You know it’s summer when gas prices rise just as the family is packing up the van for that American rite of passage—the family road trip.

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, more than 41 million people hit the highways and interstates. The most popular summer family vacation destinations include Las Vegas; Disney World, in Orlando (read this month’s book review section for information on a terrific book to help you plan your trip there); Washington, DC; the Grand Canyon; the Great Smoky Mountains; and Yosemite National Park.

If fighting the crowds isn’t your idea of a restful vacation, consider taking the road less traveled and explore some of the other great wonders and splendors that the country has to offer.

History and Fun in One Trip

According to Joyce Moynihan, regional travel manager for AAA, fewer families think about visiting the Virginia historical triangle—Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown.

But your timing couldn’t be better. This year marks the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, the first English settlement in North America. The year-long celebration continues this summer with a weekend of Native-American cultural events (July 21 – 22), including musical performances, storytelling, dancing, craft demonstrations and children’s games.

“This is a great opportunity to learn about history before and after the Revolutionary War,” says Moynihan, who suggests that a side trip to Busch Gardens Europe would please travelers of all ages with its abundance of roller coasters and water rides.

For more information on the Virginia historical sites, visit and

Water, Water Everywhere

Of course, if you like water, you might want to head northeast and check out Niagara Falls, which has grown well beyond its initial draw as a honeymoon destination.

Take a walking tour behind the falls, view incredible vistas as you cross between the United States and Canada over Rainbow Bridge or enjoy a boat ride that takes you far enough into the falls that you’ll be soaked by the mist. The Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and School of Horticulture, just nine miles north of the falls on the Canadian side, offers 100 impeccably maintained acres, while the Bird Kingdom offers the world’s largest indoor free-flying aviary.

Stay on the Canadian side to take advantage of the exchange rate and save money. For more information on Niagara Falls, visit

An American Tradition

For a taste of real Americana, not to mention delicious homemade treats, head to Des Moines for the Iowa State Fair, August 9 through 19.

This classic state fair is the oldest and largest state exposition, home to livestock shows, the 600-pound butter cow, more than 200 food stands (one of which features that curious American delight, fried Twinkies on a stick) and loads of heart-pounding amusement rides for thrill seekers.

For more information on the Iowa State Fair, visit

Sky’s the Limit

If you poll your friends on their favorite Colorado destinations, you might hear a lot about Denver, Aspen, Vail, Keystone and other popular ski destinations.

But in the summer, Colorado Springs is the place to be, with its superb views of Pikes Peak, one of the tallest mountains in Colorado, family-friendly restaurants and inexpensive lodging.

Take a cog railway up 14,110 feet to the summit of the peak and look out on the vistas that served as inspiration for the song “America the Beautiful.” The area also offers hot air balloons, nature walks, great trails for horseback and bike riding and a nature center. And don’t miss Garden of the Gods, a free 1,368-acre oasis of breathtaking red rocks in unusual formations, with miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding.

Drive an hour outside Colorado Springs to the Royal Gorge and experience the rapids of the Arkansas River with a white-water rafting trip. Drive northeast to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, where the self-guided tour will give you an idea of what Colorado looked like several million years ago.