The best back-to-school weekend staycations in each state


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The month of August always sounds the alarms — the return to the classroom is near. For many families, this is the sign that it’s time to squeeze in one last trip before it’s time to think about homework and school activities again.

But with all the prep going back to school requires, it can be a hassle to travel too far. Enter staycations. So pack your weekender bags and enjoy the last moments of summer at these perfect back-to-school weekend staycations in each state.

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Huntsville is nicknamed “Rocket City,” which is fitting because it’s home to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. But if you think the kids won’t want to go to a museum right before school starts, think again. They’ll have fun here with a Space Shot Simulator, G-Force Accelerator, Mars Climbing Wall and Hyper Ship “motion based simulator.”

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It’s hard to visit Alaska in the summer and not enjoy the great outdoors (without freezing). So pack up the car for a road trip to Denali National Park, where you can bike, hike, backpack or mountaineer.

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The Grand Canyon is a classic family vacation spot, and for good reason. Even if you and your family have been there before, there are few things as breathtaking as the Grand Canyon. Explore somewhere new or take in the breathtaking views at a different hour. It’s amazing how a sunrise overlooking the canyons will change your perspective — and center you before sending the kids back to school.

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Is “safari” the first thing you think of when you think of Arkansas? Maybe it should be. At the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, you can stay in a safari lodge, treehouse or tent (or just a suite, if you’d like) while seeing – seriously – lions, tigers and bears (and leopards, ligers and bobcats).

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Staycation options in California are nearly limitless. But it’ll start cooling off soon enough, so get one last waterpark trip in while the weather is still warm. Wet ‘n’ Wild Palm Springs has slides, rafts and family rides, so kids of all ages can enjoy – and parents can head to The Beach Bar and relax in a cabana.

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Cave of the Winds has activities for adventurers of every level, both aboveground and under. You can take a cave tour, learn the basics of spelunking, and hear folklore and ghost stories. If you’d rather not be underground, you can still go climbing, ziplining or even do a virtual reality tour.

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If you want your kids enjoy their last minutes of summer vacation before they take a plunge into books and pop quizzes, head over to New Milford. Kayak or row down the Housatonic River, take a boat ride around Candlewood or relax with a picnic at Young’s Field.

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Take a canoe ride through nature at Trap Pond State Park. This swamp was flooded more than 200 years ago and is now home to plenty of wildlife, bald cypress trees and wildflowers. And while you’re in the area, don’t forget to visit TaCaCo Alpaca Farm to meet, feed and pet these furry creatures.

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Did you and your kids finish reading the Harry Potter series recently? Reward them with a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. OK, so it may be a reward for you, too. Sip on some butter beer, take a trip to Ollivanders wand shop and, for the thrill seekers among you, find your way to the Gringotts bank ride.

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At the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll find the charming Barnsley Resort. You and your family will feel like you’ve gone back in time exploring the 3,000 acre grounds. And you can enjoy some great recreation, from golfing and horseback riding to exploring the historic ruins and gardens.

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When anyone thinks of Hawaii, they likely think of days with their feet in the sand — and rightfully so, as there are some of the most beautiful beaches here. But there are plenty of other things to explore. Take the family to Waimea Canyon in Maui to see waterfalls and explore the largest canyon in the Pacific.

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For some rest and relaxation before kicking off a new school year, head to the little town of Island Park. Not only is the scenery absolutely breathtaking, but the recreational activities will keep everyone in the family happy. From hiking and fishing to a leisurely float in the river, you’ll see why Island Park is one of Idaho’s best kept secrets.

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The Du Quoin State Fair in Southern Illinois is an 11-day festival, from August 24th through September 3rd, of music, fun activities, and copious amounts of beer. Come for the grandstand musicians like Buckcherry, Cheap Trick, Alien Ant Farm and Phil Vassar, but stay for events like the truck and tractor pull and harness race.

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What better way to end the summer than a little friendly family competition? Head to Indiana Dunes State Park and take the Three-Dune Challenge, a 1.5 mile stretch of trail that reaches 552 vertical feet.

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Vesterheim, Decorah’s Norwegian-American heritage center, celebrates more than 1,000 years of Norwegian culture and history. Even if you’re not one of the nearly 6% of Iowans who has Norwegian ancestry, your family will still enjoy the museum’s open-air exhibition, which features about a dozen homes and structures built by Norwegian immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries, including one cabin made out of a single tree.

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The Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead in Overland Park is a family-friendly way to spend an afternoon. You can feed baby goats and chickens and meet furry friends like bobcats and bison, just some of the farmsteads 250 different kinds of animals. Visitors can take a ride on a pony or in a horse-drawn cart or even pan for gold.

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Head to the Carter Caves campground and explore the sprawling underground cavern system. Thrills include a 30-foot underground waterfall and encounters with the local bat population. Above ground, you can rent a cabin in the quiet woods and spend the day canoeing or horseback riding.

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Lake Martin Rookery offers beautiful views of the bayou, where exotic, colorful birds chirp among the cypress trees and lazy alligators. Top off your trip with a stroll through historic Vermilionville, which recreates the daily life of the native Acadianan people who lived between the years 1765 and 1890.

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There’s no better way to wave goodbye to summer than from the top of roller coaster. Take the kids to Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco for a day of thrills on rides like the wooden roller coaster Excalibur, the drop tower Dragon’s Descent, and the log flume Thunder Falls. When the kids get hot, head to the water park for water slides and cool pool dips.

Make sure your budget doesn’t take a rollercoaster ride because of a family vacation by making sure you following these ways to save on travel.

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Ease kids back into learning by taking them to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. You’ll be wowed by the colorful tropical fish in the Atlantic coral reef exhibit, and the kids will love being encircled by sharks in Shark Alley.

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Take the kids to Cape Cod for one last beach trip before summer ends. Go on a tour of lighthouses for memorable views, and when the kids get hungry, Red Barn Pizza and More in North Eastham has food and fun, including an arcade and mini golf.

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If you want to show the kids a great time without worrying whether the weather will cooperate, take them to Zehnder’s Splash Village Hotel and Waterpark in Frankenmuth. The waterpark has indoor raft rides and slides, plus pools and geysers that will delight kids of all ages. You can buy day passes or stay the night in the attached hotel, which can be a treat in itself.

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A visit to the Mall of America can accomplish every family member’s dreams for an end of summer retreat, and let you take care of all your back-to-school shopping, too. Attractions include the theme park Nickelodeon Universe, the Minnesota Sea Life aquarium, the LEGO store, an adventure golf course and so much more.

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Take the kids on one last summer adventure by making a visit to the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch in Moss Point. Go on an airboat swamp tour and see gators in their natural element or simply tour the ranch to safely see alligators up close and learn about these magnificent creatures.

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A visit to Legoland Discovery Center in Kansas City is a great way to wrap up summer in Missouri. The 30,000-square-foot space has over 2 million Lego bricks inside and your kids will love admiring the complex Lego sculptures, and then retreating to the play areas to build their own.

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The Lodge at Whitefish Lake offers something to everyone in the family, from boutique shopping to a gallery of Western art to paddleboard lessons on Whitefish Lake, all nestled in the natural beauty of northwestern Montana.

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Nebraska families looking for a quick escape can visit Eugene T. Mahoney State Park. There’s a host of activities for kids and adults, including an aquatic center, indoor playground, hiking and biking trails, and an observation tower.

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The shifting blues and grays of Pyramid Lake make for a spectacular backdrop for a family staycation. The lake’s west shore hosts recreational activities like camping, fishing, boating, swimming and sunbathing. You can also get an up-close look at the pyramid-shaped rock that gives the lake its name.

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New Hampshire

Get the family off the ground for a bit at Alpine Adventures, located in the White Mountains. Alpine covers 300 acres in Woodstock with exhilarating zipline tours through the trees, which is a great thrill. Kids will also like the Thrillsville Aerial Park, complete with a treehouse, climbing tower and stunt ramp.

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New Jersey

The Raptor Trust in Millington rehabilitates nearly 6,000 wild birds every year, and your family can visit some of them while learning about the role these winged creatures play in nature. It’s a rare chance to see owls, raptors and other predatory birds up-close.

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New Mexico

Ever wonder: Who is the fastest duck? No? You can still find out at the annual Great American Duck Race, running for the 39th time Aug. 23 through 26 in Deming. Aside from duck races, the event has duck dancing (???), a softball tournament and carnival. If your family can’t enjoy a duck race, you’re doing something wrong.

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New York

New York City boasts the largest botanical garden of any city in the U.S., and the National Historic Landmark is more than worth a family visit. The New York Botanical Gardens are beautiful, yes, but they also teach children about science, nature, gardening and more. The gardens currently have a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit with the plants that inspired her, which runs through October.

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North Carolina

Asheville has some serious charms to explore that will help you and the kids relax and forget about your impending back-to-school checklist. Head to the Pinball Museum or even to the ever-famous Biltmore Estate.

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North Dakota

Drive down the 32-mile Enchanted Highway and take in some land art. Not only is it breathtaking, but it’s award winning — it’s in the Guinness World Book of Records as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world. You’ll see sculptures of birds, grasshoppers and even a family made of tin. Be sure to check out The Enchanted Castle hotel where you and your family fan stay after the magical drive.

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There might not be a better family getaway than Cedar Point in Sandusky. The country’s second-oldest amusement park has 18 roller coasters for the adrenaline seekers, a water park to cool off and plenty of designated kid’s areas so there’s something for the whole family to enjoy.

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If you and the family haven’t been to Science Museum Oklahoma in OKC, now is the perfect time to visit. There’s so much to explore here, from the gardens to several different exhibits. Right now, they’ve got one called Into the Fold: The Art and Science of Origami. And the kids will definitely want to explore CurioCity, a 20,000-square-foot city within the museum.

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Go to the famous Timberline Lodge, which you may recognize from exterior shots of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. But don’t be spooked, the views of the perpetually snow-capped Mount Hood are one of a kind, and there’s nothing horrific about sitting back and relaxing among the gorgeous wood and stone-carved interior of this classic lodge.

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Head to the Franklin Institute, one of the oldest and most beloved museums in the country, and learn about all things science. Founded in honor of America’s foremost scientist, Benjamin Franklin, the Franklin Institute features a fascinating electricity exhibit, an aerospace exhibit and even a brain exhibit.

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Rhode Island

Ever see water on fire? That’s right — it’s a thing. Go check out the WaterFire exhibit in Providence. Full lightings happen the last Saturday in August and three Saturdays in September.

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South Carolina

The South Carolina Apple Festival is the kickoff to apple harvest season and it’s certainly a time you want to experience. Head to Westminster and not only will you be able to enjoy some delicious treats (fried apple pies, anyone?) but there’s lots to do in town, including whitewater rafting. Most events are free for the whole family, including the Apple Festival Parade.

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South Dakota

Head over to Huron for the South Dakota State Fair from Aug. 30 to Sept. 3 to enjoy six stages of free entertainment, carnival rides and more. And if you’re looking to enjoy some live outdoor music before the cold weather hits, you’re in luck. This year, Foreigner will take the stage at the fair, as will big names in country music, including Toby Keith and Gary Allan.

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Why not go to camp before heading back to school? Gatlinburg is home to Camp LeConte, a fun getaway where you and your family can stay in a gorgeous tree house, complete with beds and other amenities, with views of Mount LeConte.

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Head to Kyle, known as the pie capital of Texas, on Labor Day weekend and you’ll get to indulge in all kinds of pie festivities. Beyond the pie, this is the weekend for seeing hot air balloons illuminate the sky during the Hot Air Balloon Festival. The balloons will take flight Friday and Saturday evenings as well as Saturday and Sunday mornings. Ticket prices range from $10 to $30.

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Escape the heat and smoky air conditions with a venture up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird Resort. This is a great time to be up there, as Oktoberfest just kicked off — it runs every Saturday and Sunday from August through October, plus Labor Day. Of course there’s beer and good eats, but the kids (and adults) will love the Alpine slide, Mountain Coaster and zip lining. Admission is free and parking is $10 per car.

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Spend a weekend along Lake Champlain. Burlington, the Green Mountain State’s most populous city, boasts plenty of low-cost family fun. Visit the old home of Vermont’s founding father Ethan Allen, shop the Church Street Marketplace or picnic in Waterfront Park before the kids hit the books.

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Head to Virginia Beach for the American Music Festival, an annual Labor Day weekend celebration along the oceanfront. This year’s headliners include Ziggy Marley, Soja, The Goo Goo Dolls and ZZ Top.

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Visit any of the state’s majestic national parks. Hike along Mount Rainier, an active volcano 14,410 feet above sea level, whale-watch on San Juan Island or take a paddle-boat tour of the Lewis and Clark River.

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West Virginia

Get your white-water-rafting on at ACE Adventure Resort — 1,500 acres of private wilderness in Minden. Looking for a tamer adventure? Hit up ACE’s Wonderland Waterpark, get in a game of mini-golf or mountain-bike along its scenic trails.

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Take in one of the end-of-summer events happening at Milwaukee’s Henry Maier Festival Park from the Big Gig BBQ to the Katancha Rock, Rally & Roll, the city’s motorcycle celebration.

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Cap of the summer with some fishing, hiking or horseback riding in Jackson Hole or nearby Yellowstone National Park, where you can marvel at hot springs and geysers, and Teton National Park, where you can float the Snake River.

This article originally appeared on Policygenius.

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