waiting for you. It’s so picture-perfect that it might feel like you can only look, but there’s plenty to do. Every trail leads to wonderful views, and there’s river rafting, moose watching, glacier walking, and plenty more. For the kind of sightseeing you don’t normally think about, wait for the sun to set. The park is in a Dark Sky Preserve, and the stars and thicker and more glittery than you can imagine.
Because the popularity of North American destinations is on the rise in 2017, it’s wise to do your planning as early as you reasonably can. Given the proximity, it’s tempting to DIY. In fact, we’re seeing a lot of travelers take the opposite tactic. They are taking the same approach they apply to international trips and selecting a small-group travel provider for their domestic vacations. That makes especially good sense in the high-demand summer season. Such trips, like the ones my company handcrafts, include fulltime guides, zero logistical worries, and rooms at inns and lodges that are already booked solid for primetime vacation months. You also want to be sure that the price of your trip includes 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.
So for some of this summer’s hottest vacation destinations, just look out your back door. Wherever you go in Canada or the U.S. you can have a low-stress, big-fun getaway right here on the continent where you live.