With Spring Break conquered and taxes nearly so, now is the time to plan your big summer vacation—you know, that epic, 10-day-plus trip best enjoyed during the long, breezy summer break. We’ve narrowed down four of the best to book now, if only to secure accommodations and air.
Michigan Coast Road Trip
- Why Go: You will be shocked by the stunning beauty of Michigan’s “Sunset Coast,” especially from the long, northwestern crook that spans Frankfort, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas. Don’t be surprised if you feel the need to pinch yourself over the fact that you’re still in the Midwest.
- The Plan: Fill up the tank and take a monster road trip along Michigan’s west coast, hitting the state’s best ocean-vibed beach towns from New Buffalo, just 70 miles from Chicago, all the way to Mackinac Island, the car-less, throwback summer retreat some 50 miles from Canada. On the way: Veer inland to Grand Rapids to explore the new Japanese Garden with its contemporary sculptures at the Frederik Meijer Gardens; hike the remarkable bluffs of Sleeping Bear Dunes for free—or fish along its shores, exclusively with captain and chef Ben Wolfe with Sport Fish Michigan (from $350); stop in Traverse City at the new Bonobo Winery, owned by HGTV host and Traverse City native, Carter Oosterhouse. Get more with this four-day road trip itinerary.
- Book It Now: If it’s beachfront accommodations you want, don’t delay in scooping up what remains on the water. In charming Frankfort, Harbor Lights Resort offers a range of options right on the sand (from $169). On Mackinac Island, which you reach by ferry, break from the crowd at the Grand Hotel and opt instead for the 18-acre Mission Point Resort (from $169)—recently renovated, right on the shore, and already half full for the season.
Yellowstone National Park
- Why Go: “If you have not been to Yellowstone, it is a must do,” says Dan Austin, the Founder and President of the outdoor-focused Austin Adventures. Austin says Yellowstone is the most affordable national park with easy access from anywhere in the country. “I like to call it sensory over load, between the 10,000-plus geothermal features, geology that includes a super volcano, wildlife on the Savanna of the West, history as the first National park, and so much more.”
- The Plan: Tackle the road, route, and Wild West spirit on your own with Chicago’s road trip guide to Yellowstone. Add to the experience with audio tours of Yellowstone, expected to launch this June via the new Just Ahead app, which features insight from National Geographic contributor, Bob Howells, and utilizes GPS to know exactly where you are (tours from $7.99).
- Book It Now: Lodging at national parks fills up months in advance. If you can’t score a room at the new Holiday Inn West Yellowstone (from $319) or the cool, urban Explorer Cabins (from $319) at Yellowstone, both of which are operated by Delaware North, let the experts at Austin Adventures handle your trip. According to Austin, tour operators already have the best dates blocked out and will do everything they can to make the adventure exceptional. “They also know how to maximize your experience and time at this incredibly popular park,” says Austin, “taking you away from the tourist traps and instead to hidden gems where the animals roam.” Austin’s favorite Yellowstone tour? Montana: Big Sky, Yellowstone & Paradise Valley, which shows off the best of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem (from $2,398).
- Why Go: Summer is a peak season in Oahu and Hawaii for good reason: The rainy season is over, the sun is out, and temps top out at 85 degrees. This is also the best time for families to visit, with the long jaunt there offset by the luxury of an open summer schedule.
- The Plan: Families should book the nine-hour direct flight on United with plans to stay at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa (from $474), where even the Disney-phobic will swoon over the calm beach cove, the 18,000-square-foot Laniwai Spa (the first ever designed by Disney Imagineers), and what Disney does best: storytelling. Less about Disney, Aulani focuses on immersing you in authentic Hawaii at every stretch, from trails with hidden Hawaiian mythological figures known as Menehune, Mo’olelo fire pit storytelling, and a walking tour that shows off one of the largest collections of contemporary Hawaiian art in the country to water tubing rides, a Starlit Hui show, and Aunty’s Beach House, the fantastic, Disney-ride-like kids beach club fashioned after aunty and uncle’s house—all of which are included as part of a stay. When you need to escape the ride, head to Oahu’s famous North Shore to hike the Jurassic Park-like Waimea Valley, shop for breezy beach dresses at the new Guava Shop, and watch surfing at Sunset Beach. To zero in on more perfect stretches of sand, see our guide to Oahu.
- Book It Now: Flights currently start around $1,000 and rooms at Aulani are from $474. Expect those numbers to peak and for occupancy to fill by summer.
- Why Go: You've seen the news on the falling euro, but the British pound has also dropped in value, hitting a five-year low just last week. According to the Telegraph, there's speculation that it may drop as low as $1.35 in the coming weeks. Reap the savings with a trip to Scotland, where you should take in the country's castles and coastlines, festival high season, and the Year of Food & Drink, a year-long celebration of the country’s natural larder.
- The Plan: Most people don’t think excellent food when they think Scotland, but let Tasting Scotland’s Brenda Anderson, chef and founder of the guided touring company, change your mind. “Scotland is on the crest of a fabulous new wave in Gastronomy,” says Anderson. “From street food to opening up in unfamiliar locations, deep-fried everything is well on course to become a thing of the past.” Sign up for Anderson’s Braveheart Culinary & Cultural Tour of Scotland, a seven-night guided tour that includes two cooking classes with professional chefs, a chance to blend your own Scotch Whisky, and lunch at Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire. If you opt to go alone, do see Edinburgh Castle, walk the Royal Mile, and stop in at Scotch, a cozy whisky bar housing the city’s largest, publicly available collection. Make your way up to the fairy tale, mountainous Highlands, where you’ll want to do as the Scottish do and walk—not hike—around the country’s famous lochs.
- Book it Now: Last summer, United launched new direct seasonal service from Chicago O’Hare to Edinburgh, which will be available again this summer. Book the eight-hour flight and then a stay at the dreamy 14-room Monachyle Mhor, a farmhouse set in the Highlands within Trossachs National Park (from $288).