The United States is a vast land of geographic diversity with a rich heritage
The United States is a vast land of geographic diversity with a rich heritage fostered by immigrants from many nations.
From the New York skyline to the California coast, families can find a range of vacation activities to take part in. Spend a week, a weekend or an entire summer crossing cultural borders and learning new skills with activities designed to entertain and educate. ‘Quality time together’ will take on a whole new meaning. You’ll have fun and come home with a lot more than ‘bragging rights’.
Crow Canyon Archeological Center: Cortez, Colorado
Who: The Anasazi Indians of the American Southwest, also referred to as the Pueblo people, which is the Spanish word for ‘town’ or ‘village’ are known for their pueblos of adobe, wood, and stone, with flat roofs that could be several stories high.
What: You’ll take part in actual archeological digs in the Mesa Verde region at the Four Corners, named so because it’s the only place in the US where four states meet in one place. Adults and teens can work alongside professional archeologists, analyze and identify stone, animal and bone artifacts in a lab. You will also be able to collaborate with Native American Indians.
Where: The 170-acre campus is located in Southwest Colorado near Mesa Verde National Park and is accessible by plane or car. Meals and lodging are included in your scheduled stay, but be sure to consult their FAQs so you know what you should bring with you.
Jean-Michel Cousteau Family Camp: Howlands Landing, California
Who: Anyone who’s ever been into marine biology has heard of the undersea adventures of Jacques Cousteau, the famed French inventor, explorer and filmmaker. He redesigned the demand regulator that’s still in use by scuba divers today.
What: Snorkel in a nearby kelp bed forest with gear provided by the camp - wetsuits, masks, snorkel and fins. You can also kayak in areas that are inaccessible by foot or larger boats or sail with certified instructors. You can take part in powerboat activities including water skiing, wake boarding, knee boarding and tubing. You can also try stand up paddle boarding, target sports or why not immerse yourself in marine biology at Catalina Island Cove. Lifejackets are provided for all boating activities. Nighttime offers amazing sunsets and top notch star gazing.
Where: From San Pedro, you can catch the Catalina Express and make the crossing to Two Harbours in 90 minutes. Transfer from there onto a Shoreboat to Howlands Landing. Meals are provided and there’s a store on-site for snacks, clothes and other items. Bathroom and shower facilities are shared.
Do note that you’ll have to carry your luggage from the boat to the camp truck and then from the truck to your cabin, so you may want to pack lightly. One duffel and one sleeping bag should do it.
Space Camp: Huntsville, Alabama
Who: The U.S. Space Program has been part of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and an important part of US history since 1958. Their various projects include Mercury and Gemini, the Space Shuttle, Skylab and the International Space Station.
What: Learn about space history and even become an astronaut for a day where you can experience simulated training operations and see first-hand what it feels like to walk on the moon!
If you’re more into jets than rockets, you can learn the vital survival skills needed to become a pilot, experience take-off and landing in fighter jet simulators or go through a water landing simulator in the helo-dunker.
Where: The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is set on 88 acres in Huntsville, Alabama and has family programs for ages 7 and up. Meals and lodging are included in the on-site Habitat Facility and Space Crew Galley. Check out the extended four-day weekends, which are offered on select holidays.
Concordia Language Villas: Moorhead, Minnesota
Who: The US is made up of so many different people from so many different backgrounds and origins - a true ‘melting pot’ of nationalities. In cities all across the country, people are still speaking their native languages. What a great idea to learn a new language!
What: Become a true ‘world citizen’ and join one of the many immersion programs offered for every age and ability. There are villages modeled after different cultures with traditional architecture such as a German settlement with a café serving Linzer torte. You can learn Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, Danish, Russian, English, Chinese, Spanish, French, Finnish, Norwegian, Korean, German, Swiss or Swedish through lessons, games and songs. Fun for everyone!
Where: You can get here by flying into Duluth, Minnesota from the East or Falls International Airport from the South, Grand Forks or Fargo, North Dakota from the West. You can get to your final destination by car. You can enjoy culturally authentic meals here, which are included with the lodging. Recommended for children over 6.
French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts: Hancock, New York
Who: The dazzle and splendor of the circus remains iconic to the US to this day. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus took advantage of the new connection between the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads making it possible for lions, tigers and even Jumbo the Elephant to travel across the country.
What: Sign up for a workshop to learn everything from ring and rope tricks and trapeze to unicycle riding and magic. On site you’ll find theaters, a skate park, swimming, even a fitness center. You can also try water skiing and trail riding - by horse or by mountain bike – the choice is yours.
Where: The French Woods are found on a private lake spread throughout the western Catskill Mountains, about 2 1/2 hours from New York City, near the Delaware River on the Pennsylvania border. Meals and lodging are included in your stay.
Teton Wagon Train: Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Who: In the 1800s a number of people started following the California Gold Rush. It was at this time that the ‘cowboy’ became a true icon of America - travelling by horse and wagon with everything they owned, they moved slowly across the desolate and sometimes treacherous terrain of the west.
What: 3-night 4-day adventure tours by covered Conestoga wagon circling the Grand Teton Mountain Range with expert wagon masters and cowboy horsemen. You can enjoy backcountry horseback riding and see all sorts of wildlife including grizzlies, elk, moose and loons. The shores of the high mountain lakes offer some breathtaking views. There are plenty of activities for the family to enjoy such as nature hikes, trail rides, swimming, canoeing, campfires and even learning how to ‘ride and rope’.
Where: Head to the Double H Bar Ranch in the Targhee National Forest between Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. Meals here are even prepared over an open fire. Recommended for ages 4 and up.
Liberty Island and Ellis Island: New York Harbour between New York and New Jersey
Who: If you’re entering the United States from the eastern seaboard, and fly into New York or New Jersey, there’s a good chance you’ll get to see of the Statue of Liberty standing tall in the New York Harbour. Currently maintained by the National Park Service, the massive sculpture represents the Roman goddess of freedom - with a tablet of law, a torch and a broken chain at her feet.
What: Take a ride around Manhattan on the Statue of Liberty ferry then tour the grounds of Liberty Island. Climb the 154 steps from the base to the crown and take notice of the 7 rays, which represent the 7 continents. The crown was damaged by hurricane Sandy, but has now been repaired. The glimmering torch is also covered in 24k gold!
It’s also cool to do some research on your family’s ancestry at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum where there are records of more than 22 million immigrants. You will also find a unique display of the longest wall of names in the world - 700,000 names - paying tribute to America’s rich cultural heritage.
Where: Hop on a ferry at Battery Park in New York or Liberty State Park in New Jersey. It’s wise to plan ahead a bit and make a reservation, as it gets busy here.
Appalachian Trail: Eastern United States
Who: A project that began in 1921, the AT Project ran into many obstacles, including the Great Depression and World War II, before its completion in 1978. This footpath is one of the longest in the world and crosses 14 states.
What: Join thousands of people who attempt to walk this continuously marked 3,508 km (2,180 miles) trail each year, or walk part of it and take time to enjoy nature. If you’re traveling with children, there are many streams, wetlands, fields and forests to explore – all with exquisite views. There are towns along the way for replenishing supplies, spending a night in a motel and grabbing a bite to eat.
Where: Along the ridges and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains - from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Baxter Peak on Katahdin, Maine - you can hop on the trail at hundreds of different locations. Late September to early November is definitely the best time to visit - the fall colours make for some pretty spectacular views! Be sure to check out the check the AT Conservancy’s safety / difficulty rating of the hike before you set out – they range from easy, moderate and strenuous – some with ascents of over 300 metres (1,000 feet).
The White House and Capitol Building: Washington, D.C.
Cherokee Heritage Center: Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Cherokee Nation
Who: The Cherokee have long been considered one of the most socially and culturally advanced of all the Native American tribes. As European explorers, and then settlers, advanced, the Cherokee and Native Americans were driven from their lands and homes. The current tribe is more than 300,000 strong with 70,000 Cherokee living in a federally recognized sovereign nation within the United States, occupying most of northeast Oklahoma.
What: The Cherokee Heritage Center features indoor and outdoor attractions including the Ancient Village with exhibits and demonstrations of traditional Cherokee crafts and the historic Trail of Tears exhibit that documents the devastating forced relocation of the tribes. You can take part in a variety of tours with interactive storytelling, cultural games and arts and crafts. More in depth craft classes in beadwork, flint knapping, basketry and pottery are available as well.
Where: Just south of Tahlequah, Oklahoma off Highway 62. The Heritage Center is open every day except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.