U.S. / Canada Summer Vacation for Tweens
March 26, 2019 6:34 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to plan a awesome vacation for my wife and two kids ( 8 and 10 ) in North America. We have been lucky enough to do Disney World, a cruise, San Diego, Seattle and Costa Rica. I would really like to avoid the standard summer vacation destinations / clichés if at all possible. We have 7-10 days and will fly, rent cars, etc. Where should we go and what should we do?

We are completely open minded about this vacation. If you tell me a dude ranch in Montana is the way to go, we will do it. If there is a road trip that requires us to fly somewhere first, and rent a RV, we will do it. If there is a under the radar lake community in Northern Minnesota, we are up for that as well. If an amazing resort exists that no one knows about, I may even entertain that.

As an example of a great, off the radar vacation, we rented a house on the Crystal River near Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan and that was awesome.

Tell me all about an amazing place / road trip where my family and I can spend some quality time together. I am open to other countries but would really like to save the big trip to further destinations for when the kids are a little older.
posted by jasondigitized to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Atlantic Canada is gorgeous, and there is a tremendous amount of variety of activities and things to do and see. I'm partial to New Brunswick (because I live in NB) but between New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI you would see SO MANY THINGS. Plus, the currency exchange rate is really good. Plus, the weather is gorgeous here.

Below is a list of things I enjoyed (or would have enjoyed) as a kid but that would also be enjoyable as an adult.

- Magic Mountain (Water park)
- The Bay of Fundy (highest tides in the world, great hikes/beach walks/etc)
- a fully functional and oh-so-fun Drive-In Movie theatre
- whale watching (this is the group that I go with when I go whale watching, in my experience they are the best)
- Kings Landing (which is cooler than it sounds)

- Peggy's Cove (incredible views, incredibly fun place for kids to run and jump. Absolutely one of my fav's as a kid)
- Search for real fossils at Joggins.
- Halifax (capital of NS, gorgeous city, really nice waterfront to walk along and explore)
- The Tattoo (which is incredible and absolutely worth it)
-the Busker Festival

- Just seeing and going over the confederation bridge is a freeking experience
- Anne of Green Gables is a huge deal
- INCREDIBLE beaches
- excellent camping
- A really really cool butterfly garden that was flipping amazing and really worth the visit.

Bonus, is that there are all sorts of ridiculous things to see just as you drive around, like dinosaurs, a giant lobster, a giant potato, the world's largest axe, some weird-ass animal things, a giant blueberry, etc. We love our oversized roadside attractions here for some reason. :)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:55 AM on March 26, 2019 [8 favorites]

One final point is that it doesn't cost much to do stuff here, nothing is too far away, and people are really really friendly here. Sure, I'm biased, but it is true none the less.

If this sounds even slightly interesting, feel free to message me. I live here and am super familiar with the area and can make suggestions for all those areas.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:02 AM on March 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best family vacation I ever took as a kid (I was 14) was when we flew to Calgary, drove up and saw West Edmonton Mall and Banff, and then drove through the mountains to BC, where we saw both Vancouver and Victoria (HIGHLY recommend Victoria!). I remember the mountain drive was a bit treacherous at times, and hotels were few and far between, so if you do this, plan carefully. We stopped and climbed onto glaciers. Ate the biggest, sweetest cherries we'd ever see or ever will see. Experienced flurries in July. The scenery was gorgeous and the trip was one I'll never forget.
posted by yawper at 7:19 AM on March 26, 2019

Seconding Atlantic Canada. I think PuppetMcSockerson has it pretty well covered, but I'd also add the Cabot Trail (Cape Breton Island) if you can fit it in.

(If memory serves, I was told to drive it counterclockwise because it's opposite of the tour buses and you'll get better views.)
posted by howling fantods at 7:25 AM on March 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

When I was a kid we chartered a boat once or twice in Lake of the Woods. We went in early fall, I think in years when we couldn't make it to New Brunswick (where we kept the boat we actually owned).

In my memories, we did two weeks or so and just bummed around on the water, fishing and visiting various islands. We visited the B'nai Brith campsite when nobody was there; we caught pike and pickerel and I caught frogs and newts in the shallows. I probably got leeches sometimes, ugh. We crossed the border willy nilly (you have to check in with customs if you land anywhere in the US.) Sailing there was totally different from NB, since you are always surrounded by islands (our chart was out of date one year? we hit something that wasn't marked on the chart? why am I recommending this experience to you, who knows)

Don't go in early spring, there are blackflies which are the worst of the biting flies, worse than horseflies because there are so many of them. That goes for New Brunswick too, if you take Puppet McSockerson's much more detailed suggestions above.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:25 AM on March 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you guys like hiking, we just did a West Texas trip that was awesome. We flew in and out of El Paso. The government shutdown threw a wrench in some of it, but our plan was Big Bend (the state and national parks), Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, and White Sands. We spent some time in Marfa and Ft. Davis (for the observatory!) too. It was great for adults, and I would've loved it as a kid, too.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:31 AM on March 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

"under the radar lake community in Northern Minnesota", you say? Oh, that jillithd bat symbol is bright!

Previous AskMe answer: Voyageurs National Park and the Rainy Lake area is still my favorite place on the planet.
posted by jillithd at 8:09 AM on March 26, 2019

I live in the U.S. and have wanted to do this trip for such a long time with my little family or this one sounds great too.

I have done a trip with Wilderness Inquiry before and loved it. They will provide all your gear, the food is nice and I actually learned some good canoeing skills on the trip I took. The Apostle Islands in Lake Superior look just gorgeous and you could combine that trip with a nice lodge stay on the Lake or check out Minneapolis for a few days there's tons to do there.
posted by brookeb at 8:42 AM on March 26, 2019

When my kid was 9 we did Iceland. Oh how we loved it. Light all day so we didn't have to change our timezone/sleep. We pretended we were east coast time and got up late and did stuff late. It meant we barely saw crowds and were out hiking at 10 at night.
I made it a road trip. Only problem is this isn't likely doable cheaply this year. Great, reasonable places go fast.
posted by beccaj at 9:20 AM on March 26, 2019

Nthing Atlantic Canada as one of the greatest areas in North America, but if you REALLY want to bring the beauty, GO NEWFOUNDLAND OR GO HOME. (No offense, PEI and NS!)

Here's how you do it: fly to St. John's, NL. Rent a car and a hotel. Stay there for 2-3 days. Soak up the amazing culture, food, and extraordinarily friendly people. Don't miss getting screeched in. You won't regret it.

Then, get in said car and drive around to the West coast. Destination: Gros Morne National Park. I really don't have the time to write the poetry that would be required to describe the beauty of this place. Just go.

If you like camping, Gros Morne is the place to do it. If you don't, grab a hotel or B&B. Eat tons of cod and lobster, and enjoy some pure, unadulterated natural beauty. Drive around, and pull over all the time. Walk on the Earth's mantle (!!!). On the way back to St. John's, drive a bit out of the way to see the only known Norse settlement in North America.

People told us before we went that Newfoundlanders are really friendly, and we were like, "Yeah, I'm sure." But it's true -- I've never been around such a delightful group of people in my life. We stayed for 6 weeks, and almost didn't come home. Mr. Nosila still talks about moving there. It's really that great.
posted by nosila at 2:05 PM on March 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Before I moved from NY to Vancouver, we vacationed in BC frequently because my in-laws live here. Vancouver and environs makes for a wonderful family vacation - you can spend a lot of time outdoors (beach, mountains, parks, forests) and there are many cultural attractions, summer festivals, and museums as well, plus excellent food options. Then, take a ferry to Vancouver Island and visit Victoria and/or the islands. Other side trips include the gorgeous ride up to Whistler.
posted by gateau at 2:26 PM on March 26, 2019

Last year we went to Old Quebec City and toured the amazing Fort, still a military base, and took a food tour along with a family of 5, (3 teens and parents) and others. It was great! There is so much to see, and if you go, don't miss Paillard's for breakfast.
posted by Enid Lareg at 7:12 PM on March 26, 2019

I'm going to put in a plug for Quebec, because I find that it’s a perfect mix of familiar and different – “familiar” in that it's still North American in helpful practical/logistic senses (driving and rules of the road are obviously the same as the rest of Canada/US, lodging and restaurant options span the usual variety of North American options, money/banking system feels familiar, etc.) but with the very real French fact it’s culturally different enough to be of interest.

In terms of what to see:

- Montréal and Québec City probably don't need much of an introduction as I think that US travelers tend to be most familiar with these: the former is the second- or third-largest French speaking city in the world (after Paris and maybe Kinshasa), the latter has of course the only walled city in North America north of Mexico
- Some of the best whale-watching in the world is found near Tadoussac (about 3h drive north of Québec City).
- To the west of Tadoussac, the Saguenay Fjord, one of the most southernmost fjords in the world, has a number of different possible activities: kayaking, zodiac cruises, via ferrata (a sort of guided outdoor rock course), general hiking and sightseeing, as well as some whale-watching as well.
- The Mont-Mégantic astronomy lab is located in a "dark sky" area and does (French-language) nighttime observation tours
- Gaspésie, which is sort of that long "tongue" that sticks out north of Atlantic Canada, has some pretty dramatic scenery and national parks as well: Parc national de la Gaspésie and Forillon National Park

I will note that by Quebec standards, these are very much "on the beaten path" destinations, i.e. lots of Quebec families on vacation will be in Gaspésie in high summer. But I think it'd all be pretty new for Americans, who tend to be a lot less familiar with anywhere in the province that's not Montréal or Québec City.
posted by andrewesque at 6:40 AM on March 27, 2019

driving and rules of the road are obviously the same as the rest of Canada/US

note: there are areas in Quebec where, unlike the rest of the country, you cannot turn right on a red light and that has been known to get many a non-Quebecquois in trouble. Also, depending upon where you are in Quebec, the language barrier could be a thing since there are areas where english isn't commonly spoken. This would be more likely the farther off the beaten path you go in Quebec. (In fairness that can also be the case in some areas of northern New Brunswick, but much less so.)

That said, andrewesque is correct otherwise, and the Gaspe region really is gorgeous. Ridiculously ridiculously gorgeous.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:50 AM on March 27, 2019

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